Category Archives: short fiction

Staycation2016: Days 5, 6, 7: “Women’s” Fiction Edition

Well, I wrapping up the “stay home and write” part of my vacation, and looking forward to some modest traveling next week. Friday and Saturday were actually chock full of exciting events, all of which have me ruminating a bit on the state of women in writing (more on that after the round-up).

Friday I moderated a panel at One More Page Books & More for the DC stop of She Writes Press 2016 tour, and we had a lively discussion with two novelists (Melissa Rea, Conjuring Casanova, and Jill McCroskey Coupe, True Stories at the Smoky View) and two memoirists (Dorit Sason, Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israeli Defense Forces, and Donna Cardillo, Falling Together). She Writes Press is another independent press that has discarded the notion of simply doing a miniaturized version of what the “Big 5” are doing, and much like my own press, Pandamoon Publishing, they are aggressively pursuing a very author-centered/cohort support model.

While at the event I had a chance to chat with Jenny Drummey, author of the novel, Unrequited, as well as this amazing post from last month called In Praise of Failure. Among the things we talked about was the struggle that a new, unknown author has in developing her platform, and the ways smaller, independent presses are having to adapt to get their books noticed.

Friday was also the “reveal” day for The Wigleaf Top 50 and the legendary Longlist both of which –if my crude, sexist estimate via naming conventions is an indicator–feature more than 50% women authors. As you may be aware, I’ve been helping out as a reader (on a large team of readers headed up very ably this year by Marcelle Heath as Series Editor and Matthew Salesses as the Selecting Editor) for the Wigleaf Top 50 for a few years now, but I’m taking 2016 off, seeing as the first book of The New Royal Mysteries will come out soon, and I need to get a draft of the second one done this summer while I’m not teaching. –As an aside, my head is so into my own books that I had forgotten I was a reader for the Wigleaf T50, and I was on the verge of correcting everyone who was thanking me  for my help when I started to recognize my picks on the lists. That’s right, I read the entire contents of about a dozen online journals, and selected several outstanding stories in January–and I forgot the entire experience. In my defense, that was at the same time that I was revising The Juliet per the 10 page, single spaced letter I received from my editor, Rachel Schoenbauer (SuperGenius), a process that I recall in excruciating detail.

And finally, Saturday night saw the Santa Fe Writers Project Launch Party and Reading, featuring four authors including Daniel Ford (Ordination), Elizabeth Hazen (Chaos Theories), Brandon Wicks (American Fallout), and my dear friend Tara Laskowski (Bystanders), whom I was privileged to introduce. It was a huge, catered party at the Waverley Street Gallery, but it was casual and fun, if a little cold and damp-the bar and buffet were outside. My favorite part was where the 4 year old son of two writers was explaining to a fussy toddler friend that it was going to be okay because there were “only four readers, and after that you can come to my house to play.” He had the routine down, except that he offered this explanation quite loudly during his mother’s reading.


In which I am suggesting my husband commit an art heist.

All of this writing & publishing action, plus the return of the rain, has made me contemplative about the ways we, especially women, categorize our work to reach audiences. Which brings me, albeit awkwardly, to the category called “Women’s Fiction.” Most of the official definitions refer the subject preferences of women readers, such as domestic dramas and emotional journeys, but I feel like this is one of those categories that achieves different goals for different constituencies. I have no idea if it was always a market term, but today it’s a very informative one, fully embraced by publishers, including my own, and the writers of Women’s Fiction at Pandamoon are producing highly literary work. However, that tag allows some critics to carve a lot of the work by women writers into a category that is adjacent to, but not fully, literary–leaving that term just as elusive/exclusive as it has always been, unless you’re comfortable being rude about it. If I’m being honest, one of my worries is that the term “Women’s Fiction” was coined as a pejorative (like “MFA Fiction”) that was rapidly transformed into a sales friendly keyword.

Certainly the authors of She Writes Press produce tremendously varied books, but the brand, quite clearly and proudly, is writing women and women’s writing. That’s a very successful selling point. It’s something I was thinking about, as I was introducing Tara and acknowledging the struggle in talking about a book with many identities. Though dark, suspense-filled, and full of characters who make very bad decisions, Bystanders is, at it’s heart, literary fiction, and that’s not very descriptive is it? As yet, I’m not aware of a market category for “bad decisions” or “poor impulse control” fiction. those might work as categories on America’s Funniest Home Videos, though.

I have not yet been identified as a writer of “Women’s Fiction,” but it could happen with my next book, The Mean Bone in Her Body, which is a mystery that begins with the tragic death of a young mother and her two small daughters.The majority of the characters are women, and the heart of the story is about mental illness, which may well be one of those “domestic” subjects that sends a woman author to a different line at the literary DMV. My only anxiety about that is limiting the appeal of my work, so I am hoping that the Mystery/Crime label is the stronger marketing term.  That said, a colleague of mine released a novel that was about generations of a European family fleeing war and communism to come to America, but because the main character unpacking the history is female, the publisher put a photograph of a woman swimming in flowers on the cover–not even the whole woman, either. Just her very shapely legs. And of course, the book is being marketed as Women’s Fiction. The era of the gendered cover is far from over, and gendered marketing is a double edged sword.

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Postcard Stories!

Jen Michalski’s next book, From Herewill be released at the end of September, and by way of pre-celebration she invited a few of her writer friends to create <500 stories inspired by postcards to be featured on the Atticus Books blog zine Atticus Review.  I contributed one of the stories, “Lily, OH,” and my fellow contributors include Erin Fitzgerald, Joseph Young, Timmy Reed, and Judith Krummeck.  All the stories are great, but this one, by Jen herself, made me super happy: “The Boy and Girl Detectives of Albany.”


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decomP magazinE celebrates 10 years with a Best Of issue

Very proud to have my June 2009 story “Ava Gardner Was Born In Grabtown” republished in decomP magazinE’s 10 year anniversary issue. This was, at the time and now, a “good get” as the editor, Jason Jordan (a Goodreads 3 star flinger) is notoriously tough to please.


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The Tonoloway Witch

Holbein-deathBeen writing a lot of ghost stories lately, both inside and outside the novel project–this looks like it wants to be part of a series under the working title The Tonoloway Woods. My usual stuff–cabin, woods, creepers, etc.

The Tonoloway Witch

The man was dressed in shapeless white clothing and he stood still in the forest until he was sure the woman had seen him. Then he started walking towards her.

She’d seen him more than once, so she stood her ground. His gait was formal and deliberate, even as he waded through briars and stepped over tree-fall.

He picked up speed. His face was red. He kept his arms down by his sides, but she could tell he wanted to use them. She could see how much he wanted to shred the forest with his bare hands.

Never before had he made it all the way to the tree line, but this time he walked right out of shadow into sunshine where he stopped and asked, “Is this the hospital?”

There was no hospital, not since the fire. But there was a cabin. She went inside it to drink coffee and read.

He stayed outside, standing just beyond where he should, hands by his side. He leaned a little into the wind when it picked up.

The cold snap brought winter birds to the feeder even though it was only September. The orderly was so still that chickadees and juncos used him, touching off his scalp and shitting berries on his shoulder. By evening there would be bats to contend with as well.

In the morning he was joined by a hairy-kneed patient in a paper gown. The patient’s eyes were milky, and he tilted his face up whenever a bird flapped by. Sometimes he tried to hold the orderly’s hand, but he couldn’t pry open those giant fingers.

After lunch a pharmaceutical salesman staggered out of the forest and stood at its edge, protected from the sun by the orderly’s shadow. The patient tried to hold his hand, but the salesman preferred to hug his sample case to his chest.

The sun set and together the three men teetered between the forest and the cabin. They watched for her silhouette, the cant of her shoulders behind the shade.

They discussed green worlds.

Progress. She had to admit to that. It was time to send out the announcement: The Less Than men were almost here.

“A Texas” is out in HFR 2.2


Just got my print copy of Heavy Feather Review 2.2, and it’s gorgeous. My multi-part, long story about dead siblings taking over the family vacation home in Aransas Bay is included, but there is a lot of great writing and art in the issue. Thank you Jason Teal and Nathan Floom for inviting me to play. Digital versions of HFR 2.2 are forthcoming.

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Pre-order Heavy Feather Review 2.2

Heavy Feather Review just opened up pre-orders for their next volume.I have a long, 16 part story in the issue called “A Texas,” which is about dead adult siblings who have moved into their family’s vacation cottage in Aransas Bay. A section of “A Texas” called “Drag” appeared in Pank last November.

Here’s the HFR announcement, along with news that they will be moving to a quarterly format that will feature a chapbook contest for each go ’round. The first chapbook judge will be the amazing Amber Sparks:

HFR 2.2 (print)* is now available for preorder ($10) until July 1, 2013, when it will go on sale for $12. All preorders will receive the digital edition at no additional cost, and in the three formats that we make available: epub, mobi, and pdf.


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“A Rubblestone Tower Mystery” — a collaboration with Erin Fitzgerald in Red Lightbulbs

The current issue Red Lightbulbs is live, and I’m thrilled that my collaboration with Erin Fitzgerald, “A Rubblestone Tower Mystery” has found a home at last. Believe me, this little story has been rejected by the best, and I admit, it’s a bit on the impenetrable side. Erin and I are both fond of British crime fiction, and this story is inspired by the Myra Hyndley/Ian Brady murders from the 60s. You remember Myra doncha?


I first started working on this idea as part of a graphics-oriented project with Cami Park and a few other brilliant women writers, but after she passed away, we discontinued the group collaboration, and it wasn’t until recently that I convinced Erin to have a go at my creepy fragments. I think the result is awesome. 


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Calvin: My contribution to Forty-Four Stories about Our Forty-Four Presidents

My flash about Calvin Coolidge went live yesterday, thanks to Melville House, the host of an anthology of presidential flash curated/edited by Amber Sparks, Kevin Murphy, and Brian Carr. Coolidge was a tough assignment at first, but then I discovered that his “Silent Cal” legend hid the fact that he was suffering from serious depression, perhaps triggered by the sudden death of his favorite son. Most of the details and quotes in my story are derived from factual accounts, but arranged to suit my tastes of course. Now that we are in the home stretch of these stories, I wonder if anyone will come across them and be confused by their contents.

The crows are entirely my invention, though.

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