Thursday, August 11, 2016

Choosing A Path That Matters


In fiction we writers create obstacles for our characters because we know it is through conflict they will reveal who they are and what they are made of at their core.  In life, the obstacles are often created for us. And it is our choice as to whether or not we surmount them.  Obstacles often come in the form of a person we perceive as difficult or a life challenge such as ill health, the death of someone we love, a divorce, a job loss, or for us writers--yet another rejection letter.  It's important to remember there are gifts in making the effort to step back, see the problem for what it really is, and start climbing up and over it. The view from the top is often different from the one at the bottom and the gifts received from our efforts to make the climb can be both life changing and life affirming. I often wonder how many people, writers especially, give up just before something wonderful is about to happen. 

My daughter and I begin each day with a telephone call (she lives in San Diego, I in southern Oregon) in which we take turns reading aloud a daily reflection by Mark Nepo in his work entitled, The Book of Awakening. The pieces are brief and followed by a short meditation. I was especially moved this week by one of his entries. When The Path is Blocked, Back Up and See More of the Way.  Our reading prompted me to stop and think about the way I sometimes judge a person or a situation without seeing the whole picture. In these times of political diversion when our country and often our families are divided, it seems especially appropriate to take that step back and realize what really matters most to all of us is love. 


All life is finite. We will all die.  And when that end comes, we won't be thinking about what we did or didn't accomplish in our lives or what political party or candidate we supported. We will be focused on the people we loved and how well we loved them. My work as a hospice volunteer has made me as certain about this as I am anything: Those final reflections on our joys and regrets will be centered on love and nothing else.   

Just as the mountain is clearer from a distance so are the people and obstacles in our lives. We have the choice to view ourselves and others in wholeness. We have the opportunity to see each challenge and each individual in their entirety. We can make the choice to keep climbing rather than give up and walk away. We can choose love over hate and diversion. We can keep our dreams alive, pursue them with every ounce of our being, and still choose the path of love. The path that matters most.  




Susan Clayton-Goldner was born in New Castle, Delaware and grew up with four
brothers along the banks of the Delaware River. She is a graduate of the
University of Arizona's Creative Writing Program. Susan has been writing
most of her life. Her novels have been finalists for The Hemingway Award, the
Heeken Foundation Fellowship, the Writers Foundation and the Publishing On-
line Contest where she received a thousand dollar prize. Susan won the National
Writers' Association Novel Award twice for unpublished novels and one of her
poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her novel, A Bend In The Willow, is scheduled for release by Tirgearr Publishing in January, 2017. 

Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Animals as Teachers and Healers, published by Ballantine Books, Our Mothers/Ourselves, by the Greenwood Publishing Group, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings.

Susan shares a life in Grants Pass, Oregon with her husband, Andreas, and more fictional characters than one person could count.     

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On Race and Relevancy in Writing

Between my last deadline and the one that preceded it, it's become an especially and increasingly turbulent time to be black in America, and as an African-American writer, current events can dictate the shape of my work in ways that don't seem fair. Yet I can't tune out for the purpose of somehow preserving my artistic envisioning. Each day, I have to turn on the misery machine and read and watch all of what's happening so that I am aware of the dangers to me and mine. After that, it's pretty hard to go back to my imagination and fashion worlds that are free of the residue of this one. Each time I enter into that creative inner space, I'm followed by spectres of conscience that wail about responsibility. Would I have this voice and platform in this particular climate if it wasn't for me to respond to what we all see as grave problems? To be an African-American who possesses skill with words but refuses to write about race is considered by some a crime of selfishness.

Yet of deep concern for me is how, when a black writer contributes intelligently and poignantly to the mass conversation on race, they become, indelibly, a Race Writer, which may seem like a rare opportunity that is unique to the African-American, and one at which I should not scoff. Except I become a Race Writer, and my lot in life will be to wake up each day and attempt to be first to the pithy maxim. In every format and medium available, I'll have to offer wry observations that my pre-installed relevancy uniquely affords me. I'll be writing less for the benefit of mutual understanding than I will be to serve the choir that wants the perfect daily sermon, or give the well-intentioned but lazy-natured a regular boost of empathetic consciousness. Sure, when you're black, and you write well about race, you get noticed, but then that's all anyone notices, and then that's what you're writing about if you want to be well read, or read at all. Ice skating uphill is what the race writer does, and I don't want that gig, man. I dread it because I've seen what it does to authors whose work was once important until an exhausted and exasperated public put it down.

My latest work involves a protagonist who is a young African-American woman who reaches for a bright future in academia while contending with a history shaped by a family of outlaws. She wishes to hew to her own path but finds herself frequently returning to aid the souls of those who made her, regardless of her disagreement with them. By word 1000, I realized I wasn't just creating a new character and a world in which she could exist, but I was expressing my daily challenge to be true to myself and yet remain connected to the souls that made me. The words wouldn't fall on the page the way they do, and I wouldn't be published and invited to contribute to projects that want a poignant black voice, were I to remain in a bubble where I solely serve my own needs. So I write, sometimes for myself, and sometimes because that's what I gotta do. Or all I can do.

As I was writing this new piece, I came to know both my character and my own inner creative tension. I eventually allowed her encounters and experiences to mirror mine. A Black Lives Matter protest here. A brush with inner city violence there. Difficult choices with no clear winners and losers, over and over again. Then I realized what we all do, at some point, which is we only ever write ourselves. My words come from my black self, and my black self is a part of a world that is made up of so many elements, black and otherwise. It's an exciting world, and a frightening world, and pieces and parts from it make my work exciting, and frightening. And real, which is all any of us want of our writing. And while I cannot, and will not, allow myself to be a Race Writer, I will write lovingly and unguardedly about race, and I will ensure that it comes from the truest part of myself, damn the outcome.

That is my true responsibility.

Danny Gardner is an novelist, actor, director and screenwriter. His long form work has appeared in Literary Orphans Journal, Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter and Noir on the Air. His debut novel, A Negro and an Ofay, is scheduled for publication by Down and Out Books in Spring 2017. He is represented by Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. He lives in Los Angeles and originally hails from Chicago.

On Race and Relevancy in Writing

Between my last deadline and the one that preceded it, it's become an especially and increasingly turbulent time to be black in America, and as an African-American writer, current events can dictate the shape of my work in ways that don't seem fair. Yet I can't tune out for the purpose of somehow preserving my artistic envisioning. Each day, I have to turn on the misery machine and read and watch all of what's happening so that I am aware of the dangers to me and mine. After that, it's pretty hard to go back to my imagination and fashion worlds that are free of the residue of this one. Each time I enter into that creative inner space, I'm followed by spectres of conscience that wail about responsibility. Would I have this voice and platform in this particular climate if it wasn't for me to respond to what we all see as grave problems? To be an African-American who possesses skill with words but refuses to write about race is considered by some a crime of selfishness.

Yet of deep concern for me is how, when a black writer contributes intelligently and poignantly to the mass conversation on race, they become, indelibly, a Race Writer, which may seem like a rare opportunity that is unique to the African-American, and one at which I should not scoff. Except I become a Race Writer, and my lot in life will be to wake up each day and attempt to be first to the pithy maxim. In every format and medium available, I'll have to offer wry observations that my pre-installed relevancy uniquely affords me. I'll be writing less for the benefit of mutual understanding than I will be to serve the choir that wants the perfect daily sermon, or give the well-intentioned but lazy-natured a regular boost of empathetic consciousness. Sure, when you're black, and you write well about race, you get noticed, but then that's all anyone notices, and then that's what you're writing about if you want to be well read, or read at all. Ice skating uphill is what the race writer does, and I don't want that gig, man. I dread it because I've seen what it does to authors whose work was once important until an exhausted and exasperated public put it down.

My latest work involves a protagonist who is a young African-American woman who reaches for a bright future in academia while contending with a history shaped by a family of outlaws. She wishes to hew to her own path but finds herself frequently returning to aid the souls of those who made her, regardless of her disagreement with them. By word 1000, I realized I wasn't just creating a new character and a world in which she could exist, but I was expressing my daily challenge to be true to myself and yet remain connected to the souls that made me. The words wouldn't fall on the page the way they do, and I wouldn't be published and invited to contribute to projects that want a poignant black voice, were I to remain in a bubble where I solely serve my own needs. So I write, sometimes for myself, and sometimes because that's what I gotta do. Or all I can do.

As I was writing this new piece, I came to know both my character and my own inner creative tension. I eventually allowed her encounters and experiences to mirror mine. A Black Lives Matter protest here. A brush with inner city violence there. Difficult choices with no clear winners and losers, over and over again. Then I realized what we all do, at some point, which is we only ever write ourselves. My words come from my black self, and my black self is a part of a world that is made up of so many elements, black and otherwise. It's an exciting world, and a frightening world, and pieces and parts from it make my work exciting, and frightening. And real, which is all any of us want of our writing. And while I cannot, and will not, allow myself to be a Race Writer, I will write lovingly and unguardedly about race, and I will ensure that it comes from the truest part of myself, damn the outcome.

That is my true responsibility.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tenacity is a Writer's Greatest Asset


Last week, while vacationing with my family in Delaware, I received an e-mail response from a publisher. I took a deep breath, prepared myself for a rejection. The e-mail said:

"Thank you for your submission of A Bend in the Willow, and thank you for your patience while our team evaluated the project. I've heard back from my team now and will share some of their comments with you...

The story hooked the readers from page one and had them reading well into the night. The story was intriguing, well-written, and the plot and characters well-developed.

On the back of this, the team is recommending the book for contract." I had to read it three times before I believed it. 

They sent me a 12-page contract. My son, a lawyer, reviewed it for me. And today,  with hands that shook a little, I signed and mailed it back. The novel I've worked on for more than a decade is going to be published. Did you hear that folks? MY NOVEL IS GOING TO BE PUBLISHED.  Am I happy? If I had a cake I'd push my face into it just like my little grandson did on his second birthday. 

You may read a sample (the prologue) by going to the Book page of my website: susanclaytongoldner.com





can't remember a time when I didn't know I was born to be a writer. I suppose that makes me one of the lucky ones. I do know why I'm here. But as all you other writers out there know, it isn't always an easy life. In fact, it is rarely easy We writers receive so many rejections. We agonize over query letters and sample chapters, then send them out to agents and editors who often don't respond at all.  One time I received a letter from a small press I'd queried. It said, "I only publish my own work and I'd rather have a root canal than publish yours." If it weren't so funny (and almost always wins the worst response from an agent or editor award) I might have cried.

Tenacity is the most important quality for a writer. It is a gift I received from my father. Believe in yourself and the power of your words. Never give up. Keep sending out your work. And one day, you'll get an e-mail or a letter in the mail that makes you want to throw up your arms, leap into the air, and smash your face into a cake.    


Susan Clayton-Goldner was born in New Castle, Delaware and grew up with four
brothers along the banks of the Delaware River. She is a graduate of the
University of Arizona's Creative Writing Program. Susan has been writing
most of her life. Her novels have been finalists for The Hemingway Award, the
Heeken Foundation Fellowship, the Writers Foundation and the Publishing On-
line Contest where she received a thousand dollar prize. Susan won the National
Writers' Association Novel Award twice for unpublished novels and one of her
poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Animals as Teachers and Healers, published by Ballantine Books, Our Mothers/Ourselves, by the Greenwood Publishing Group, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings.

Susan shares a life in Grants Pass, Oregon with her husband, Andreas, a blue-eyed feline named Topaz, her fictional characters, and more poetry books than one person could count.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

SENSE OF PLACE

SENSE OF PLACE


by Arthur Kerns

This week the International Thriller Writers featured in their Roundtable the topic, “What are your favorite countries for settings?” A sense of place is important to many writers. The mystery writer Martin Walker is due to sign his latest novel at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is noted for bringing the world of the Dordogne region of France alive in his stories.
This month Diversion Books will release my novel The Yemen Contact. The action takes place in Sicily, Italy, but mainly Yemen, the mysterious, largely unknown country on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. There amongst the rugged beauty of an ancient land nearly every man carries an AK-47. The surroundings definitely keep my protagonist, Hayden Stone, on his toes while he tries to save Western Civilization.


Tarim in the eastern part of Yemen

I recall flying into Sana’a airport back in 1999. The airport handled both commercial and military aircraft. Parked off the runway sat vintage Russian MIG-15 fighters, droopy-winged four engine Ilyushin transports, and derelict helicopters lined up in rows more for a toothless show than ready combat. Taking a deep breath I could taste the dust.
The drive to the capitol, Sana’a, takes a little less than an hour on a good day, one without traffic jams or police checks. I never enjoy the ride from the airport: it doesn’t pass my romanticized image of Yemen. Garages, machine shops, and ramshackle eateries line the tarred road littered with trash. Some of the buildings had been interesting to look at years ago, but now had fallen into a form of suburban decay. Dust and diesel oil hang in the air.
My hotel, the Taj Sheba, in downtown Sana’a never seems to change and is the reason I stay there and not at other hotels that Westerners frequent.
The city always looks busy, not too loud, and from the front stairs of the hotel you look out and beautiful buildings surround you. A calm, tawny setting brushed by dusty, wood burning smells. Along the street women pass by fully covered in black robes accompanied by men in tribal attire, their ornate daggers, the jambiya, tucked in their belts, many have AK-47 Kalashnikovs slung across their backs. This is the Sana’a I know.
That night after an unremarkable dinner, an occasion during a previous trip came to mind and prompted me to leave the hotel. I walked along the busy street, turned into a narrow dark lane toward the old city, and passed a souk dealing in vegetables and fruit. At the open square I had visited years before, I stopped.
Before me I viewed a moving magical, fantasy world. Dim light bulbs, candles, and propane lamps hanging from carts and trailers revealed in a soft glow Yemenis standing and sitting around their makeshift stands that displayed their wares. The voices and calls were not harsh, but at once earnest, happy, and argumentative. The locals ignored me and left me in peace to take in the scene.
The angular multilevel buildings surrounding the square reflected the yellow glow from market lights. The structures twinkled colors from stained glass windows, some which were large, many small and all in various round and oblong shapes. They were haphazardly positioned on the building facades.
I looked up at the sky and saw the sharp cold stars. The last time there I remembered my colleague, Richard, say softly, “This is the closest you’ll ever get to the Arabian Nights.”


Shibam in the Wadi Hadhramawt

Due to the present war and turmoil the country is off limits to travelers. I hope my novel, The Yemen Contract, can provide a look into this forbidden world.
For me a book’s setting is very important, a character itself, that not only serves as background tapestry but something for my characters to take into consideration as they travel through the story.

Arthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. He spent a year studying Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. A past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) his award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Diversion Books, Inc. NY, NY published his espionage thriller, The Riviera Contract, and the sequel, The African Contract. The third in the series, The Yemen Contract, was released in June 2016.
See more in author’s website, www.arthurkerns.com




Monday, May 16, 2016

Daniel Silva's THE ENGLISH SPY, on The Book is Reviewed Here, #1

The Book is Reviewed Here, #1



The English Spy is the fifteenth installment in Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series, and I read it with the same enthusiasm and excitement (and alacrity) as The Kill Artist, which was the first book of the series, published way back in 2000. When you think about it, that is saying something. My favorite media series ever was MASH, which fizzled out after eleven years. Seinfeld was groundbreaking and hilarious, but lost ground after seven seasons and went under
after nine. Tom's Clancy's Jack Ryan series smolders on but lost its zip somewhere between The Sum of All Fears and Debt of Honor.

So what is it about the Gabriel Allon series that sets it apart, and gives it such great staying power? To my mind it is the characters he creates; if there is an author who makes better characters--more real, more memorable, more available to the reader--I haven't discovered him/her yet. Moreover, no one does a better job of using them, in their usual roles, yes (such as Eli Lavon being called upon for surveillance) but in new ones as well. In The English Spy, the former SAS soldier and now mercenary for hire Christopher Keller once again pairs up with Allon, but in a new paradigm from which there is no going back. That's Silva's brilliance in a nutshell, a blend of the new and the familiar, put together with Silva's trademark prose.





No review of a Daniel Silva book could be complete without discussing his prose. Effortlessly glossy, literary and yet still readable at the pace a thriller should go, memorable without being pretentious, and flowing, Silva's prose is unequaled.


If there is a criticism of Silva--and that is a big if--some reviewers do complain he is too formulaic. And although I get what they are referring to, let me say this: seven out of his last eight books reached #1 on the NYT Bestseller lists. (And the off one reached #2.) If your formula is memorable characters, crisp prose, genuine dialogue and superb plotting, you stay with it.


For those of you who aren't familiar with the series, Gabriel Allon is a art restorer who has been recruited by the Mossad to be an assassin. Allon is guided by his boss and mentor Ari Shamron, Israel's avenger since Israel's independence was declared in 1947. In the subsequent years (and volumes of the series) Shamron and Allon have waged their secret war against the whole gamut of the enemies of the State of Israel: Islamic terror groups of every shape and size, exiled Nazis, the Russian mob, and the IRA. But the years have gotten to Shamron (something his enemies were never able to do to) and Allon the protege must become Allon the mentor. Enter Keller, the man who had been hired hired to kill Allon, who now risks his life to save Allon's. The English Spy is more than a first-class thriller by the preeminent name in spy fiction, it is a changing of the guard, and Silva manages to narrate it with the deftness and the soft touch we have come to expect.




If you haven't read any of the Allon series yet, get The Kill Artist and the next three or four books, take a week off work, and escape into a world of terror, intrigue, and the best prose in any genre, including literary fiction. Silva is really that good. And in case, like me, you have read all fifteen, The Black Widow is coming out next month (June 2016) and is available for pre-order now.


Cheers, peter



Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include THE INTERN, a novel based loosely on Peter's medical internship, excerpts of which can be seen on Wattpad; ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; and THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of The Book Stops Herethe literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of three tribes on Triberr, The Big ThrillFiction Writers and The Book Shelf. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and fouchildren--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at peter@peterhogenkamp.com or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at liz@kimberleycameron.com.



:)  







Tuesday, May 10, 2016

7 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors You Won’t Believe Have Never Won a Nebula Award for Best Novel

Kindle e-book available
for 99 cents, May 10-17, 2016

To celebrate the 2016 Nebula Award Conference, which takes place this weekend in Chicago, my publisher has put the ebook version of my fantasy debut, Dreamwielder, on sale for 99 cents. No, Dreamwielder isn’t a Nebula nominee (I wish!), but a guy needs something to aspire to, right? And even if I never work myself up to the top echelon of sci-fi and fantasy writers, I’ll still find myself in good company.

Here are seven of the genre’s best novelists that have never won a Nebula award for Best Novel.



From the Beginning


The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) first started giving out the Nebula Awards in 1966, and in that inaugural year Philip K. Dick was nominated for two novels…and still lost. To be fair, his novels, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb, did lose that year to Frank Herbert’s Dune. Sort of hard to begrudge Dune. Still, the whole nominated…and lost pattern happened again for Dick in 1969, 1975, and 1989. The most notable of Dick’s losses has to be with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (later turned into the film Bladerunner), which lost to Alexei Panshin’s Rite of Passage in 1969.




Right there along with Dick is Poul Anderson, who is tied with Dick with five Best Novel nominations and no awards for best novel. Anderson was nominated in the inaugural year with The Star Fox, and then again in 1972, 1974, 1976, and 1990.








The Mainstreamers

Literary writers, critics, and academics tend to be prejudiced against genre fiction, and the prejudice apparently goes both ways. Kurt Vonnegut, whose novels often have a clear science fiction concept, more often get categorized as mainstream fiction. Slaughterhouse Five was nominated for a Nebula in 1970, but lost to Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Again, it’s hard to argue The Left Hand of Darkness shouldn’t have taken the prize, but that ended up being Vonnegut’s only nomination in any category for the Nebulas. While Philip K. Dick and Poul Anderson at least were nominated or won Nebulas in short fiction categories, Vonnegut—the person who wrote the sci-fi classic short stories “Harrison Bergeron” and “Welcome to the Monkey House” (albeit prior to 1966)—never got another head nod from the Nebulas.


Similarly, Margaret Atwood is an author who incorporates clear sci-fi and fantasy elements but identifies more as a mainstream writer. On top of that, the Nebulas, like most awards, have historically overlooked women and people of color. (Notable exceptions when it comes to the Best Novel category would be Le Guin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Connie Willis, and Octavia Butler.) Taking these factors into consideration, it’s perhaps not surprising that Atwood has only been nominated once for Best Novel, and lost. For Atwood, it was her 1987 classic The Handmaid’s Tale that lost to Orson Scott Card’s Speaker of the Dead.



Funny Business


Humorists tend to get overlooked when it comes to critical acclaim, and it’s no different when it comes to the Nebulas. Terry Pratchett, despite authoring more than 50 novels and being beloved in the sci-fi and fantasy community, was only nominated for Best Novel twice. Going Postal was nominated in 2006 but lost to Joe Haldeman’s Camouflage, and Making Money was nominated in 2009 but lost to Le Guin’s Powers.






While not as prolific of a sci-fi and fantasy writer as Pratchett was, Douglas Adams authored one of the best-selling sci-fi novels of all time with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Despite its huge popularity and commercial success, Adams never received a nomination for Best Novel, not for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, first published in 1979, nor any of the sequels or Adams’ Dirk Gently novels.






The Big Gun

It’s hard to think of any name bigger in the sci-fi and fantasy world right now than George R.R. Martin. His A Song of Ice and Fire series was already critically acclaimed and a best-seller well before the HBO adaptation of the series, and now with the success of Game of Thrones on television, Martin is practically a rock star. Amazingly, he’s received no Nebula Award for Best Novel. Book 1 in the series was nominated in 1998 but lost to Vonda N. McIntyre’s The Moon and the Sun. Books 2 and 3 were subsequently nominated in 2000 and 2002 but both also lost. If and when Martin does finally finish the series, don’t be surprised if the SFWA awards him the Best Novel award for that final book, much in the same way the movie adaptation of Tolkien’s Return of the King cleaned house at the Academy Awards.


Garrett Calcaterra is author of The Dreamwielder Chronicles and other works of dark speculative fiction.

 To celebrate the Nebula Awards, the Kindle version of Dreamwielder is available for only 99 cents between May 10 – 17, 2016.

Book 2, Souldrifter, is also available now in ebook and paperback formats from Diversion Books. Learn more at www.garrettcalcaterra.com.




Monday, May 2, 2016

I WORSHIP AT THE ALTAR OF ÅSA LARSSON




In the firmament of Scandinavian noir writers, Åsa Larssen’s star shines the brightest.  Larsson has three likeable detectives, and of the three Rebecka Martinsson is the most compelling. Rebecka isn’t a detective at all, but a tax attorney working her butt off in Stockholm.

In Larssen’s first book Sun Storm, Rebecka is called back to her home, the northernmost town of Kiruna. Think about “northernmost” and “Sweden” and you get a sense of the frozen exoticism of this land of forests, rivers and wolves, polar night and the Aurora Borealis.

Rebecka is an unlikely detective: she’s unqualified as an investigator, she hovers somewhere between introverted and autistic, and if that weren’t hard enough, she left Kiruna years ago under a cloud of disgrace. Yet it’s Rebecka who solves the case. In Larsson’s next books: The Blood Spilt and The Black Path, Rebecka continues as a reluctant but gifted investigator.

With Larsson’s series, we have a fascinating detective, and great, twisty plots, but I have other reasons for worshipping Åsa Larsson. Larssen sees deep within the human heart and records shame, longing, loneliness, love and comfort. Here’s an example: “She had put the tray of coffee and sandwiches down on the floor. Then she crept up behind him, kneeling on the bed. His hips between her thighs. She had let her dressing gown fall open and pressed her breasts and her cheek against his back while her hands caressed his firm shoulders. ‘Astrid’ was all he said. Troubled and suffering. Filled her name with apologies and feelings of guilt. She had fled the kitchen. Switched on the radio and the dishwasher. Picked up Baloo and wept into the dog’s fur.”

The landscapes are gorgeous: “At quarter past three in the morning it begins to snow. Just a few flakes at first, then more and more. Above the dense clouds the Aurora Borealis hurls herself recklessly across the heavens. Writhing like a snake. Opening herself up to the constellations.”

And I love her endings. Endings are the devil, but Larssen finishes her stories with a 10-point land. Each one leaves me breathless.

Although each novel is a stand-alone, I recommend reading her books in order. And then you, too, will worship at the altar of Åsa Larssen.

Lily Gardner lives in the rainy city of Portland, Oregon with her husband, two corgis and several thousand books. Her two hard-boiled detective novels, Betting Blind and A Bitch Called Hope are published by Diversion Books and available everywhere. Check out her film noir reviews at www.lilygardner.net.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Haunting Memories - #FlashFiction by Sue Coletta

The day my life imploded I was barely seventeen. Many might’ve considered me an adult, but that didn’t make the crushing pain any easier to absorb. She was my whole world, my everything, and when I lost her I knew I’d never be the same.

For weeks I sat vigil at her bedside, covered in welts, hoping and praying she’d pull through. I put on a good front, never let her see me cry. I even secured an ambulance to take her home for her birthday.

Nothing worked. No matter what I did I couldn’t erase the damage he’d done.

I stroked her hand, read to her.

She didn’t respond.

I kissed her cheek, brushed her hair.

Nothing. Not even a blink.

“Mom,” I cried out, “please don’t leave me.” Tears washed my face, my heart shattering like a bullet through stain glass. I turned my gaze to the Christmas lights around the window. If only I could wish her injuries away. Sadly, there was too much damage.

Why did I go out that night? I should’ve stayed home. Alone, she never stood a chance. The stranger snuck through the unlocked window, into her bedroom. Before she knew what hit her, he pounced, leveling a blade to her throat, stabbing in a rage-filled frenzy. When I arrived home the house was unusually quiet. I crept up the stairs, but something — a yearning, a pull, maybe intuition — told me to check on her.

If only I hadn't opened that door.


Blood.

Everywhere.

On the walls, the headboard, speckles on the ceiling. Her lifeblood, her very essence, bathed the room in a mural of lunacy. By some miracle she remained alive. Or was it? Maybe if she died instantly she wouldn’t have suffered so.

Like any good daughter I called nine-one-one, my hands trembling and bloody. A gurgling diverted my attention. “It’s me, Mom. Help is on the way. Stay with me.” I wailed, my words almost incoherent. “Please don’t leave me. I won’t make it without you.” I lowered my ear to her lips.

She whispered, “I love you” as if for the very last time.

The paramedics ordered me out of the room so they could work on her. I stood in horror. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Everyone loved Mom. She had no enemies. Never in her life did she harm a living soul. Hell, she never even uttered a cross word…except for the time she caught me smoking weed out the bedroom window. But even then, she seemed more disheartened than anything else, her judgmental glare shaming me from the inside out.

A week before Christmas she died. Every day after I received a present in the mail, with a note from the great beyond. “Be a good girl. All my love, Mom.” She’d preordered my gifts. But how did she know? Did she sense her time was coming to an end? Did she meet the stranger who’d followed her home?

I collected the gifts, never opened a one till Christmas Eve. That night I sat cross-legged on the floor at the foot of tiny white lights shimmering on the tree. All alone in the world. My father died years before. My brother took off to God knows where. And Mom, well, she wouldn’t be home for Christmas ever again. It’s only me…a tiny dot in an angry, hateful world of agony.

Yet one glimmer of hope taunted me on the horizon…just out of reach. One shred of mercy. One final pardon for my insignificance.

If I could hang on long enough, maybe I’d struggle through. But my body was weakening — so damn tired of fighting, of elbowing my way through the sludge.

I drew the blade up my last unscathed wrist, slashed open my veins. The water crimsoned, a film of old bubbles surfing blood-red ripples. I reclined my head against the tub, closed my eyes. The darkness brought peace, arms wide, welcoming me home. Nothing frightened me here. My soul floated on a bed of wisps, swaying gently, navigating my journey into the abyss. Away from the anger, from the sadness and pain. The haunting memories of yesterdays fading like taillights on an empty hearse, trailing into the blackness, destruction left in its wake.

When I drew my final breath, an image emerged, a devastating truth that consumed my every inch, my very being. The maw of nevermore opened in anticipation, flames fringing the mouth of madness, girded by screams of terror and anguish. The killer who destroyed my life wasn’t a stranger. The face that haunted my dreams, the evil doer who didn’t know hesitation, who didn’t know right from wrong, who didn’t know real life from imagined, the shadowy beast Mom feared…lived inside me.


Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the author of Marred and Wings of Mayhem (next to release). She's published in Murder, USA, OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive, her forensics articles are published in InSinC Quarterly, and one of her short stories is slated for publication in the upcoming dark fiction anthology, RUN.