The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

September 28, 2009

REVIEW: PARIAH by Dave Zeltserman

In two days, Dave Zeltserman's Pariah hits the bookstores. As a reminder, and because I think this is a terrific book, I'm bringing to your attention this review I wrote last May.

SYNOPSIS:
After eight years in prison for a bank robbery he most definitely was part of, Kyle Nevin is a free man. Not on parole, not on probation. Free. Free to search out and destroy the mob boss who ratted him out and set him up for the ambush. Fueled by a consuming need for revenge, for status and instant wealth, Kyle plans to attain all of these through a kidnapping. Of Irish descent, Kyle should have applied Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will, especially when there's always someone willing to rat you out. Never mind. He's smart enough, strong enough, and more than ruthless enough to beat, shoot, burn or even charm his way through all the problems. Nothing stands in Kyle's way, certainly not any of the finer feelings. He has other tools: intimidation, manipulation, deception, and a blinding rage always ready to boil over into violence. With these tools, he can do anything he wants - except see himself for the monster he is.

REVIEW: This book just sucked the air right out of me. It's more than great noir. This book's got teeth that bite and claws that catch, and it's a masterpiece. If you're looking for a hero or even an anti-hero, you won't find one here. Kyle Nevin is pure, unwavering psychopath, and the most finely drawn such creature since Charles Willeford put Junior Frenger on paper. If Jim Thompson's Lou Ford and James Cagney's Cody Jarrett (White Heat, 1949) are watching somewhere from the halls of twisted fiction, they are pouring out their warped blessings on Kyle Nevin.

All of the characters are well-drawn, no mean feat since the story is told from Kyle's point of view. Getting past his self-absorption and lack of empathy for others to see real 3D characters should be a chore for any author, but Zeltserman uses another attribute of psychopathy to reveal and create empathy for Nevin's victims: Nevin's merciless exploitation of their personalities. Virtually everyone who comes in contact with him becomes his victim in one way or another. The way Kyle systematically takes apart his struggling brother's life is like watching a wreck on the highway: you don't want to look but you can't resist the compulsion. It would have been very easy to make Kyle almost an evil superman, as he is completely unlikeable and irredeemable, a kind of noirish Gary Stu, but the author wisely found and manipulated the cracks in Kyle's armor. He does have psychological weaknesses - his vanity, his need to control, a craving for power and adulation - that manifest themselves in the physical, but Zeltserman walked a fine tightrope here, making the character fully rounded without ever giving the reader any reason or opportunity to empathize with him. Unlike the Joe Denton character in Small Crimes (my review here) whose full character wasn't truly understood even by himself until the very end of the book, the reader has no doubt from early on just what sort of vile anti-human Kyle is. Kyle may have some idea of what he is but that will never be something that troubles him. Just don't let anyone else mention it.

The setting is primarily Boston and its Southie section, with some brief forays into other locales. More than any other novel I've read, Pariah comes closest, scarily so, to breathing life and death into the news stories I've read about mob boss Whitey Bulger and the culture of murder, drugs, suicide and silence so prevalent in Southie then and probably to a great degree even now. Cultures and organizations with such hardened rules don't just change overnight, it takes years to eradicate or even just shift the old mindset.

While the general plot as I've described it in the synopsis may sound like something you've read before, I have been careful, I hope, not to write any spoilers, because this story takes Kyle down a far stranger, and yet more realistic, road than that brief summary would indicate. The author has both imagination and cojones by the boatload. He not only tackles the Southie history and culture of crime and violence, but he manages some truly sharp stabs at the publishing industry, specifically those kinds of publishers willing to pay huge money to OJ for that If I Did It book, while rejecting worthy but unknown authors simply for being unknown. Along those lines, there is a scene between Kyle and a struggling writer that is priceless. But don't think the stabbing stops at the publishing industry; the satire also lacerates the American fascination with and reverence for celebrity criminals.

The structure of the book is generally linear, and the reader gets clued in on Kyle's backstory as naturally as if the two of you were having lunch and chatting casually. When the character is this complex, it's good to keep the structure simple, no time shifts, no POV shifts. And no flights of fanciful prose here, this is Kyle Nevin telling you his story and he's not real big on poetry. He's direct. Not necessarily straightforward but still direct. While Kyle is always on the verge of or actually engaged in violence, he never gets too lovingly involved in graphic details, lending credence to his cold indifference to others.

The pacing of the book is a remarkable accomplishment. Pariah is moved along not so much by pace or tension as by torque. Definition time: torque is a measure of how much a force acting on an object causes that object to rotate. Zeltserman has put his objects - Kyle and the other characters - in motion and applies varying amounts of force to them. In turn, they apply force to each other, especially Kyle, and everybody starts to spin, carom, collide. The closer the reader comes to getting at the core of Nevin's character, the greater the torque, until something has to give. I don't think I breathed for the last 30 pages of this story.

Ken Bruen has written an elegant paean to this book and I want to share just one sentence of that well-deserved song of praise: 'Pariah is all I know of bliss and lament... bliss at reading a superb novel and lament at knowing that Dave Zeltersman has now raised the bar so high, we're screwed.'

If you revere the dark tales of Charles Willeford, Jim Thompson and James M. Cain, add Dave Zeltserman's name to your list. I promise you that in years to come, when those first three names are mentioned, so will the fourth.

Pariah by Dave Zeltserman. Serpent's Tail, © October, 2009.
ISBN 9781846686436 (trade paperback), 273p.

WGI 1st Place: Beast by Hilary Davidson

BEAST by Hilary Davidson

Kelly didn’t see the devil tattoo until the man was half-naked. She’d already admired the ornate dagger on his forearm and the dragon whose tail encircled his wrist. Those, she’d noted before they’d left the nightclub together. Back at her apartment, as they’d shed their clothes, she’d seen inked barbed wire around one bicep, a clock face without hands on the other. But this tattoo was different.

“What is that on your shoulder?”

“Numbers,” he said.

“It has horns and it says 6-6-6.” That earned her a dead-eyed stare. “Isn’t that, like, the Antichrist or something?”

“Number of the Beast. Do we have to get into this now?” He unbuttoned his jeans.

It had been years since Kelly had been inside a church, let alone a confessional, but this guy was creeping her out. “You know, I’m feeling a little funny.”

“You look good.” His voice was almost a growl.

She was suddenly conscious that she was sitting on her bed in nothing but a lacy black bra and thong. They were a treat she’d bought for herself after she and Richard had broken up, a reminder that someone else would find her hot and not ditch her for some stupid junior associate at his law firm. But she didn’t like the look in this guy’s eyes. She was looking for a new boyfriend, not a mauling from a Satan-worshipper.

“Maybe you should go.” What was his name again? And what the hell was she doing with him? Sure, she’d hooked up with guys in college, but they were friends, or friends of friends. Then she’d been with Richard for two years. She’d never invited a total stranger back to bed with her, until now, and she already regretted it.

“You’re not serious?” His face was handsome, though Kelly would have liked him better if his hair hadn’t been shaven off. He had blue eyes, high cheekbones, and a full mouth, which was twisted in confusion or frustration. “I’ve got condoms,” he added.

“I have to get up early for work in the morning. I’m really tired.”

He grabbed her with one beefy hand and pulled her to her feet, pressing her body against his. “You have to go to work... tomorrow?”

She pushed him away. “Just go. Please.”

“What are you, some kind of head case?” He shoved her back onto the bed, not hard enough to hurt her but with enough force that her fingers inched towards her phone. But he pulled on his jeans and grabbed his shirt and shoes, muttering to himself all the while. Bitch, she heard him grunt. It was only when he turned to leave the room that she saw the swastika on his back.


***


“It freaked me out,” Kelly told her friends at work the next day. “Who gets tattoos like that? Hitler?”

“666 and a swastika,” said Marietta. “That’s creepy. Beyond creepy. Eww.”

“Crazy,” Lori chimed in. “He must be a white supremacist.” She bit into a chocolate bar. Lori ate chocolate all day long and never gained an ounce, while Kelly starved herself to stay thin. Lori was engaged, too, and the big rock on her finger taunted Kelly. It wasn’t fair. “Why did you bring him home?” Lori added.

Kelly rolled her eyes, but the question bothered her. The night before, she’d wished her ex would come into the club and see her grinding against this guy who was so much bigger and stronger than he was. Richard, while a rising star at his law firm, would look like a geek by comparison. Kelly had seen him with other girls since they’d broken up, and she wanted to prove she was still a babe.

“Lucky you got him out of your apartment before he went all CSI,” said Marietta.

“CSI?”

“You know, hacked you up into little pieces,” Marietta clarified. “Like a jigsaw puzzle.”

“It’s like there are no good men out there anymore,” Kelly said. “All of them are psychos.”

“I’m so lucky I’m engaged,” Lori said through a mouthful of chocolate.

Kelly swallowed hard. The three worked at the same collection-agency call center, and somehow Lori — the tomboyish one with the bad skin — had snagged a handsome banker who went rock-climbing with her. Before Kelly could shoot back with something snarky, Marietta broke in.

“I hope they’re not all crazy,” she said. “I’ve got a date Saturday with the guy who took me out last week.”

How could Marietta get anyone to out with her until she lost 20 pounds? Kelly was prettier than either of her friends, so why did they met normal guys and she found freaks? She tried to tell herself that she wasn’t being left behind, but she knew she was eating their dust.


***


Over the next several weeks, Kelly was haunted by what she came to think of as her close call with the Nazi. What had she been thinking, bringing him home? No one was going to marry her if she slept with him right off the bat. Not that she wanted to marry that guy. Still, it was a tough meat market out there. How was she going to reel one in for good if she didn’t put out some bait?

Confused, she went to William Ashley, the opulent china shop on Bloor Street where every elegant Toronto bride-to-be went to register before her big day. The store was a temple to domestic bliss. While there, Kelly gawked at Lori’s wedding wish list. Tacky stuff, proving Lori had no taste anywhere but in her mouth. Kelly knew what looked good.

“I’m thinking of setting up a registry,” she told a saleswoman.

“Of course.” The saleswoman glanced at Kelly’s hand. No engagement ring there.

“What is your wedding date?”

“Oh. I, um, just got engaged.”

The saleswoman smiled. “We need to have a date. Perhaps you could just look around for now and get some ideas, for when you’re ready.”

Red-faced, Kelly slipped across the street to Holt’s, where she bought more lingerie. It never hurt to be prepared.


***


The next time Kelly had after-work drinks with Lori and Marietta, she had a shock. She’d been looking forward to complaining about men and all the things that were wrong with them, but Marietta cut in with the news that she and her new boyfriend were planning a vacation together. To Italy.

“Since when do you have a boyfriend?” Kelly snapped. Italy? That was where she was going on her honeymoon. “You’re taking a trip with a total stranger?”

“We’ve been going out for eight weeks, but we’ve been friends for four years,” Marietta answered.

Kelly felt as if she were melting away into the background. She stared at her friends, evaluating their skin, their hair, their bodies, as they yipped about Italy like stupid puppies. They had nothing on her. Why was she the one who was alone?

She slipped out of the booth, went outside, and dialed Richard’s number from memory. She’d deleted it from the phone when they’d broken up, but she called it now and then, curious whether some other woman’s voice or name would come up on his voice-mail.

“Hi, Richard, it’s me,” she said when he answered.

There was a pause. “Kelly?”

A rush of warmth hit her. “How are you doing, Richard?”

“Okay. Um, yeah, okay.” An awkward pause. “How about you?”

“I think we should talk,” she answered.

It was just curiosity, she told herself on the way to his apartment. What had he been up to for the past six months? She walked to his place. His two-bedroom condo in Liberty Village was just as Kelly remembered it. So was he: brown hair, receding slightly, brown eyes behind steel-rimmed glasses, and a lean body that showed he worked out. He looked better now than when they’d been together.

They hugged an awkward hello. Things relaxed a little when Richard went to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of champagne and a pair of fluted glasses. He’d always been thoughtful about things like that.

“To seeing you again,” Richard said. They clinked glasses and drank. “I’ve missed you.”

By the time they got into his king-sized bed, they were both slurring their words. Richard had always been quick to pounce, but this time Kelly hadn’t even gotten her bra off before he jumped her. It was a pretty pink thing with red polka dots and strategic underwire to boost cleavage, but he didn’t seem to notice. Afterward, while he snored beside her, Kelly wondered how long it would take to put together a really beautiful wedding. Lori’s wasn’t until next June. Maybe she could have hers before then.


***


Two weeks later, Kelly left her doctor’s office, her hands clutching some pamphlets. “Herpes and You” read the cover of the top one. It wasn’t bad enough that Richard had never called her after she’d slept over at his place. No, he had to give her a lasting souvenir. The blisters made every step painful for her. She’d called him repeatedly, but he wouldn’t answer the phone.

“You need to tell any sex partners you have that you have herpes, because it can be spread even when there are no blisters,” her doctor had cautioned. Sex partners? Kelly couldn’t imagine ever letting anyone touch her again.

She waited for Richard outside his building. She stood at the corner of the block, her eyes on both exits. He appeared at 12:04, predictable as ever.

“Richard!” she called.

He turned around, not quite bothering to hide his distaste. “Sorry, I’m busy right now.” He nudged the colleague beside him. “We’re going to a meeting. I’ll call you later.”

That was a lie, of course. Kelly went back to work and then home. She repeated the cycle. No call. Meanwhile the blisters itched and burned. There wasn’t a moment of the day she didn’t think about Richard. The pain kept her up at night. He wasn’t going to get away with doing this to her.

On Friday, she skipped work and went to William Ashley instead. She’d always felt comforted by its vision of domestic bliss. Fine crystal for dinner parties. Bunnykins china for babies. Silver picture frames for all the good memories. Even now, as she wanted to wriggle out of her own skin, she allowed herself a moment to look around and drink in the sight of pale bone china and polished silver. This was what she’d wanted her life to look like, but now it would never fit her vision. Unless...

After she looked at Lori’s registry and made her purchase — Lori might not have any style, but she was practical — Kelly took a cab south to Richard’s office building. The security guard smiled and waved. They still remembered her around here. That was nice. At law office upstairs, a receptionist with bottle-blonde hair and lavender contact lenses told Kelly that Richard was in a meeting. “Which way is the bathroom again?” Kelly asked. She unwrapped the pretty William Ashley box in the privacy of a stall. She shouldn’t really have let the store wrap it, but their gift boxes were so pretty it was impossible to say no. The sleek gold paper and ribbon fell away, and she tucked them into her purse, along with the gift.

By the time Kelly came out of the bathroom, Richard was standing in the reception area. So much for the meeting he was supposed to be in. “Kelly. What a surprise.” No surprise in his voice.

“I need to talk to you, Richard.”

He folded his arms. “Sure.”

“Um, can we have some privacy?” Kelly asked. “Why don’t we go to your office?”

“Sorry, confidential papers, you know.”

“Oh.” She saw him turn his head. Did the receptionist just wink at him? Had he winked at her? Kelly’s hand dug into her bag.

“I don’t have much time,” Richard said. “What do you want?”

He knew what was up, the bastard. That was why he didn’t want to be alone with her. Richard always slunk away when confronted. The only reason he’d come out to reception was to head her off at the pass. He knew Kelly wouldn’t raise her voice in public.

“You have to marry me,” she whispered. Her hand clenched around a stainless steel handle.

“What?” Richard’s jaw fell open. He recovered, shaking his head and smiling. “Have you lost your mind? Even if I wanted to get married now — and I don’t — it wouldn’t be to you. Leave me alone, or I’ll get a restraining order.”

He made eye contact with the receptionist, as if to say Can you believe this loser? So that was it. Kelly lifted the knife out of her purse and as Richard’s eyes flicked back at her she dug the blade into the side of his neck. A geyser of blood rained over her arm. Richard tried to yell, but only a sad gurgling grunt came out of his mouth. Kelly pushed the knife in harder, feeling flesh and tissue give way. The knife was a Wüsthof, eight inches long. The salesman at William Ashley had said the oval indentations in the steel blade would make the knife slice into anything. Kelly remembered suddenly that Richard had told her that he had eight inches before they’d slept together. Boy, he’d thought she was dumb.

The receptionist screamed. Richard sank to his knees. It was almost how Kelly had pictured him proposing, except for all the blood.


***


At the police station, she waited in an interrogation room. A cop sat with her, drumming his fingers on the table. Then a second cop came in.

“I don’t fucking believe this.”

Kelly blinked at him, confused. Then it came to her. The shaved head, the blue eyes, the high cheekbones. “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” she said, suddenly embarrassed. There she was, covered in her ex-boyfriend’s blood, and she was face-to-face with a guy she’d almost slept with. “You’re a cop?”

“Used to work undercover in gangs.” He didn’t blink. It was almost as if he were in a trance. “Now I’m in homicide.”

“You know this woman?” asked the other cop, half-turning in his seat.

“We met a few weeks ago. I went home with her. Almost slept with her.” He shook his head. “I could’ve been sliced and diced.”

“You want to sit this one out?”

The big cop nodded. “Yeah. I’m going around the corner, light a candle. Fuck. It’s like your whole life passes behind your eyes, you know.” He shook his head and moved out the door, as Kelly watched him go. “That was a hell of a close call.”

WGI 2nd Place: At Least I Felt Something by Sophie Littlefield

AT LEAST I FELT SOMETHING by Sophie Littlefield

I heard about Alan when I dropped Conner off at school. Nancy Mangin tapped her horn and I pulled up next to her Pathfinder and rolled down my window, my breath making clouds in the rain.

“Did you hear?” she asked, eyes bright behind her designer glasses. “Alan Corrigan’s dead. The police are over there and the ambulance just left.”

My peripheral vision faded to nothing as I absorbed the news. I finally found words.

“Was it a heart attack?” I asked.

Nancy put a manicured hand to her throat; if you didn’t know her well you’d think she was devastated.

“There were cops there. It’s bad. Cheryl said they hadn’t even moved Alan yet. He was just lying on the floor in the den with a sheet on him. Cheryl didn't get a close look because Glenna was practically hysterical. But she said there was a guy in a police windbreaker taking pictures."

“What, like…like Alan was murdered?”

Nancy managed to look stricken when she nodded, but she was already scanning the parking lot to see who else she could tell.

***

The casserole lineup was in place by that afternoon. Cheryl made the phone calls and emailed a spreadsheet; Glenna wouldn't have to cook for a month.

When we moved here a little over a year ago I found out that life events in our neighborhood are met with food. A new baby, an illness – the Ogilvys even got a week’s worth when their son was arrested for cocaine possession.

That night when I put dinner on my own table, my husband Eric held out his hands to us. For once Connor didn’t object. Over the years, we’ve pared down our grace to a quick “Bless us oh Lord,” et cetera, but that night Eric talked about Alan. What a good man he was, a good father and provider. He asked God’s blessing for Glenna and Kate. He threw in a few words of gratitude for our own blessings.

The phone rang and rang after dinner. The basic story was that Alan had been hit hard enough to splinter his skull. He’d been lying on the oriental rug in the den for several hours by the time Glenna found him in the morning.

The next day I sent my gray dress to be pressed. I went through Eric's closet and picked out a shirt and tie for him to wear.

Before Connor came home from school, I locked myself in the guest room and cried.

***

Eric does copyright law. When he was offered a job in Chicago I told him I didn’t mind moving – a suburb is a suburb, and he got a significant raise.

We quickly settled into a new routine, not so different from our old one. We joined the tennis club. I had the hardwood floors refinished, and started working with a designer on the kitchen remodel.

We started attending Saint Stephens, made a strategic donation and got Connor admitted to the school. It's a good one; they turn kids away every year. We considered Country Day, but Conner’s had some discipline problems in the past, and we thought the parochial-school environment would be good for him. And the church is close enough to walk when the weather’s good.

In early October, the Women’s Club hosted a harvest moon party in the church basement. Dinner, laid out in steam trays, was mostly ignored. Everyone hung around the bar. At first it was the women in one group, men in another, but as the evening wore on people started to drift into each other, laughing. I heard a man tell the same joke twice. Three women I recognized made microphones out of empty wine bottles and sang “Summer of Sixty-Nine.”

At midnight I was ready to leave. I had a headache from trying to smile. Eric was talking to some guys near the dessert table. “Brick House” played on the sound system.

Nancy Mangin approached a little unsteadily, dragging another woman by the hand. “Jen, do you know the Corrigans? They have a seventh grader.”

I shook hands with Glenna Corrigan, a sprayed-in-place blond in a cashmere cardigan. And then I saw Alan.

He was tall and his dark hair needed a cut, and he looked at me like I’d made a gaffe that he secretly found amusing. When I took his hand he held on.

Nancy wandered away with Glenna, and the music pounded through my shoes and up into my body, and I didn’t say anything at all when Alan slowly rubbed his thumb in a circle on my palm.
“Finally, someone to bring a little class to this place,” he said.

***

After that I saw Alan sometimes, at a barbecue or a dinner party. He was always charming, always at the center of conversation, though I noticed that he never talked too long to any one person. When he told a story, everyone laughed. He filled people’s glasses, helped women with their coats.

But I was an avid student, and before long I noticed that the glass he filled most often was his own. It didn’t take much work to get the story; word was that he saved his serious drinking for when he got home.

Alan never gave me more than a casual hello, and I wondered if I had imagined that first time, the intimate way he spoke to me, his hand holding mine. Still, it was him I thought about on nights when I couldn’t sleep.

In the spring Eric and I were summoned to a parent conference after Conner and some other fifth graders were caught telling girls all the x-rated things they wanted to do to them. The principal, an ex-nun with a masters in education, had a hard time getting the words out.
Everyone got grounded. I started volunteering for lunch supervision so I could keep an eye on Connor. School dragged on; eventually it was June, and we reached a state of détente. Connor would be going to special summer school, the kind with psychologists on staff, instead of soccer camp. Eric had a big case that kept him out of town a lot.

***

Glenna Corrigan called to arrange a carpool. Her daughter Kate would be going to the same camp, she told me cheerily, as though it was a program for gifted children. Through the grapevine I’d heard that Kate had anger issues and had threatened to run away.

Glenna said she would drive Connor and Kate to camp, and I could bring them home at three. I took a little extra care getting Connor ready for the first day. I made him wear a collared shirt and pack carrots in his lunch, the kind of things you do when your child is under the microscope.

I was surprised when Alan came to the door, wearing a faded polo shirt and madras shorts. “Summer schedule,” he said. “Thought I’d give Glenna a break with the driving.”

I knew he did something with investments. Apparently the job wasn’t too time-consuming, though, because when I offered him coffee the second day, he said he’d love to, that he’d be back as soon as he dropped off the kids.

During the twenty minutes he was gone, I dumped the old coffee and made a fresh pot. I windexed the counters and set out the cream pitcher. I brushed my teeth for the second time that morning.

We never drank any coffee. Alan came through the door and slammed it behind him and had me up against the new Schumacher wallpaper in the foyer in seconds, his hands in my hair and his kiss crushing and inevitable.

***

The thing about Alan was that we never had sex. He couldn’t. He would get hard and then it wouldn’t last. I put things together and realized it was the drinking. Everything with Alan was the drinking, what I loved and what I hated. He was like some sort of mid-century man about town, his manners impeccable, his conversation funny and generous, but there were places he couldn’t go.

Through careful inquiries I found out that Glenna had made her peace with her husband's problem. Alan had inherited a lot of money and I guess that bought her an adequate amount of serenity.

I should have felt sorry for her. I told myself I did. But on days when I didn't see Alan, the thought of him sharing the homely rituals of a marriage – deciding what to watch on TV, or serving each other from takeout containers – was enough to bring on a pain focused behind my eyes.

Alan came over to the house during the day when Eric was out of town. Other times, we’d go up to a little motel up in Highwood. Alan never left me unsatisfied. It seems important to point that out – he was generous and attentive and when I asked what he got out of our affair he just laughed and pulled me into his arms. Sometimes he read to me. Sometimes he brought sugar cookies from the bakery, silly shapes like bees and daisies.

But I couldn’t let go of wanting more. I wasn't sure if I loved Alan, but it had been so long since I’d felt anything at all. I felt dizzy when I imagined him inside me. I wanted to feel him tense as he went over the edge.

Our affair had been going on for several months when I asked Alan if he’d stop drinking, for me. I had let him undress me, buried my face in the warm taut skin of his stomach, lain in his arms watching the rain through the motel window – intimacies I hadn’t shared with anyone else. But Alan’s drinking was a place we never went. It felt dangerous to breach the boundaries.

But I asked anyhow. I craved more of him.

***

Finding an AA meeting on the North Shore is as easy as finding popcorn at the movies. Alan went to Wilmette, where he wouldn’t run into people he knew. I tried not to think about what he told Glenna. I couldn't stand to think of him confiding in her. Or her promising to stand by him.

Alan was very cautious. He hadn't even started the steps yet, he was still getting used to the whole program. He told me that his short-term goal was just to hold onto the unfamiliar feeling of optimism; permanent sobriety still seemed to him like a dream on par with a miracle.

And then he died.

***

Kate was getting worse, despite the best efforts of the camp and the school counselors and her therapist. She had moved on to cutting, wearing long sleeves to cover the scabbed skin on her arms. On warm evenings people used to hear her screaming at her parents through the open windows.

In the days following Alan’s death, everyone in the neighborhood discussed the rumors that the police were focusing on Kate. Her prints were on the hammer they found near the body. So were Glenna’s.

There were cops at the funeral, but they kept a respectful distance at the back of the church. I couldn’t concentrate on the sermon. Instead I tried to decide if I would take my turn to see Alan one last time, to say goodbye. When the congregation began its slow journey past the casket, I still hadn't decided.

Betrayal is a powerful thing, and yet since I started seeing Alan I had given little thought to Eric. I was too consumed with the affair, with planning our next rendezvous, with tamping down my jealousy of Glenna. Sometimes it seemed that I was the wronged party, just because I couldn’t have Alan to myself.

But the night after Alan died, I watched my husband with his hands folded humbly in prayer and something hitched inside me. Now Eric sat next to me in his darkest suit, a hymn book open on his knee, his arm draped protectively around Connor. There was something there of the man I fell in love with almost twenty years ago, a strong and steadfast man who asked only to walk in the door at the end of the day and find us waiting.

But, again, betrayal is powerful. A week earlier, when Eric was in Toronto and Connor was on a field trip to the Art Institute, Alan came to me in my kitchen and took me in his arms. “I have a surprise for you,” he whispered in my ear, sucking the lobe into his mouth and sending tremors down my spine.

He led me to the guest room, where we often lay twined together. “What’s the surprise?” I asked, but it wasn’t until my bra and blouse were lying on the floor that he told me, tracing a finger down my nose, my chin.

“I’m going to make love to you, Jen. Here. Now.”

The words thrilled me – but at the same time I was worried. What would it do to Alan, if he couldn’t see it through? Could his new sobriety stand to be tested by that humiliation?

“What if…it doesn’t work?” I asked in a whisper.

“Oh, it will.” He worked the zipper of my jeans.

“But how do you know?”

Alan loomed over me, his beautiful face inches away, his hands hot on my skin.

“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. I’ve fucked Glenna twice already.”

***

I watched Kate sink against her father’s casket, only to be lifted to her feet by several tall young men. Cousins, maybe. Or plainclothes cops.

I thought about what people were saying, that at least she was still a juvenile. That it wasn’t premeditated; Kate just had one of her fits and she probably wasn’t even competent when she went to get the hammer.

They’re not all that far off, at least about it not being premeditated. It took me fifteen hours after I sent Alan away. Fourteen of them, I don’t remember thinking anything at all. And in the last hour, the neighborhood quiet and dark, I slipped in the side door to the Corrigans’ garage, wearing thin wool gloves, and took the first thing I saw from the peg rack. That’s not premeditation, is it? Perhaps the gloves, but I don’t even remember getting them from the closet.

Alan was sitting where I knew he’d be, at the desk in the den, where he always worked late at night. There was a second before he saw me when I watched him in profile, wondering how I could hurt the man who had finally made me feel something again.

And then I remembered what he did with her and it was easy.

September 27, 2009

WGI 3rd Place: Inspired Love by Keith Rawson

Inspired Love by Keith Rawson


What I find most disturbing is seeing a priest cry.

“The boy . . . just give me the boy . . .”

It’s not the fact that I’m standing in a convenience store at three o’clock in the morning - Hell, after twenty years on the job, I’ve been in so many places like this, taking reports on robberies, muggings, rapes, murders, they've all blended into one grey flickering neon and florescent blur — or that the priest is hiding behind one of the tallest transvestites I’ve ever seen; his black sack cloth arm wrapped around his/her neck, an enormous automatic pressed against his/her temple. She’s so tall, the priest has to stand on his tip-toes just to see over her shoulder.

“I can help you. . .” I say, my voice seems distant, like it’s bubbling up from underwater.

“No one can help me.”

It’s not the nine year old boy pressed against my legs, trembling, my left hand resting on his shoulder, gently squeezing, trying to let him know that everything will be all right.

“I can . . . But you have to put the gun down.”

It’s not even that I just watched my brother-in-law — a man I’ve known and loved for nearly twenty years — take a bullet to the chest from the same gun the priest is holding on the tranny.

All of these things for me don’t even remotely compare to seeing this man of God weep like a grieving widow.

I’m a life long Catholic.

For me, a priest is a symbol of strength.

What a priest is not is a weak, quivering creature.

A priest is not a thing of vice and degradation.

They are the sword and the shield, the defenders of the one true Faith.

I try to keep him talking and hope that he doesn’t notice my right hand slowly creeping into my pants pocket where I keep up my back up piece.

* * *

They met nearly twenty years ago, two young men fresh from their educations, ready to go into the world and make a difference.

Optimism, the happy curse of youth.

They’d met on a joint project between their faiths; a combination food bank and substance-abuse treatment center. They barely acknowledged each other; they were friendly, nodding or mumbling hello as they passed each other in the halls as they rushed in opposite directions, attempting to avert one crisis or another. They didn’t become friendly until after two young junkies stormed the center with rusted- out .38 revolvers, thinking the center was a methadone clinic. He tried talking to the two desperate boys; using his words as his shield.

Cullen used another tactic entirely: He took a steel folding chair to both of their heads.

Cullen said he’d seen it done countless times on the pro wrestling shows he watched and didn’t think the two boys would be hurt so badly. Both of them ended up in the hospital with severe concussions, one of them nearly dying due to swelling of the brain.

They decided to go out for a drink after three hours of the police asking the same series of questions over and over. The bar they walked into was at the tail end of happy hour, packed; and when they walked into together, nearly every head in the bar turned to stare at them. . .and chuckle. They were a living, breathing punch line:
A priest and a Rabbi walk into a bar. . .

And just not any priest and rabbi; the priest was distinctly Irish Catholic, red hair, fresh faced, freckled with a powerful fireplug build; the Rabbi wore a thick beard and ringlets dangling from his yarmulke, tall, stoop shouldered, scholarly. Even their choice of drinks fit their stereotypes: Cullen ordered Guinness, Isaac Chivas Regal. They couldn’t even help themselves and laughed into their drinks until they were in tears.

Ever since that night, they made it their ritual to go out for drinks once a week, preferably at happy hour and every week they would choose a new bar so they could experience the same reaction again and again.

It surprised Isaac when Cullen called him on a Wednesday. Isaac had just laid down for his afternoon nap, his head buzzing, achy from a long morning of writing and translation. The ringing telephone startled him; everyone at the temple knew not to interrupt his afternoon nap unless it was an absolute emergency. He answered in Hebrew, thinking it could only be a member of the temple calling to tell him an older member was gravely ill or had died and were in need of his services. But it was Cullen, his voice slurred, his lateral lisp — a verbal trait he practically eradicated after years of tedious speech therapy and only resurfaced when he drank too much — making him sound like a cartoon duck.

“What are you up to, Izzy?” Cullen asked. “D’ya have time to come and meet me for a drink? I need to talk. . . I need to talk you. . .” His voice was edged with tears and gritted teeth. Isaac agreed to meet him immediately, dry swallowing a couple of aspirin as he grabbed his keys.

The bar they chose was one they’d come to many times. It was a dank hole, a hovel meant only for the most dedicated of drinkers; a place populated with the type of men and women who at one time in Isaac’s life he would have felt compelled to try and convince them that their life of vice was a waste, but he simply didn’t have the energy. Then again, most days he didn’t have the energy for members of his own temple, so the drunks would have to save their own souls.

But it was the type of bar where two men could speak in hushed tones and not draw any notice, even if those men were a priest and a rabbi. And they needed the privacy, because what Cullen was telling him caused Isaac to not want to meet his friend’s blood shot eyes. Instead, to stare down at the soiled tiles and listened to the venom spilling from his friend’s lips and try to figure out what to do?

* * *

The suburbs were a waste.

Manufactured perfection.

White unblemished faces; smiling, darling; smooth hands shake his at the end of each Sunday service:

“It was a lovely service, father.”

“So inspiring, father.”

“So lovely. . . .”

“So inspired. . . .”

“. . . .inspired. . . .”

“Love. . .”

Their hands so soft, just like their faces, their eyes; like they’d never known a single day of hardship, or poverty or loneliness.

He should have been happy for them, for their children.

Children who would never know a single day of strife.

And he shook hands with each of them, the same smile as their’s; maybe a little less white and evenly constructed, but the same.

The definition of tranquility.

It wasn’t.

Each handshake, each warm wish and compliment made him boil, his ears turning bright red. His parishioners thought it was modesty; their shy old priest still humbled by their adoration.

He wasn’t.

His bright red ears were rage.

Anger brought on by his lack of worth.

He was God’s servant; he lived and breathed to not only serve Him, but his children.

His congregation was not the children of God.

They were pretenders.

Worse than pretenders; they were ants; a bothersome hoard, each one just like the next; their voices a mechanical buzzing.

The people of the city, they were the true children of God. Every day after the scarcely-attended morning communion, he would lock the doors of his church and drive into the city. He would drive to the black neighborhoods; the Mexican neighborhoods; blocks and blocks of ramshackle row houses; towering project apartment blocks; rutted dirt track trailer parks. All of them so alive; a living, breathing thing; this is where he belonged, among the meek.

He would drive, searching each face walking the street, the children riding their bikes, playing soccer in the street, no fear in their eyes. He searched, there had to be at least one; just one soul among these forgotten people who were meant to walk hand and hand with God; one disciple he could take under his wing and teach the true gospel of the Lord.

His search went on for months.

Slow months where he was physically threatened; his automobile pelted with rocks, sticks; one desperate woman even robbed him at knife point; the dull point of her knife jabbing into his Adams apple; the sour stink of rotten teeth filling his nostrils as the ruined woman rifled through his pockets, repeatedly telling him not to move.

Don’t move or I’ll cut you.

His search was a test of his faith.

But finally he saw him.

The boy.

The boy walking tall and golden; the purist light emanating from him, and when he smiled, he was practically blinded; it caused him to slam on the breaks of his battered Toyota, he barely noticed the screeching breaks, the honking horns, the curses. He didn’t notice himself turning off the engine or opening the car door and stepping out. His eyes never left the boy.

The boy. . . .and the thing with its arm draped around his shoulders.

The thing.

The thing looked like a woman; its hair flowing and braided, walking tall and proud in fire-engine red high heels that he most commonly associated with prostitutes.
But this thing. . . . it clearly held sway over the boy. It toyed and twisted its enormous red-tipped fingernails through his hair; its lips whispering into the boy’s ear, making the boy laugh, his eyes briefly filling with corruption. His blood ran cold and dead as the thing kissed the boy on the cheek and they parted company.

He needed to save the boy.

* * *


“You don’t. . . .you don’t deserve him. . .Him.”

The tranny’s whispering, keeping the priest occupied. Or maybe he’s not, I don’t know? Blood’s pounding in my ears and my hand keeps edging to my spare piece and I try to get a look at Izzy out of the corner of my eye. I keep thinking I see him moving, at the very least twitching. Maybe it’s involuntary movement, his rapidly cooling blood and bodily fluids coming to rest in the dead muscles of his back and legs. . . .

Christ, what am I going to tell Marion?

I try not to think about it and make one big, final [grab] just as the priest is going belligerent and red faced, practically strangling the tranny with the crook of his arm.

I’m not even close to fast enough.

I catch the priest’s eye and suddenly I’m staring down the barrel of his hand cannon; fat droplets of sweat pop on my forehead.

I’ve only had a gun turned on me once in my entire career and it was another cop who I arrested when I was a rookie for beating his wife half to death, and all he did was wave it around at me, not really aiming.

This is different.

I pull my hand from my pocket, I’m yelling something, holding my hand in front my face, using it as a shield.

Like the palm of my hand will stop a bullet?

My left hand grips the boy’s shoulder.

I don’t know if I’m hurting him or not?

. . . but I feel him squirm out from under my hand and watch as he moves towards the priest.

* * *

Izzy drove home that night slightly drunk; his head a jumble of static from what Cullen had told him about the boy. About how he lured the young man into his car and was now keeping him safe from the ‘demon’ who was apparently the boy’s father. The boy, Cullen explained, was a pure manifestation of God who was being tempted into evil by the mere presence of the ‘demon’. Izzy asked him why he kept calling the boy’s father a demon.

“He’s fucking faggot!” Cullen’s voice splits the gloomy calm, the drinker’s heads briefly before turning away from their near empty glasses and mugs. “And he dresses like a woman!”

Izzy didn’t agree with homosexuality, but he didn’t care how people lived, he knew God would judge appropriately.

What Cullen had done though?

What he was planning on doing to the ‘demon’; God would never forgive such a thing.

He tried to sleep.

The beer sloshed in his stomach as he tossed under his blanket, a migraine forming at the center of his forehead. At three am, he gave up the ghost and sat at the edge of his tiny bed smoking. He’d made the decision to talk with his brother-in-law, Wesley.

Wes the gentile.

He’d been so angry with his sister when she’d married him, even going so far as refusing to attend their wedding. But like everything else, he grew to simply not care. Wes was a good husband, father, and policeman.

Wes would know what to do.

* * *

“Son, do you need a ride somewhere?”

So many young people were cautious of the clergy these days, poisoned by the bitter actions of a scant few...

Not the boy though.

He approached the open passenger door without the slightest bit of apprehension; his face open, smiling, and he was practically blinded by the boy’s...

...pure...

Radiance.

* * *


The boy has zero fear.

Even when we found him in the basement of the old rehab center the priest and Izzy used to run together, bound and gagged, he seemed so calm; so untroubled by the fact that he’d been kidnapped and locked away in the dark. He hugged me hard around the neck, never saying a word. Izzy gently pried the boy’s arms from around me.

“We have to go,” he said, his whisper echoing through out the dusty room. “We don’t have much time.”

I shouldn’t have let Izzy go into the convenience store first.

I shouldn’t have brought the boy in with us.
But then again, I’d probably already be dead if we hadn’t.

So would the boy’s father/mother.

The priest’s entire body seems to go limp as the boy approaches him. The father/mother slips out of his arms and the priest drops to one knee, spreading his arms. The priest is slack jawed, glazed over. . .his eyes filled with the strangest light.

The boy walks right into arms and plucks the dangling automatic from priest’s hand; it looks enormous is tiny hands. He stares into the priest’s filmy eyes.

“That’s my daddy.”

He tucks the barrel under the priest’s chin and cocks the hammer.

I don’t try to stop him as he pulls the trigger.

We have a winner!

My boundless gratitude goes to all of the writers who entered this contest. Without your 'nothing ventured' attitude I would have been left looking mighty silly. To the ten writers who accepted the invitation (read 'challenge') and managed to create their stories in a restricted time frame and even more restricted word count, I salute you. I thank you all for the enjoyment I derived from reading your stories.

And to the stern and impartial judges, Dave Zeltserman and Aldo Calcagno, I owe a serious debt of gratitude for volunteering their time and experience. Never having administered a contest before, I had no idea how valuable it would be to have qualified, unbiased eyes evaluating these stories.

And now, the winners:
1st Place: Beast by Hilary Davidson ($25 prize)
2nd Place: At Least I Felt Something by Sophie Littlefield ($15 prize)
3rd Place: Inspired Love by Keith Rawson ($10 prize)
Rounding out the top five are Jimmy Callaway (Frog and Toad Are No Longer Friends) and Mike Wilkerson (Gulf Coast Swimmer). Remember, the top five will have automatic byes in the event there is ever a second Watery Grave Invitational. Again, my thanks to all of the authors for picking up the gauntlet and the pen.

Watch this space! Hilary Davidson's winning story will be posted soon.

September 20, 2009

Miscellany from the Machine

I'm behindhand in saying this, although anyone who reads this blog even semi-regularly already knows that I'm a fan of author Dave Zeltserman, but his Bad Thoughts and Bad Karma are something out of the ordinary. Rather than the pure noir of Small Crimes and Pariah, the 'Bad' books are crime fic with a horror/New Age bent. The books should be read in order since the motivation for the main character, cop and then PI Bill Shannon, is primarily developed in Bad Thoughts, then allowed to run free in Bad Karma. Bill is pretty much of a wheat-grass juice drinking, vegetarian homebody, except when he's dealing with astral projection, lucid dreams, cults, Russian mobsters, serial killers, and the like. Loads of fun here.

Fun? You want more? Declan Burke's Eight Ball Boogie delivers. But what did you expect? It's Declan Burke. This book is the first of the two Harry Rigby novels, The Big Empty being the second. Harry's worth knowing as his penchant for finding hot water to climb into is second to none. Watch for Burke's new book, Crime Always Pays, soon to be available on Kindle. The new book appears to include some of the characters from The Big O, a funny and fast-paced screwball noir, so although I haven't a Kindle, I'll find a way to read Crime Always Pays.

Cheers to Michael over at Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer for providing me with the film version of The Ninth Configuration. A superlative story became an exceptional movie, and how often can anyone honestly say that?

I rarely pay attention to the books selected for Oprah's book club, but I'm happy to note that this time out she's chosen a book of short stories. Not crime fic tales per se, but that's okay. Just knowing that more people will be exposed to short stories and perhaps come to appreciate their worth is good news. I can remember when almost all of the bestselling magazines in America contained at least one short story. Today, the number of popular magazines that routinely carry even a single short story can probably be counted on one hand.

In this era of the short attention span, one would think that chap books of three-to-five high quality short stories would sell wonderfully well at airport and train station newsstands. But that's probably a pipe dream. Or maybe someday (soon) digital kiosks will sell 99-cent stories available for download to the electronic device of your choice. It could happen. DailyLit is very close to that concept. Suppose you could pop in a fiver and come away with 'The Tell-Tale Heart' by Edgar Allan Poe; 'Triangle' by Jeffrey Deaver; 'Tales of the Jazz Age' by F. Scott Fitzgerald; 'One Serving of Bad Luck' by Sean Chercover; and 'Kill Posse' by Victor Gischler. You'd be all set for good reading on your Columbus to Chicago flight. Or you could just take an anthology from home. Or a Kindle.

Update from the Watery Grave Invitational: All entries were received before the deadline and the judges are now running their beady little eyes over these works. Oh, wait, my eyes are bright, not beady. Must be the other two judges. Anyway, we'll have the winners selected sometime in the next two-three weeks, depending on everyone's schedule. Hang in there, writers! It'll all be over soon.

September 11, 2009

Odds 'n' ends

Air bubbles in the Watery Grave Invitational: Author Michael Moreci has excused himself from the competition. In accordance with my initial post on this contest, I drew one more name from the salad bowl hat and Keith Rawson has accepted the challenge. Keith is just coming off a week of R'n'R, so it's a little scary what his creative brain has had time to conjure.

Order the pizza - and plenty of it - early tomorrow; make sure the beer is stocked; take the phone off the hook at 7:45 pm; disconnect the doorbell: It's UGH USC vs OSU at 8 pm on ESPN. Go Bucks!

Belated congrats to Derek Jeter. That's some accomplishment, tying surpassing the great Lou Gehrig for career hits as a Yankee. Especially since no one (at this time) is thinking about putting an asterisk beside his name because of steroids. But even if they someday make a movie about Jeter, I doubt it could ever be anywhere near as wonderful as The Pride of the Yankees. A film that garnered 11 Oscar noms and took one of the statuettes home, that's tough to beat. And besides, they don't make'em like Gary Cooper any more.

If there's a better place in Columbus to get a gyro than The Gyro Shoppe, somebody better tell me now. Those ice-cold dolmades don't do anything for me, but the gyros are superb. And I never turn down baklava.

I'm finally getting out to support the arts a little next weekend. Little Theatre Off Broadway is staging The Importance of Being Earnest. Not my favorite of Oscar Wilde's work (that laurel goes to one of his poems, The Ballad of Reading Gaol), but I've never seen a live performance of it beyond the high school level. I have high hopes and low expectations.

And thanks to He Who Shall Be Nameless for Revolver remastered. I can't stop listening.

September 8, 2009

WGI: "Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat."

Yep, it's that time. Finally. Time to reach into the old magic hat - it only looks like a salad bowl - and draw out the names of the lucky winners of the highly-prized, much sought-after, ecstasy-inducing invitations to the Watery Grave Short Story Invitational.

These lucky ten will have until noon EST, September 23, 2009, to submit their original stories. Same restriction as for the entry stories: Not more than 2500 words.

Drum roll, please...

In the order the names were drawn, the invitations go to:
Michael Moreci
Hilary Davidson
Sandra Seamans
Frank Bill
Eric Beetner
Patricia Abbott
Cormac Brown
Mike Wilkerson
Jimmy Callaway
Sophie Littlefield

A HUGE thank you to all of the applicants, you made Phase One of this competition more of a success than I dreamed. Already you have given me the hope and courage to dream about a second WGI.

Many thanks to J. Kingston Pierce, over yonder at The Rap Sheet, for his generosity in spreading the word about the WGI, as well as to the various e-zines and authors and bloggers and tweeters who did the same. I'll drink a celebratory tot to each of yez.

We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

September 7, 2009

WGI: Last call before closing...

Less than 24 hours left to get your short story link to me in order to be eligible to receive an invitation to the Watery Grave Invitational. A good story gets your name in the hat; Lady Luck decides the ten names that will come out of the hat. That's when the real fighting begins. But you know how it is, you can't win if you don't play. I expect to be pulling names out of the hat around this time tomorrow. Stay tuned!

The most recent candidate to cast a hat into the stormy seas of WGI:
Hilary Davidson: Anniversary, representing the notable Thuglit e-zine.

September 6, 2009

WGI: Step across this line...soon.

In no way intimidated by the notion of any heavy hitters who may already be entered in this contest, three more writers are now vying for the ten invitations that will emerge from the magic hat:
Michael Moreci: Blurred Lines
Frank Bill: Flesh Rule
Elizabeth Dearborn: The One I Loved
A mere 48 hours remain to send me a link to your story. Not sure what I'm talking about? Click here to read all about the Watery Grave Invitational.

September 5, 2009

WGI: I've been laughing all day...

Okay, I admit I wasn't laughing when Navy was getting ready to go for two, but other than that, yeah. And it wasn't an Ohio State win that had the chuckle reflex working overtime. It was the names of the two applicants I received this morning for the WGI. Okay, it wasn't their names. It was the thought of the collective reaction when other applicants see these names:
James Hilton: Greek Fire

(Oh, sure, after you thought about it, you remembered that that James Hilton [Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Lost Horizon] is no more, but you know your eyebrows shot up at first. And judging from the location of this photo, this Jim Hilton may very well know where Shangri-la is.)



Sophie Littlefield: Granny Panties

(Yeah, this time you're right. That Sophie Littlefield. As in Bad Day For Sorry. She says I can call her Sophie... Uh, but naturally that will have no influence on the judges. None whatsoever.)

September 4, 2009

WGI: Keep those cards and letters coming!

Only four days left to get your application in for the contest! Just a quick note to announce the most recent applicants to the Watery Grave Short Story Invitational:
Christopher Grant: My Street
Col Bury: Wanted
Lee Hughes: RRP TO RIP
Also, a link list of all the applicants' stories appears in the sidebar. Remember, readers, these are stories in the 2500-word range or less, so take a couple of minutes now and again to read these stories. If you like them, leave feedback there for them. And check out some of the other authors on those 'zines. Maybe you'll find yourself inspired and soon will see your own name and story posted on one of those sites. Stranger things have happened, like me running a writing contest.

In expressing my gratitude to some helpful people yesterday, I overlooked some of the applicants, besides Sandra Seamans, who have generously helped spread the word about the WGI: Christopher Grant, Paul Brazill, Keith Rawson, and also to e-ziner Matt Hilton at Thrillers, Killer 'n' Chillers. Thanks to all of you for helping to spread the word. Did I miss anyone? Speak up, squeaky wheel and all that.

September 2, 2009

WGI Update: High tides and misdemeanors

Allow me to extend an overdue expression of gratitude to Sandra Seamans for publicizing the WGI on her wonderful blog, My Little Corner. To any struggling writer not familiar with her blog, shame on yez! You're missing out on one of the most helpful blogs around. And Sandra knows a good thing when she sees it, because I received her application for the WGI today.

Another oversight of mine: I'm forever thanking them, because they're always helping me out or encouraging me or even just indulging me, but Jen at Jen's Book Thoughts and Michael at Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer: Thanks for helping to spread the word about the contest on Twitter and beyond. And for not laughing at me.

Today's applicants, in the order I received them:
Eric Beetner: The Last Bullet
Paul Brazill: The Tut
Sandra Seamans: Survival Instincts
Patricia Abbott: The Tortoise and the Tortoise
Also, one more e-zine is now represented by one of the applicants: Beat To a Pulp. Check'em out.

So on Day Two, we're up to 14 applicants for the 10 invitations. Still plenty of time for you crime fic writers to get your links submitted for a shot at one of those invitations. What have you got to lose? One email, big deal. Unless you wangle one of the invitations, you don't even have to do any work! And if you get one of the invitations, you have a 33.3% shot at one of the cash prizes. Is this a great contest or what?

(I hope my math is right.)

September 1, 2009

WGI Update: Surf's Up!

Wow! There's been a lot of splashing at the start of the Watery Grave Invitational. Less than one day into the submissions week, and we have ten applicants already. Let's keep those emails coming, folks.

If you haven't sent me a link to your story yet, you have until noon EST on September 8 to submit the link. From the applicants, ten authors will each receive an invitation to submit an original short crime fic (<2500 words) for a chance at winning one of the three cash prizes: $25, $15, and $10. Those ten 'invited' short stories will be judged by a panel of three: author Dave Zeltserman (Pariah, Small Crimes), ezine publisher Aldo Calcagno of Powder Burn Flash, and me.

Here's a running list of participants so far, in the order they were submitted:
Michael J. Solender: Blood Brothers
Keith Rawson: Memory Lane
Chad Eagleton: Sunset Blonde at the Salton Sea
Cormac Brown: Bitch
Libby Cudmore: Unplanned
Naomi Johnson: The Freudian Slip
Mike Wilkerson: King Simms
Kieran Shea: Koko Takes a Holiday
Jimmy Callaway: Nailed Up With Fudgsicles
BV Lawson: But For the Grace of God

The e-zines represented thus far include: A Twist of Noir; Pulp Pusher; Powder Burn Flash; Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers; and Plots With Ray Guns!. Kudos to the good folks running the e-zines. Without them, I couldn't get away with this crazy invitational idea.

Not got your story link submitted yet? You still have until September 8, but don't wait until I get eye strain.

Green flag in the WGI!

And we are underway in the Watery Grave Short Story Invitational. From now until noon, September 8, 2009, you may submit your story links to my email as per the rules/caveats/blather outlined here:
1. In order to apply for an invitation the author must have a crime fic story of no more than 2500 words already published (as in posted for the public to read) in an e-zine before twelve noon EST, September 8, 2009. Your story posted on your own blog does not qualify.

2. From twelve noon EST, September 1, 2009, until twelve noon EST, September 8, 2009, applications for an invitation may be submitted in the following manner:

Email a link to your short work of crime fic (the link must connect to the e-zine posting of your story) to drowning.machine@gmail.com. Please don't submit your entry early or late, they'll go to spam and die there. Your subject should simply say FICTION SUBMISSION, and the body of your email needs to contain only your name, the name of your story, and the link to your story. Do not send original material unless and until you are invited to do so.

3. An author may submit only one link. Not one at a time, just one link per author. So choose your best work, as long as it's not longer than 2500 words, because you only get one shot at an invitation.
If you're unaware how this competition works, you should probably read all the rules first, which you can do (as Declan Burke would say) by clickety-clicking here.