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

May 15, 2011

WGI: "We few, we happy few..."

"This story shall a good man teach his children."

At last we have a list of 19 invitees for the 3rd annual Watery Grave Invitational. And that means that it's time to reveal the 'theme' so that all you fine writers can get to work. But first, here's the list (bolded names are in via talent AND a bit of luck in today's drawing):
Brian S. Roe
Chad Eagleton
Chris LaTray
David Cranmer
Eric Beetner
Ian Ayris
Jane Hammons
Joe Hartlaub
John Kenyon
Liam Jose
Matthew C. Funk
Nigel Bird
Patricia Abbott
Paul D. Brazill
Rosemarie Keenan
Sandra Seamans
Sean Patrick Reardon
Sigmund Werndorf
Todd Mason
You can't tell me that's not a quality group. I am SO anticipating the stories that are going to come from this bunch!

And now, the theme. Okay, first, this is not really a theme. It's more of a motif, I think. I don't expect you writers to build your story around this, but rather to just find a way to incorporate it into your story. And what it is, is: a horse.

I don't care what your story is about, find a way to get a horse in there. From stories built around horses to a passing reference to Secretariat (or another equine star); or even so slight a reference as a character drinking a Colt .45 or selling heroin. Pony rides at the fair, a Ford Mustang, Little Joe Cartwright's big brother,  it all counts. Easy-peasy, right? Well, you only have until noon EST, Sunday, June 5, 2011, to get your 3500 word (or fewer) story to me.


May 14, 2011

WGI: Time's a-wasting!

Less than 24 hours left to qualify for the drawing in the Water Grave Invitational Short Story Contest! Send me those links / files before noon EST tomorrow (Sunday, May 15)!

The newest brave souls to venture out into the deep water are:

RED RADISHES by Jeff MacFee (A Twist of Noir)
HEAT OF PASSION by Kathleen A. Ryan (A Twist of Noir)
ALMOST THE DEVIL by Matthew C. Funk (A Twist of Noir)

That thing up there to the left? A Greek water clock. But you knew that already, didn't you?

May 10, 2011

WGI: Still wadin' in the water.

Four more writers have enlisted in the ranks of Watery Grave contestants, vying for those ten precious invitations that remain. Have a look at their work. As ever, the links will be posted in the right-most sidebar for the duration of the contest.

Keep those links coming! If you're wondering about the contest rules, click here. If you have a question, you can post a comment or email me at And I'm still in search of judges, so don't be shy!

(For the curious, the photo was taken in West Virginia, 1940. The man on the left was one of my uncles, a self-styled preacher of, obviously, the Baptist persuasion.)

May 9, 2011

WGI: Wading in the water.

I'm thrilled to see such a positive and immediate response to this year's Watery Grave Invitational. Nine out of ten of those who received the automatic or personal invitations have already accepted. And as of this writing, fourteen writers have tossed their hats into the ring to vie for the remaining ten invitations. Quality? There is some serious quality already in play this year. But don't let me sell you. These writers' work sells itself with no help from me.

Here are the folks with automatic or personal invitations who've already accepted the challenge. I count several award winners/finalists among this group.
Nigel Bird
Joe Hartlaub
Chad Eagleton
Liam Jose
Ian Ayris
David Cranmer
Jane Hammons
Todd Mason
Paul D. Brazill
And here is what I think is already a most impressive list of writers, each of whom has demonstrated the necessary chops to rake in all the chips this year:

All of the above links, plus others that will (I hope) be added during the week, will be available throughout the entire competition in the right-most sidebar, under the heading "WGI APPLICANTS - 2011."

I am so excited to see the level of competition we are going to have. You writers, you all ROCK!

May 8, 2011

3rd Lap: Time for the Watery Grave Invitational!

Spring! It's May, it's Mother's Day, and it's time once again for that Challenge of Challenges! Gird your loins, o holy ones, this is your official announcement of the return of the Watery Grave Invitational Short Story Contest. Seems like just yesterday that Hilary Davidson was winning the inaugural WGI and only this morning that Nigel Bird put his stamp on short crime fic with the Spinetingler-nominated Beat on the Brat. And Chad Eagleton's Ghostman on Third was also nominated by Spinetingler this year. Are you guys good or what?

Once again there may be some minor rule changes so please read the rules carefully, even if you participated last year. Before I get into the rules though, I want to remind everyone that according to last year's rules, the top five contestants from that contest each get an automatic invitation without any further requirements. Those five writers with automatic invitations are:
Nigel Bird (accepted)
Joe Hartlaub (accepted)
Chad Eagleton (accepted)
Dan Ames
Liam Jose (accepted)
Also I'm adding a new twist this year: Personal invitations will go to five writers of my choosing before the competition for the remaining ten invitations. Note: writers who get these personal invitations will only ever receive one of these. They may win automatic invitations via the rules, but a personal invitation will be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, whether the invitation is accepted or declined.

Here are the five writers who will receive a personal invitation today:
Ian Ayris (accepted)
David Cranmer (accepted)
Jane Hammons (accepted)
Todd Mason (accepted)
Paul D. Brazill (accepted)

And now, THE RULES for those who want to play:
Phase One: Apply for an invitation.
In order to apply for an invitation the author must have a crime fiction story of no more than 3000 words already published in any format that is available for the public to read. Web, print, digital (e.g. Smashwords, Kindle, etc.) -- they all qualify. Your story posted on your own blog does qualify.

The story must have been published within the twelve months ending April 15, 2011.

Email a link to your story (the link must connect to the online posting of your story) to no later than noon EST, Saturday, May 15, 2011. For authors whose work is in print or digital format, please email the story in the file format of your choice. The subject line should simply say FICTION SUBMISSION, and the body of the email should contain only your name, the name of your story, and the link to your story or the file attachment with the publication identified. Do not send original material unless and until you are invited to do so.

An author may submit only one story. Not one at a time, just one. So choose your best work, as long as it doesn't exceed 3000 words, because you only get one shot at an invitation.
Phase Two: Invitations issued.
If I like your story and style, your name goes into a hat from which I'll do the drawing. Ten lucky writers will join the ten writers named above in receiving an invitation to write an original story (unpublished anywhere, ever) for the contest. As Corey wrote in his original rules, "you won't know whether your name went in the hat to be randomly chosen. You could have the written the finest story on the web to date and still have Lady Luck give you the cold shoulder. So if you don't get an invitation, don't assume I didn't like your story." Whether you receive an invitation or not, you will be notified.
Phase Three: Original Stories
Writers who accept the invitation will have until noon EST, Sunday, June 5, 2011, to submit an original story of no more than 3500 words and based on a theme which will not be revealed until all invitations are accepted. That's only two weeks to write and polish a good short story, so clear your calendars and knuckle down.
Prizes (sorry, only slightly more than last year):
1st Prize: $50
2nd Prize: $35
3rd Prize: $20
Other notes:
I'm seeking three volunteer judges who will adhere to a demanding schedule: Winners will be announced on June 19. That means twenty stories to read and evaluate in only two weeks.

If any of the ten authors who received an automatic or a personal invitation declines to participate, no replacement will be named. However, if any of the ten authors invited via the Phase Two (the drawing) process declines to participate then a new name will be drawn as a replacement. There will not be fewer than ten authors in the final phase of the competition, and not more than 20.

The top five finalists will again receive automatic invitations to the next WGI.
Everybody ready? On your mark... Get set. GO!

May 2, 2011

this letter to Norman Court by Pablo D'Stair (Part 4)

A note from Pablo D'Stair on his new novella:

this letter to Norman Court is a novella consisting of 22 sections (each between 1000 and 1250 words) I am releasing by way of the following experiment: I am trying to serialize the piece across blogs, by reader request. If you read and enjoy the section below and have a blog the readers of which you think would enjoy a selection, as well, please get in touch with me to be an upcoming host. A little hub site is set up at that has a listing of the blogs that have featured or will feature sections—please give it a look, get yourself all caught up if the below piques your interest.

It is my simple hope to use this as a casual, unobtrusive way to release this material to parties interested. There is some suspense, in that if a new host does not appear after each posting, the train comes to a halt (back tracking to previous hosts is not an option in this game). So, if you enjoy what you read and would like to host an upcoming selection, please get in touch with me via I welcome not only invitations, but any and all comments on the piece (positive, negative, or ambivalent) or general correspondence about matters literary.


Pablo D’Stair

this letter to Norman Court
Pablo D’Stair


I got down stiff from the train right about past three in the afternoon, lit up as soon as I’d made my way out to the street, scanning this way and that through a wince of cold. It made the most sense to try Herman at the office address I’d been given, so I fished the sheet out of my duffle, went into a shoe store to ask directions—clerk seemed pretty unsure of just about everything so I tried the bank across the street, right after.
The building was a generic catchall, had to find the company name on the tack board in the lobby, rode the elevator to the ninth floor, antsier than I wanted to be. Better here than have to do this his doorstep, though, no chance he’d try something, even if there were elements at play I was unbeknownst about.
In the corridor just outside the closing elevator doors, I tucked the letter from my duffle into my coat pocket, chided myself for not thinking to put the thing in another envelope, phony little address, make it seem a delivery, nothing to even bother looking at me about.
Through a glass door, a reception desk, no obvious way to bypass it.
-I’m trying to get to see Mister Herman Flake, I said, briefly scanning were any of the business cards up on the countertop his.
The receptionist dialed a number, seemed to be listening to someone, nodded, but didn’t say Goodbye or anything when she hung up.
-Mister Flake is away, just now, at a conference. Had you made an appointment?
I lied about Yes I’d had an appointment, casually taking a look at one of the cards to get some context, but the man the thing belonged to was labeled Assessor and having no idea what this meant I admitted I might have got the time wrong.
-Maybe he’d meant he’ll meet me he pops in after, any idea when the thing gets out?
The conference was out of state, he’d not be back until the day after next. I ducked a bow of thanks, down the elevator, stepped into a new cigarette, outside.
Two days staying in town, even as on the cheap I might manage, that’d be another sizable hit to the paycheck, this all amounting to some chump’s errand rather quickly. It didn’t make sense the guy’d’ve not known Herman was out, seemed as brothers they weren’t on good terms—no surprise, maybe, but I couldn’t figure my guy wouldn’t at least know about some conference, anyway, when to expect the letter might be delivered.
No point to it, I decided I’d have a look at Herman’s house, very least I could do the idea of leaving the letter inside a different package, trust no one would open it in the meantime, it’d be there Herman got in—added in to which, what did I care about the letter? I should really leave it with the missus, let her have a narrow escape, especially this two grand wasn’t exactly making it worth my trouble—not my trouble to the tune of two grand, anyway.
Cab driver was nice enough to save me some money, told me which bus’d get me closest in to the address, said I couldn’t find it from there a cab would cheaper by that point, anyway.
It was evening when I was through the bus, the walk, not unpleasant though the cold got considerably more physical around me, couldn’t tell properly were my breaths out cigarette or me, which of the two more prominently thick.
Perfectly quaint little place and one car in the driveway, probably Klia herself at home, lights on throughout. Figuring I’d come out all this way, I should at least get a peek as much as I could at the principle players, I knocked at the door, hadn’t even figured out what the thing was going to be I’d say I was doing there when it opened.
A woman, plain in clothes casual enough to lounge in, proper enough to step outside, gave me a not unpleasant side tilted head, nodded a shy hello.
-Mrs. Flake, is it?
-Now she quizzed up a bit more, tentative smile. Yes?
-Sorry, just wanted to be sure the address was right, going by memory. I work with your husband, I’m handling something of his, he’s out of town the conference a few days, was supposed to pick up something he’d left around for me.
She shrugged, seemed bored, said he hadn’t told her he’d left anything, she could get him on the phone, maybe. I waved that off, started explaining it might’ve been he’d couriered it the office, instead, I’d not checked my messages right—I didn’t believe a word of what I was saying even sounded plausible, but she just nodded through my polite hem hawing until I said Goodbye.
I got a cigarette up just down the block, started to laugh at myself—nothing to be worried about and anyway it was fun to have a look at her, get the general idea about the things I’d read in the letter. I had her painted less the fatale, now, more the quiet twig of a thing met the one guy rooted her right so her head was so addled up about it she’d write these book length letters out to Norman about she couldn’t get shut of this beau and all of it.
I was cementing and cementing this idea about her as I got back where I’d get the bus back to the city, ducked in for a drink someplace first, do something about I couldn’t feel any of my extremities.
It was a bit of a letdown, I got to admitting to myself, two drinks in of the off brand bourbon—not that she hadn’t been attractive, but what’d I been thinking, Herman’s out of town maybe I try on his old lady?
Well, maybe a bit, couldn’t be helped from the letters, to go by those she’d be one to twist around backward and underneath about—and maybe she was, at least as far as it went with Lawrence. Still, I thought, third drink down at a hard mouthful, I needed something to pass the time of day with for two days, unless I was going to punch out, take my losses.
I felt bone broke, meandered toward the bus stop. There must’ve been something the matter with me, I have a letter in my pocket worth two thousand it depreciates point A to point B, something about me I can sour even a quick buck into hardly room and board and meanwhile make a chore of it, on top.
Letter worth two grand to someone, I thought, but what else might it be worth, someone else? Two grand’s what some guy I stole his wallet’d pay me to get it down the street two towns over when meanwhile he could’ve done that on his own—what’d it be worth to Kila to see that it didn’t get delivered?
This never would’ve crossed my mind she’d fit the mental image I’d had of her reading the letter, but seeing her now, weakening her to someone’d had this one tryst, ever, no chance but Herman Flake other than that, flavored it different.
Gas station just up the way had a copy machine, didn’t see how it could hurt for trying. The last of the last shot I’d taken slipping up around me warm, I paid out the two bucks something in quarters into the slot, almost felt it was the first clear profit coming my way since this’d begun.

Pablo D’Stair is a writer of novels, shorts stories, and essays. Founder of Brown Paper Publishing (which is closing its doors in 2012) and co-founder of KUBOA (an independent press launching July 2011) he also conducts the book-length dialogue series Predicate. His four existential noir novellas (Kaspar Traulhaine, approximate; i poisoned you; twelve ELEVEN thirteen; man standing behind) will be re-issued through KUBOA as individual novella and in the collection they say the owl was a baker’s daughter: four existential noirs.