Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Mike Creeden

Q. Like Hector Duarte Jr. you earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Creative Writing from Florida International University (FIU). But to enroll at FIU you relocated about 1,500 miles from Massachusetts—and set aside your lucrative career as a Technical Writer to become a poor bastard. What tempted and compelled you to make such a drastic lifestyle change and take a gander at writing fiction?

A.  First, I’m marking this as the first time the word “lucrative” has ever been used to describe a portion of my life, so thanks for that. I’ve loved reading my whole life, and a desire to spin my own words led me to pursue my undergraduate writing major. But as a first-generation college student, I had to study something practical: and technical writing fit the bill. Thirteen years of writing in such thrilling genres as online help, computer manuals, proposals, white papers, and software test plans hadn’t managed to kill my desire to write fiction. So I packed up the car and headed to Miami to study at FIU on what I thought would be a three-year break from the real-world. Sixteen years later, I’m still here. Hopefully my days of living in the real world are over.

Q. If I understand correctly, the first draft of your debut novel, ALL YOUR LIES CAME TRUE was written while attending FIU. So how do you think your creative writing studies helped your development? Do you think it’s likely you would’ve enjoyed any success writing fiction if you hadn’t enrolled at FIU? Or might you have achieved success—but perhaps your path might have been longer?

A. I think FIU helped enormously. And I doubt I would’ve had much success, if any, without FIU and the people I met there. As for the MFA experience in general, getting into a program is a confidence booster because you have people with some experience telling you “we think you have potential.” For that they gift you three years of focused time to read, write, and hang out with people who like to do the same. You can get all that at most MFA programs, but what makes FIU special in my mind is that their program not only focuses on storytelling and craft, they also embrace popular fiction. 

I remember talking with a friend who was studying at another big name school about what we were doing in FIU workshops and classes. She sighed deeply and said: “Oh wow … you actually talk about craft? Over here we try not to indulge the baser instincts … like thinking about readers and markets.”  

Obviously, I’m paraphrasing—but I think you get my drift. 

While I was at FIU I got to know and study with some great writers who mentored me and steered me toward my first publications: people like John Dufresne, Lynne Barrett, Joe Clifford—who was a classmate—and Les Standiford.

Q. Like many authors, prior to getting your novel published, you’ve also written short stories: and some of these have appeared in a trio of anthologies. Several of these works showcase the antics of two young adults named Kenny and Leanne. Kenny’s been described as a Keith Richards wannabe. And Decklan St. James—the central character in AYLCT—also happens to be a failed guitarist who still thirsts for rock-n-roll fame. 

What influenced you to create characters like Kenny and Decklan?

A. I’ll save the gory details for my memoir. For now let’s just say that with the exception of the Desert Hot Springs bedroom scene in ALL YOUR LIES CAME TRUE—which takes place when Deck and Stevie are locked in the basement—I’ve experienced everything Kenny and Deck have.

I guess these characters are alter egos of a sort. Deck’s the devil on one of my shoulders, and Kenny’s the angel on the other. Kenny’s a version of me in my early twenties: innocent, but longing to be a badass cool guy. While Deck is the version of me ten years later: no longer innocent—still trying to be cool … but often stuck on being a selfish asshole.

Q. Punk rock drummer turned Crime Writer Steve W. Lauden recently shared that the two of you teamed up with Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts and Eric Beetner to form a band of your own.  But a la REO Speedwagon, you guys quibbled over artistic differences—and decided to split up before your first rehearsal. How did you cope with this tragedy? Did you start shooting black tar heroin?

A. Let me start by saying that as a drummer Steve W. Lauden is definitely playing against type. Drummers can be pains in the ass, complaining constantly while not doing much to get stuff done. But in our Supergroup that never was, Steve was the voice of reason, the leader, and the one person who was really trying to make it happen. If that Punk Noir band ever gets its shit together to the point where we plug in and make some noise, the world will have S.W. Lauden to thank.

When we broke up prematurely, I coped as best I could—drowning all my sorrows in donuts and black coffee—while playing along to YouTube versions of the songs we should have covered.

Q. Your short story “Sunday Morning, Coming Down” appeared in the Anthony award-nominated Johnny Cash tribute anthology, JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE—edited by Joe Clifford on behalf of Gutter Books. As an amateur musician, how did it feel to be included in this anthology? And what drew you to this particular Cash song for your title?

A. It was amazing. I’ve loved Johnny Cash since I was a little kid, and that collection includes some of the coolest writers on the crime scene right now. 

Sunday Morning, Coming Down is one of my favorite songs of all time. And probably the best evocation of that hung-over, depressed, “I do-not-want-to-participate-in-normal-life” feeling that’s ever been put to vinyl. It’s like a short story—the protagonist waking up, popping a cold one, throwing on his cleanest dirty shirt, then stumbling out into Sunday morning—where he walks a few blocks … sees a loner kid, then a kid with his father—and eventually he listens to Sunday school worshipers singing. I feel like I spent my early childhood driving around with my father … songs like that playing on the AM radio: dead of winter in Massachusetts, heat blasting in the car, windows shut, my old man lighting one Pall Mall off another, neither of us talking much … just listening to the radio and soaking in the sadness.  

For what it’s worth, I think the definitive version of Sunday Morning is the done by songwriter, Kris Kristofferson on the Austin Sessions record that came out in ’99 when Kris was already in his sixties. 

As an added bonus, we get backup vocals by Steve Earle.

Q. This story once again features Kenny and Leanne. But after reading this tale, I had to ask myself if these two characters are evolving or plotting devolution. As the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher it seems like Leanne’s transformed herself into a Christian Vixen—who’s trying to redefine the boundaries between heaven and hell. And while Kenny’s tales have traditionally been spun as first-person narratives, you decided to pen this revenge story from a third person perspective. 

What impetus led you to craft this story and its plot in this particular fashion? 

A. If I ever sit down to write the collection I envision for these two, then one focus will be how different the inside and the outside of the same person can be. And how twisted—but not necessarily evil—the inner lives of spiritual people can be. 

When Kenny visits a Pentecostal church for the first time, he’s this rocker kid who seems cool on the outside. But on the inside he’s inexperienced and immature. He’s a follower. First he idolizes Leann’s father, Jack Moody: the reformed badass turned preacher, who pastors the church. But then Kenny falls for Moody’s daughter, Leanne. She and Kenny, I guess you could say, are drawn to their opposites. Kenny sees Leanne’s savvy—and Leanne digs Kenny’s innocence. “Sunday Morning, Coming Down” is where the sparks between these two start to catch fire.  

Q. These days, besides sweating in Miami, you’re devoting much of your writing time to penning more novels. And rather than continue with Decklan, you’re creating new characters while taking your themes in a different direction. Without talking plot, what kinds of characters are you building at the moment? 

A. I’m playing around with two different stories. One’s set in South Beach and features a female bodybuilder who does fetish sessions and stumbles into detective work. The other characters include a bunch of gaming nerds, some washed-up celebs—and possibly a Buddhist monk. The second is set back in Massachusetts. This one involves three childhood friends: a woman and the two men who used to crush on her—as well as a drug-addled bad mom, and a satanic cult.  

My stories often feature some kind of cult because most days I walk around thinking everyone out there has life’s answers … and they’re keeping them from me. I also think that when the world is really fucked-up—like it is now, people go for easy answers in comprehensive story form—which is what cults offer. 

Q. You and your wife Adrienne discover you’ve been assigned to play host to a quartet of Crime writers who are in Miami for the weekend. Where would you take them to dinner on Friday and Saturday nights? 

A. None of these places are protypical of Miami, but they are some of our faves: 

The Yardbird is a five minute walk from where we live in South Beach. Southern cooking. And they do the best fried chicken and waffles this side of Roscoe’s in California. 

Mandolin in the Design District does Mediterranean. Lots of Greek dishes. Excellent vibe—outdoor dining and great service. It’s where we take our classy (read: Adrienne’s) friends for a night out.

And since I’m heading home to Fall River, Massachusetts in a few days—and dreaming about the great Portuguese food that can be had almost everywhere there?  I would definitely take them to Sagres. Lots of fresh baked rolls. Spicy Shrimp Mozambique for the appetizer. And a Portuguese steak for the entrée—which means a fried egg on the steak. And we’ll do fries and rice on the side. Because you can never get enough carbs. And who needs vegetables when you’re on vacation?

Anyone who wants to sink their teeth into some great fiction—including Mike’s story, “Sunday Morning, Coming Down”—can buy the kickass Gutter Books Johnny Cash tribute anthology JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Just-Watch-Gutter-Books-Anthologies-ebook/dp/B075KKGT7H/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Rock music junkies can check out Steve W. Lauden’s 2016 interview with Mike on Steve’s Bad Citizen Corporation blog: https://badcitizencorporation.com/2016/08/01/interrogation-mike-creeden/

And you can visit Mike on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007571499908

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Jen Conley

Q. I know you’ve been dedicated to crime writing for some time now. And Down and Out Books published your story collection CANNIBALS: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF THE PINE BARRENS two years ago in May. But when and where was your first story published? And how did that impact your writing life going forward?

A. My first story was published back in 1988 at college. I won first place in the campus fiction contest. I remember calling my mom and saying, “They gave me fifty bucks too!” It was a good day.
I think that win gave me confidence. It made me want to keep writing. I didn’t write much in my 20s but each time I messed up in life—and I did that a lot—I always reminded myself that I could write. So I can’t find a teaching job. So I can’t interview well. So I can’t lose 10 pounds … but I can write! It took me four years of subbing and temporary teaching jobs to find something permanent. I was pretty down on myself in my 20s and one of the things that kept me above water was thinking about how when I got my life settled, I could go back to writing. Which is exactly what I did.

Q. If I understand correctly, you're working on a novel these days. But at one point in your writing life you questioned your abilities to write one. I've pondered this conundrum as well. So how's this endeavor working out for you? And what have you learned about yourself and this particular writing process?

A. Sometimes I think I have a short attention span or something, which is why I struggle with the long form.

Actually, I think some of my difficulties in writing a novel stem from the fact that A: I love short stories and I’ve always wanted to be a short story writer, and B: I trained myself to be a short story writer.

I have a Young Adult novel coming out with Down and Out next year. So I can write a novel. I just find a novel tough to pace. I’m used to summing up a bunch of stuff in a character’s life in two sentences. In a novel, you need to stretch that stuff out without boring people to death. Right now I’m working on a novel and I think I’ve got the hang of it. It’s a mystery so I’m actually having a harder time planting clues and so forth. But I did decide that my next novel will have more of a short story format. Each chapter will read like a short story—that way I can kill two birds (or people) with one stone.

We’ll see how that all works out. My YA novel called, “SEVEN WAYS TO GET RID OF HARRY,” is about a thirteen-year-old boy who comes up with seven ways to get rid of his mom’s dickhead boyfriend. Each chapter is devoted to a “way” and I found keeping it in that structure made it easier for me to write.

Q. Like most of the authors in this Ink-Quisition series to date, you're one of the contributing writers in the Anthony Award-nominated Johnny Cash tribute anthology JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE—edited by Joe Clifford on behalf of Gutter Books. How did you pick your title, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”—and did you write this story before or after choosing this particular Cash song?

A. I googled all the Cash songs and the title, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” caught my eye. I read the lyrics, listened to the song which is actually an old folk song, and thought I could do something with it. It’s a dark song and it called for a really dark story.

Q. This story also chances to be the first I read by you. What immediately caught my attention was your decision to tell this tale using a first person male narrator. In my reading experiences, a lot of writers lack the ability to convincingly capture the voice of a character who is opposite in gender from their own. And what strengthens your narrative is that all the central living characters are male.
So how did you go about "channeling" the various male mindsets you needed to successfully spin this tale?

A. I actually prefer to write third person male characters. That’s my favorite thing to do. It comes very easily to me and I have no idea why. Maybe it forces me far away from my own self.
I had originally written this story in third person but it didn’t have the punch I wanted it to have so I tried it in first person and thought it worked better. I struggled with the opening—making sure the reader knows it’s a guy and not a female. If I were a male writer, then it wouldn’t be such a reach, like when I write first person female characters.

Back in the day, I bartended for about eight years and the place I spent most of that time in was one of those beer and shot bars with a strong customer base of blue collar men. It wasn’t the easiest time of my life but I definitely toughened up working there. There were some scary ass guys who used to come in, guys I would never talk to had it not been for my job. Their way of thinking, the things they said, used to shock me but after a while, I just go used to it. I think when I wrote this story, I was probably channeling those years. Actually, I often channel those years into my writing.

Q. After I read “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” I stumbled across an interview Steve W. Lauden did with you about this story. I felt both intrigued and saddened that the dark nature of this piece had left you feeling off-kilter for some time afterwards. One of your Pine Barren stories that involves the rape of a young woman is the only other considerably dark tale I've read by you.

So does writing dark tales tend to take a toll on you emotionally—or were your experiences after writing “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” unique? And if crafting dark tales demands a high price from you ... what compels you to write them nevertheless?

A. It’s not unique for me. Some stories hit me harder than others. This one definitely left me unsettled. I get emotionally involved in my characters and when I put them in such desperate situations, it can depress me. I’m more of a gut writer than a head writer. In order to write more with your gut, you have to go into your memories or more so, the feelings you had when something terrible happened in your life. Digging that up can leave you unnerved for a few days.

I think I do it because I like authenticity. I don’t like mimicking other writers or other books. I like to be inspired by other writers—and there’s a difference and I think that difference is authenticity. The best way to be authentic is to pull from your gut and your own sensibilities, even if it hurts sometimes.

One of my favorite things I’ve always loved in life, going back to when I was a little kid, is listening to really good music. Especially live music, although time and money has made it more difficult these days. Sometimes I pull up those old Janis Joplin videos on YouTube and it actually hurts to listen to her—she’s just that fantastic. It’s like she’s ripping out her insides when she sings. I think that’s the way to write. Break people’s hearts. Break your own heart too.

Q. Besides being part of the editorial gauntlet at Shotgun Honey, you're extremely active with Noir at the Bar in both New Jersey and New York. One recent event was on a Sunday night. And since you teach New Jersey kids at the middle school level, I couldn't help wondering what your Monday morning was like. For folks who aren't familiar with Noir at the Bar, can you give us an overview—and share some of your experiences with these events?

A. I love Noir at the Bar. Basically they’re readings where about 6-12 writers get-together at a bar and read their work. I think it’s a little different than other readings because most are held in more formal situations, like a small theater, and usually the writers are more established and they read longer. Noir at the Bar is also more genre-focused—crime, mystery, and so on. They’re also informal which I think takes the pressure off. And they give you a chance to hang out with other writers. I think most non-writers tend to think writers are eccentric, Stephen King wanna-bees, or just plain bizarre so it’s nice to find people who get what you’re into. Writing is solitary so Noir at the Bar is sort of like attending a mini Comic Con without the costumes.

The first time I’d ever heard about this type of event is through Facebook—writers Todd Robinson and Glenn Gray set up one at Shade Bar, which is just a block south of Washington Square Park. At the time I was in a writing group held in the West Village and afterwards I just walked over to Shade and introduced myself in person. I’d already known some of the people through Facebook so it wasn’t like I came off the street from nowhere. And Todd had published my story “Home Invasion” in his magazine, Thuglit. Everyone was super welcoming—such a nice relief because sometimes that’s not always the case in general in life—and they even let me read, too, but I read too long and I was a nervous wreck. I realized that in the future I had to practice reading at home and read something way shorter. It’s best to read something around the 5-8 minute mark because there are so many readers and the audience just zones out after some time.

Most of the events are done in a sort of pop-up basis. Someone decides to hold an event. From there they find the bar, or maybe a café or bookstore. They set that up and find the writers. The event spans about three hours, with two or three breaks built in. Remember, part of the fun is talking with everyone and the audience needs a quick break anyhow. Nowadays Noir at the Bar events are held in different parts of the country—Boston, DC, Raleigh, Los Angeles, Queens, Seattle (I’m missing some) and different parts of the UK, too. Finding them is a problem sometimes. If you type in “Noir at the Bar” in the Google search bar you’ll find information but Facebook is probably a better place to look. Again, just put in “Noir at the Bar” and you’ll find something pop up. People can follow “Noir at the Bar NYC” on Facebook—and when we’re having one in NYC, I will post. Unfortunately nobody has taken the lead in setting up a Noir at the Bar event page that would highlight every reading. It’s been suggested but it’s work, and a lot of us are already swamped with our day jobs and our own writing.

These events also vary with audience attendance. Sometimes you get a great crowd and sometimes you don’t. But in the end, even if your audience is just the other writers and maybe their friends, it’s okay. It’s fun and again, you get to hang out with people like you, and network. However I’m not a big fan of approaching every writing event as a time to do hard-core networking—using a “what can you do for me?” type of philosophy. You’re better off showing up in a professional manner—meaning you practiced your reading and you’re not a time hog, if you be yourself, if you’re not an asshole—then maybe eventually someone might help open a door for you because they like you and your work enough to reach out to their agent. Or maybe not. I guess I’m a fan of organically networking: write well, work hard, don’t be a jerk, show up prepared. Actually in real truth, I’m just a fan of hanging out and shooting the breeze with other writers. Whether we’re talking about the business or a new book or a movie we like. Or dislike. Or whatever.

As for the drive to New York, it’s not too bad. If I do a reading in the city, I can zip home in a little over an hour. I’m not a teacher who goes to bed at 8:30—I should because I get up at 6am for work—but it’s not in my nature. I’m more of a nocturnal person. As for school, usually I plan a lighter lesson on those Mondays.

Q. When any mention of the name Jen Conley arises, the two words I most frequently hear are "sweet" and "nice." So imagine my surprise when I visited your Facebook Page one night and discovered you'd apparently answered a Food Questionnaire. And when answering this questionnaire you referred to about five different foods made anywhere other than the state of New Jersey—including pizza—as "shit."

WTF?

But I quickly intuited that if Angel Luis Colón can't hammer some sense into you that New York-style pizza is the best then I ain't even gonna try. But seein' as how I might be on the Jersey Shore in September—where are your top three best places to allegedly taste the best pizza in the World?

A. Ha! It’s true. Pizza from out of state is terrible, or in the best circumstances, just okay. 

As for my neck of the woods, any true local will lead you to the Sawmill in Seaside Heights. It’s on the boardwalk, at the south end. Big giant pizza slices and you can sit and watch everyone walk by.
Pete and Elda’s is another local favorite. That’s in Neptune City.

But as for the little places, Rondos in Brick. Great pizza, in my opinion. My son loves La Fontana, which is across the street from Rondos. That’s a great place too.

The Brick Oven, in Brick, is a terrific BYOB Italian restaurant. It’s mobbed in the summer but worth it. Food is terrific and the coal-fire oven pizza is not something I usually like, but I like theirs. It’s usually crowded with older people originally from north Jersey or Brooklyn and Staten Island. You always know an Italian restaurant is great when the former New Yorkers are eating there.

But honestly, most of our pizza joints are great—at any exit.

Thanks, Jen. Interested readers can buy JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE—which includes Jen's story “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Just-Watch-Gutter-Books-Anthologies-ebook/dp/B075KKGT7H/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

You can also read Jen’s story “Hatpin” for free at Shotgun Honey:
https://www.shotgunhoney.com/fiction/hatpin-by-jen-conley/

Obstinate souls who want to argue pizza with Jen can find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jen.conley

More rationally-minded folks can learn more about her writing and related activities like Noir at the Bar by visiting her web site at: https://www.jenconley.net/

Meanwhile, anyone interested in the History of Noir at the Bar can read Jen's article in the Los Angeles Review of Books here: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/a-roomful-of-half-bagged-semi-literate-knuckle-draggers/
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Monday, June 4, 2018

Lucita's Salacious Secret by Jesse Rawlins



Lucita's Salacious Secret

Mescal peered at the fifteen women assembled on the mesa—

They sure got that boy aroused. Not because they sprawled half-dressed ….

But because they lay there dead.

Me? I grabbed the Canon hanging round my neck—and rabidly fired pictures. I knew from prior visits we had no phone reception here.

The sun sat high in a July sky. And sweat raced down my cleavage. But tempering my adrenalin, I cranked the camera’s ISO and exposure down as well. We didn’t get much crime out here in Pinjon County. But once this shit-storm hit the press, life wouldn’t be so balmy. As the elected sheriff in these parts, best I got things right.

This un-named mesa squats serenely over Crooked Canyon—just outside the northern tip of New Mexico’s Brokeoff Mountains. While thirty miles due east, the famous Carlsbad Caverns smugly hug the local landscape.

The Crooked also intersects with the sweeping Chihuahuan Dessert.

Pronounced by some as chay-hojaun, our continent’s second largest desert scrapes southeast Arizona … envelopes neighboring West Texas—then languishes further south … and exhausts itself in Mexico.

People call this place a wasteland ….

But twenty years I’ve called it Home.

I motioned to Mescal …. The cat had certainly taken that poor boy’s bewildered tongue.

Yet I respected his somber silence, as we trudged to my Silverado—

Then spiraled down into Lucita … not far from Devil’s Den.

***

I called the FBI field office over in Los Cruces. And asked for Billy Evans. The man was ten times tougher than a two-dollar steak. And a hundred times more prickly than any of the Chihuahuan’s two-hundred cactus species. Besides being short on empathy, he also lacked imagination.

I had to settle for VM ….

Evans had a penchant for wanting to shoot the messenger—

So I kept my message short not sweet.

***

Instead of calling me back, Evans turned-up on my doorstep.

“I wanna talk to your wit—the one who found the bodies.”

“Sure,” was all I said.

“Let’s go then: time’s a wastin’—where does Mescal live?”

“Lives right here with me.”

Evans glared: “Well? You gonna fetch ’em?”

I waved him inside the house; he let my aging screen door slam.

“No need to fetch Mescal—boy’s sleeping on that sofa.”

“You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me. Mescal’s a Golden Retriever?”

 ***

I poured a coffee black for Evans and slid a folder off the counter. The agent didn’t speak … just squinted at the pics ….

At the risk of sounding pompous … those photos came out sweet.

“We need a copter,” I said to Evans.

“Why we need a copter?”

I’ll show you once we’re up there.”

Evans locked his jaw—like he was set to argue. But okay was all he said.

I didn’t say a word to Evans ….

But the one who’d killed these women—lived right here in little Lucita.

And I knew how to deal with her.

***

The copter banked a U-turn over the yawning canyon—then hovered like a bee … above the honeyed mesa. Though embarrassing to admit, I found this aerial view so stunning—I actually creamed my undies.

The pilot deciphered the scene … before agent Evans did: “Well I’ll be a fly on an armadillo’s ass—

“Those bodies form a pentagram ….”

I photographed the mesa with a hunger I’d never known. That pentagram-shape meant diddley.

***

Evans ended his call.

“Thanks for dragging me into your crazy circle jerk.

“The anthropologist has confirmed what we already knew: ain’t no way in hell this is a tribal burial plot—

“But she does think some of these vics were interred a decade earlier.”

“If they’ve been here all this time,” said the pilot, “then why’d the killer dig ’em up—and decide to display ’em now?”

“Cuz someone’s finally showing off,” I said.

***

Back on terra firma life seemed so mundane ….

Sweating like a bottle of ice-cold Dr. Pepper, Evans swiped his dirt-streaked brow: “You still retiring in a month?”

“Yes, indeed, I am. Moving out to Utah: to explore the canyons there.”

“Lucky you, Lucita ….”

Lucky me, for sure. Unfettered from this job—

I otta be able to seduce—at least two women a year.

I’ll certainly miss my trophies … but I’ve got scores of gorgeous pics.

-End-

Bio Despite its scantily-clad acclaim, Jesse’s first published story (When the Pheromones Dance) wasn’t well-received by her orthodox Catholic mother.

The author wisely fled to Washington—and securing White House Press Credentials—covered Science Policy during the Clinton Administration. But infected by Lewinsky Lewdness—Jesse suddenly spiraled into a life of prostitution: and spent six orgiastic-years pretzling for Corporate America.

Belittled and beleaguered, Jesse finally thought it wise to seek professional help¬—and kidnapped a shrink.

Now holed-away in Parts Unknown, she’s trying her hand at fiction. Flashzines Shotgun Honey and Out of the Gutter's Flash Fiction Offensive have graciously published her smut. Avant-garde Red Fez has featured her work as well. You can learn more here: https://www.facebook.com/Jesse-Rawlins-Fiction-Writer-472903656414539/

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Salmon Run by Hector Duarte Jr.



Salmon Run

They’re pointing guns at me. They think I’m strapped.

“Keep your clothes on, Trey. We’re just taking you in to get better. You know the drill.”

Samantha’s talking to the new guy. I don’t know him. They’re whispering, too far away. I can’t hear what they’re saying.

I don’t know why the new guy drew his gun. I haven’t had a gun pointed at me in I don’t know how long. 

I can’t go back to the ALF. Everyone there speaks Spanish. They look at me like I’m from Asia or some shit. I’m speaking English, motherfuckers. The only good thing about that place is how easy it is to get out of there. Just take my meds with a smile, tell them it’s working, and I’m out the door. If I want to go back home, I just jump in front of a car and fuck up an ankle. Soon enough, it’s bandaged up with a phone call to mom, who comes to scoop me up because I’m her son after all. Everyone knows blood is thicker than mental illness.

Mike takes a couple steps closer after the new guy’s done talking with Sam.

She’s only ten but, God bless her, can she read through the bull shit. That’s why they’re here. I just wanted to get out of the house, take a little walk. That Miami sun is such a beautiful thing to see some days, and it makes me want to walk, walk, and walk.

Jesus did that: walked and walked, picking up people who followed him, curing diseases, turning water into wine. I just want to walk like that and get in adventures.

Mom was screaming at me to take my pill before I left. I take that thing, in thirty minutes I won’t want to walk anymore and, fuck me, it’s too pretty a day not to walk under that bulbous sun. Just look at that thing.

“Trey, just get in the car and you’ll be back soon.”

Mike’s a good guy. Always has been, but today he seems angrier. I think he’s trying to set an example for the new guy.

The way the new guy points that gun at me with his hand shaking, I know it’s not true. This time, they’re taking me in for good. I see it in the way tears run down Mom’s cheeks and Sam hangs on to the side of her leg.

I just wanted to leave. Right out the door and into that bright day. Walk the shit out of Miami. Sam was trying to help Mom out when she got in front of the door. I get it, but I just had to leave.

Sam’s so small and light, it wasn’t hard getting her out of the way. Soon as I did, though, she started crying like crazy. Mom’s screams filled the house. I knew I’d done something wrong by the way Sam cried, so I waited for the cops. I took off all my clothes, so they’d see I wasn’t strapped, and sat on the lawn. Mike looked worried when he saw me. I said I just wanted to walk. 

Everyone’s really pissed off this time. It’s because I pushed Sam. I’ve never messed with her before. It’s usually a big screaming match with mom, maybe a light shove.

The new guy won’t put the gun down and I can’t stay here. The sun is so bright, I have to get walking. Imagine being at the beach right now. I have to go. When I come back, it’ll be better.

“Don’t fucking move, man,” the new guy yells when I bend over to pick up my clothes.
Why does he have to curse around my little sister?

“Don’t yell at my sister, sir,” I say, loud enough so he can hear me over the traffic on 117th.

The new guy doesn’t like that. He doesn’t hear an older brother protecting his little sister. He hears a naked black dude sitting on the front lawn of a residential neighborhood. You know, wanting to be respected now that he’s finally in uniform.

Maybe he’s scared, so I put my hands up and walk closer to him to try and shake his hand. I don’t like that he yelled at Sam, but if we talk it out maybe he can be like Mike. I might actually get through to him and he can get to know the drill, how things work around this house. How I’m a regular call on their squawk box. Everyone on the block knows me as the guy with problems, cops are an extended family in this house.

There’s this thing salmon do when they want to spawn. It’s called magnetoception. No matter how long they’ve been away, no matter how far out they’ve ventured in the ocean, they use Earth’s magnetic field to find their way back to the river they were born. Sometimes, they migrate back to the very spot. All to swim up to shore and die. Scooped up by birds and bears so the next generation of fish can make it. No matter what, I always hone in on Sam and mom.

“Don’t fucking move, man,” the new guy shouts. 

Sweat pocks Mike’s forehead as he tells me and the new guy to calm down.

The new guy shakes like Muhammad Ali.

He’s not cut out for this. But I’m not the guy to tell him, so I walk to the car and put my hands on the roof. I’ve done this so many times before. I turn around.

Mom’s still crying. Sam’s gone inside, but I see her staring through the window at my naked self leaning against the cop car. My little sister rubs her eyes hard.

“I’ll be back, Mom. Don’t worry. Go inside and wait. Just a couple of days.”

The new guy approaches with the gun still on me. I can’t leave things like this. It isn’t right. I run back to the front door to give Sam a hug and let her know I’m sorry. 

Mom’s eyes go wide the closer I get to the door. I know she’s happy I’m trying to make things better with my little sister. Mike is screaming at me, but I need Sam to know everything will be okay.

The new guy tells me to stop running. His voice is shaky but it’s louder than the traffic.

Mike yells at him to drop the gun.

Mom closes her eyes.

Sam might not like me right now but the one thing we have in common is home. Take me as far north as possible. Lock me deep inside the scariest mental health place you’ve got, with the biggest walls possible. Like a salmon to Earth’s magnetic pull, I’ll always find my way back home.

-End-

Bio Hector Duarte, Jr. is a writer out of Miami, Florida and current co-editor at The Flash Fiction Offensive. His work has appeared in Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Sliver of Stone, Foliate Oak, Shotgun Honey, Shadows and Light: An Anthology to Benefit Women’s Aid UK, The Whimsical Project, Spelk Fiction, HorrorSleazeTrash, Pulp Metal Magazine, and The Rumpus. He teaches English-Language Arts to high school students and listens to, (as some friends might argue), too much Phish.

He has lectured at The Crime Fiction Here and There and Again Conference in Gdansk, Poland; the second and third Captivating Criminality Conferences in Corsham, England, and Theorizing the Popular at Liverpool’s Hope University. He has also moderated panels at Miami Book Fair and the AWP Conference in Los Angeles.

He loves his cat, Felina, very much

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Music Review: Providence Canyon by Brent Cobb



At some point or another, we’ve all heard a song that we sing non-stop but have no idea who the artist is, this was the case for Brent Cobb and myself. People kept telling me to check him out and for whatever reason or another I didn’t. One day I was looking up the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by Whiskey Myers, Mud, and the author of that particular song happened to be Brent Cobb. He’s also related to one of our favorite producers here at Story & Grit, Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Whiskey Myers, Chris Shiflett, Amanda Shires, etc). After realizing what a great lyricist he is I decided to dive into his own body of work and start exploring. It was a nice coincidence that he just so happened to be coming out with a new album which meant an opportunity for me to review Providence Canyon.

Starting with the title track, we’re treated to a mellow country rock jam. It kind of reminds me of Sweet Desert Childhood by the Flying Burrito Brothers. The pedal steel is easy on the ears and Brent expresses his sentimentalities of having a good old southern time at a really nice state park in Stewart County, Georgia. Get your friends together and have a couple of brews while this song plays in the background. You’ll get a feel for how we like to get together down south. King Of Alabama follows up the title track with some serious laid back groove. Mornin’s Gonna Come brings the rock. The backup singers in the chorus bring a soul dynamic to this already steady rocker. Come Home Soon is one of the real heavy hitters of the album. I found it personally relatable because leaving the south was a challenging thing for me to do and Brent Cobb describes the dilemma very well in this tune.

Sucker For A Good Time brings back the groove. There’s a really good jam about two and a half minutes in with guitar work the hearkens back to Gary Rossington’s work with Lynyrd Skynyrd. If I Don’t See Ya is another seriously awesome rocker this album has to offer! This song is proof that the south has a sound all its own. You can hear hints of every great southern rock band in this song but I wouldn’t call Brent Cobb’s music southern rock or say he’s trying to copy anyone. Seriously, his band kills it during this one! Lorene was one of my personal favorites on the album. It’s a nice ballad of a tune with some great guitar and pedal steel work. We hear Brent tugging on the logic of someone unsure of whether or not to chase their dream. This is a great song to listen to if you need encouragement.

Whenever I review albums I try to imagine scenarios in which that particular record would be useful. In this case, I recommend finding a back road which leads to nowhere and riding around with your friends until you all find something you’ve never seen before. You could also play this one while you’re drinking beer with your friends by the lake. However you choose to listen to Brent Cobb’s music, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it. I have a feeling he’ll be around for a while turning out songs that will stand the test of time. Give it a listen and let me know what you think at storyandgritreviews@gmail.com!

Bio Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at facebook.com/westmorelandsounds
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Monday, May 14, 2018

Music Review: Love Notes by Caitlin Jemma


Back in October, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I traveled back home to Georgia to attend my Nanny’s funeral. When I got back to California I was devastated because her death took us all by surprise. On the heels of that little episode, my buddy Joey Goforth asked me to be a guest on his Self Service podcast. I was delighted at the opportunity and decided to listen to the older episodes to get an idea of what the experience was going to be like. I discovered two of my new current favorite songwriters this way, Caitlin Jemma and Margo Cilker. At the end of the Caitlin Jemma episode, it played a song called, Ain’t That Something. It was a LONG wait from October to May when I finally got to hear the new Caitlin Jemma album in its entirety but it was worth every minute!

It starts out with the song I mentioned before, Ain’t That Something. We’re introduced to this album with an acoustic guitar before giving way to a horns section. You won’t be able to turn back the dial after the intro. I promise! The next irresistible thing Caitlin Jemma has to offer is her voice. I always think it’s unjust to compare artists but remember how awesome it sounded coming through the speakers the first time you heard Hank Williams yodel Long Gone Lonesome Blues? That’s how revelatory Caitlin Jemma’s crooning vocals are in this song (Is crooning even the right word? Hopefully if she reads this she won’t take it as an insult). There aren’t enough exclamation points to describe how much I enjoy the opening track to this album!

Next comes Xxoo. This song rocks (for lack of a better word)! It’s a great follow up track to the opener because it shows how versatile Caitlin’s music can be and how many different ways her band can boogie, her voice at the centerfold once again. The outro builds into an awesome train whistle-esque chant. Lean On My Love slows the train to a steady roll. There’s a lot of good vocal and trumpet interaction with the melody to this one and the lyrics are pretty awesome. Still Dreamin’ keeps the groove locked down tight. If I could ask Ms. Jemma any question in the world it would be where she comes up with the arrangements for her songs because the fact that music like this isn’t debuting at the top of the billboards is a travesty. This song seriously has it all.

The next song, Evangeline, was my personal favorite on the entire album. It’s super stripped down, the lyrics are gold, and the vocal harmonies add a texture to the song which makes it heavenly. How It Is was another compelling track because it has a wild R&B flare that’ll make it hard for you to sit still. All Night was another stand out with some risqué lyrics. Ladies, hide your man for this one because it’s hot! I’m going to leave the rest of the album for the listener’s interpretation because I don’t want a song by song analysis to ruin anyone’s expectations of what a stellar record this one is.

It’s hard for me to find albums that I can listen to from start to finish these days. I work a full-time job, I’m a gigging musician/songwriter, a Story & Grit journalist, a husband, and a father to two boys. New artists must manage to drown out the traffic in my life as well as the melodies I hear in my own head to make it into my collection (yes, I still buy music). Caitlin Jemma’s music brought me a lot of joy during a difficult time in my life and this record will stay in my collection for a long time to come. As of this review, Caitlin Jemma is touring the Pacific Northwest to support the release of Love Notes. I’ve listed her tour dates below so if you see your city go to a show, buy lots of merch, and tell all your friends in every city across the country to make this girl famous. Good music ain’t gone, it’s just underground where it shouldn’t be!

05/03 Portland, Oregon
05/04 Eugene, Oregon
05/05 Olympia, Washington
05/06 Astoria, Oregon
05/08 Port Angeles, Washington
05/09 Port Townsend, Washington
05/10 Conway, Washington
05/11 Belingham, Washington
05/12 Seattle, Washington
05/13 Willamina, Oregon
05/16 Redding, California
05/17 San Francisco, California
05/18 Folsom, California
05/19 Sebastopol, California
05/20-21 Modesto, California
05/22 San Louis Obispo, California
05/24-27 Bradley, California
05/29 Knight’s Ferry, California
05/30 Carson City, Nevada
05/31 Carnelian Bay, California
06/01 Chico, California
06/02 Talent, Oregon
06/15 Moscow, Idaho
06/16 Bozeman, Montana
06/17 Livingston, Montana
06/19 Helena, Montana
06/20 Spokane, Washington
06/22 Missoula, Montana
06/23 Sandpoint, Idaho
06/25 Enterprise, Oregon
06/26 Hood River, Oregon

Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at facebook.com/westmorelandsounds

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Paul Beckman

Q. You oversee numerous New York readings at a place called the Red Room. I’m guessing it’s a bit different than the Red Room in FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY. So what can you tell us about your special playground?

A. Located on the third floor of KGB in New York City, the Red Room was once Al Capone’s speakeasy. It’s a beautifully refurbished room with an excellent sound system, comfortable seats, its own bar—a terrific Manager Lori, and always of great wait staff.

The Red Room is eclectic. It hosts the New York Writer’s Workshop, The East Coast Salon, Mistress Velvitina’s Variety Show, and NeuroNetic Institute of Poetry Monthly. My Fbomb and NY Flash Fiction readings take place the first Friday of every month. For the FBomb flash fiction series there is no cover but a two-drink minimum. We usually have between five and seven readers of either flash fiction or prose poetry.

Q. When you’re not playing around at the Red Room you write a helluva lot of flash fiction. When did you first start writing—and what attracted you to flash—besides the imaginary sex appeal I associate with this form?

A. I’ve been writing flash for well over thirty years and before I knew there was a name for it. I’ve always written short—under 2,000 words—and as I got to read more of the genre I found myself drawn to the under 1,000 word flash mark and also to the under 300 word micro mark. It’s a challenge that doesn’t allow me to go wondering with back-stories, multi-layered descriptions, and more characters than are needed for a flash or micro story. I’m basically a no BS kind of guy and so my personality and my writing are simpatico.

Q. It’s well known in certain circles you used to hang with a dubious crowd. And seein’ as how you’re talkin’ to me, some might say that you still do. But was there an event or series of events that led you to walk a different line? And assuming you aren’t currently in a witness protection program, are there any memories from your old life you might feel inclined to share?

A. Growing up on the opposite side of the tracks I hung with guys whose moors were different than mine when I first moved to the projects. Stealing a car was big time but running numbers (as I did in high school) and filching (God I love that word) apples, bread, spuds, Devil Dogs from small local groceries seemed to be okay. Also, being in a supermarket where ladies leave their pocket books open in the baby seat was akin to taking a number at the deli counter. So much was the challenge rather than the end result. Delivery trucks didn’t lock their doors to make a delivery, people didn’t lock their car doors, and I was most likely the only one of my “dubious” crowd who filched (that word again) library books or books of any kind. All that and I loved Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls and the pulps.

Q. Your stories have appeared in places like Yellow Mama and Spelk Fiction alongside many members of the Crime Writing community. Yet while you’ve written Noir and crime, your overall body of work remains diverse. What are some of the reasons you’ve shied away from a single so-called genre? 

A. I don’t think I’ve shied away from a specific genre—I write what comes into my head at any given moment. Sometimes it’ll be a few crime stories in a row and more often it’ll be dysfunctional families, which are fertile fields for me to plow. I always say I’ll stop writing about dysfunctional families when I meet a functional family. I believe I’m safe. Every family has secrets and most secrets are juicy and even juicer when I create them. Being a writer is like having a God complex or an orchestra maestro—good spots that let you control. Maybe that’s also why I could move a lot of planes when I was an Air Traffic Controller. As Mel Brooks said, “It’s good to be king.”

Q. In terms of sheer numbers, you chance to be one of the “busiest” writers I’ve encountered. Your sixth flash collection KISS KISS was released in April by Truth Serum Press—and you show no signs of easing up. What compels you to write so often?

A. Fear. I always have the fear that were I to stop I couldn’t start again. Plus, I like to write and since I rarely know what my story’s going to be about until I finish it, I look forward to seeing what’s going on in my own head.

Q. Your story “All for the Love of a Good Burger”—which found a home at Yellow Mama, remains one of my favorites. So in the greater New York area, what are your top three places to grab a burger?

A. This is the toughest question. I’ll give you two: PJ Clark’s Cadillac Burger on Third Ave and The Luger Burger from Pete Luger’s steak house in Brooklyn. (Big enough to share.)

Readers hungry for flash can find Paul’s KISS KISS assortment here:

http://bit.ly/pbKiss  paperback

http://bit.ly/KisseP  e book

You can also visit Paul on Facebook. Or find him at his website (which contains Links to his published stories that readers can sample for free).

https://www.facebook.com/paulbeckmanwriter/

http://paulbeckmanstories.com/

Going to be in NYC? You can find the schedule for KGB and the Red Room here:

http://kgbbar.com/calendar/

Interested in learning more about the Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series which was created by Denver writer Nancy Stohlman in 2013? Then here’s a good article from Smokelong Quarterly in which Paul was interviewed alongside Nancy:

http://www.smokelong.com/cool-stuff-writers-do-fbomb-flash-fiction-reading-series/

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Bad Ass Book Reviews: Kiss Kiss by Paul Beckman



Reading KISS KISS is like delving a box of chocolates without a cover as your guide. And Paul Beckman's latest Flash Fiction collection contains 78 crafted confections that ought to curl your toes. Sure you'll discover stories with soft, sweet centers. But some are just as jagged as biting into an almond—hidden inside white nougat—and drizzled with red icing.

Or is that icing actually blood?

So expect to pucker up—but not always for a blissful kiss. A strip poker-playing granny? Tough to banish that gal from your mind. And while the doting couple in "Honey and Darling" remain devoted to each other? Well, they sure ain't your average love birds.

One common ingredient in all of Beckman's stories is suspense. He consistently cooks up ways to keep us off balance ... coaxing us to wonder if and when he'll suddenly tug the paper rug from under our jittery noses. Like when a stranger in "Father Panik Villages" gives a homeless girl a ride and buys her empty stomach lunch. Is he a savior or a creep? Until this tale at last unravels we simply can't decide.

If humor's a flavor you savor, you'll find your share of that as well.

Sure I could say more. But I never kiss and tell. Far better to grab KISS KISS—and let Beckman's characters do the smooching.

Best be careful though. Some may try to jump your bones. Or lure you with the Kiss-of-Death.

Anyone with an urge for these Zero-calorie snacks can find Beckman's KISS KISS assortment here:

http://bit.ly/pbKiss  paperback

http://bit.ly/KisseP  e book

You can also visit Paul on Facebook. Or find him at his website.

http://paulbeckmanstories.com/

https://www.facebook.com/paulbeckmanwriter/

Kiss-Kiss!

Jesse Rawlins

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Della Goes to Hell by Samuel Edgar



Della Goes to Hell

June 6th

She sat on a cheap foldable stool hiding in the forestry overlooking the bridge. A pair of binoculars were glued to her eyes, and she held them with such tightness, blood escaped from her hands leaving bony, white remains. June sixth, it was every June sixth, she told herself. Della had been doing this for two years now, and tonight was the night to end seven hundred and thirty days of misery, of determination, of having nothing and everything all together. She’d remembered the day two years back.

Hells Gate. She’d heard of it but never really felt the need to visit during her twenty eight years on earth; the dilapidated bridge with rustic blood awnings, and a huge concrete slab that stopped cars from driving on it, a precaution of safety she was told by one old lady while she served her at the Chicken Salad Chick . She’d heard the stories, the old folk-tales of times living in Alabama—the dead couple dying on their wedding night, falling off the edge—the wet seat trick where if you looked back in your car, you’d see the patches of where somebody once resided, and of course, where the entire place earned its name; to look back and see Hell. Inevitably she’d already been there.

It was two long years of preparation, of sitting and waiting. After the first, with constant police calls, she was blacklisted as a nuisance and her reports of cultists around the area were simply ignored. Whenever police arrived at the bridge, they would be gone; scrambling into the dark whence they came, but cockroaches always came back. The heathens would always return. She knew it was every three months they’d come back. June sixth was the next date, and this time, she wasn’t going to allow them to run this time. They’d have no time, they’d have nowhere to go.

She’d prepared in advance. Every time they came, they’d light their candles, do their chants, and would begin to do sexual acts on each other, sacrificing small animals. She’d become so consumed with watching them that she felt like it was now or never, or she’d never get her life back.

They appeared slowly in her view, walking onto the bridge silently. She took off from her camp and kept to the shadows as she watched the black-hooded figures walk to the end of Hells Gate. Strapped on her back was her father’s Winchester Model 70, bolt action. Between working the monotonous, robotic routine of Salad Chick to fund this obsession and living rough, she’d spent all her time at the range practicing, making sure she’d never miss a shot when it came to it. But two years of bitterness whittled away and she’d told herself that she wanted an overkill. She snuck closer to the rusted underside of the bridge until she could hear their voices chiming together, singing something in a language she did not care to understand.

Underneath the bridge pylon out on the far end of the bridge, leading to nothing but a drop in a lake, was the thermite she’d spent months creating. She’d wrapped fusewire around it to keep the burning heat hot enough to ignite. She was under them now, hearing their footsteps creaking against the ancient wood; dust falling onto her dirty blond hair and staying there. She grabbed the coil of fuse-wire and slowly went up the side of the bridge. Each footstep was light, and she made sure to not be in view until the last second. To her left was the huge concrete slab and as she moved to it, she caught a glimpse of the hooded figures sat in a circle, three of them chanting away, unknowing. Their huge, black hoods covered each of them like blankets.

She jumped the concrete slab and slid the Winchester off. Its aim was upon the hooded figures who jumped up quickly and froze. “Don’t y’all move now,” she screamed, bitter hatred cruising in her voice.

“What is—she fixin’ to shoot us?“ said the short one on the left.

She slid back the bolt and it went loud. Silence hung in the air. For a moment the familiar sounds she’d once heard here came back to her, but she would be strong, for herself, and for Evan. She moved closer but kept her aim steady.

“Take off ya damn hoods. Now.”

The three of them proceeded to lower the black clothes and the three faces ahead of her weren’t recognizable. One of them was skinny, his face covered in acne with patchy red hair and glasses. The one on the left was an attractive girl with a shaved head and dark brown eyes. The one in the middle, however, didn’t lower the hood.

“I told y’all to lower your hood. ”

“Holds your horns, girl,” said the hooded one. He leaned toward the girl and said: “she ain’t gonna shoot us, she doesn’t know what it’s like to take a li—“

The sound of the gunshot roared out. The bullet ricocheted and hit the wood mere inches from their feet, splinters of rotting wood went up and sprayed. The three of them jumped back and the one in the middle raised his hands in defense. “Okay, okay—okay just wait, here...I’mma lower it.” The hood slipped off the man and a very tanned, bald-headed man with a grey goatee stared back at Della. He crossed his arms.

“Do you remember me? Huh?” Della raised the rifle.

“Nope. Don’t reckon I do,” replied the man. He was very cool under the circumstances. “Should I?”

She lowered the rifle a little and let out a gasp, out of exasperation, out of disbelief. “Evan. Bartlett.”

The bald-headed man smiled. “Oh, him, yeah well, of course, we remember him. He was supposed to be with us.”

“What?” Della’s eyes widened.

Baldie rubbed at his temple as he spoke. “Evan Bartlett. That must make you...Della Burton. Yeah, yeah—y’all were his lady, I remember you. Feisty bitch.”

“You don’t know me,” she said more to herself.

The bald-man took a step forward. Della aimed straight. “Move again and you’re gone, fucko.”

Baldie’s two friends were rooted to the spot, shaking and not moving an inch but he was smiling at her. He lowered his arms and sighed.

“Chunk that rifle, Della,” he said but Della remained like a pillar, aiming, unwavering. Baldie shrugged, creasing his hoody. “I guess it’s you been callin’ the feds on us then. I don’t blame you, I’d be pissed too if my boy’s innards were lookin’ like pulled pork,” he said with a sly smile. He knew what he was doing.

She lowered her aim and pulled the trigger. The gun roared. Baldie let out a yelp of pain and slammed backward onto the bridge flood with a shrill scream that clawed its way out of his lungs. He held his cloak which poured with blood, thickening but not taking any color in the light until rustic liquid dropped onto the floor beneath. Della looked at the other two. “Sit down,” she said through gritted teeth. “Don’t make me put ya all down now.”

“You crazy bitch—you crazy bit—you don’t even know, do you?” Baldie leaned on his front and screamed at her, fresh saliva dripping from his dirt-ridden face.

Della looked back to the coil which was yet to be lit and stormed over to Baldie. She swung the Winchester, held it like a bat, and swiftly smashed the butt down on his face. The deafening crack of bone was almost as loud as the bullet before and Della immediately smiled as if weights had fallen from her with every tooth she had just broken, hopefully. Baldie keeled over, holding his bloody face. He let out muffled cries as Della walked back to the coil and watched the two sitting cronies stare in disbelief. “Come on, guys, what’s a lil assault to what y’all’ve done? Huh?”

The girl’s face contorted into a grimace, one that spelled out I’m gonna kill you.  “He’s gonna come for you, Della.”

“Who? Satan? No thanks, I’ve already been in Hell.”

Acne-boy chimed in. “You think so, just cause you saw Evan’s body all over the place. Ya so stupid,” he said with his nasal voice, sending daggers through Della as she sat down and aimed the rifle lazily. Acne-boy yelled to Baldie, “Hey, hey, Lou—tell her the truth, go on.”

Lou. So that was his name. She watched as he scrambled to get up. Fresh blood poured from his mouth and nose and he got to his knees and took a deep breath before he spoke:

“Evan, ya precious boyfriend, was gonna kill you with us, whore. He was in on it.”

“You’re a liar.” Della gritted her teeth and looked towards the coiled fuse-wire. It would be soon.

“Evan Bartlett was gonna sacrifice you, we need fresh blood in order to make this work. We need to evoke Baphomet—evoke the spirits for—“

“Evan wasn’t in no cult, no brain-dead, hick-fuck cult killing people because they’re pieces of shit and watched The Exorcist too many times.”

“He was gonna,” said Lou.

“He backed out,” replied the girl with a shrug, “so we needed a yearly sacrifice. He was a prime candidate,” she added with another shrug. She dead-eyed Della who was staring in disbelief and with an impassive face she simply said: “Now we got you.”

“You think you’re comin’ near me, bitch?”

“We won’t, but he will,” the girl replied.

“Who?”

“You’ll see when ya look back.”

Della slowly craned her head to the left and looked back to the concrete block. The sound of padded feet on wood went out and she felt the vibration beneath her. Turning back, she shot her eyes to see the girl was up, running towards her with a shimmering curled blade high in the air. Della aimed up, fast and pulled the trigger again. The bullet whizzed, and she fell back with a drop of her arms, the blade hitting the floor. She gripped her stomach then and looked to Della, her eyes wide with confusion or shock. Tears fell from her eyes and she suddenly fell down and folded her legs up, going full fetal. “Save me, Light-One, save me,” she chanted again and again as she held her stomach; fresh crimson pouring onto her hands, onto the bridge that had already seen so much blood.

Images of Evan poured into her brain. His organs laid out, the pentagram painted in his blood. His face pale and twisted into an open scream, his eyes towards the cement block.

“That’s it,” said Della as she got to her feet and moved back to the coil. She reached into her pocket and pulled out Evan’s Zippo. With a metallic flick, the flame burst to life.

“What are you doin’?” yelled Lou over the sound of the girl’s pleas.

“Ending this place.”

“You stupid bitch! Ya don’t get it. He was gonna kill ya anyway!” Lou yelled.

“And then he didn’t,” she replied with a shrug.

She held the flame to the wire and a spark burst out, moving along rapidly, blackening along the way. Lou stared, transfixed. Acne-Boy laid down and covered his head, praying to his favorite deity Della reckoned. The girl began to claw her way towards Acne-boy. She weakly clamped her hands on him and he held onto her, their lips mashing together. Lou looked at them with pure hatred and then lunged for the boy. “IAN—CASS IS MINE.” Della pulled the bolt on her rifle –click clack— and Lou stopped dead. Beneath them was a raging amount of heat and brightness that spread out across the water. Della stepped back and climbed the concrete block. She saw Lou pounce on Ian as they all argue amongst one another.

She looked up. The sound of straining metal went out like a whale’s call. The wooden floor rumbled and the three murderers fell back and looked around as fire spread up and then everything happened fast. The bridge fell, smashing into the water with a huge splash, sending old, dirty water upwards, looking like a log flume ride. The concrete slab, with nothing to hold it back, slid down the Hells Ramp, barrelling towards the cultists which had gone silent over the sound of crashing metal. The block rolled, and suddenly a deafening scream of Ian and the girl went out, and their screams were cut short. Della moved towards the bridge, swatting away dust from the old wood which was suffocating. The sounds of straining metal could only be heard now, and the raw smell of rustic iron burning filled her nostrils as she looked to where the concrete block was half submerged in water.

She had to be sure. She had to know it was done, that this was all done before the police showed up and arrested her. She slid down the bridge which creaked loudly and put her rifle back behind her. She slid slowly, making her way to the slab. As her feet stood at an angle, she could make out two of them. Ian was quickly drowning, pinned under the water where his hands thrashed as his lower body was under the slab but Cass had suffered a quick end, half her body was in the water, half of it was under the block. Fresh blood seeped into the river. Lou.

Water sprayed her; Lou scrambled to the surface; clawed his way forward towards Della with wild, mad eyes. “I’ll kill you, you stupid bitch!”

She reached for her rifle but it was too late. He was on her. His hands clawed at her feet and his eyes were red with rage. Her legs went tight with his grip and she slid from her stance, slamming her back against the concrete block with a loud thud. Pain went up her back and she let out a gasp as Lou clawed his way on top of her and wrapped his hands around her throat. Her clenched fists slapped his face, reddening his skin but his yellowish teeth and bulging jaw seemed frozen as his fingers grew tighter around her throat. “You stupid bitch. He’s not gonna be happy when he finds you’ve killed two of his disciples. No problem. I’ll make him proud of me,” he said through gritted teeth. “Just like Evan was gonna make us proud until he got his little cold feet. Tell him I said hi.”

Hands were upon him. Darkness was clawing its way into Della’s vision, blood escaped and she wanted to shut her eyelids. Her eyes flickered but then she saw it, another hand wrapping around Lou’s neck; one that seemed to be wearing a tuxedo of some kind. Another pair of arms wearing laced white gloves. Lou let out shrill screams as the hands tore away at him and dragged him back. Della leaned to her side and watched as half of Lou’s body was already under the water. He let a final scream escape as Della watched, barely conscious, as the blurry shapes of a man in black and a woman in white thrashed and struggled to pull Lou downwards.

As air seeped back into her lungs, she focused and saw the mangled corpses of the woman, her eyeless sockets staring at her as she slipped under the water. The skeletal remains against rotting flesh of the man in the tuxedo shot through her as fresh waves of terror took over anger. She trembled. Lou was sucked under the water as if a vacuum was beneath him and then there was silence. Della coughed hard and let fresh air seep into her. Eventually, she got the energy to climb to her feet and ran up the once-working bridge of Hells Gate.

She climbed to the top, and slid, looking back to see two floating heads in the water staring at her. She climbed to the top and stumbled, crashing forward with rushing gasps of air. Her hands scratched against the gravel of the floor, but she didn’t care. She ran and then she made the mistake.

She looked back. As if all light had suddenly escaped, only a black hole seemed to be behind her, growing and engulfing the remnants of Hells Gate. Pure heat burned from it. Then she fell forward, landing on her side, air barely escaping. In front of her was the black hole, gaping and blowing the stench of rotting chicken and sulfur. As her vision cleared, the shapes came into view against a low-ember color of red. Twisted, contorted remains of things clawed their way towards her on all fours. Screams of the dead, screams of her name.

There in the dark hole toward her was Evan, tall and stretched; his torso an empty shell giving way to the deep reddish skeletal remains beneath. His jaw stretched low and with wide, hollow eyesockets he hobbled towards Della and screamed out “It should have been you, not me.”

Fire poured out, flowing with streams of contorted naked bodies which crawled across the floor. Each shape screamed out, and against the back of the hole she could see a red haze, and against it stood something tall. Its height was too tall for a human, and it was as if a cape flowed down whatever it was. It seemed to have a thin, bald head with horns poking out of its head. He’s real. Am I real?

Della let out a bloodcurdling scream as she looked towards him, approaching with a million faces of anguish behind him, and the roars of fire blowing out. She stared at the beast which looked at her silently, looking over his domain and two years melted away into a mishmash of looking through broken glass. She turned and ran, screaming wildly into the night, seeing herself run as if she wasn’t in control. She ran and ran and ran with thudded steps behind her and with each thud, she ran harder and harder, until her lungs burned and the heat behind her lessened. Blood poured from her arms and as she ran it sprayed across her.

She could feel the Beasts eyes on her until finally she fell and looked back, only to see the road behind her empty and quiet. There was nothing behind her but the road, the fields, and silence. She laid there, bloody, broken, and beaten. Tears fell from her and she couldn’t stop them. She didn’t want to move. The blaring light of a streetlamp kept her safe from whatever she’d seen.

She roared and wailed not in control anymore. Not knowing what to do except cry until she could do no more. She’d never return to that place she told herself between the wailings, and finally when she could do no more. Her manic tears gave way to laughter, and she screamed on into the night, imagining the thing staring at her; Satan. He was real, was he real? There was nothing left in her. She slammed her head to the floor, and quickly the black hole from before followed her and she remained still, frozen in fear knowing she’d hopefully cut off Hell Gates from ever coming back again. Or maybe, she thought, maybe she’d been engulfed and this was her Hell.

-End-

Bio Samuel Edgar runs a nightclub and spends his days writing. 

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Gravedigger Blues by Peter DiChellis



Gravedigger Blues

Dixon saw nothing but problems with the new gravedigger. The man stood tall as a giant and looked strong as a gorilla, not like the old gravedigger, the little skinny one who put caskets in such shallow holes for so many years.

“This new fella will bury ‘em deep,” Dixon told Pervis. “And pack the dirt tight on top of ‘em.”

And that meant trouble. Because Dixon and Pervis made a living robbing graves. And it was easy here. Whenever a big storm sent rainwater streaming down the hills that surrounded the isolated graveyard, the entire cemetery would flood, and caskets floated out of the shallow graves, the loose dirt and thin sod unable to hold them.

That’s when Dixon and Pervis would sneak through the night, pop the casket lids open, and rob the bodies of jewelry and watches. And then they’d close the lids to make the caskets look proper again, drive to a distant town, and sell their loot to a shady pawnbroker they knew. It had been steady work. The cemetery served all the neighboring towns, so Dixon and Pervis could rob graves almost every rainstorm. But with this new gravedigger...

“Hell fire, we're gonna be unemployed,” Dixon continued. “Goddamn throwed out of work by a big gravedigger.”

That was depressing for both men. These were hard times to find good work. And Dixon and Pervis, friends since grade school, were built for work. Tall and stocky, big hard bellies, wide backs. Their eyes set them apart, though. Pervis wore a mean stare he’d crafted in county jail, while Dixon’s eyes shone warm as a friendly hound dog’s, a lingering reminder of his boyhood dream to become a salesman, to joke and laugh with customers, and travel to cities and towns all over the state.

Dixon mulled a recent grave robbing. With rain pounding down on them, he and Pervis had wrestled floating caskets, slipped on wet grass, and kneeled and sat in sloppy mud. Dixon had found a rich casket that night, an old burial. The woman’s hair had grown wild, bunching into a tangled gray pillow beneath her withered face. Deep crevices split her skin. Her sunken eye sockets stared upward while an earthy smell fought its way into Dixon’s nose and squatted in his throat. But the woman had a gold wedding band on her bony finger, a silver bracelet on her scrawny wrist. Payday.

“Yessir, I've worked worse jobs than snatchin' these floaters,” Dixon said. “You’re outdoors, not on your feet the whole time, and you know your workday's comin' with the weather.”

“How you like reachin’ around them dead bodies?” Pervis asked.

“Some look frightful, no denyin' it. But every line of work has drawbacks.”

Dixon and Pervis knew how to overcome drawbacks. For example, sometimes the same caskets they'd already robbed floated again. But Dixon, who remembered people, always spotted the repeaters as soon as the casket came open.

“It's that bald fella again,” he might say. “The one who used to have such a nice watch.”

What to do now?

“I gotta put food on the table,” Dixon said. “I need work.”

“We’ll rob live people,” Pervis decided. “Least we can see what they got without pullin’ off a lid.”

“Don’t make sense,” Dixon said. “Live ones fight back.”

“We’ll rob old ones, near to dead. No fight in those.”

So they drove to another town, where nobody knew them. The town was much like theirs. Grubby stores and cinderblock apartments bordered ancient factories that once hired workers, but were automated with machines now.

Dixon considered the lonesome factory buildings. “Caskets for jobs,” he said.

He and Pervis watched and waited, smoked cigarettes, and nipped whiskey from a half-pint Pervis kept in his ramshackle car. Two determined hillbillies with no work skills, dirt under their fingernails, and families to feed.

As dusk became darkness, the half-pint emptied and an old woman tottered past. A streetlight revealed her tiny frame, grandma white hair, and a ring and necklace. She wasn’t wearing a watch.

“Good as a floater,” Pervis said.

The two robbers yanked her into a filthy alley. The necklace looked like cheap crap, but the ring was worth plenty, Pervis saw.

“Gimme the ring,” he told her.

“Kiss my ass, butt face,” she screeched. “This ring belonged to my mother!”

Pervis grabbed her, covered her mouth.

“Get the damn ring,” he told Dixon. He spun the woman around and jammed her throat into the crook of his elbow, squeezing.

“It’s tight on her finger,” Dixon said. “Gonna take a minute.”

When Dixon got the ring, Pervis let go of the woman. She dropped to the ground, motionless.

“Oh Lord, is she dead?” Dixon asked.

“Ain’t staying to find out.”

They drove away to visit the shady pawnbroker. He figured the ring at about five grand, so he paid the two robbers $150 each.

“Lookit here,” Pervis cackled. He waved his share of the money at Dixon and grinned. “What’d I say about them old ones, near to dead?”

“Yessir,” Dixon said. “We got a new line of work. Though I do wonder what became of that poor old woman.”

A week later, the big gravedigger returned to a fresh gravesite, dug yesterday. The casket lay in the open grave, the dirt not shoveled in and packed down yet. The mourners had left, the sun had set.

The gravedigger raised the casket and lifted the lid. A tiny old woman with grandma white hair. Wearing her best dress, no doubt. No ring, no watch, just a crappy-looking necklace.

He took it. Better than nothing, he thought.

-End-

This story originally appeared in YELLOW MAMA (October 2013).

Bio Peter DiChellis concocts sinister tales for anthologies, ezines, and magazines. He is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and an Active (published author) member of the Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. For more, visit his site Murder and Fries at http://murderandfries.wordpress.com/
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Monday, April 16, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Hector D. Junior

Q. Welcome to Ink-Quisitions, Hector. You started your writing career with a background in Journalism. But in terms of spilling ink, you felt compelled to write fiction. What year did you enroll in Florida International University’s (FIU) MFA program? And did you make any attempts at publishing fiction prior to your enrollment?

A. I enrolled at FIU’s MFA program in 2009 and I hadn't tried to publish anything before then because I simply didn’t feel I had the talent or ability.

Q. A lot of folks with an interest in writing fiction often struggle with the decision of whether or not they should try to enroll in an MFA creative writing program. So how did your FIU experiences shape you as a writer?

A. Whatever small “career” I might have in writing at the moment is thanks to FIU. When I enrolled, I couldn’t write myself out of a paper bag. Now, I can at least recognize I’m inside the paper bag and start poking holes to find my way out. It’s made me better at recognizing the elements of plot, which helps me be a better editor.

Q. These days you teach in Miami at the high school and college levels. You also serve with Rob Pierce as co-editor of the San Francisco-based online magazine Flash Fiction Offensive (FFO), which publishes a story every week. Despite juggling these tasks, you finally and recently completed your college dissertation. Meanwhile, your saintly girlfriend Samantha and your spoiled tuxedo-cat Felina seem to enjoy living with you.

So what motivates Hector Duarte Jr.? How have you managed to give so much to your students—and still found the energy to write fiction—while completing your college requirements; and somehow living in domestic bliss?

A. I don’t know myself, Jesse, to be honest. It’s rough and my saintly girlfriend Samantha hopefully still sees it as domestic bliss when I come up to her AT LEAST once, twice a week and ask her, “Am I stretching myself too thin?” To this day, she’s of the opinion I’m pretty good at balancing it all out, but my big fear is taking on too much and having it all feel like work. It’s all about compartmentalizing, blocking specific amounts of times for each thing: writing, grading essays, petting my cat, and, most importantly, making sure the ones you love still know they are important and that you love them. So, just telling yourself, “all right, I’m going to write for an hour today.” Then, keeping that hour and not beating yourself up later because you didn’t go for ninety minutes. The key, though, make sure you take one day a week where you don’t do shit and give yourself a much-needed mental break. Otherwise, you will get overwhelmed and there goes everything, not just the writing. I never want to get to a point where writing feels like work. I want it to remain fun.

Q. Faced with these draconian time constraints, how long did you work on the novella portion of your first book, DESPERATE TIMES CALL (recently released by Shotgun Honey): which also includes a collection of your crime fiction stories?

A. I worked on that novella over a period of two years, easily. A perpetual ping-pong game of plot and line edits with my thesis advisors, Debra Dean and Lynne Barrett.

Q. You write with the premise that good fiction should give a reason why a particular event occurs. Why do you hold to this principle?

A. It’s cliché but truth is stranger than fiction. Why? Because life is chaotic and things just happen sometimes, without a reasonable explanation. This is why we write as authors and read as readers, to make sense of the world. The only way to do that is to write about the good, bad, weird, and crazy shit that happens in life, but give it meaning and purpose.

Q. You’ve shared that your book takes a look at how ordinary people sometimes feel forced to react when “pushed” by calloused folks during high-stress situations. Without giving away any plots, what kinds of circumstances do some of your characters find themselves confronting?

A. We have a father who breaks a restraining order to visit his daughters at school. A guy burned in love who decides to vent in front of a live audience. Two people who meet through a dating service and swap horror stories. That’s just to name a few. 

Q. Have you ever felt “desperation” in your own life? If so, would you care to share some of these circumstances—and how you resolved your inner conflicts?

A. Of course. Up to and including an anxiety attack back in 2010. I still have my issues but I’ve learned to see them coming, accept my vulnerability, and just slow it the fuck down. That’s the most important thing I am working on now; slowing it the hell down. Writing definitely helps but sometimes processing violence, people being wicked, and the general chaotic state of the word can be overwhelming. That’s when a day off comes in handy.

Q. Like the earlier authors in this series, you also contributed to the kickass Johnny Cash tribute collection JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE edited by Joe Clifford on behalf of Gutter Books. Your anthology story, “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” involves school bullying—and bleeds with desperation.

Is school bullying something you’ve witnessed and struggled to deal with as a teacher? Or did you draw from news events and your imagination?

A. 2018 marks my twelfth year teaching (fuck me). In that time, I have seen all types of bullying: student-student; teacher-student; student-teacher; parent-student. You get the idea. So, yeah, the story in the Cash anthology came from witnessing, in some form or another, bullying in all aspects of society. And, unfortunately, I did witness someone run over a duck just outside my home. What I write tends to have a balance of real-life and imaginative extrapolation. Like all things, I guess.

Q. Since the publication of your first book you now face the challenges of trying to promote your work. You even opened your first Twitter account. But I hope you’re not tweeting while you’re talking to me.

Are you?

Never mind. I don’t wanna know.

Getting back to self-aggrandizement, what other tools are you using to try and promote your book?

A. I only started my Facebook page to promote my writing. Then, I very reluctantly started the Twitter page when Josh Hattan at the Urban Book Club offered to have me conduct an Ask me Anything session over Twitter about my book. I asked him, “Do I have to open a Twitter account?” Josh, ever empathetic and very used to dealing with writers kindly said, “I’m afraid, it’s the only way this will work.”

He didn’t have to say much more. Social media can be a weird necessity because you have promote your work while not being annoying, pile-driving peoples’ newsfeeds, or coming across like a beggar. To answer your question, I use Facebook and Twitter and I’m barely on either of those. 

Q. Comradery within the Writing Community can certainly buoy a writer. I mentioned Joe Clifford earlier. He and Tom Pitts managed FFO before you and Rob Pierce rolled into the gutter … and descended to the throne. Steve W. Lauden recently referred to Joe as one of the most talented miscreants he’s encountered.

How did you meet this guy with all those tats—I mean Mr. Clifford? (Talk about ink.) And how has he impacted your writing life?

A. I met Joe Clifford at the FIU Alumni reading back in 2013, asked him for his business card, and emailed him that night about how best to go about getting a story on FFO. Within a month, I had something up on the site and I was hooked.

From then on in, he’s been nothing but an amazing mentor, creative shoulder to cry on and, at this point, it’s safe to say we’re buds (as closely as two guys living on opposite coasts can be). To this day he laughs because we met for lunch at AWP Seattle [Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Seattle Conference] back in 2014 and I was such a fan boy, just fawning over having lunch with him. He sensed my anxiety and at one point just turned to me and, I’ll never forget, said, “Hector, relax. I’m really not in such high demand.” That was the moment the ice broke between us and this interview is happening right now because of Joe Clifford. Whatever writing career I may carve out in the future, it is all because he opened a door and said, “Go ahead but watch your step.” I hope to serve that same role for someone else someday. In the end, that’s the goal of having any kind of push, power, influence, whatever you want to call it; use it to help someone else reach their level of push, power, and influence.

Simply put, I owe my very tiny writing career to Joe Clifford and I will never forget that.

Many of its “members” might hate to hear me say this but the crime writing community very much operates like an online hippie commune. They are all there for each other, extending handshakes, invitations, opportunities, and loads of support at the drop of a hat. It’s amazing how normal, supportive, and just down to earth these folks are. Especially considering so many of them are mondo-talented. I love it, man. I’m so glad to be a part of it. I hope I am, anyway.

Q. Before I leave you to your Twitter account: you’re assigned to craft a Pub Crawl for out-of-town miscreant writers (Mark Westmoreland chief among them). Where does your tour take them? Or do you invite them to one particular pub—and let them crawl out on their own?



A. My forever favorite bar is Titanic Brewery right across the University of Miami campus. They have good brews, awesome food, and the best part—no pretension.

Q. For anyone wishing to add some food to their otherwise liquid diet, what’s one culinary dish you believe folks oughta try when visiting Miami? And what are some good places to indulge?

A. Islas Canarias way out west—almost hitting the Everglades—has amazing Cuban food. You definitely want to try their ham croquetas. They’re the best I’ve ever had and, believe me, I’ve done extensive research. Make sure you get at least two.

Thanks for your time on S&G's rack, Hector. You've certainly just wet my appetite for more than spilling ink.

Meanwhile, anyone with an interest can swing by Pulp Metal Magazine and read Hector's story Fish Hook for free.

Folks can also buy the Anthony Award nominated anthology JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE (which includes Hector's story “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow”) here on Amazon.

Sorry to say, but presently there is no Link where folks can buy DESPERATE TIMES CALL.

Meanwhile though, you can find Hector on Facebook and Twitter at the addresses below:

www.facebook.com/hector.d.junior

@hexpubs (Twitter)

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