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.


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

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:

@hexpubs (Twitter)


Friday, April 13, 2018

What You Know by Nick Manzolillo

What You Know

Some writer is willing to pay me to beat his face in. Now, I'm not one for wilding out unprovoked. I've never been in a bar fight where I didn't let myself get hit first. Then again, I've managed to get into more bar, concert, diner, and taxi-cab fights than anybody I know. So what if I've got a reputation, doesn't mean I feel good about hurting somebody that wasn't asking for it. Then again, this guy was asking for it, asking for it and offering me three hundred at the same time.

"Just don't use a bat or anything," he told me. I agreed with him, mostly 'cause I don't have a bat, and if I did use one, I'd probably just kill the wiry little fucker.

He told me, this writer of black books and foul shit, he told me to surprise him. He paid me up front, patted the buffalo tattoo on my shoulder like he was into me or something, and said to come at him randomly. "Not tonight, not tomorrow, not next week," he told me, and I laughed into my beer. No doubt he's a crazy motherfucker. He smelled terrible, too, but not like piss like most crazy motherfuckers; he smelled like melted plastic and buffalo sauce, yeah, like freshly cooked wings.

It's week number two after he asked me. He's probably still all amped up, expecting me and this probably isn't what he wants, but I'd for sure forget if I waited any longer. As it is, it took my honey, Gwen, asking me about the job and smacking me upside the head this afternoon while I was finishing up a good night's sleep and a long day's dream.

The writer gave me his schedule, see, he's the obsessive-compulsive sort, sticking to the same old, same old, day in, day out. He teaches books to college kids and all that pretentious shit at the big grand full-of-it university that this whole city bends over backwards for. He goes straight from work to a girl's on-campus apartment, then he goes home to his wife, then he goes to the corner pub and has a drink. I planned on getting him after his drink, but when I walked over to his old haunt of a bar, I realized it was hardly five-thirty.  Fucking Gwen, waking me up too early.

I go by the campus, don't see his prissy little charger, and so I find his little blueberry car outside his girl's apartment. It's a shame, 'cause I wanted him to be drunk enough that he wouldn't feel the hurt. He'll probably be love-drunk and that's not the kind of drunk you want to be when you get jumped-beaten and then jumped on. I feel bad and I wonder if I'm even the man for the job, the manly-man sorta badass, as the writer referred to me.

I park my car across the street and linger in the bushes. He walks out into the umbrella glow of the front door's light, pausing to light a cigarette. He sighs deeply before muttering, "for fuck's sake I see you, you big goon"

I try and crouch lower but it's no use; I leap out and maybe it's because he called me a goon, but I'm on him. He giggles, right before I hit him and drop him. I pause for a moment, because I am here for a job. I let him get to his wobbly feet. Could be he wants drama for that next bestseller of his I'll see at the grocery store, so I settle on giving him a chance.

He moans, and then seeing the laughter in my eyes, he lunges for me. I catch his arm, throw it to his side and give him a first class series of uppercuts that knock him back on his ass. I kick him in his ribs, lower myself and pop him just once, firmly, in the head. He goes down, and I believe myself to be done, till he tilts his head up and fumbles into his pocket.

I panic for a moment, thinking it's a gun, ready to jackhammer both my heels into his throat. It's just a piece of paper and a broken half-a-pencil. "Gotta write this down, bud," he says, spitting blood, and that's the moment he officially rubs me the wrong way. What, does he think I'm a fraud? An actor? Some asshole off the street? I kick that fucking notebook right out of his hands.

"Hey!" He moans and I'm on him, head butting his skull. He goes still but he's breathing, as I scoop his wallet, pluck his keys from the ground where he dropped them and then, blood simmering, next thing I know I'm driving his blueberry charger. I start to feel guilty, 'cause it's not that bad a ride. Not even for a big fellow like me. I like the way it handles, boosting to the speed limit in a near-instant. I'm aware I left my truck at the wordsmith's girl's place, but fuck it. I knew there'd be consequences, Gwen knew there'd be consequences. I bet that fucker would probably have had me arrested and then claim our altercation was a random act of violence, just so he could study the effects of due process and a court room. Hell, I like the sound of that, a random act of violence.

Writer guy like that, no matter how smart he be, he needs a fella like myself. Guy like that only writes what he knows, then it's boring shit and the like. I'm the one who taught him tonight. I've got the knowledge he'd smack himself in the head for. My spelling's off, and he may be the one who writes, but it's my story he's gonna tell, over and over, holding his aching face in one hand and a pen in the other.


Bio Nick Manzolillo's short fiction has appeared in over thirty publications including Wicked Witches: A New England Horror Writers Anthology, Thuglit, Grievous Angel, and The Tales To Terrify podcast. He recently earned an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing from Western Connecticut State University. By day he is a content operations specialist, editor, and writer for TopBuzz, a news app.