Is It Just Me?

Maybe I’m just a poseur thinking I know what good writing is. I have a master’s degree, so I have to be able to express myself in writing, but there’s nothing to prove that what I write is readable. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that most master’s theses are tedious outside narrow audiences. I did take a couple of creative writing classes in college, but I don’t remember anything other than it was fun. During my current incarnation as a writer I’ve spent a few years on Scribophile where I’m required to critique the writing of others. Writing and reading critiques of others’ work and mine has been perhaps the most valuable education I’ve had on how to write. Hitching myself to ProWritingAid and Fictionary has allowed me to step it up a notch. Something must be working. Thirty editors of magazines and anthologies can’t all be wrong.

But then I pick up a book. I started reading a detective story today. Within the first two pages I’d encountered three lines with words dropped. Okay, that’s just poor editing, not the author’s fault. But during that same time I found three words used wrong. Not just throw away words, but words that were critical to the sentence. Definitely the author’s fault. And it seems every noun has an adjective, frequently repetitive. Adverbs run amok. And there is a whole lot of what I’d consider just poor writing. And misogynistic. The author is a woman, so it’s even worse. The publication date was 2013 so maybe our understanding of misogyny has grown.

So I thought, maybe this is a person who was just starting out. I know my writing has grown over the past five years. But I looked her up online and she has over twenty books, stretching back to the 2000s. She has a following.

The book has a promising premise: a detective who can tell what a person is feeling if she touches them. Pretty handy skill for a detective. I like a little supernatural in my stories. I’ve given it time to grab me since I like the setup, but five (short) chapters in, nothing has happened. Well, her house burned down, but that doesn’t seem to have bothered her. She’s mostly obsessing about whether to have sex with her best friend’s father. Eww. The affect, dialog, actions of the characters don’t really make a lot of sense. People say things that people don’t ever say out loud.

In recent memory I’ve only ditched two books that I considered unreadable. One was about Mary Magdalene, a historical character who intrigues me. But the prose was so purple I felt the need to wash if off my hands every few paragraphs. I finally had to put it down. Another was so poorly edited with misspellings, wrong words, and erratic punctuation that trying to make heads or tails of what was going on was a chore. I read for pleasure, not for work. There have been occasionally other stinkers which I’ve stuck with until the end. I’m afraid this book won’t be one of them. I’ll give it a few more chapters, but she needs to up her game and tone down the misogyny pretty quickly. And I’m not naming her. I don’t want to get sued. Or threatened by fans of bad writing.



As a beginning author (Amazon says I am, so I must be) I wonder if what I’m writing is really any good. I wrote for a year or so before I began submitting to magazines and such. Every now and then I’d get an acceptance, which triggered a little happy dance and a Sally Fields “You really like me” moment. But mostly rejections. The rejections are always nicely worded, saying something along the lines of “not for us, but we’re sure it’ll find a home somewhere.” But I was left wondering WHY is it not for you? What did I do wrong? Very rarely, the submission site would offer feedback for a price. Maybe I should be willing to pay $35 to find out why they don’t like my work, but I’m cheap.

I came upon the idea of writing groups. Checking around the internet I found several options. The first one I tried out was called Scribophile. It was free to join (always a plus) and easy to navigate (an even bigger plus). You had to critique other people’s stories to earn points. The overarching rule was to be nice and critique constructively. Then you could use the points to post your story for critiquing. I didn’t know much about critiquing; I mean that was why I was there, to be critiqued. But I read what other people were saying and figured it out. I know my way around the English language pretty well and after a while I got the hang of it. I even earned bonus points for being a good critter (a critter is one who critiques) and even picked up some followers. I met some nice people and we conversed outside the site, helping each other. It was a good experience and I’m convinced my writing improved.

I tried a couple of other critiquing sites just to see what was out there. I went to Critique Circle and one other place which will not be named – ever again. The CC was much like Scribophile, except the interface was a bit clunkier. I didn’t use it often.

The Other Place, though, wow. I posted a story and within a couple of days got a critique. It was a page long screed about what an awful writer I was. Not only did he hate the story, but he looked me up on Google and found other writing and dissed that, too. I looked at the rules of the site, and there was a brief mention to be polite. This guy was having none of it. So I read his tirade all the way to the end. That’s when I found out what was going on. I was an awful writer, but for a certain amount of money, I could take his course and he would teach me to write. I have to say that was probably the worst advertisement in the history of mankind. I wanted to report him to the master of the website, but couldn’t find a way. Apparently it was a free for all. So I deleted the story from their site and left.

And the awful story he panned? Little Green Men came out Friday as a stand-alone booklet. So not everyone thinks it’s trash. It can be purchased on Amazon. And to the asshole who panned it – well I don’t think WordPress supports the type of language I want to use.

Little Green Men

My story, Little Green Men, is being released today by Water Dragon Press. It is a stand-alone booklet, available on Amazon for $.99. When I was shopping it around, an editor told me it was too long for his magazine, but deserved a volume all its own. Water Dragon apparently agreed. It’s long for a short story at over 9,000 words, but not quite a novella. The story of Earth’s first manned mission to Mars, it’s part science fiction, part horror, part thriller. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

LGM is officially my 30th piece of work accepted for publication. The 31st, Yellow Piece of Paper will be out on Thema in June.


Sweet Taste of the Season

My wife told me today that she saw online that the strawberry salad was back at Panera. Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE Panera’s strawberry salad. Strawberries, blueberries, mandarin oranges, pecans – what’s not to love? But it’s only March; kinda early for strawberries. I wondered where they’re getting the fresh strawberries. As with many things, that sent my thoughts down a rabbit hole.

The concept of fresh fruit has changed in my lifetime. To borrow from a recent movie, we live in a day of everything, all the time. If I get a craving for any fresh fruit, I can get it at a local store, even in my relatively small town. It’s imported, sometimes costly, but it’s available. Call it American privilege. Everything, all the time.

That hasn’t always been the case. When I was young (I’m talking 55+ years ago) fresh fruits and vegetables were seasonal. Their distinctive flavors and smells heralded the changing seasons as much as the gaudy holiday decorations at the department stores. Strawberries meant late spring, usually straight from Grandma’s garden, spoils of her constant war with birds over her harvest. Straight from the plant, brush off the black soil, and directly into my mouth. A delicious memory of my childhood.

Blueberries came later. My great aunt would announce she was going “huckleberrying” in the woods and return with a pail full of small, tart, wild blueberries. And wild blackberries were abundant along the roadsides. My cousins and I would watch in anticipation as the berries ripened from green to red to luscious black, bursting with flavor. Grandma would give us a Mason jar promising a blackberry cobbler if we filled it.

Corn on the cob and watermelons always heralded high summer. Mr. Taylor would stop by every year and invite us to pick a peck of corn from his field. And Mr. Massey who grew the fattest, juiciest watermelons ever, always gave us one or two. And summer squash would mysteriously appear on our doorstep. I miss the closeknit community of my youth.

The taste of apples and fresh apple juice remind me of the start of the school year, with always an apple in my lunch box. Dad would drive us up to the mountains and buy a bushel of his favorite types of apples. I still remember the sweet aroma of the bin where he stored them. Pears and pumpkins announced the frost and onset of winter. I remember picking up pears under Grandma’s tree, dodging the yellow jackets who also craved the sweet fruit.

And the smell of oranges will always be paired with Christmas. Bags marked “Florida oranges” would appear in the supermarket. There were always a few oranges in my Christmas stocking. My great grandmother told me that back in the 1880s, her grandmother would give each grandchild an orange for Christmas. That was truly a treasure for a child in rural North Carolina.

Nostalgia is sweet, almost as sweet as the peaches we’d pick up at a roadside stand on the way to the beach or the grapes from Dad’s arbor, but it makes me wonder. Did we appreciate the flavors more because they were rare, only available at certain times of the year? Did the anticipation of waiting enhance the sweetness of the fruit? Did the fact that we saw it growing before our eyes increase its meaning and value? Perhaps. But I’ve become accustomed to everything, all the time. We all have.

So I headed down to Panera today for my first strawberry salad of the season. The guy behind the counter said, “That’s seasonal. It’ll be available next month.”  So I wait in anticipation.


When I first got up the nerve to send my scribblings out into the world, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I did a little internet research to find a seemingly suitable place to peddle my work, but it was an unknown world to me. That was April 2019.

Since then I’ve submitted literally hundreds of times to a host of magazines, websites, anthologies, any place that puts out a call for submissions. I’d be lost without my spreadsheet of when what submitted where to whom.

One of the nice surprises was the friendly rejection letters. I don’t know if it’s always been that way, or the ease of email took the edge off their nerves, but it’s a nice touch. It’s obviously a canned reply, but shows that it takes no extra work to be nice to people when saying no. That’s a good thing considering the number of rejections that have crowded my inbox.

I follow a few blogs by successful writers, always interested in pointers and found there’s apparently a hierarchy of rejections. The vast majority of mine have been along the order of thanks for submitting, we enjoyed the story, not right for us, please remember us and send more. That kind of response, especially the last two words is supposedly the first level lower than acceptance. It means they think you have potential. According to the authors I’ve followed, that kind of rejection is the gold standard for acknowledgment that you have something going on.

A few of my lesser stories garnered rejections of basically thanks for your interest. No invitation to try again. I guess this is the second tier of rejections. I imagine there are even lower levels. I wonder how bad you have to be to get a restraining order filed against you? Not that it’s ever happened to me. Well, not exactly. I have been banned from one site. I had sent a fairly grim story with sexual violence and neglected to attach a trigger warning. Apparently I offended the sensibilities of someone on their staff. I figure if you put out a call for stories, you have to expect a few graphic episodes. But now I attach trigger warnings to nearly all my stories, even ones going to horror sites. I checked with some editors I liked, worried that being banned might hurt me in a wider arena, but they said not to worry, nobody paid attention to the yahoos at that particular site.

Sometimes, even though the rejections are canned, an editor attaches a personal note. These are always special. One said that she adored the story, but I should consider expanding it into a longer work. A note on a rejection of my Little Green Men story said an entire magazine issue should be devoted to that work, but his wasn’t the magazine to do it. I got a nice note on a rejection that came in today. I had submitted The Stick Men to a horror anthology. It’s adapted from a story my mom told be from her childhood. After the standard rejection verbiage the editor added that the story was rejected because they ran out of room. He asked that I please resubmit it for their next anthology. Hey, that’s almost an acceptance. I’ll take it as one, anyway. So assuming it’s still available, I’ll send it along to them when the window opens for their next anthology, sometime the middle of this year. It’s nice to have a foot in the door, so to speak.

Nora Roberts and a Changing World

Trigger warning: sexual assault

I have an app on my tablet called BookBub. Every day it shows me cheap books in genres I select. I mean $0-$1.99 cheap. Some of them are self-published and absolutely dreadful.  Sometimes there are books by authors I’ve actually heard of. This week I saw a book listed as a thriller. It was a detective story by J. D. Robb. I’ve heard of the author before and I like a detective story, so I looked further. Turns out J. D. Robb is a pseudonym for Nora Roberts, queen of romantic schlock. She said she published it under a pseudonym so she could go in a new direction, rather than romance. The premise of the book sounded promising, so I looked further. It turns out the book is number 8 or 9 in a series of about 50 books about this female detective. All of the books are “stand alone” but I hate walking into the middle of a psycho-drama, so I picked up the first book in the series. If I like it, I’ll move on to the others.

The first book was published in 1995. But it had a science fiction edge – police work in 2058. I’m having fun seeing what she got right. In the book email is ubiquitous, as are cameras and cell phones. They also have flying cars and a few off-world colonies. Sex work is legal, as is marijuana. There’s even a back story about an uber conservative ass who wants to run for president. His platform would be to ban sex work, premarital sex, LGBT rights, abortion and end the ban on guns. Sounds familiar.

The book is following the romantic trope of she hates her romantic interest until she loves him. Not my favorite style but I guess Nora does what’s always worked for her. Never having read her before, I can’t say. But what is standing out is that the book is chauvinistic, misogynistic, patronizing, demeaning to women and celebrates sexual violence. What the hell, Nora?

I know, I know. Society has changed since 1995, but that much? Early in the book the female detective is interviewing a suspect at his home. He is obviously the one who will eventually become her romantic interest (doesn’t hurt that he’s a billionaire). He decides he wants to have sex with her. She tells him no. He maneuvers her up against a wall and begins pawing and kissing her. She resists and tells him to stop. He doesn’t. He manages to get her into his bedroom because she’s confused. I guess everyone knows that a woman loses the power to think when a handsome man assaults her. She struggles and tells him no. He gets her clothes off and begins having sex. She continues to struggle and say no. Afterward there’s a peaceful interlude (which I found very odd) until he wants to do it again. She says no. He shoves in her and does it anyway. She spends the night.

I don’t see how this could read as anything but a rape. But Ms. Roberts seems to be presenting it as romantic. And then we find out the woman was so severely sexually abused as a child that she has no memories from before she was 8. This new rape sure isn’t going to help her mental health.

So is this commonplace for Nora Roberts? Do all her heroines have to be raped in order to find out they love their attacker? If so, then something is seriously wrong with this woman.

Maybe I’ll buy the latest installment of this series, written in the 2020s. See if Nora has grown with the times, maybe evolved into a human being.

Another Anthology Acceptance

I hope everyone got a chance to check out my fractured fairy tale Inna Gadda da Vida when it went live September 27 on Café Lit. If not, you can still catch it at It’s the second story down today, but will get further from the top daily. And I know, it’s been published elsewhere so you’ve already seen it. But I like to check out when I have a piece published in new venues to see what kind of graphics they add. Sadly, Café Lit didn’t use any graphics. Still, it’s nice to see my byline.

My newest acceptance comes from Thema Literary Society in Louisiana. They are putting together a little book called Crumpled Yellow Paper. All the stories involve something about a yellow piece of paper. I sent them a story entitled “Yellow Piece of Paper” of course. They liked it so it will appear in the anthology in June 2023. It involves a guy finding a cell phone on a nature trail and mayhem ensues. I had a lot of fun writing that one. It’s the 30th story I’ve had picked up. Weirdly, when skiing this past spring I saw something lying in the snow. It looked like a piece of trash so I stopped to get it out of the way. Turned out it was someone’s cell. I had just written Yellow Piece of Paper so after a moment of panic laced déja vu, I skied down to the base and gave it to one of the lifties. I wanted no part of it. Read the story and you’ll know why.

Writing Update

I thought I’d say a few words about what’s going on with my writing. I’ve only written a few pieces recently, mostly focusing on editing older stories. And marketing what I have available.

I had sent Welcome to Hell to an editor I have a friendly relationship with but never heard back from him. Then as I recently was scanning his online magazine for something else, I came upon the story. I guess the acceptance email got sent to my spam folder. It appeared in The Chamber on February 18. It appeared back in October on Tall Tale TV and was supposed to be on What the Writers Wrote back in June 2021, but that site went belly up. I’ve previously linked the Tall Tale TV site and at the risk of being redundant, here’s where you can find it on The Chamber.

I got word from Dragon Gems that their anthology including my story Little Green Men will be out sometime next year. That will be my fifth anthology inclusion. Although it’s kinda my sixth. I mean I had signed a contract for a story to be in the anthology Sounds of a Quiet House, but the project fizzled out.

The Protest Diaries was released in August with my story The Intervention included. You’ll have to buy the book to see the story, but it’s a good one. And the profits go to the ACLU, a definite good cause.

Inna Gadda da Vida, my fractured fairy tale from Genesis, where “In the beginning…” becomes “Once upon a time…” was picked up this week by Café Lit. It will be on their site as the daily story on September 27, 2022. This is its third appearance making it my most successful story. It’s also one of my favorites.

And a mystery was solved this week. Some weeks ago I posted Sing a Song of Amazon, wondering where a $10 Amazon credit came from. This week I got a notice from them of another $10 credit, but this one came with an explanation. It is from my story on Vella, Somewhere in Iowa. It’s an 8-part series that grew out of my short story The Cornfield. It’s earned me twenty bucks so far. Find it here. B093D8YP4C

Check out my author page on Amazon. It has all four books my stories are featured in and links to all my posts.

A final note, Dancing With The Stars started up this week. Unfortunately, I will not be able to post my impressions of the goings on this season. I refuse to purchase Disney+ just to see one program. I think it is the death knell for the show, for I believe few people are such rabid fans that they’ll follow it behind a paywall. Sorry.

Little Green Men to be published again.

Water Dragon Publishing has chosen my story, “Little Green Men”, for inclusion in its upcoming anthology, Dragon Gems. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll remember Little Green Men appeared in September 2021 in Worlds Within, an online magazine. The Dragon Gems anthology will be digital only, as well.

Little Green Men is the story of our first manned mission to Mars and the pressure we put on astronauts.

This is my 26th story published and the 5th anthology I’ve been included in. You can check my Amazon Author’s Page for information about the others.