Thursday, September 27, 2012

Free Book! Get Your Free Book!

Tales of Woe and WonderStop by your local Amazon and download your free copy of Tales of Woe and Wonder. The promotion lasts from Thursday through Saturday.

Tales collects nine of the fantasy stories I published from 2010-2011. You'll find a mix of fairy-tale wonder and tragic woe, ranging from a young boy's first brush with the harsh realities of war in "A Gift from over the Sea" to a miraculous bridge in "The Master and the Miller's Daughter" to a young girl's encounter with a witch's insidious spells in "Esme's Amulet."

—"A Gift from over the Sea" originally appeared in Everyday Fiction.
—"The Princess and the Vampire" originally appeared in The Midnight Diner, Volume 3.
—"The Fletcher's Daughter" originally appeared in Residential Aliens.
—"The Hand with the Knife" originally appeared in Mindflights.
—"Why the Squonk Weeps" originally appeared in Digital Dragon Magazine.
—"A Mother's Gift" originally appeared in Silver Blade Magazine.
—"Under the Bridge" originally appeared in Apollo's Lyre.
—"The Master and the Miller's Daughter" originally appeared in Residential Aliens.
—"Esme's Amulet" originally appeared in Golden Visions Magazine.

In other news, my story "Firebug" is up at Avenir Eclectia.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CSFF Blog Tour Day Three: The Telling

The TellingThis month's blog tour features Mike Duran's The Telling, the story of a reluctant prophet coming face to face with a gate to Hell. The Telling is Duran's second novel and I had high expectations after enjoying his previous efforts: The Resurrection and Winterland (see my reviews here). Unfortunately, The Telling falls short compared to the previous works. The writing is very good and Duran knows how to employ clever imagery to delineate character and give you the creeps. For example:

She [his mother] walked over, knelt next to him, and took his hands in hers. Her fingers were long and agile, like those of a watchmaker or artisan. Indeed, she was able to adjust and tinker with the machinery of his soul. She squeezed his hands and summoned his gaze (p. 204).

The story takes place in Endurance, a small town on the northern edge of Death Valley, and centers on Zephaniah Walker, a young man who keeps to himself, almost like a hermit. As a young boy, Zeph--as he prefers to be called now--garners much attention for his prophetic abilities. God speaks through him and people come in droves to hear him. His mother takes him from church to church like some sort of roadshow. Zeph refers to his prophetic abilities as "the telling." The telling becomes more infrequent and people lose interest and then his mother dies suddenly. Zeph's father remarries and moves his son to Los Angeles. His step-mother hates him and cuts his face with a dull letter-opener, leaving him with an ugly scar. His step-mother is carted off to an asylum. Zeph later returns to Endurance and uses money that his mother saved from his prophet-roadshow days to buy an old house. He's able to live off the money and thus keep his interactions with others to a minimum. Duran tells all of this through flashbacks.

Endurance neighbors a ghost town called Silverton and an abandoned mine called Otta's Rift. In the late nineteenth century, the people of Silverton committed a mass suicide outside the mine. No one knows precisely what happened. The event becomes a matter of legend and locals speak of it as the "Madness of Endurance."

As the action of the novel begins, police detectives take Zeph to the morgue to view the body of something whose face looks like Zeph but whose body is not wholly human. Other characters, particularly Annie--a woman living in a retirement home who becomes an amateur sleuth, a modern-day Miss Marple--believes that people are changing. We later learn that dark angels escaping from Hell through a gate in Otta's Rift are eating people's souls and taking over their bodies. The dark angels are reminiscent of vampires and there are many echos of Stephen King's Salem's Lot in Duran's story. An ancient prophecy on a cave wall near Endurance tells of a time when evil will pour out of the earth and a scar-faced man who will save the world by sealing the gate to Hell. Some residents of Endurance believe Zeph is the scar-faced man of the prophecy.

The story has a number of plots holes that ruined it for me. First, the body that Zeph views at the morgue was found 150 yards from his house. Zeph's neighbor is Mila Rios--your typical nosy, busy-body. When the police bring Zeph home, Mila questions him about what is going on. She has no clue that anything has happened or why the police are talking to Zeph. I find it impossible to believe that the police would not talk to all the people living near the murder scene as a first step, just to see if anyone heard or saw anything unusual. A second problem concerns Zeph's disfigurement.

That's when she saw it clearly--it was a scar that stretched from his left nostril to his right chin, a pale furrow that left his lips cloven at the intersection, revealing a moist glint of teeth (p. 76).

Duran is saying that the cleft in the lips has never been corrected. Closing a cleft lip is relatively routine. (I have two daughters with cleft lip and palate.) It's not just for cosmetic reasons either. Try eating or drinking with a hole in your mouth. If Zeph has enough money to live comfortably without working, I find it impossible to believe he could not afford the surgery. This plot hole (no pun intended) pretty much ruined the rest of the story for me. It appears Duran was making decisions to increase the shock value of Zeph's disfigurement and make a direct visual link to the prophecy rather than being true to his setting.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Telling from the publisher.

To learn more about Mike Duran and his writing, visit his blog ( or Facebook page (

To learn what the other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below:
Jim Armstrong
Noah Arsenault
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Brenda Castro
Theresa Dunlap
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lizzie Borden Is Coming to ArtPrize

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

If you're in Grand Rapids, Michigan from September 19th through October 7th, you should check out ArtPrize. According to the website (, "ArtPrize is an international art competition, open to any artist and decided by public vote, promoting critical dialogue and collaboration throughout the year."

My wife's entry is Lizzie B., an art quilt created in the traditional 19th century "Crazy Quilt" pattern. Lizzie Bordon, arguably one of the craziest 19th century figures, adds to the craziness. You can see Lizzie B. in person at Rockys Bar and Grill, 633 Ottawa NW.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Word of the Week: Weird

The Weird Sisters, Henry Fuseli (1783).
I suspect most people are surprised to find that the meaning of weird as a noun is quite different from weird as an adjective. In modern parlance, weird is mostly used as an adjective to describe something that is odd, strange, fantastic, magical, or supernatural. As a noun, weird refers to fate or destiny or a soothsayer. The noun retains the word's original meaning while the adjective conveys the modern sense. So how did we go from fate to strange? It's truly weird.

Weird derives from the Old English wyrd, meaning fate or destiny, whose antecedent was probably the Proto-Germanic wurthis, which literally means "that which comes." Similar words include wurd from Old Scottish, wurt from Old High German, and the Old Norse urðr, which referred to fate, one of the three Norns. According to Norse mythology, the Norns are female goddesses who control one's destiny. They are comparable to the Fates from Greek mythology. Snorri Sturluson identifies Urðr (Wyrd), Verðandi and Skuld as the most important Norns and portrays them as maiden giantesses who draw water from the Well of Urðr to care for Yggdrasill, the giant ash tree at the center of Norse mythology.

The phrase "weird sisters" was used in Middle English to reference the Norns. Artists portrayed the weird sisters as frightening in appearance and character. Consider the three witches from Macbeth. The adjective weird developed from its association with the uncanny sisters.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Podcast Acceptance

I received a note last week that my weird western “Shafts to Hell”--originally published in How the West Was Wicked--will be read in an upcoming Tales to Terrify episode. Tales to Terrify is a weekly podcast from the District of Wonders network that also includes Starshipsofa. Hosted by Lawrence Santoro, Tales to Terrify features short stories and poetry as well as in depth commentary on horror fiction and film. If you're a fan of horror, give it a listen.

Also, my story “Encoded Vellum” is up at Avenir Eclectia. An anthology of AE stories will be coming out soon, sometime in September, I believe.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Steampunk in the Snow

Flash GoldLindsay Buroker's Flash Gold is the first of The Flash Gold Chronicles, a series of steampunk novellas set in the Yukon during the Gold Rush Era of the 1890s. The other books in the series are Hunted and Peacemaker. The story centers on Kali McAlister, an eighteen-year-old, highly skilled tinkerer with big plans for her future. Bravado goes a long way in the wild North, and when a stranger knocks at her door, she chides him for not calling her ma'am.

She propped her hands on her hips by way of disguising another step toward the lever. “It’s polite to call a lady ‘ma’am.’ Even if she’s a half-breed wearing man trousers with tools sticking out of all her pockets.” Not to mention she was only eighteen and covered in grease. She would collapse in surprise if anyone called her ma’am without the ulterior motive of needing a favor.

Kali is also in a lot of danger and she knows it. Her home and workshop is a maze of boobytraps and a couple mechanical dogs are ready to attack intruders at the flick of “a bronze lever with a billiards-ball knob.” Kali has worn out her welcome in Moose Hollow.

Some say her inventions work a bit too well and suggest she's employing magic, that she's a witch. Rumor says that Kali's father developed a type of gold--flash gold--that has “magical” properties: “[T]hey say an engineer can embed commands in it. An ounce is worth a fortune.” Those mechanical guard dogs, for instance, seem to have minds of their own, but Kali's not saying, keeping her secrets secret. Criminals and pirates--and there seem to be plenty of them in Buroker's Yukon--would kill to get their hands on some flash gold.

Kali's plan is to win a dogsled race with her latest invention--a dogless, steam-powered sled--and use the winnings to build an airship and sail away from Moose Hollow. The night before the race, a man named Cedar pays her a visit. He's come to take the job of assistant musher for the race. Nelly, the owner of the local brothel, believes Kali will need some protection on the trail and posted the job at Nelly's Good-Time Girls. After some discussion and a fight with a band of criminals in which Cedar proves his fighting skills, Kali agrees to hire him, promising to pay him a small share of the winnings if she wins. The story follows Kali, Cedar, and her steam-powered sled down a frozen river, overland through wooded trails, and across a frozen lake. They are ambushed and otherwise harassed multiple times, including an incident with pirates in an airship. Kali comes to trust Cedar, maybe a little, but Cedar proves to have a whole mess of secrets of his own.

As a young reader, I adored Jack London's adventure stories set in the frozen North: Call of the Wild, White Fang. I read them all. So I was pleasantly surprised to find Buroker's steampunk series set in the 1890s Yukon. Buroker doesn't disappoint. Danger lurks around every bend for Kali and Cedar. Flash Gold is a page-turner, meticulously plotted. Each chapter clicks with the rhythm of a new and increasingly violent obstacle in Kali's path. The writing is clean with an undercurrent of humor that seems to ask the reader if they're taking this seriously. The race and its consequences are serious business for Kali though, and Buroker does not skimp on delving into the emotional issues of her protagonists. I'm looking forward to the next installments in the series. Hop on the sled with Kali and fire up the boiler, you'll enjoy the ride.

To learn more about Lindsay Buroker and her writing, check out her website at