Read an excerpt from ‘Harvest,’ my novel in progress

I feel as if I’ve been talking about this novel for years. I started writing it before grad school, where I ended up finishing it as my thesis submission. Since I completed that draft, I’ve worked on at least three other novels with varying degrees of (un)success. Every time, I’ve come back to this one. Ever since I started writing it, I have had a clear view of the beginning and the end, but the middle has been the biggest puzzle for me to solve.

Last month, I went to a conference called AWP in Portland, Oregon. It’s a four-day event where thousands of writers and teachers of creative writing get together to sit on panels and talk about their writing, their teaching, and everything related. One of the panels I attended, How to Structure the Middle of Your Novel, was packed. Every seat was taken, people stood along the walls, and others sat on the floor wherever they could. I even ran into my friend Anna Ling Kaye, whom I haven’t seen in about five years.

Apparently, a lot of us have problems with the middle of our novels.

Somewhere in the middle of taking notes as the panelists spoke, though, I started working on the middle of the novel again. I think I finally know how to get from where I am in the middle to the end.

I hope to be finished soon. Meanwhile, though, you can read an excerpt from the novel, tentatively titled Harvest, over at Embark Literary Journal.

Let me know what you think. And, if you enjoy it, I’d be grateful if you’d share it with anyone else you think might like it.

“Charlotte’s Mother,” A Story in the Saturday Evening Post

More years ago than I care to count, I dated a boy who lived in a small town south of St. Louis, in Iron County. He was sweet but ultimately we were too far apart, geographically and otherwise. Most of the time, we spent our dates in St. Louis, but one weekend, I drove down to his small town. I’m so glad I did.

I don’t remember the name of that town exactly (it was a long time ago, as I mentioned), but it was Iron-something, located in an enigmatic-sounding place called the Arcadia Valley. The roads were all back roads, the towns were all small, and the pace was much slower. The town itself where he lived had, literally, no stoplights. There were a few stop signs but that was it. The streets were laid out in a small grid next to a set of railroad tracks that looked like they hadn’t been used in a long time. On the other side of the tracks was a hotel in the middle stages of collapsing in on itself.

photo of a partially collapsed old hotel building near railroad tracks

This place stuck with me for some reason a long time after I visited. I grew up in small places, but never this small, and never this isolated. Even thought it was only about ninety minutes south of St. Louis, it felt a world away. Granted, this was in the early 2000s, so it wasn’t as if we didn’t have the internet and cell phones already, but constant contact didn’t feel so relentless yet. It took less effort to get away from it all, and the Arcadia Valley definitely felt that way to me.

I should have known it would make its way into my writing eventually. Ten years later, I started writing a story about a woman who is searching for her mother, AWOL from an assisted living facility, and heads for the only place she can think of that she might have gone: home.

Five years and more revisions than I can count, “Charlotte’s Mother” is up at the Saturday Evening Post. It’s the runner-up in their Great American Fiction Contest and also appears in an anthology, which is available for order here.

I’m glad I persisted with this story, and I’m glad that I wasn’t ever able to get that town out of my head.

Flash Fiction Draw: Comedy, a Field of Poppies, and a Broom

As I’ve mentioned in the past and which you no doubt already know, my friend ’Nathan Smith dba ’Nathan Burgoine has done a monthly flash fiction draw at the start of every month this year. The idea is he draws cards at random from a deck to select a genre, a setting, and a random item. Anyone who wants to participate writes a story incorporating those elements, and posts the results the following Monday.

So, I’m a little behind.

For December, the draw was comedy, a field of poppies, and a broom. This combo presented a challenge… but then I took liberties. I usually take liberties. I also took a darn long time to finish this. Also, the word limit is 1,000 and I may have overshot that ever so slightly. Be sure to check out the other folks who wrote stories.

Anyway, without further ado:

Dress Rehearsal, or This Kiss

‘Elphaba’ was sneezing her head off.

Every time she tried to start the song, her face crinkled up and she nearly lost her grip on her broom. Jason resisted the urge to fling his clipboard across the stage.

“Cut! Courtney, go get a Kleenex. Meghan, where are you?”

Continue reading “Flash Fiction Draw: Comedy, a Field of Poppies, and a Broom”

Friday Flash Fics + 1, or, Late As Usual

I know, I know. It’s Saturday, not Friday. Sue me.

(Actually, please don’t sue me. Anyway, moving on.)

A pre-PS plug: My friend ‘Nathan’s YA novel, Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks, is available for preorder, but lucky me, I’m reading it right now and I think you should totally get it.

Go on, I’ll wait.

Done? Right. Moving on. The photo below is the prompt for last week’s Friday Flash Fic, but I can’t do anything on time. The photo for this week? I’ll probably write something in response to that one next week.

That’s me, perpetually a little behind.

Anyway, I looked at this one and thought, is he coming or going? Going, I decided. And someone doesn’t want him to go. That someone also happens to be a Star Trek fan, so if you get the references herein, I’m pleased.

It’s more than a bit sentimental, but yeah, sue me. (Don’t sue me.) Enjoy, and live long and prosper.

Departure Lounge

Peter set down his suitcase and waited for his ride. It was just before sunset, and the meadow was bathed in a golden-hour glow, that special quality of air that seemed purpose built to make beautiful things even more beautiful. And the meadow was beautiful: lush grass dotted with bobbleheaded yellow flowers swaying gently, and ringed with towering conifers. Peaceful. Quiet, except for the occasional birdsong from the trees, the swishing of breeze over blades of grass.

He was going to miss Earth so much.

Continue reading “Friday Flash Fics + 1, or, Late As Usual”

It’ll Be Easy—A Flash Fiction Draw Challenge

I sometimes feel as if I’m cheating when it comes to ’Nathan’s monthly flash fiction draw. Instead of writing a self-contained piece of fiction, I often use these to work out a continuation of an earlier story. That’s the case for September, which follows up on this post. (Which was a follow-up to an earlier post, but I’ll let you follow the trail back to it.)

Anyway, cheating or not, it’s what I’m doing.

Photo of three playing cards and the words "suspense," "bag of money," and "border crossing."The challenge was to write a suspense involving a bag of money set at a border crossing. You can find out more about this month’s prompt on ’Nathan’s blog, and you can see all the other participants there as well.

So, without further ado:

It’ll Be Easy

“I don’t like this,” Hermione says.

Continue reading “It’ll Be Easy—A Flash Fiction Draw Challenge”

“Transport,” at Midwestern Gothic

Midwestern Gothic has a three-round flash fiction contest ever summer, and this summer, against all odds, I won round 2.

image of a fallout shelter in the woods
Fallout Shelter, by Caroline Gerardo

Entries for each round are based on a given photo prompt, and you can see round 2’s prompt over there on the right. The resulting story, “Transport,” came together pretty quickly, which surprised me.

I’ve been writing more flash fiction while I continue to revise my novel. Maybe it’s because flash takes less time, but it’s also because flash is damn hard for me. It’s kind of like the watercolor equivalent of prose writing. Have you ever painted watercolors? Because of the medium and how fast it dries, you paint them very quickly. At least, that was the way Betty Gearhart, my high school art teacher, taught me to do them. She said you didn’t start to get good at it until you’d done about a hundred watercolors. But, because of the nature of them, you could do them pretty quickly.

I got kind of good at them, but that was a long time ago.

Anyway. I hope you enjoy “Transport.” Be sure to read the other pieces in the contest. They’ve been really good so far.

August Flash Fiction: The Drag Queen with the Emerald Earring

August Flash Fiction prompt: ghost story, earring, tobacco shopEvery month on the first Monday of the month, ’Nathan posts a series of prompts for a flash fiction story due the following Monday. (Well, I say “due” but it’s not as if it’s a homework assignment; it’s completely no-pressure and I’ve saved up prompts and done them weeks or months later. Prompts never expire, and you can reuse them again and again. Just saying.) Anyway, he draws a card each for genre, item, and location. This month’s draw was a ghost story, involving an earring, set in a tobacconist shop. Now, I don’t smoke, and I’ve never seen a ghost, but I do wear earrings. Let’s just say I took… liberties with the prompt.

See, kids? “Write what you know” is bogus advice.

Anyway, I decided a play on words of a different title might do the trick and, well, here we go.

The Drag Queen with the Emerald Earring

The earring appeared out of thin air. Literally.

Jake was reading and when he looked up to reach for his coffee, an emerald glint in the air caught his eye. The light streaming in through the cafe’s front window caught the facet of a large, green something that hung in the air momentarily and then plummeted to the floor with a tinkling sound. It lay just next to the pickup window where the counter staff set out customer orders. It was early, Sunday morning, he was one of maybe three other people in the cafe, and on a normal day someone else would have seen it or already trampled it.

Jake set down his book—The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst; it made him feel somewhat scandalous to be reading a novel riddled with gay sex in the middle of a public place—and walked over to the trinket. It was an earring, clip-on style, heavy when he picked it up, and positively dripping with emeralds, a halo of tiny ones surrounding an obscenely large oval stone. The metal was silver, intricately carved into spirals and paisleys.

“Darling, oh you found it.”

Continue reading “August Flash Fiction: The Drag Queen with the Emerald Earring”

Friday Flash Fiction: The Sketch Artist

photo of a shirtless man kneeling on the floor and paintingWhen ’Nathan posted this picture last week for his Friday Flash Fiction piece (which you should go read), it brought to mind something I wrote about four years ago. At least, I think it was four years. My memory is not what it was.

(Narrator: his memory was never good.)

I wrote a half-finished draft of a novel based on some conversations and some letters with a wonderful woman I met while in graduate school, a retired lady who had this antique desk with a secret drawer full of letters. She showed me the letters and let me make copies of them and said, “Maybe you can find a story in them.”

How often does someone just give you a story like that? Her generosity is still humbling to me. And makes me a little ashamed that I haven’t picked up that manuscript since 2016.

But that’s another story. There’s a scene in the manuscript about one of the main characters, Evan, whose mother has recently died (what is it with me and dying mothers? I have no idea) and who is trying to reconcile with his estranged sister. Evan’s a painter, but he works in an art supply store to get by and sucks at dating. A friend of his makes him sign up for a dating app and, well, here’s how one encounter ends. Continue reading “Friday Flash Fiction: The Sketch Artist”

A Simpler Plan (Friday Flash Fiction)

One of the things I like about short stories—or any fiction, really—is imagining the lives of the characters beyond the last page. If the story continued, what would they do next?

When it’s my own story, I can answer that question fairly easily: write more!

And that’s what this bit of flash fiction is. Back in 2012 I wrote a story called “Scorned,” which appeared in an anthology called The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy.It ended with a new beginning of sorts for the main character, Marcus, who goes by the name Megawatt because he has a (deadly) way with electricity.

So when ’Nathan posted the photo below for a recent Friday Flash Fiction, it led him to revisit his story in that anthology as well. In my case, flames are not the same as electricity, but close enough.

This story also contains a passing nod to a character in an unpublished story, one that I never sent out because I wasn’t sure where to send it. In the same way that villains are fun to write, sidekicks frequently deserve more exploration, and combining worlds from different stories and books is so much fun for me as a writer, and as a reader.

I might send that story out to my mailing list, so go sign up, yo. Meanwhile, read on and enjoy.

Image of a raised fist enveloped in fire

Continue reading “A Simpler Plan (Friday Flash Fiction)”

June Flash Fiction Draw: Found Objects

So, this entry in ’Nathan Burgoine’s June Flash Fiction Draw is a bit of a cheat in two ways.

First off, it’s Tuesday, and these are supposed to go up on Monday. Hey, I’m slow. Sue me.

Second, the prompt for this month’s flash fiction is:

three playing cards and the prompt "fantasy, hot chocolate, and junkyard or scrapyard"

Well, I’ve got the hot chocolate and the scrapyard, but the fantasy is probably more science fiction, although something sorta magical does happen.

Like I said, sue me.

OK, there’s a third reason this breaks the rules: it’s not a standalone flash piece. This is a trend: I have a problem starting and ending something in these flash pieces. This piece continues a story started in a Friday Flash Fiction piece from a while back, “How to Get Off This Rock.” Check that out first if you want to understand what’s going on here, although I do skip forward a bit from the end of that piece, too.

And be sure to check out the other entries written for ’Nathan’s flash prompt.

Continue reading “June Flash Fiction Draw: Found Objects”