TRAUMAS

Kitchen FloodRules and boundaries have a certain appeal to me and when I was recently challenged to try my hand at the unusual Etheree poetry format I accepted quickly!

Etheree follows a syllable count up (or down) by one syllable at a time. In other words, in the pattern of 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10 syllables. It does neither need to rhyme nor to hold to a particular metre.

My first poem follows the trauma of a recent flood, just days before a big birthday party. With the distance of time it’s been comforting to write about it here!

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The following fictional poem takes up the eternal encompassing trauma of the breakdown of marriages witnessed around us on a daily basis.

The Death Throes

Many thanks to Dr. Mary Ann Niemczura for asking to read my Etheree poems. She is a wonderful and supportive friend I made here on WordPress and it is always a delight to read her poetry. I encourage you to take a look at her blog by clicking here.

A VISIT TO ESMÉ’S

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Don’t you just have a split reaction to interviews? Slightly daunted to start with but excited at the prospect?

On my recent visit to Esmé’s at Esmé Salon ‘Share, Care & Inspire’, I couldn’t wait to partake in her ever popular 20 + 1 Interview Questions and the questions flowed with ease through both my blogging and personal life. … no need at all to be apprehensive!

  • What blogging achievement are you most proud of?
  • Do you have any wisdom or tips regarding blogging to share with us?
  • Do you wish to be 20-something or the age you are now and why?
  • What makes your day a good and happy one?

Above are just a few questions she put to me … the answers to these and the other 17 questions can be found here. See you there!

Comments have been turned off for this post as I look forward to discussion Esmé’s blog.

LOST // FOUND

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The air crackled with a chill that September afternoon, the first trace of damp etched into the atmosphere. 

Emma saw her first, then the rest of the children turned towards the woods at the edge of the park. Like an apparition, the woman stumbled out from amongst the trees and undergrowth resplendent in her cerise woollen coat.  A coat peppered with a menagerie of coloured notes, all pinned on at angles. 

Her mutterings at first were only audible to the sparrows in the trees, to the skittish robin, to the strident magpies marching across the tired grass. The ground was churned up by football boots, dried into uneven lumps of decay. 

‘Where is it, where is it?’ she mumbled gruffly. Erratically the woman spun around, her eyes cast down eagerly on the ground, with a keenness of a child looking out for Father Christmas. Her eyes bristled with expectation, joy then with a sudden turn, angry filthy swear words spewed across the park. 

Appalled Emma careered backwards, right into her friends and the cascade of children toppled like dominos, silent in shock. Righting themselves, the disheveled group at first failed to notice the approach of the woman; concern engraved on her face, bewilderment fluttering in her eyes. 

‘Have you seen it? My child?’

Agog, they barely listened, their attention held fast on the woman’s coat and the pinned notes.

I’m sorry. Appeared many times. I’m lost. Please help. My name is Emma. 

‘Please help me,’ she said. ‘I must find it.’

The children fanned out across the park, not sure what they were searching for, occasionally shouting out a find to Emma the older. Emma their friend remained with her namesake. Ahead of them a note tossed like an autumn leaf across the terrain, swirling in the strengthening breeze.

‘Stop it!’ shouted the woman. ‘There it is!’

Emma dashed over, picked up the dusty note, glancing at the elegant handwriting. 

Mum, you’re lost. Not I. Come home. Address is on the back. Love, Mark xx

Emma the child handed over the piece of paper. 

‘Mark! I found Mark!’ The woman’s primeval screech of elation echoed into the billowing dusk; a joy swallowed by her very next words, tiny as pinpricks, thin as slivers of silk.

‘Who am I?’

© Annika Perry, May 2018

The above piece of writing was inspired by a prompt from my writing group for our work to be ‘set in a park, in any period, in any location with any number of people involved, you or your character/s have lost or found something.’ Owing to burgeoning numbers of keen writers in the group our homework is now restricted in length.

THE 3 DAY QUOTE CHALLENGE #3

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Welcome to the final day of my 3 Day Quote Challenge which I’m thrilled to take part in following the kind nomination by Laura at laurabrunolilly.com .

To the challenge…The rules are as follows:

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Post a quote on 3 consecutive days.
  • Share why this quote appeals so much to you.
  • Nominate 3 different bloggers for each day

As a writer, I wanted to finish this challenge with a quotation about the craft. The elegant and eloquent truth of the following quote struck me like an epiphany when I came across it a couple of years ago and I am sure it will resonate with most poets and writers. Having read her words I instantly noted it down in my journal and it is one I often come back.

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img_2650The writer of the quotation is fellow writer and blogger Adrienne Rich who blogs at middlemaybooks.com. Adrienne is a writer of historical family sagas about the Weldon and Crenshaw families of Gilded Age Englewood, New Jersey and she ‘first fell in love with family sagas watching family drama at the many funerals’ of her youth. Her blog is  ‘to celebrate who we all are, past and present, flawed and sublime.’

My 3 nominees for day # of this challenge are:

 

WRITE FROM YOUR HEART!

Wow! I felt like a movie star as I left the school, a large bouquet of flowers nestled in the crook of my arm. My mind was spinning, my heart was light with joy. I’d just had a most wonderful afternoon with a group of creative writers at a local school. Aged from eleven to fifteen, the eighteen students were brimming with questions, ideas and originality. Their enthusiasm knows no bounds (a soaring and liberating sensation).  From my talk below the top tip that remained with the students afterwards was to ‘Write from your Heart’ – one couldn’t ask or hope for more.

Here is my talk to them in full for your perusal and if new (or not so new)  to writing I hope it can inspire you and your work.

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A heartfelt thank you for the invitation to meet you all today. I’m thrilled to be here and can’t wait to learn more about all of you and listen to some of your work.

First of all, how did I become an author?

Writing has been my lifelong passion. Just as I cannot imagine a life without books, nor can I imagine a day without writing. An inspirational teacher at primary school instilled in me the joy of creative writing and I haven’t stopped since. Writing became a way for me to paint with words, layering them for texture, using bold dramatic language on occasions, other times capturing the gentle nuances of a moment with subtle word play. It is an art form, that can be crafted, shaped, moulded to an endless variety of formats.

Three years ago I had the opportunity to start writing seriously and a well-established writing course gave me guidance on developing my writing as well as advising me on how to become published.

There are countless short story competitions available and entering some of these was my first port of call. I bought the magazines, studied their stories, and also, this is critical, read the rules to competitions. It baffles me how many fail to do this!

Very soon I won first prize in a Writing Magazine short story competition and the success of ‘Biding Her Time’ proved to be the confidence booster I needed.

I quickly developed a love for short stories and I delight in crafting them. They require clarity, conciseness whilst not being abrupt or missing out on the artistry of language and they can often be a form of character study. Every word has to count!

I draw inspiration from all around me — conversations, everyday experiences, and even news items. If an idea strikes me I make a note of it as soon as possible; after all it’s proven that ideas can float in and out of our consciousness within three seconds. If a notebook is to hand, I’ll scribble in that, otherwise I’ll tap away on the ‘note’ app on my mobile.

I’ve kept journals since young and they are a quiet meeting place for me to jot down my thoughts, ideas, concerns and story possibilities in private; never to be shared or scrutinised. I return to some of these at a later date and sometimes find a gem of an idea for a story, poem or even article.

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A small memento of my visit for the students. May many new stories be written with these.

The first line of a story is critical to me. Once that is in place the rest of the writing flows. It is as if someone is ‘dictating’ the story, it becomes organic and takes on a life form of its own. Subconsciously I will be writing away, the first draft always on paper, and many times I will be wonderfully surprised by a twist in a story or the strength of a minor character forcing their way to centre stage. It is a magical surreal experience and one that can last for hours.

The voice of the piece is a major factor in writing. I feel there are always two voices.

Your voice as the writer must be just that — YOURS. Be true to yourself when you write; this is what makes your writing original and enables it to shine out.

The voice or point of view of a story can vary. Will the point of view be first person, which is often more immediate and direct? Or will it be in the third person, which allows you more scope to examine events beyond just one person? There is also the option of the second person – you – format which I experimented with in one of my short stories. Of course, many books feature multiple points of views and it is important to make each distinct and at all times clear whose head you’re in!

Although I have printed a one-off edition of my earlier childhood work and also been featured as part of my writing group’s anthology, ‘The Storyteller Speaks’, is my first published book. I was encouraged to publish some of my short stories in a book by the readers of my blog.

My blog was set up following the recommendation by my tutor for the need of an online presence! As a result, I have made wonderful friends across the globe and also connected with people within all aspects of the publishing industry. Through this networking, I ‘met’ the cover artist for my book who lives in Australia and a company in Ireland provided extensive formatting support. 

Furthermore, I increasingly use Twitter to interact with readers, writers and publishers.

Planning a novel is not something I’d considered before I started writing mine a couple of years ago. ‘Island Girl’ is now in its final editing stages and I recollect its early days with fondness. Then, as with much of my writing, I set out to write it with just the backbones of a few ideas, themes and setting.

However, my time-line was slightly array, details of my characters and places were forgotten from one chapter to the next. It was a lot tougher keeping control of all the elements of a full-length novel. Quickly I developed various techniques to avoid future faults.

One way to spot both grammatical errors and glaring mistakes is always to read your work aloud! Since it is a lot to expect to read a whole novel aloud I started using ‘Natural Reader’ app.

Various writing programs are a huge benefit.The free online thesaurus is always open on my tab as I’m working. Similarly, a grammar program such as ‘Grammarly’ helps me to fine tune work, but I never automatically adopt its suggestions. I write on a software program called ‘Scrivener’. This acts as a virtual binder and allows me to plan chapters, look at my ideas on a virtual corkboard, include research documents, as well as writing the novel chapter by chapter.

Not content with writing short stories and a novel, I have also completed two children’s books.

What other advice can I give?

Throw yourself into writing and relish the experience! Find the magic within you and share it! Write from your heart! This may be easier said than done, if like me, your head tends to rule. Don’t disregard your mind but just don’t overthink.

Once you’ve finished a piece, and this can be tough, put it aside for a while. Returning to it with fresh eyes will be key to the next stage; editing. Here engage that brain, tap into your creativity, look out for ways to improve your writing. Perhaps you’re ‘telling’ too much instead of ‘showing’? Not only is it more enjoyable for the writer to show through their writing, it will lift your story.

Never underestimate the effectiveness of dialogue to carry a story forward, to show emotions, even description. It’s striking when you can have a sequence of speech without the ‘he said’/‘she said’. Try to avoid always using adverbs with these; the anger etc should come out in the language where possible.

Never be afraid of feedback of your work; after all we learn through constructive criticism. Also start to read your own written work with a critical eye when necessary.

Play around with your writing. Writing outside one’s comfort zone is a great way to bring new life into your work. Try another unusual genre. Shift your work around — explore new vocabulary and if writing fantasy, maybe even make up a few new words of your own! Use different tenses, viewpoints. I felt a sense of liberation writing from a male viewpoint in some of my stories and using the present tense brought a welcome sense of rush and urgency to them.

When not writing, read lots! Not just in one genre but across the board. It’s a wonderful way to learn. See what works well, and also look out for writing that falters, flatlines … learn from other’s mistakes.

When you start a new piece of writing, remember that this is your first and rough draft. If you wait to write down the most I and absolute best version of your work you may never start at all as you will feel inhibited before even writing a word.

Write with your Ideal Reader in mind — recall your own emotions and feelings when you are swept away by a story. There is nothing quite like escaping into another world; when the present real-world fades to that of the fiction. My dream has been to recreate that experience for all my readers — and hopefully I have. Make your characters three-dimensional, so real that neither you nor the reader wants to leave them!

Through the nitty-gritty of writing, the joy and power of creating worlds, characters, stories should never be underestimated.

As one famous writer said of short stories: ‘(they) are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.’

©Annika Perry, March 2018

THE ELEVENTH HAT

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This was Jensen’s tenth hat in as many weeks. The first, a cranberry felt Fedora lasted only a few days, before being replaced by a grey knit Beanie. He’d learnt a new word that time … Beanie and it had looked as inane as he’d imagined, even after he’d cut off the wobbly black bobble. His two ears refused to be tethered beneath its soft surface. Like two aircraft landing light beacons his ears poked out from beneath every imaginable hat.

Jensen had high hopes for the dark blue navy trilby with a feather tucked into its suave red band. His expectations were of course in vain. The tweed flat cap was anything but fashionable on his pathetic head. It rested neatly on the top, “a perfect fit”, the shop-keeper declared. What he did not say, did not need to mention were the ears, coming up and over the cap, stroking its sides. Nothing would hide these atrocities. 

“Buggerlugs!” they’d yelled at him at school. All those years ago. He’d tried to laugh along … at first. He’d even tried to take the daily abuse as a joke but failed as the non-stop flicking of his ears dragged on relentlessly for three long years. Every month his grotesque ears seemed to sprout further from his head. The fourth year offered respite as a new and younger pupil started school, a new ‘Buggerlugs’ for his tormentors to feed off. 

Jensen thought it was all over these last thirty years, that the school days were filed away in a remote recess in his brain, never to be accessed again. Until the luncheon at The Ivy eleven weeks ago. With his usual Moss Bros striped shirt and his long grey trousers he’d walked proudly into the coveted restaurant. The bar at the centre gleamed and glistened, the stained glass windows lent a mystical reverential aura to the meeting with his agent. Relaxed they’d chatted away until he spotted Slater. Two years his senior at school, an expert at delivering taunts and injury, Slater now sat at the next table. Jensen continued to sip his whisky, taking in the grown man that had been his persecutor. Dapper in a navy striped suit, Slater’s hands swung back and forth as his procrastinated with vigour and brashness. Slowly sinking into his chair, drink clutched tightly in both hands, Jensen hoped Slater would not spot him. No such luck, as with a curt nod, his adversary mouthed a greeting. Surely it couldn’t be! He couldn’t have said it! “Buggerlugs!”

Eleven weeks since the fateful meeting and the eleventh hat. Jameson whisky had become Jensen’s best friend and his head was reduced to a fug of memories. With shaking hands he reached for his most recent acquisition. So many had been discarded in disgust as they proved mediocre for their main purpose – to hide his blasted ears! A baseball cap was quickly disregarded, the beautiful cream coloured Panama hat had been sent flying across the room. The straw hat held such promise of summer days on the canal, however once in place it not only accentuated his ears but his shiny forehead too. 


This last purchase was perfect, Jensen was sure of it!  The tweed deer-stalker, as worn by the infamous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, had adjustable earflaps … no need for his ears to be visible in public ever again! It was the only answer he felt, apart from taping down the abominations on the side of his head. He’d tried that once when young but the beggars refused to be tamed and flamboyantly sprung up and out for inspection. 

“Sir looks fine in this,” insisted the shop-keeper.

Jensen checked in the mirror again. What a lying…

“Jensen? It’s you, isn’t it?”

Slater, shifting warily from one foot to the next, stopped in front of Jensen. Slater was no longer so dapper, his shirt partially out his trousers, his hands clenched nervously. 

“I never forget what we did to you. I tried to tell you there, at The Ivy, when you rushed out. So Sorry! For Sorry! I deeply regret our, my behaviour…”

Jensen smiled, then waved imperiously as if swatting away an annoying bug. With a small push and shove with his shoulder against Slater, Jensen walked to the shop counter. With a ‘harrumph’ he sent his latest hat flying onto the wooden surface, calling out at the same time to the shop-keeper.

“I’ll no longer need this one. Nor the others. I’ll return them promptly and expect an immediate refund. No more hats for me!”

©Annika Perry, March 2018

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This story was written in response to my writing group’s monthly ‘homework’ – the word ‘ears’ was an impromtu suggestion and immediately the basis for this piece of work formed in my mind.

Author Annika Perry Chats About Inspiration for Writing

I consider myself lucky to have known Christy Birmingham since my early days on WordPress and have followed her blog ‘When Women Inspire’ with keen interest. As the title suggests, Christy’s aim of her blog is ‘to showcasing the efforts of women around the world to change the world in positive ways’. Wow!! She succeeds brilliantly and her posts are always inspiring, informative and thought-provoking.

Imagine then my delight to be invited to write a guest post about the inspiration behind my book ‘The Storyteller Speaks’! I’d hardly emailed her my enthusiastic yes and thank you before I started to write the post…read on to find out more.

For this time I’ve turned off comments here and look forward to continuing the chat over on Christy’s blog.

When Women Inspire

Please join me in welcoming author Annika Perry to the blog today. I have known her for years now and always enjoy her uplifting blog posts. Now she has published a collection of poems, short stories, and flash fiction pieces into “The Storyteller Speaks: Powerful Stories to Win Your Heart”!

Upon hearing this news, I immediately asked Annika to come over to chat about the inspiration behind writing this book. She kindly accepted. And, you know what? Her taking the step to publish her writing has helped inspire me to keep going with my own short story collection. What a wonderful boomerang effect! Now, without further ado, here is Annika Perry on being inspired to write.

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THE STORYTELLER SPEAKS – IT’S HERE!

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It is with great pleasure I can now announce that  The Storyteller Speaks is available on Amazon.

The Storyteller Speaks ebook is available on  Amazon UK  or Amazon US or any other Amazon outlet.

The paperback will be published in January 2018.

 About the Book

It only takes one event to change a life. What is that action, decision, occurrence? Whose life is affected? Changed forever?

In this eclectic mix of 21 short stories, flash fiction and poetry the pendulum swings between first love and murder, from soul-destroying grief to reconciliation. The tales veer from the sweet satisfaction of revenge to new beginnings, from heart-breaking miscarriages of justice to heart-warming Christmas misadventure.

One common thread binds them all; the belief that there is no such thing as an ordinary life; they’re all extraordinary.

Open your hearts and minds as The Storyteller Speaks.

The Enigmatic Blurb

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Why is it that even the mention of writing a blurb strikes abject terror into the normally calm and sane writer?

The task of describing and summarising a whole book, months or years of work, into a few short paragraphs seems nigh impossible. In the process the blurb has to be unique, capture the reader’s attention, excite them and tempt them to read on, ultimately to buy the book. The blurb and obviously the cover are often the first and only sales pitches for the book. The undertaking ahead feels hopeless.

Fear and dread of the blurb were my immediate reactions once I’d committed to publishing my anthology…I knew I needed one, yet every time the thought surfaced I erased it from my mind and dove even further into editing! As ever I needed a deadline and one evening I cleared my schedule for the following day, ensured I would not be disturbed and made a promise to myself to complete the blurb within 24 hours!

Early the next morning I entered my study and was confronted by my desk…the aforementioned one from my Frazzled! post. I could not work here. First I had to clean my desk – literally!

Over the past couple of months my working space had become chaotic with piles of paper and books balanced precariously and riotously on top of one another. There wasn’t even space for an A4 notebook. My solution was to move everything into the spare bedroom and once the desktop was polished I faced the gleaming wooden surface. Perfect! With reverential care I placed a notebook, pen and pencil on the desk, followed by my notes for my blurb as well as the print-out of how to write a blurb.

Yes, I lied a little…for weeks I’d been researching blurbs.

A blurb is tricky under normal circumstances and even more complex for a short story collection, I feel. First of all, I studied blurbs from other short story anthologies and I tried to pinpoint what drew me to them and what elements jarred – making notes all the time.

Next, I read ‘How to Write a Blurb’ articles online. One particular website provided fantastic information and I’d highly recommend The Author Society’s  ’17 Tips on How To Write a Blurb That Sells’.  Some tips were redundant for my anthology as the article was geared for novels. However, here are some points I found particularly useful and relevant:

  • The best length for a blurb is between 100 – 150 words. I would also like to add that it’s important to leave good line spacing for ease of reading.
  • Treat your first sentence like a pick-up line. It should entice them to read on and needs to be clever, engaging and new.
  • Use a cliffhanger. The reader needs to leave curious and hungry for more.
  • Use words that cater for your audience. They should evoke atmosphere and meet the readers expectations of the genre.
  • Use short sentences as buyers usually skim through the text.
  • Use hyperbole as these are powerful tools to spark curiosity.
  • Stay true to your voice. This piece of advice remained with me as I wrote my blurb. I felt it was vital to retain my voice which runs through the stories to be part of the blurb.
  • Use fresh eyes. Let it rest, print out and read in different formats such as phone, paper, computer.
  • Rewrite it many times.

With these notes to hand I started to scribble down ideas as I skimmed through my stories again; however there were two major stumbling blocks.

How could I include two of the most important elements of a blurb into mine; namely giving readers a setting and introducing the main characters? With so many different locations and characters; what could I do? In the end, I decided to give a flavour of some settings and some characters. With my short stories in front of me, I scanned back and forth, jotting down compelling and memorable characters, places, themes and feelings.

Gradually nuggets of a plan appeared, gems of ideas developed, but my initial blurb idea was still too vague. All the time I imagined a future customer, standing in a shop, quickly glancing at the back cover. How could I entrap them with my words, coax them to stay and read on and finally seduce them to buy a copy?

I rewrote the blurb time and again; examining every word and taking breaks as I paced around my study, reading aloud to myself, standing over my words, studying them, amending, rereading my notes.

Gradually an overall theme emerged and with this core central stabilising factor to the beginning, middle and concluding paragraphs I created my final blurb. One hundred words exactly!

The final blurb will be revealed soon! I have been promised the book cover this week and hope to post both together.

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” Edgar Allan Poe

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FRAZZLED!

My Desk

It’s never taken me so long to send an email before. 

I’m not referring to writing the message; its composition came easily enough. The actual act of pressing ‘send’ seemed impossible. My cursor hovered over the paper airplane icon; pausing I sat back and scanned the document once more. I stood up and paced around the room.

The momentous moment had arrived and my first manuscript was just a click away from the publisher. I was savouring the experience while being equally terrified of the reality. Many bloggers have used the analogy of giving birth with reference to writing a book; I can identify with this emotion to a certain extent…sending away my first book to an outsider felt like I was releasing my baby into the wider world. With another few tours of the room, I returned to my seat and pressed the button. No turning back!

After weeks of intense editing on my anthology of short stories my head seemed to burn with heat and a flu-like fever of concentration reverberated around my mind whilst the rest of my body struggled against the cold. A day or two of complete relaxation was in order to restore the equilibrium.

The editing process had been unexpectedly and contradictorily tougher and easier than anticipated. 

Hour after hour of close computer and document work took its toll on my eyes and head resulting in migraine-style headaches.

However, several useful editing tools were a fantastic help in bringing my manuscript to completion.

Grammarly, a proof-reading program recommended by Jacqui Murray at Worddreams (thank you, Jacqui!), was a most invaluable editing aid. After initially reading through each story a few times, amending the plot etc where needed, correcting typos and punctuation I then used Grammarly to check for any missed errors. Surprisingly it picked up quite a few; these included spacing gaps between words, spellings and punctuation. I did have to be cautious with my changes though as the spellings were corrected to American style and it had a predilection for commas which I disagree with – see what my editor says! 

Natural Reader  proved another excellent editing tool. Once again Jacqui recommended this on her blog and I was initially sceptical but decided to trust her positive experience with it. Despite the mechanical unemotional aura to the voice (although there are various choices) it made a huge impact having each story read aloud to me. Although I’d been reading some out to myself, listening actively to each word through Natural Reader allowed me to pick up on silly mistakes including one where I had put the wrong name for a situation in a story. Yikes!

As well as a dictionary by one’s side (or the website permanently on display) it is essential for writers to consider Thesaurus as one’s best friend. My original paperback copy from childhood is gradually falling apart so I now use its services online, consulting, searching for words to improve and sharpen my writing and this was even truer during these last editing weeks. 

Finally, never underestimate the value and effectiveness of good old-fashion pen and paper – or in my case pencils! With a few sharpened pencils in my arsenal, I printed out the stories when I thought they were ready and took them downstairs where I’d commandeered the dining room table (my desk by this time was overflowing with papers!). Here the final editing took place and with the change of room, my creative spirit was rejuvenated and the final changes were made. Some of these were minor, a word or two; in other cases, a whole paragraph was rewritten and paragraph spacing was slightly adjusted in the more complex ones. Furthermore, I was inspired to change the title of two stories. 

The stories for my anthology were now ready to be sent away to my editor; however, there were several more important elements to the book to complete before the full manuscript was whole. In my next post, I will describe how I tackled the all-important blurb, tag-line and about the author page. 

Thank you very much for following my exciting journey to publication of this anthology of short stories.The book is due out beginning December and I will reveal the book title and cover soon.

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice.” Andre Dubus

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