Even Steven: a short story that evolved from a 5-minute-freewrite exercise

Thanks, @mariannewest, for the daily 5minute freewrite!
Today’s prompt: Day 348 : 5 Minute Freewrite: Wednesday – Prompt: vinyl.


Steve was done with Stephanie.

Her big baby-blue eyes and blonde curls, her pouty lips, her heaving bosom would not get her off the hook this time.

He almost left her over the leather recliner. It was his. No other chair in the world held him so comfortably. If it was as ugly all that, she could have bought some fancy “throw” thingie with useless tassled pillows to camouflage it. But oh, no, she had to have it hauled off when he wasn’t home. He’d been pretty damn nice about the redecorating, dazed and amazed that this beautiful blonde was moving in and about to marry him. The furniture dated back to his parents’ marriage 50 years earlier, but that didn’t mean it was worn out. All that clean, modern, shiny-new shit at Ikea was what she loved.

He didn’t put up much of a fight when she moved into the house his parents left him and made it “theirs,” by which she meant “hers.” He was in love. She was smart and witty, with a degree in architecture, as soon as she passed all the math classes. He’d taken over his dad’s construction business. Everyone said it was a match made in heaven.

The kind of houses he built were simple, not because he wasn’t smart enough to complicate them with gratuitous gables and peaks, but because he liked things sensible and easy to maintain. It wasn’t because he was lazy or indifferent that he hadn’t redecorated his childhood home. Everything was fine.

Until she moved in.

The Howard Miller chair, he thought, had settled matters once and for all. This was no knock off; this was the iconic and original chair, in excellent condition, worth thousands of dollars, but she would have hauled it off to the Salvation Army. That was where she sneaked off to with the leather recliner, but he retrieved it. The upstairs bedrooms were slated for purging after the wedding, which is why he hadn’t settled a date yet. She didn’t have a ring yet because she refused the half-carat diamond he’d chosen, and he wasn’t ready to siphon several thousand dollars from his savings for a danged rock.

His Budweiser beer stein collection was non-negotiable. She’d made fun of them in her cute, lilting way, but it stopped being cute after so many repetitions. Those steins were going nowhere, and she knew it.

If she had to take it upon herself to remove them, she could have boxed them up and stored them in the attic crawl space above his workbench in the garage, but she wouldn’t risk spiders or dust, probably not even for a Free Shopping Spree at Ikea.

What was it with clowns and spiders, anyway? It was a thing now. Something in the drinking water, maybe, made too many 1990s guys phobic about spiders. Maybe Stephanie planned to marry him just for his fearless, manly way of carrying spiders outside while she screamed like an idiot at the sight of them.

He’d kill a mouse for her, he’d rehome spiders and snakes, but his Budweisers stein were iconic, one for every year since he was born, because his mom went into labor in the middle of Oktoberfest. Back then, women smoked and drank all nine months and tossed babies into the back seats of cars without “safety restraints,” and boys played with cap guns that struck actual gunpowder and set off real smoke, and words like “toxic masculinity” didn’t exist yet. Steve was born in the cusp of 1950s manhood and 1990s gender-neutral-hood.

If Stephanie wanted a less masculine man, the wedding was off.


“Where are they?”

Steve asked her in his quietest, scariest voice, that authoritative bass his dad had used on Steve, Polly and Holly, the twins who caused their mother to get her tubes tied on the delivery table.

Stephanie just smirked. “Where is what?”

“If you sold them,” he said, “I will track them down, and I will get them back.”

Her denim cut-offs and mid-riff shirt distracted him momentarily from his wrath. She was stretching up to the ceiling, taping the wall where his steins used to be, getting ready to paint. Granted, a wall could use painting after so many years.

“Aww, you’re so cute when you’re mad, Stevey.” Flipping her blonde curls over her shoulder, she gave him that look of innocence he now recognized as a red flag waving. Cats had perfected the look, but he saw now that he had been had. She was innately evil and irresistibly cute but he was over “cute,” and he was over her.

“You have 30 days to move out,” Steve said.

She stepped down from the ladder and faced him. “Seriously? It’s me or those ugly, outdated Budweiser steins?”

Cat. Think of her as a cat. Not as a gorgeous little blonde who caught his heart and ran with it.

“It’s not so much about the things,” Steve said. “It’s about your lack of respect for my things. I like your minimalist style, but I’m thinking it may be incompatible with little things that matter to me, and your disregard is a big thing.”

“You can’t kick me out!”

“I said you got 30 days.” He marched up to pack some things, tuning out whatever words she was hurling at him, then stalked out the door and into the late September sunshine. The day was crisp and clear, unlike the brain fog Stephanie had afflicted him with.

Steve squinted at the old Airstream Flying Cloud 28 that Steph would have hauled away by now except she got the bright idea to strip the carpet and turn his mom and dad’s motorhome into a party shack out back. Sample floor tiles and cabinet colors were spread out awaiting a final decision, but he had a moment of clarity and pulled his key ring out of his pocket. The old Airstream fired right up, and he headed off to the salvage yard where he remembered a glimpse of blue and white vinyl tiles in a clearance bin. She’d seen them too and laughed and steered him to the custom-order books. Well hell, whose Airstream was it, anyway, and what if he felt like driving it with no regard for who might see him in the ghastly metal house on wheels?

    First, he stopped at the Salvation Army and inquired about his Budweiser stein collection. He’d guessed right. She hadn’t even tried to sell them, thank God for small miracles, and they were vintage collectibles.
The boxes were still unpacked in the receiving area and he managed to retrieve them without having to threaten violence because Quartez knew the routine, knew what to expect before Steve even charged the door.

“You gotta put that woman in her place, man,” he advised Steve. “Let her know who da man of the house.”

Steve sighed. “Quartez, the 1950s is calling. Apparently you landed in the 1990s by mistake and they want you back.”

“Ha ha. Suit yourself man. But, uh, before you go, I hate to tell ya, she dropped off some of your polyester ties and I don’t mind saying they look better on me than they would on you.”

“Shit!” Steve lunged for the cart piled high with shirts and polyester leisure suits. “She didn’t!”

“She does have a kind and compassionate and charitable side, unlike you.” Quartez lifted his chin, affecting the same hurt look that Steph was so good at, and he had rich brown puppy eyes with long, dark lashes to make ya feel his pain. His faux pain. Gawd.

The man broke out laughing, unable to keep up the act.

“Whatever you took,” Steve said, “just keep it. But I’m taking back the rest.”

“Now ya talkin,'” Quartez crowed.

With all 33 steins

safe beside him in the passenger seat, Steve moved on with his mission. He bought the vinyl floor tiles and made up his mind to install them here and now, in the parking lot. He would do this thing, now, without her input or protestations.

The diamond pattern required extra cutting, but he always had a utility knife at hand, and if that wasn’t sufficient for the job, the salvage store had everything he needed to do whatever the hell he wanted to with his motorhome. His. Not hers, not theirs, but his.

While he worked, his mind replayed scene after scene where she had done some outrageous thing, and he had protested, and she had soothed the savage beast with her feminine wiles. The little cat. Calling him the savage beast, when he was a just a guy, a regular guy, the kind who turned heads–and not just in small-town taverns where the pickings were slim. She met him at a misleading time in his life, dressed up as a groomsman in the wedding of his buddy Mike to her cousin Emily, and she caught the bouquet, and they danced at the reception at an upscale brewery and drank craft beer and fell under a spell of wedding euphoria.

His friends were in awe of her and so was he.

It happened gradually, the way she’d get him to cancel outings with his friends so he could take her where she wanted to go. Parade of Homes, ok, but art galleries full of expensive so-called “art” and snotty artists, no, he’d rather shovel manure at a hog farm.

He cut and peeled and stuck down tiles.

When did the kettle come to a boil–when did it occur to him he missed his old gang and their antics–and why was he in position to be missing them at all?

The floor turned resplendent with the blue and white pattern you saw at Oktoberfests everywhere. Party shack? You bet, Steph, but not the kind you have in mind. This one would take him to weekends of Dirndls, Lederhosen, green alpine hats with feathers, beer steins, sausages and sauerkraut, oompa-band tubas and accordions, beer chants, big Bavarian pretzels, and bosoms.

Stephanie might look like the St. Pauli girl but he’d always been a Bud man.


Beer and sausage sounded good

after installing a floor. Hell, it sounded good any time of day, any season. Steve dumped the vinyl scraps in the nearest bin in the parking lot, maneuvered the Airstream onto the street, and headed to the Tallcorn Tavern where his buddies no longer expected to see him. And that strong, sturdy little brunette at the bar who, according to Mike’s now-wife, wanted to do more than flirt with him. But she said that after he’d take up with Stephanie, and that was the last time he set foot in the Tallcorn. Until now.

He parked the mammoth right across from the open door of the tavern and unpacked two of his steins, one for his own beer, one just in case. Ya never know: a Budweiser kind of woman might be there at this very hour. She didn’t have to be a blonde bombshell with book smarts and a razor-sharp wit. But she would have to like him, as is. He wasn’t going to be anyone’s home improvement project again.

Through the door came laughter and warm light spilling onto the brick sidewalks. The old booths were still covered in red vinyl that was new when his parents were young. The brunette was at the bar. What was her name? Amanda. Mandy. She caught sight of him and broke into a shameless grin and called out his name, and everyone turned to look at the dusty construction worker at the door.

Who said you can’t go home again?

Where did the Oktoberfest blue and white diamond pattern originate?

The diamond pattern in heraldry is called a lozenge and dates back to Otto II of Bavaria.

“Budweiser girls” promote beer for Anheuser-Busch. The first Budweiser girl was in 1883. (Wikipedia)

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“Rape: A Love Story” by Joyce Carol Oates


Rape: A Love Story is one of the most brutal, disturbing, sick, memorable, and riveting stories ever to come forth from the lurid imagination of Joyce Carol Oates.

 Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul. ― Joyce Carol Oates

I love it!

God have mercy on me, I love it. Me, the squeamish one who flinches at horror and violence and avoids the thriller genre and police procedurals because I believe in rehabilitation versus retribution.

Except when dealing with unrepentant narcissists,

people so evil, they will never change, and the only solution is to rid the world of their criminal presence. That is a very dangerous thing to say, to think even in the privacy of my own head, but thank God for writers like Joyce Carol Oates (JCO), who dares to give voice to the dark thoughts we try not to acknowledge (much less act on!).

Keangarooview: 5 stars!

Teenage rapists, drunk on the Fourth of July, violate a woman

in the most brutal and dehumanizing way and leave her for dead. Oops, she doesn’t die. And her 12-year-old daughter heard it all, hidden behind canoes in a boathouse. No danger of facing the consequences, though: rich daddies can hire lawyers and keep their boys out of jail.

Oh, and the locals will help, gossiping and speculating. Teena McGuire shouldn’t have dressed that way, shouldn’t have walked home on a night of revelry through a dimly lit park, shouldn’t have had her daughter with her, shouldn’t have been at a bar, shouldn’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t–so, “She had it coming” seems to be the consensus of a community.

There is one force nobody has reckoned with in this town: John Dromoor. He’s the first cop on the scene after Bethie McGuire’s mother is gang-raped. A hero, in more ways than one. This is where the paradoxical title comes into play. “A love story” might connotate romance of the falling-in-love sort, but Romance has a long history of other connotations and themes.

Dromoor is brilliantly wrought, born in JCO’s feverish imagination, informed by JCO’s familiarity with Dostoevsky, Kafka, Thoreau, Lewis Caroll, and the classics. He’s a Gulf War veteran. He’s damaged. ‘One bright, hallucinatory morning in the desert, he saw his soul curl up and die like an inchworm in the hot sand.’


Dromoor is dangerous in a quiet, calm, controlled way,

a latent Rambo (see David Morrell’s original version of that vigilante). For all his disillusionment, weariness, and cynicism, however, Dromoor still has a heart. He cares about Teena, not in the platitude-mumbling way of most people who care, but in a real and visceral way. Love is a verb, and it can be a very active one. It can be the most violent of verbs, and the most platonic. Much of this novella focuses on a 12-year-old girl’s hero-worship of the one man who could show how much he cared, which matters all the more when everyone else was willing to blame the victim and let crimes slide.

The prose is riveting, with that hallmark breathless rush that distinguishes the voice of JCO from all others. The story is gripping, brutal, heartbreaking, horrifying, yet gratifying. You might hate yourself for loving Dromoor so much. It’s easy to see why 12-year-old Bethie is enamored of him, the one man in her life who does more than just care. He acts. Words of love and consolation come easy, but acting on them is a stretch beyond what most people will do. Dromoor’s handwritten not to Teena, Any hour of the day or night. D, is also handwritten in the book, and that one sentence is so high impact, I had to re-read it several times.

That’s the thing about JCO.

I used to copy whole passages, in long-hand, into a notebook, whenever I came across vivid, riveting, memorable prose. Now I have a Kindle, and it’s not the same thing, highlighting the text.

The locals, their gossip, their judgments, the devotion of families, the lengths that parents will go to, in order to bail out their offspring – there is so, so much stuff here, a book club could talk all night long. Lines like this:

Nate crowed. “See? You assholes? What I told you. I’d of been there, you needed to finish the job and dump ’em both. Tied down with rocks. Save your old man having to sell his boat.”

No sympathy for the killers, nor the parents going into debt trying to keep their boys out of prison. Not from JCO. She tackles misogyny head-on, ruthlessly, cutting the criminals no slack.

I’m looking forward to the 2017 movie version, Vengeance: A Love Story, available on Netflix and other venues.

Changing the title from Rape to Vengeance has its merits, but casting Nicholas Cage as Dromoor just shows Hollywood’s total lack of fidelity to authors and their intent. Dromoor is young, more like Robert Patrick[*] in Terminator 2. Any young and unknown actor with a cool, hard Clint Eastwood vibe would have been better than Cage, who runs hot. Smoldering is great, in other roles, but not this one.

Vengeance: A Love Story is a 2017 American thriller film directed by Johnny Martin and written by John Mankiewicz. It is based on the 2003 novel Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates. The film stars Nicolas Cage, Don Johnson, Anna Hutchison, Talitha Bateman and Deborah Kara Unger. The film was released on September 15, 2017, by FilmRise. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)


After their slick lawyer gets them off for a violent assault, four criminals find themselves the target of a cop with his own brand of justice.(Netflix)

I kinda-sorta hate myself for being such a fan of a story that is so dark, so full of retribution. But my sister was raped and murdered in 1975, and her killer(s) never faced arrest, much less the scandal of a trial, much less imprisonment, and I confess that if I were a war veteran, a soldier, a Dromoor, and if I knew (knew! beyond a doubt!) who got away with my sister’s murder, I would quietly set about plotting the demise of the kind of men who rape, kill, and dispose of bodies like roadside trash.

But that is a novel in itself, and so I will just say that JCO nails it – man’s inhumanity to man – yet it is a hallmark of JCO to deliver a ray of hope and something positive emerging from the darkest stories.

I’ve bought three extra copies of this novella to give to friends. That is higher praise than 5 Stars.

I’m afraid to endorse it at the Iowa Cold Cases site, lest it inspire those who’ve lost a loved one to administer vigilante justice, Dromoor style. It could be a thing, you know.  When our local police don’t rein in the bad guys, when the community fails to light a fire under their taxpayer-hired LE to locate the killer among them, when nobody else cares about a life that was stolen, violently, horribly, then desperation is one possible response. Jody Ewing nailed it in an email to me:

It’s a remarkable thing to behold. Hard to describe, really… You see how every single family starts out “knowing for certain” the killer or killers will be caught, and then watch their transition as they move through all these other stages of grief, except it’s a different kind of grief and a different set of stages because there is always THE UNKNOWN and the death was usually SO UNEXPECTED. You’ve heard it said thousands of times, but it’s true: No parent ever expects to have to bury a child.

A journalist with degrees in Social Science and Criminal Justice, a Private Investigator license, and years of studying cold cases, Jody Ewing understands the progression of a case that goes cold:

…. being transported back to that date when the crime actually happened, and then taking note of every development or dead end lead and reading through months and months of interviews the press did with the family, right up until the day the case goes cold, and then noticing the distinct change in how the family addresses the press once it’s gone cold.

Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming. – Blue Jasmine (2013)

[*] Billy Idol Almost Played the T-1000 in ‘Terminator 2,’ Robert Patrick Says via @thr

“My agent sold me to the T2 casting director (Mali Finn) as a cross between David Bowie and James Dean,” Patrick said, laughing, “So, I was trying to create an intense presence while I was sitting with Mali. I had this intense stare, which she liked.”


That intense stare – YES!

That is Dromoor. And Clint Eastwood. And my husband. He got it from his father (below, right). Speaking of #COOL, that’s my grandpa on the left. (Yes, my husband has been told he resembles Robert Patrick.)

Biased? Me?

I know what I like!

And I love, love, love Joyce Carol Oates.

“It makes me angry sometimes, it’s a visceral thing–how you come to despise your own words in your ears not because they aren’t genuine, but because they are; because you’ve said them so many times, your ‘principles,’ your ‘ideals’–and so damned little in the world has changed because of them.” ― Joyce Carol Oates, Black Water

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Lessons from Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog by Dave Barry

What happens when a cynical, retired, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who hates self-help books starts taking notes on his old but happy dog–and realizes he’s written a self-help book?

He taps into the wry and intelligent sense of humor that launched his career, and we get to enjoy Dave Barry’s “Lessons from Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog.

Keep this book on hand in case someone near you needs a good laugh.

Dave Barry is seventy (I can say that now that shock has worn off), but this is not a memoir, he assures us.  (“Memoir” is a more off-putting word for me than “succubus.”) Also, it really is not a self-help book, but it could be if you let it.

Barry simply observed his happy, carefree dog Lucy, wondered why he isn’t more like her, then…voila!…came up with Seven Lessons to convey in this book.

Ok, there was a lot more to it than a “Voila,” as all writers know, but it reads like magic.

Speaking of magic…. NEWS FLASH!

Dave Berry @rayadverb liked my Tweet!


If you read my blogs, Tweets, Steemit posts or Facebook rants, you know I’ve lost patience with Indie Authors who ask for my time reading/reviewing their books, but they don’t take time to upvote any of my reviews, because I need to get the word out: my word carries more weight if readers do the annoying “upvote” and “Like” thing. Otherwise, my ranking as a reviewer is a numbers game, and #ListenToCarol and #BuyTheBook won’t happen if I don’t have NUMBERS to raise my reputation. Oh, I hate asking people to do the LIKE thing. Hate it! But this is a competitive world, and my kinder and gentler ways are keeping me in the lower ranks.

Dave Barry has been my god (of humor, of writing, of dry wit and total guy-dom) for 30+ years,

Okay, back to the review this Pulitzer-winning author took time to LIKE on Twitter:

Headlines with numbered lists attract readers, as do “Secrets” – the secret to happiness, to success, to the nice neighbor man with 30 skeletons under his basement. So who could pass up Dog Reveals Seven Secrets to Happiness In Our Old Age?  You know it will be comical, because, Dave Barry. What you don’t know: Dave’s secrets!

Like, this Pulitzer-winning public figure who makes everyone laugh is…. shy? For reals?

I’m not saying any more on that, because you need to buy this book yourself. Uncover the secrets one by one, at your leisure.

The whole book is full of wry wit like this:

“I’m not seeking pity, and I don’t want you to think I’m a sniveling whiner. (I am a sniveling whiner; I just don’t want you to think so.)”

Oh so many good lines!

In “Lesson One: Make New Friends,” we see how a dog named Lucy can bound over to any stranger, sniff, and fall in love, while Dave “instantly hates” strangers. (We all do, really, but most of us don’t allow our conscious selves in on THAT secret.) Barry’s reasons for his varying levels of antipathy toward strangers are hilarious and familiar to us all. You will nod knowingly. Oh yes. You will.

Another secret: he doesn’t “hate” in the usual sense of the verb.

Dave Barry delivers the humor we know and love, but he also sneaks in some sly wisdom and something like warm fuzzies, which could undermine everything he ever wrote in Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys, which still makes me laugh out loud years after I first read it. I read it out loud to anyone who’ll listen, and no matter how many years go by, no matter that none of it is new material to me, I laugh harder than the Barry virgins (those who have not yet had the pleasure of discovering this humorist. The Millennials tend not to laugh AT ALL when I read to them from my last-century Barry books.) Furthermore…

  The guy mind does not believe in medical care. Guys will generally not seek medical treatment, for themselves or for others, except in certain clear-cut situations, such as decapitation. And even then guys are not going to be 100 percent certain. “Let’s put his head back on with duct tape and see if he can play a couple more innings,” is the prevailing guy attitude.”

… We are talking about THIS book. And nothing about Lessons from Lucy, not even the threat of “self-help” and that scary word “lessons,” will make you wish you’d never heard of #LessonsFromLucy. I’ve only bought one of Dave Barry’s books (I know, I should own every single one of them), and I’m a huge fan of dogs as well as cynical witty guys. And I’m a cynical gal, so I braced myself in case the 70-year-old Barry is as washed up as old rock stars like, uh, let’s see… not Robert Plant, not Jagger, but…. well, I can’t even think of rock legends who aren’t cool anymore.

I have just one complaint about this book. I found the Rock Bottom Remainders on you-tube, and this band of novelists (Stephen King, for one, and Dave Barry himself) are

not even remotely as terrible as Barry tells us they are. E.g.

“Roy Blount described our musical genre as ‘hard listening’.” Ha!

(Coincidentally, I have been smitten with Roy Blount Jr for, approximately, forever.)


I love Barry’s self-effacing humor. But don’t let him fool you. These authors-turned-musicians in Rock Bottom may not have made the Top 40 or even #100 on the pop charts, but they’re not only waaaay better than Barry lets on, they’re good.

Maybe that’s the way to promote: get everyone thinking “This sounds so awful, I’ve got to see for myself,” than bowl them over with actual talent.

Dave Barry is still cool. He’s still hilarious. There is hope for this world! He says he’s a curmudgeon, annoyed by texting teenagers and Facebook, but he is firmly fixed forever in my mind as that college guy who’d meet his buddies on a rooftop and throw down an old TV to shatter on the sidewalk below–and the moral of the story is that women hearing it will say “Why?” while men hear it and say “Cool!”

I tried to find that column before writing this review, but it was in some newspaper when I was young and single, and now I’m a mother of three, a grandmother of two, and I’m getting phone calls from purveyors of those “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” gadgets. And I got distracted by a dozen new Talking Dogs and sad-cat videos before finding my way back to the writing of a book review about this author who wrote a hilarious column about men’s idea of fun versus women’s. Hence, the TV anecdote that so perfectly distills and displays the epitome of guy humor.

The chapter on old rotary telephones and children roaring “It’s Long Distance!” nails everything about that pre-Twitter era. And buying too much stuff, and being held hostage by possessions we don’t know how to get rid of. And how we use our time. “I waste WAY too much time on the internet,” he writes, “and a whole bunch of that time consists of my reading something and thinking: *What a moron.* I’m seventy years old; I don’t have that much time left. *Why am I wasting it on morons?*”

It has come to this: My dog has an Instagram account.


For more than two decades, Barry wrote a syndicated humor column for the Miami Herald. He’s written more than 30 books, most of them humorous non-fiction works.

I’ve always wondered if his fiction would be as funny as his columns. (I’ve met novelists who are hilarious on Twitter or in emails but in prose, dry as White Sands.)

A new book by Dave Barry (with dogs!) is just the ticket. I’d have given copies away for Father’s Day to all the friends my age who’ve become grandparents, but the release date is…. 23 October 2018. Dang. Some of them may be dead by then. My peers are dwindling, not because I’m a peerless writer but because too many people my age are dying of something, and I need all the humor books and cat videos I can find to get going after reading Obits each morning.


There is a downside to being first to read an ARC: the long, long wait until you can buy copies for your friends!
Thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I will write a longer review with excerpts showing how funny this book really is, but I’m in a holding pattern wondering how many people ever read my longer reviews. How many people will pre-order this book, or even download a free sample chapter, based on Carol’s word? Millions ought to, but the world is like my offspring: my words of wisdom roll like raindrops off a freshly waxed car. You wait. One day your car will be stalled and as you wait for a tow truck you’ll WISH you had this book to amuse you! Ha! And I will say, “If only they’d listened to Carol, and bought the book, and kept a copy in their man purse or their car or their sled dog’s packs.”

My copy is in my Kindle, which would freeze if I ever make it to an Iditarod, but just because I’m a grandma now doesn’t mean I’m getting sidetracked again about why this book matters and deserves to top the charts that The Rock Bottom Remainders aren’t even trying for, because they’re just having fun, and that’s the whole point.

HAVE FUN!! Your dog would. So should we all!

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Novelist/Good Samaritan saves dog hit by car, needs $; bonus, a 5-star book review

Dog hit by car; owner refuses to pay for dog’s broken leg; novelist adopts dog, seeks help raising money for

Saving Ludo’s Leg


Here is the novelist’s story:

Adriana Hartelt Boettcher on Facebook, June 7, at 8:15pm ·

What I at first mistook for a black trash bag in the eastbound lane of Highway 30 was instead a black Lab, struggling to crawl out of the lane after its leg had been broken by a car. Trash bags don’t sit up. I had been going west, but was turned around and blocking the dog within a few seconds. A truck full of guys stopped and helped me block traffic, give the dog water and contact the Tama County sheriff, who was going to put the dog down. I said no. Not today. Instead, the three guys in the truck helped me load the dog into my car and off to Marshalltown vet we went. Only a broken leg and some abrasions and the dog will be fine soon.
I left for my work drive early today, a half hour earlier than I needed to, drove the slower, scenic route and was right where I needed to be to help this dog. Miracles are all about the timing but also something else. I’ve struggled for years to think that I make lives better of those around me. Sometimes, I wonder. Today I felt a glimmer of hope. Saving others can save us, too. And, on Gonzo’s birthday to boot. Thank you, God.

The cop said what?

Apparently the cops see so many dogs on that stretch of road hit by cars or injured because near Tama the owners let the dogs run loose and without collars, so they are now desensitized. However… this particular dog is my own personal starfish. I cannot throw back all the starfish, but I can save this one.

Doggy update, June 11

Adriana Hartelt Boettcher

It took a few days to get things sorted but the previous owner relinquished custody. Doggy is having his surgery on a splintered leg and hairline pelvis fracture. This Friday (or possibly next Monday after a few days recovery), he will come home with me for his forever home… because he has no one else and because it seemed fated. His name will be Ludo (a combination of Lucky- because he IS, Bandit- his old name, and a name ending in O as an homage to his late and great older brother Gonzo). Hence, Ludo. Let me know when you want to meet him. 🙂

Doggy update, June 13

Adriana Hartelt Boettcher on Facebook · GoFundMe

Surgery day is today! Thank you so much to all who helped yesterday; I am humbled and indebted. I’ll pay you back somehow, someday. We’ve reached the halfway mark of the plating surgery cost. Anyone still interested in Operation Rescue Ludo’s Leg, I’m so grateful for your help. Thank you.

More at the GoFundMe site:

Ludo has a splintered leg and hairline pelvis fracture and because of the cost to treat, $1,600, the former owners (who called him Bandit) decided not to. The cost to plate his leg is high, but I’ve rarely met a dog so deserving of a second chance. He is having surgery this week and will come home with me post-recovery, to his new forever home.
Paying for his treatment is a choice I made along with the decision to adopt him. However, any help with his surgery would be very much appreciated as it was not a budgeted expense or planned event, just a miracle of timing for a gentle, lucky dog. Thank you.

This campaign is trending!

$855 of $1,600 goal met

at the time of this post, Raised by 14 people in 23 hours

No, wait –

$910 raised by 17 people in 24 hours!

Donate Now

Created June 12, 2018

If anyone can relate to the horror of a dog owner failing to keep his pet safe, then refusing him emergency vet care, it’s @rhondak of @tarc. Let someone else foot the bill. Or just put the dog down.

Bravo, Adrianna, for stepping up to the plate!

While $1600 is a large sum of money, and adopting a dog will entail even more expenditures for however many years to come, who could just drive on buy and leave this creature to fend for himself? I could write reams about the sanctity of life, our animal companions included.

Small world:

Seven years ago, I reviewed this good Samaritan’s novel!


“Lights in a Black Forest” by Martena Warner

For fifty years, Heinrich Warner chose to forget his past. At night, he dreamed alive again the ghosts of his childhood. By day, he chose to forget them all. But, ghosts do not stay hidden forever, especially in the mind of an old man who can no longer remember what is real…

Her father inspired the fictional version of a boy in post-World War II Germany, exiled from what was then Silesia and is now part of Poland, starting life over again in the United States.

Meet novelist and good Samaritan Adriana Hartelt Boettcher


Martena Warner is the pseudonym for Iowa native Adriana Anne Catherine Hartelt Boettcher. Martena has lived most of her life within twenty miles of where she was born, even raising her children in the same small town where she grew up. Rather than a deterrent to her writing, Martena feels her familiarity with a place and its people is an asset. Although she has been a lifelong writer, “Lights in a Black Forest” is her first novel.

Another Way You can Help

is by voting Yes, this review was helpful – Better yet, spend $3 and buy the book! “Lights in a Black Forest” by Martena Warner

Carol Kean ~ VINE VOICE~
5.0 out of 5 stars a father’s loss, a daughter’s shining memorial
December 6, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase

Beautiful tribute to a father who suffered loss of homeland under the Nazis – and no, not as a displaced Jew, but as a German civilian. When the Red Army invaded, millions of Silesians became homeless in an instant, unless they were gunned down first, or brutally gang-raped. But the novel isn’t about the atrocity of war, per se; it’s a daughter’s search to understand her father, who migrated to Iowa after the war, and stopped at the town with the “Germans welcome” sign. Anti-German sentiment in the U.S. was bad enough after WWI, worse after WWII, but not in Warner’s fictional Iowa town. This novel is rich with countless details that define Iowa, our diverse ethnicity, the traditions our pioneer settlers handed down – thrift, for example, persists in the gene pool, and Warner’s anecdotes are sure to bring tears of laughter or winces of recognition from readers.

The greatest part of the story is a boy who lost his little sister in the woods the day of the Red Army’s invasion of Silesia. The novel opens in the point of view of an elderly, widowed Heinrich who’s losing his memory to dementia. Some days he barely remembers his own name, but he never forgets his ghosts. While he grows old, they remain young, frozen in time at age 14, or whatever age he last knew them. The whole first chapter is riveting and powerful, especially when Heinrich regresses to the little boy who tells himself “I didn’t do anything wrong,” but he hasn’t managed to convince himself of that even at the end of his days. Most of the novel is told from his daughter’s viewpoint. Anna Maria is a young stepmother with an inattentive husband who leaves full-time care of his daughter to her, but her father becomes more of a handful than the toddler, and she faces that awful family crisis: the nursing home. She also searches for the real story behind her father’s fear of the woods, his missing family members left behind in a land that ceased to be Germany and became Poland, and the meaning of that haunting refrain she’s heard since childhood. It sounded like a nickname, Vo-iss Lucy. As an adult, she hears the correct German words but her need to make sense of them makes Lucy all the more tantalizing. To say more would be a plot spoiler. Let’s just say that the answer to Ayn Rand’s “Who is John Galt” had nowhere near the impact of Heinrich’s Lucy.

Well researched, honestly and passionately told, this story should not be missed. It’s an important addition to the scarce literature on how German civilians suffered the sins of their government, how they walked their own Trail of Tears as heart-rending as that of the Cherokees in our own land, and how, if not for the death of one person in time of war, and the survival of another, countless people we know and love today would not exist. I didn’t say it right, but Warner does, and she brings the pain of war home to us a generation after the fact, on a new land. But as she quotes Faulkner at the outset, “The past is not dead. It isn’t even past.” And from page one, Heinrich’s ghosts will haunt you too.

0 out of 5 stars Lights in a Black Forest
By Doug Beard on December 12, 2011
Format: Paperback

This book will change you. Unless you witnessed first hand the mass hatred, torture, death, and displacement of ordinary human beings during WWII, you will be moved by this debut novel. The story centers around Heinrich Warner, a boy during the war, whose experiences still affected him and those around him 50 years after the war ended and 40 years after he emigrated to Iowa.

When I began reading the book, I read because of my acquaintance with the author and read 30 to 40 pages a night. By the end, the nightly page count was around 100 and I read because I was drawn into it. Beyond the book, I was motivated to spend hours reading about German, Polish, and Silesian history and geography.

The way the author smoothly eased into her disclaimer and explanation pages at the end was extremely clever.

2 people found this helpful

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“A Traveler from an Antique Land” by Harvey Click – SciFi from a horror master!

Harvey Click antique land@KeithDrawsCoverArt

A Traveler from an Antique Land by Harvey Click

“After years of writing nothing but horror, I’ve written a science-fiction/fantasy adventure novel.” – Harvey Click

I’m thrilled to hear it!

Horror is my least favorite genre, with guts and gore, demons and severed heads sailing, maggots, and –well, in spite of all that, one author managed to reel me in every time when other authors left me shutting the book.

Harvey, you devil, you!

Harvey Click is a college lit professor

who earned an M.A. in English from Ohio State University, using his first novel as a master’s thesis. He has written five novels, four of them in the horror genre, and numerous short stories. He has taught both English and creative writing for Ohio University, Ohio State University, the James Thurber House, and OSU’s Creative Arts Program.

Here is the publisher’s blurb:

… a potent cocktail of epic battles, thrilling adventures, non-stop action, and astonishing marvels!

When a young woman is whisked away to a planet populated by kidnapped humans and strange extraterrestrials, she faces perilous swordfights, flying battleships, mind-controlling alien lifeforms, crocodiles with wings, snakes that devour horses, an extinct race that communicates through its singing sculptures, an “uncertainty sink” that warps time, an interplanetary translocator guided by disembodied human brains, a gloomy castle seething with secrets, and labyrinthine catacombs filled with deadly assassins.

Here’s a bit of my Amazon and Goodreads review:

Horror-Meister Harvey Click takes a stab at Science Fiction, and wow, oh wow, does he spin a great tale!

There’s a secondary character I fell in love with from his first appearance, but–dang! Spoilers! Always, I’m accused of spoilers. I don’t know how to write about this fantastic story, other than to say those we expect the least of can surprise us the most.

Try a sample chapter and see! Better yet,

Invest 99 cents in this book – it’ll be the best dollar you spend this month!

The cover artwork alone is worth a buck!

Harvey Click is a college professor, a writing teacher. His prose is flawless, his stories spellbinding.

The heroine’s mother is a piece of work. But then, a lot of mothers are awful, right? (Except me!)

The opening pages are riveting as a young college co-ed is swept from Earth to a new planet, called Notearth. Her abductors become her escorts, allies, and even buddies, even though they don’t seem at all trustworthy.

There’s an interesting contrast between those in power who have power (as in electrical power, not just political), while those who have been vanquished must live without electricity or machinery.

There are surprises. After all the carnage, GOOD THINGS HAPPEN, and the ending is very satisfying.

How often do I approve an ending? Hardly ever. This one rocks!


I grew up immersed in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. At the age of eleven, I started subscribing to pulp magazines that published this fare, and I joined a science fiction book club that sent me two new novels each month. Some of my grade-school teachers took my books and pulp magazines away from me, thinking I was too young to read about Cthulhian monstrosities, but the air of taboo only increased my fascination.

#Pulp-Rev fans will appreciate this:

During my college years I decided my fiction should be, ahem, more “literary,” but after penning a great many precious little tales in which next to nothing happened, I turned back to my childhood roots and wrote a string of horror novels and stories.

The story poured out of me like silvery light from a full moon.

I’m hoping readers will find themselves immersed in the same spell that captivated me, the silvery enchantment of clashing swords, epic battles, thrilling adventures, non-stop action, and astonishing marvels in a strange world called Notearth.

He captivated me!

Held me hostage with great prose, he did. Look at my reviews of his previous books.

***** Harvey Click’s “carnography” (lurid, explicit, bloody, violent, brilliant) got me again
By Carol Kean VINE VOICE December 2, 2014
The Bad Box

(Go ahead, click on that link, and read my praises of this brilliant writer, and if you “Find this review helpful,” please click the yes button.)

And check out Harvey’s Amazon Author Page for more books, and more great cover art by Keith Draws, e.g.,


I hope everyone will read Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” – source of the title:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I’m not doing justice to this novel,

but I hope you’ll click on those links,

invest 99 cents,

and see for yourself!


And that’s all I dare to say about that.





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Stoics are misunderstood, and why I don’t want to read your book

Stoics are misunderstood,

especially in today’s world of the “precious snowflake” and a call to wear our hearts on our sleeves. Don’t bottle your emotions. Don’t hide your pain.

Hiding your pain

does have its drawbacks. European white men would torture Native Americans, who had conditioned themselves from infancy to endure pain in silence.

“Oh, look, they can’t feel pain!” white men said. “Triple the torture!”

photo-1023416_960_720[1] They couldn’t comprehend the self-control these Natives had, enduring exquisite pain without a whimper, without wincing or flinching. I’d cites some historical examples but it’s just too brutal, lurid, horrific, and inhumane.

If you read my 28-February-2018 Steemit post,

Ten “Unbelievable Unsolved Murders”: My sister made the list,

you already know how my sister’s cold case has left me agitated and irritable in various ways, especially when asked to read, critique, or review thrillers, police procedurals, whodunnits, and horror stories involving violence and senseless killing.

Authors and Writer Friends,

I don’t want you to be afraid to show me your work. Let me look. Just, if I don’t love it, or finish reading it, please remember: I really don’t enjoy reading about slit throats, disemboweled aliens, guns, swords, lasers, and mass murder. Oh, I won’t miss out on a great story with epic characters due to my distaste for blood, guts, and horror, but so many books in recent years have been sordid and lurid, I’m just burnt out on this stuff. My sister was strangled, her body stuffed naked into a culvert under a gravel road, where an animal feasted on one side of her face and neck, and her killer(s) were never apprehended. They walked the streets, free and unpunished, living long enough to become grandparents, while Julie at almost 19 still hadn’t had a boyfriend. I’ve been ranting about this online for some time now, and I recently decided it was

Time to Move On

But the phone rang a few days ago (on our 30th Wedding Anniversary, when I was focusing on happy things). Another small-town newspaper reporter. Planning a big

Memorial Day story

on my sister’s cold case. Would I consent to an interview, being recorded, i.e. my face and voice on the internet or TV channel for all the world to see? No. Would I bring photos and mementos, talk about the person my sister was, “bring her to life” in story, in hopes someone out there would be inspired to come forward with some detail that hadn’t led to the solution in a 42-year-old Iowa Cold Case? No. I understand that Cold Case statistics are one thing:

Julia “Julie” Ann Benning

Bring her to life,

in story, for all the world to see, the reporter urged me; tell us what she was like, what she wanted to do with her life.

No, no, not gonna go there,

Been there, done that, blogged about it, for years; I’ve been telling the world about Julie.

Tell us her story!

Memorialize Julie!

But, but, but, killers don’t care who you are or what your story is.
People who cover up for killers don’t care, either.
Witnesses, those who “know” something but don’t dare tell, are either scared, or they just don’t care.


“She was so beautiful”

I’m tired of hearing about how young, bright, and beautiful so many murder victims were. What if they were Plain Janes (that was me), or fat, or dull, with no musical or artistic talent? Maybe it’s survivor’s guilt: of the five sisters, I was the one who should have died young, me, the klutz, the ugly duckling in the corner reading books. Years would pass before I ditched the awful glasses, got my teeth straightened, and blossomed from wallflower to social butterfly. But I still wince whenever reporters dwell on how BEAUTIFUL and viviacious and LOVED some victim was.

More here: Iowa Cold Cases by Jody Ewing

I’m not whining

about my own loss. People die of cancer, car wrecks, wars, all manner of things, every day. Everyone knows someone who’s suffered a tragic loss. The difference here is that a life was stolen and the thief is still out there walking free.

Consider the Peak family, less than a year after my own sister was raped, strangled, stripped, and tossed like roadside trash:

Lisa was survived by four siblings: Peter (14), Carmen (12), Martin (10), and Meredith (7).
Just two months after Lisa’s death, Carmen, a seventh grade student, died of head injuries after one of her riding horses fell on her.
In the years that followed, both of Lisa’s parents died without ever knowing who killed their daughter or seeing justice served in her death. Dr. Frank “Doc” Peak passed away Friday, Nov. 8, 2013… Lisa’s mother, Mary Peak, died Dec. 8, 2014, at age 85.

Who the victim was,

how valued and wonderful, is not as important for the public to know as the murderers among you.

So, I have a counter-proposal.

You tell us a story about the killers.

The local police as perps are a cliche in Hollywood and TV shows. But ya know what? There’s a reason for that. Drug dealers buy them off all the time. How often does a local minister or a do-gooder like John Gacey turn out to have bodies buried out back?

Investigative reporters end up dead

in all the TV shows and movies. Those who ask questions are silenced.



So, no, I don’t really expect journalists to do the work of private eyes, detectives, the FBI and BCI. But I would like to tell the news outlets:

Rather than focus on the victims

and remind us of their humanity, let’s spotlight the inhumanity of the perps. They feel no remorse. They are the ultimate narcissists. They often hide their black hearts behind a facade of charm and leadership. Ironically, the most heartless killers are not just in the mafia; they include your local minister, your local police officers, your civic volunteers (think John Wayne Gacey), the good ol’ boys, getting pats on the back and kudos for all their good deeds. Don’t even get me started on witch-burnings by good Christians, or lynchings, or–

–But wait. Am I doing my sister a disservice by refusing to talk about the person she was? Should I help a newspaper reporter show the world what a wonderful and beloved and treasured person she was?

Dad might say his pain is not for public consumption

if he spoke of it at all.
I know what he means.
While Julie was missing, rumors went around that our family was cold and hard-hearted and didn’t really care.
See above (Native Americans. Stoics.)

Two years ago,

after a grueling day with newspaper reporters writing about Iowa Cold Cases, my mom said it took her FOUR days to recover. “It was as fresh as if it had just happened,” not 40 years ago, but as if it were only yesterday. She relived the anguish all over again. Mom was able to talk all day about Julie’s sordid, heartbreaking case to those reporters, but after they left, she came unglued. And she didn’t even let ME, her daughter, see. It was after I’d left that the dam burst. It was two more years before she told me that.

I’m not saying this is how everyone should be – just, this is our way. You might argue it’s unhealthy; it’s better to express pain, anguish, rage; bottling it is bad.

It is what it is. The older I get, the more like my parents I get.

And those who see it as “cold, uncaring” have no clue what’s under the layers and walls.
14955970_10211213833251568_6709528471570821599_n Books Julie read in her teen years – eerily prophetic? Or was everyone reading books like these?

October 1975 Diary entry:

“Lately I’ve been getting into things I’m interested in, especially Indians. I hope they have a great uprising and get liberated like the Blacks did. Every time they bomb a building I say ‘right on!’

I bought three really good books: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Geronimo, and Custer Died For Your Sins.”

Julie tried making pottery,

designing her own unique clothes and jewelry, and sewing the dress she wore her last day on earth.

She wrote her penpal, “I’m making a choker out of polar bear claws ($16 a pair!), bones, squirrel tails, beads, feather and leather. I’m going to do a chamois cloth and feathers like Cher and Tina Turner had on last Sunday. I’m going on the warpath!”

“I’m reading Journeys Out of the Body, Charles Manson The Family, The Book of the Hopi, The Bermuda Triangle, etc. I look up my weird interests in The Whole Earth Catalogue and then find the books. Small wonder people think I’m bizarre.”

“Last night I went to Deb’s. She’s as depressed as me, worse, she even thought of suicide.”

“I saw ‘Winterhawk’–it was a great movie.

Today I’m feeling somewhat happier. In February I may be moving to Independence. They (Don Verrips and his father) may manage a bar there that has rock bands and I will be going along if they do to be a barmaid or bartender.”

“And maybe, by next fall, I’ll have enough money saved to go to college.”

The last page

of the letter, the last words we know of that she ever wrote, shows her optimism and usual zany cheerfulness waning:

“One person too many called me weird, strange, bizarre, etc

last weekend, so I’ve been a changed woman all week. I’ve not talked unless spoken to and then not much. I haven’t wiggled or danced around my tables when ‘Get Down Tonight’ is on, even though my body is crying out ‘let’s dance, child!’”

Everyone says ‘are you mad Julie? Are you sick? Are you depressed? What’s wrong?’

I simply say ‘Nothing, I’m just being normal like everyone else. Isn’t that what you wanted?’ My boss gave me the night off. I think she thinks I must be overworked or seomthing. I’m going to keep it up too, until people realize they have to accept me the way I really am. Only maybe this is the real me. Before, if I got depressed, I laughed it off, but now, when I’m going along with my plot, I can go ahead and be depressed and sad, that’s how I really feel, so that’s how I’ll act. I may really learn something from this. Next letter, I hope I’m not such a depressive person. I really thank you for enduring it. So, go ahead and pour your problems out on me next. Keep on smilin’  Happy Halloween!” Julie


O Julie!

No comment from me on how sad this is. Her words speak for themselves.


Our beloved grandpa died

in February 1975, less than a year before Julie would end up dead herself. She wrote in her diary:

I don’t care what anybody says. Death is not a natural part of life. What’s natural about seeing someone you love sick and miserable, and then seeing them dead? Nothing! It’s not a natural life process. It’s cold, it’s cruel, it’s so final, and it’s not fair. … Funerals are awful. They’re no consolation. They only make you cry. (17-Feb-1975)

“Murder is a horrible crime to commit and, of course the offender must be punished, but does that mean he should rot in prison until he dies? I don’t think so . . . nor do I think any person has the right to say someone should never be let out of prison, or give them the death penalty.” Julie urged her readers to “Put yourself in their shoes — the convicts are still humans, too. I hope people will be willing to help them and lend support in convicts’ efforts to rehabilitate themselves.” (Julie’s words from a May 1975 high school newspaper editorial)

Life goes on

and the dinner table is so full of new family members, we hardly ever notice the missing seventh plate. Weddings and babies came and went for us, but not for Julie, frozen in time at almost 19.

and the dinner table is so full of new family members, we hardly ever notice the missing seventh plate.
Weddings and babies came and went for us, but not for Julie, frozen in time at almost 19.

Julie, you’re a great-aunt!

Seven nieces and one nephew never got to meet their Aunt Julie, but our niece named her baby Julia. Little Julia is the fourth generation to be baptized at the old country church with the white steeple where Julie was baptized, confirmed, and buried.

And no, sorry, unless you’re a really good writer with a compelling voice, I don’t feel like reading another police procedural or whodunnit. John L. Monk’s “Kick” might sound like the kind of sad, violent stuff I’d rather avoid, but it is one of my favorite stories of all time.

Until next time,


because Kean sounds like Kane (not keen, hint, hint)

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Perihelion Science Fiction
Let’s Fry Chicken Little nominated for 2015 Pushcart Award

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“A Betrayal and Other Stories” by Brian Biswas

Fans of Night Gallery, The Twilight Zone, vintage science fiction, magic realism, irrealism, and–well, fans of good stories and good literature–you need to get your hands on this beautiful volume:  A Betrayal and Other Stories by Brian Biswas

51qfMimtj-L[1]  “The world is wonderful and full of magic. He who does not believe it so is dead.” –the narrator of “In the Garden”

Brian Biswas has published his fiction in professional magazines

for more than four decades. How would you ever find them all online now, or in bookstores?

Well, you wouldn’t.

The beauty of ebooks and anthologies is finding a collection of stories all in one handy place.

I read Brian Biswas for the first time via Perihelion Science Fiction ezine, and as always, the editorial judgment of Sam Bellotto Jr was vindicated. Sam has an eye for intelligent writing, fresh prose, and something beyond the usual offerings of science fiction short stories. Do not be deceived by the sweet, nostalgic vibe to these stories. Dark undercurrents can swiftly turn the fantastic into a cautionary tale or a reminder that even the best of us can throw away our values and betray our humanity when faced with unexpected temptations. The challenge is to talk about these things in a book review without spoiler after spoiler! For now, let me say a lonely light housekeeper welcoming a stranger in the night, and a scholar who is followed around by a strange bird, left me screaming why, why, why did you go over the edge and… do that.  And that’s the beauty of fiction right there, exploring the darkest recesses of the human soul, the complex motivations, the questions nobody can answer.

The strange, vivid imagery of dreams

is a hallmark of all Brian’s fiction. I love his attention to visuals. A blue parrot is more than just a bird in the backstory in “A Journey through the Wormhole.” And the scientist, who appears to be overly trusting and optimistic, pulls a surprise twist on the reporter looking for a scoop. Throughout the story, a sense of irrealism is underscored in the way these men are not named–they remain the scientist and the reporter throughout.
Truly, “A Journey through the Wormhole” is one of the best stories ever published in Perihelion Science Fiction, and if forced to choose one favorite in an anthology full of great stories, this one has to be it.
I will not talk about “The Lake of Flies,” except to say one of the visuals is so vivid and memorable, I have yet to un-see it.

Pulling out the binoculars, Max saw that the surface of the lake was covered by a thick layer of flies. There must have been hundreds of thousands, feeding on the kettle’s algae. The sun reflecting off the flies’ wings made the surface resemble a gigantic compound eye. A glistening ommatidium. Max gazed upon it, mesmerized. He felt as if he was peering into the mind of an intelligence that had taken over the lake and was lying in wait. He did not know for what. But it seemed to be drawing him in.

Fly Eye (This doesn’t even come close! Multiply exponentially…)  Pixabay photo by ekamelev 

In “This Old Man,”

several types of images recur, from rainbows formed by the Fountain of Saint Gabriel to iridescent wings and birdsong, and most vividly, a lizard who makes three appearances, always right before (spoiler deleted).
“A lizard is a symbol of transformation (among other things),” Brian messaged me after I mentioned my fascination with the lizard. “If a lizard’s tail is cut off—” (more spoilers deleted). “Now I don’t expect readers to ‘get that’ but I enjoy putting clues into stories!”
That, he does, and that’s the secret to keeping cerebral fiction fun, fun, fun. Sam Bellotto Jr loves finding humor in science fiction, and Brian Biswas is a reliable source.


reading this, take note. Brian emailed me:

“I’ve been getting rejections for 40 yearsI’m used to them. They come with the territory!
My first was from The Paris Review—when I was 20 … it was for The Bridge, which George Plimpton called Hawthornesque, but not long enough for them to print. I see it as an introduction to the magical realism stories that follow in the book!

Don’t you love hearing from authors firsthand? I do!
And don’t you hate knowing you haven’t figured out what really happened, so you need the author to explain? (No? Well, lucky you! You’re sharper than I am.)
This is not a spoiler, I swear. And I needed to know this:

Oh–and rest assured!–the narrator of the Bridge doesn’t drown (the story is told in the first person, so he must survive to tell the tale).

If someone appears to be dead, even beyond all doubt, I’m the one who keeps hoping the character will appear in a future chapter with an explanation of what really happened. (Novelist Rick Bylina probably winces and cringes every time he hears the name Phil, thanks to me and my insistence that not all is as it appears to be.)
By the way, Mr. Biswas, first-person narration is no guarantee that our protagonist will survive to the end of the story. Darn those sneaky authors, these days!

Brian is sneaky, but in a good way. E.g.,

In fact, if you read closely, you’ll see that the narrator is the same as the narrator of the next story–A Betrayal. The second story could almost be seen as a continuation of the first. Our narrator is on a journey in both, but in A Betrayal he has entered “some other province, some other land …”


Reading “Betrayal” made me look up irrealism – The belief that phenomenalism and physicalism are alternative “world-versions,” both useful in some circumstances, but neither capable of fully capturing the other.
Also, an estrangement from our generally accepted sense of reality.
Well, that makes it all the more challenging for the reader–and fun!–especially for readers who love puzzles.
And what else is fun? Following an author on Twitter!


“Irreal fiction challenges readers by representing the world, not in terms of an exact mimetic representation of what we see every day but in a way that undermines our very sense of what is real.”  

 Magic Realism

“The first half of my anthology is magical realism (this would be the ‘hard to ponder’ stories),” Brian emailed me. “These are Stories I would summarize as ‘many pointers to an unknown meaning.’ Unlike a dream, in which events can be pretty random, a magical realism story is basically realistic—with one or two magical elements. The reader has to determine the story’s meaning. E.g. the doctor’s patient with the unusual illness (or not?) or is it the doctor with the ailment? The narrator of ‘The Bridge’ who sinks slowly into the water’s depths after his failed rescue … And don’t get me started on ‘This Old Man’! The second half of the book is straightforward science fiction, and many of those stories were published in Perihelion. Though even there I try to toss in a magical detail at some point!”

The science in this fiction is accurate,

plausible, and often mind-blowing. I especially love the details in “The Worms of Titan”:

Titan is a dark place,

its surface one-tenth as bright as Earth. The daytime temperature is about ninety-eight kelvins. Titan’s atmosphere is composed primarily of nitrogen (ninety-seven percent) and methane (two percent), with the remainder consisting of trace amounts of noxious elements such as hydrogen cyanide. A forbidding world, certainly, but one teeming with organic compounds, many deep within lakes that cover much of the surface, and which make human exploration difficult. It was a welcome surprise, then, when in the spring of 2186 the first rovers discovered those same compounds near the superstratum of Titan’s rocky regions.

The Titan Life Project,

as it was known on Earth, was the brainchild of Dr. Raul Ravencroft. Raul was….


#gottaloveBrianBiswas!    Find him on Twitter: @BrianBiswas

All nineteen stories are startling, thought-provoking, fun to ponder

and filled with mystery (yes, even “The Lake of Flies”). Human nature never fails to surprise, startle, or shock us, even though we already know we are capable of the diabolical wickedness and angelic altruism.

Not a single lemon in the bunch! Buy with confidence.

A Betrayal and Other Stories is available now, paperback and ebook, from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and–soon–from bookstores everywhere. See Brian’s website for more information (www.brianbiswas.com).
The cover by Australian artist Kim Dingwall is an image from the title story.


I. The Bridge      

II. A Betrayal

III. The Crystal

IV. Tramp

V. In the Garden

VI. The Museum of North African Treasures

VII. This Old Man

VIII. Sedgefield’s Diary

IX. The Strange Story of Saxon’s Hill

X. The Lake of Flies

XI. Solitary Confinement

XII. Love in a High-Tech Age

XIII. The Roses of Charon

XIV. A Journey Through the Wormhole

XV. 2038: A Mars Odyssey

XVI. The Miners of Erin

XVII. Barnegat Inn

XVIII. The Worms of Titan

XIX. Puff

“The Bridge” published in Penny Dreadful (December 1991),” reprinted in Cafe Irreal (May 2006) and Tien Ve (June 2013);

“A Betrayal” published in Penny Dreadful (September 1999), reprinted in Cafe Irreal (February 2000) and the Irreal Anthology (November 2013);

“The Crystal” published in Penny Dreadful (July 2000); “In the Garden” published in Cafe Irreal (February 2010);
“The Museum of North African Treasures” published in Lost Worlds (April 1993);
“This Old Man” published in Skive (June 2011);
“Solitary Confinement” published in Midnight Zoo (January 1992);
“Love in a High-Tech Age” published in Aoife’s Kiss (June 2012);
“A Journey Through the Wormhole” published in Perihelion Science Fiction (June 2013);
“2038: A Mars Odyssey” published in Perihelion Science Fiction (September 2014);
“Barnegat Inn” published in Perihelion Science Fiction (January 2015);
“The Worms of Titan” published in Perihelion Science Fiction (June 2016);
“Puff ” published in Perihelion Science Fiction (February 2017).

Pen-and-ink illustrations complement each of these nineteen stories spanning the literary genres of magical realism, horror, and science fiction.

In the title story, “A Betrayal,” a doctor travels into the countryside to help a young patient, only to deliver a diagnosis with which the girl’s family vehemently disagrees. The peculiar narrator of “Sedgefield’s Diary” recoils in horror when he discovers that the hourly diary he keeps has taken on a life of its own and now threatens his very existence. The bereaved wife in “The Lake of Flies” takes matters into her own hands when she learns the truth surrounding her husband’s death. In “Barnegat Inn,” a strange visitation becomes the background for a poignant recitation on the nature of time. The themes of loss and betrayal between rival siblings are explored in “The Crystal,” a story pulsating with an ethereal, otherworldly quality. And in “A Journey Through the Wormhole,” a decades-old feud between rival scientists threatens to upend a scientific revolution.   Publisher: Rogue Star Press (May 20, 2018)

My 5-star Amazon and Goodreads review is short and terse, in part because I’m awaiting the next issue of Perihelion to go live (September 2018), but you can find the short version here:

 Brian Biswas has published over sixty short stories in the United States as well as internationally.

A11U9raJD0L._UX250_[1].jpg He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is listed in the International Writers and Authors Who’s Who, Marquis Who’s Who, and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Brian writes in a literary style reminiscent of magical realism, irrealism, or fabulism, which attempts to convey a slightly exaggerated but internally consistent sense of reality. He also writes straightforward science fiction, fantasy, and horror (often tinged with fantastic elements).

He was born in Columbus, Ohio, received a B.A. in Philosophy from Antioch College in 
Yellow Springs, Ohio and an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife, Elizabeth, and an ever changing assortment of animals.

And he works full-time for a company that just featured him in their newsletter:


From: “Information Technology Services” <info@…..>
Subject: Monday Morning News June 11, 2018

In May, Brian’s “A Betrayal and Other Stories,” an anthology, was published by Rogue Star Press. It’s available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and bookstores worldwide.

Alice Whittenburg, coeditor of Cafe Irreal, a journal that comes out of Europe, published an in-depth, glowing review June 18, Reading at the Irreal Cafe: A Betrayal and Other Stories by Brian Biswas.

Perihelion Science Fiction book critic Carol Kean also posted raves like the one you are reading right here and now. 🙂

Back to the company newsletter–

Brian tells us more, below:

Is this positive review a big break for you?

Good reviews are so important for selling a book. But short story collections are notoriously poor sellers.

What do you enjoy about writing?

The satisfaction of getting a story out of my head and onto paper.

Describe your writing habits.

I write or edit just about every day. You have to do that. Otherwise, you lose momentum and it can be hard to pick things back up. Ideas flow easier when you work at it every day.

What keeps you motivated?

I can’t not write. Stories just bubble out.

Bubble Ladysource

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