During these crazy times we find ourselves in, I have decided to make a few of my short stories available for Free Download. With so many of us stuck at home for the time being, I thought what better way to pass some of the time, what better way to get our minds off the news, if only for a few minutes. So . . . why not set yourself up with your beverage of choice, download any or all of the stories, and escape reality for a little while. Over the next few days I will have about six or seven stories, as well as the first three chapters of my upcoming police thriller, Mercy Street.
The current Stay-at-home order in California is effective through April 19, so this page, and all of the stories will be available at least until then. I will keep everyone posted via Facebook and this page as to the date this page will come down.
So spread the word and sit back and enjoy!
Song of Sangatte
This story is a contest story that I wrote for a timed deadline competition called NYC Midnight. We were given a genre: Romance and two other elements: a refugee and a ghost town. Then we were given only so many days to write the story.
I had never written a romance before, and I struggled for most of the time we had allotted, trying to come up with the story. It was important to me that the story not feel contrived. Once I finally had a main character, and she started talking to me, the rest of the story began to develop. I have to admit, of all the stories I have written over the years, this is one of my favorites.
Missa Pro Defunctis
This is another NYC Midnight contest story. This one was a Flash Fiction Competition (stories under 1000 words). The genre for this story was comedy. I had never written a comedy before, either, so this was extremely difficult for me. The requirements of the story were as follows: comedy; rooftop pub; paint roller.
As is often the case for me, the idea wasn't coming right away. Then, much to my surprise, the characters started talking to each other, and later to me. By the time I had the full-blown idea, I had barely twenty-four hours to write it.
If it makes you laugh, let me know. Because I had a great time writing it.
Meet Patrick Billiard . . . The Rose Killer.
Imagine you're mother asks you to take her to visit the serial killer in prison, whose last of six known victims was your own sister? Why does she want to go? She wants answers; she needs answers.
I received an Honorable Mention for this story from Writer's Digest Magazine, in their annual fiction competition that draws tens of thousands of entries every year.
The brilliant author Donna Tartt once said, "Death to an artist is to become a connoisseur of one's own work." I absolutely agree with that statement. It's hard for a creative person to pull back and be critical of his or her own work, but that's exactly what we need to do if we don't want to create garbage. There are times when it's hard to accept that something's not quite right with a story, that something needs to change or something needs to go.
With Moonlight, I got halfway through the story before I realized that it just wasn't working. The characters were flat, the story was less than interesting. So I tossed the story aside and gave myself some distance from it. Then I the story started to come to me.
I was driving to work and listening to a new recording by Grace Vanderwaal, winner of Season 11 of America's Got Talent. The song was "Moonlight." It's an amazing song she wrote about a family member. I repeated the song as many times as I could before I got to work. Then, for the next few hours, Grace Harvey, one of the main characters from my story, started telling me about her life, and the losses she had endured. When I got home that day, I went straight to my desk and wrote the first draft of the new story. When I was in tears by the end, I knew I had a better story this time.
The character, Grace Harvey, was named after Grace Vanderwaal and Mandy Harvey. Mandy Harvey, a singer/songwriter/musician who is completely deaf, performed in Season 12 of AGT. She played an original tune she wrote called Try. Watch Mandy's performance here.
Another Flash-Fiction contest story. The parameters for this one: ghost story; jar of jam; sea port. I was stumped with this one. I honestly thought I wasn't going to be able to complete the assignment. But then . . .
Ghost stories have always been favorites of mine. In fact, some of the creepiest stories I've ever read have been ghost stories. And having seen an actual ghost, I'm somewhat of a believer.
Something that's really important to me when I'm working on a story is that the elements of the story cannot feel contrived. If they do, I'm not happy. And if I'm not happy, the reader will feel it in the story. So in these situations, I either toss the story or I figure out a way to make it work and feel organic. In the case of Second-Hand, it was the need to incorporate the jar of jam. I mean, seriously, how the hell do you work a jar of jam into a ghost story and not make it feel stupid and out of place?
Once I worked this out to my satisfaction, the rest of the story flowed easily.
This story took a long time to be completed. I started it several years before I completed it. I had the gist of the story, I knew who the main character was. I liked him a lot. And I got about halfway through it and it started to stall out on me. I wasn't sure why, because it was a story I wanted to tell. And, as I said, I liked (actually loved) my main character. I thought he was a great character, a person I would enjoy having as a friend had he been a real person.
The original title of this story was Idiot Savant. It wasn't until years after starting it that I realized it was the title that was blocking me with it. Once a writer friend suggested the new title (it was there all along, I was just stubbornly trying to force my original title) the wall came crumbling down and I finished the story a few days later. Most of what I had already written was either discarded or significantly edited in the process of finishing and polishing the story.
I hope you enjoy meeting Stephen as much as I did.
The Best Laid Plans
Here is a story featuring Oak Hill Police Detective Angela Poole which pre-dates Mercy Street.
I remember how I got the idea for this story. I was at a park reading, when I observed a homeless man. He found part of a discarded newspaper, smoothed it out, then placed it into a tattered old briefcase that he carried with him. I remember thinking: I wonder what's in that briefcase? And What are his requirements for document selection. The incident played around in my head for a few days until I had the story, and Carl Hilgard was born.
The names of characters are extremely important to me and my process. If I don't have the right name, I'm blocked. I can't move forward with a story. In the case of Carl Hilgard, his name came easily and seemed to fit immediately. On my desk when I started working on this story was my receipt for a night I spent at Hilgard House, a hotel in Westwood. I used to stay there every year when the LA Times Festival of Books was being held annually on the UCLA campus. Hilgard House had once been a sorority house. The best part about it for me: it was next to the campus, and walking distance from restaurants.
So sit back and let me introduce you to Oak Hill Police Detective Angela Poole, and her co-star in this story, Carl Hilgard.
This is the first story featuring professional killer Chrysanthemum Stone. I immediately fell in love with this character when I created her. Beautiful, intelligent, and deadly. What's not to love?
It started with her name: Chrysanthemum Stone. I remember thinking: this is a really cool name for a character. And then I wanted to know who she was. So I sat down at my computer and typed the title for the story, which was simply her name, and then started to write. Once the first sentence came out, I knew she had killed someone. As I continued to write, I realized she was a professional killer.
A note about the other names. As I mentioned before, names are very important to my process. First and foremost, they need to sound good and fit, otherwise they don't work. And sometimes, when I'm lucky, I come up with a name that works AND is fun or has meaning for me in some way. With this story, I had a little fun with the secondary names.
Michael Gordon was one of my professors at UCSB. I liked him, so don't read anything into that. In fact, I liked him more than others because, like me, he wrote fiction. He was my only Poli Sci professor who was a writer of fiction. Sadly, we lost touch after I graduated, so I don't know what ever happened with his writing.
In this story, Michael Gordon uses an alias: John Ward. This name was actually a combination of two names. John Michael Osbourne, aka Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward, drummer for Black Sabbath.
There are plans for a full-length novel featuring Chrysanthemum Stone in the next couple of years.
Coming Late 2020.
Here is Chapter One of Mercy Street, the first Detective Angela Poole book in what I hope will be a very long series.
I have lived with the characters of this series for many many years now. It has been a long journey to get here. I'm excited to finally be introducing Angela to all of you.
I've often wondered why it has taken me so long to finally get this book finished. And the best answer I could come up with is this: I want this to be the first in a long series. Knowing this, it's extremely important to me to get everything right: names, relationships, histories. Because once this book goes to print, there is no take-backs. I can't suddenly decide, No, I would rather have that character be a man; or This character can't be a creep. What goes on the page now stays on the page for as long as I am able to write books featuring Angela Poole. So for this reason, I think I have been anxious about finishing it.
But in just a few short months, Mercy Street will be available to the world, and I will be at my desk, hard at work taking these characters on a second journey.
So I hope you enjoy this little teaser.