Byline

Here are two articles I got published in 1997, when I used to be a freelancer for The Strip District News and The Southsider (both now defunct).

In 1997, one of my dreams (still is) was to be a paid writer – possibly a freelance reporter. I walked into the offices of the Strip District News and asked if they needed people to contribute articles. They offered me $40/article, which was fine by me. I could write on any topic I chose, as long as it was related to the Strip or the South Side.

Since I’d just moved to Pittsburgh, I took a tour with a new tour group in town, Just Ducky Tours (they are now a Pittsburgh fixture).

JustDucky1

JustDucky2

This following article was published in The Southsider, though the venue was in the Strip District. Thinking about it now, I’m guessing their page layout person must’ve gotten these two stories mixed up, because they are both from September 1997, and the duck tour story is closer to the South Side of Pittsburgh than it is to the Strip.

Though I’d recently left a brief career in music retail to work in manufacturing, I missed having music as part of my everyday life, and I still wanted to find a way to get back into it. The paper allowed me to review bands, and I think they were considering making it a regular column. (I don’t have the article, but one of my favorite experiences was going to see/review Spider Rondinelli and the Jazz Giants. After the show I hung out with Spider for a bit and was invited to something that I will compare to a 1920’s speakeasy: it was an apartment on the second floor of some apartment building, and a giant guy stood outside – the bouncer, I guess. “She’s with us,” said Spider, and I was allowed entry. We stayed there drinking and talking until 4am. But I digress.)

Here’s an article wherein I review The Vibro Kings’ performance at Nick’s Fat City on August 7th, 1997. I have a dim recollection of the evening. It looks like I had fun.

VibroKings1

VibroKings2

I had a handful of other stories that were published, but somehow I didn’t save copies of those, unfortunately. I would’ve liked to have seen what I’d done.

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Thirty Minutes Ago

He took a photograph of Judy and the Empire State Building.

It was the perfect day.

She was finally happy, he was finally done with classes. They wandered around midtown, struck by the percussive wind of speeding taxis, listening to the rubble of conversation and clomping strides, dousing themselves in the saturated hues of signs and clothes against city gray.

He: pointed at windows of music and candy.
She: bent her gaze high at glass and lines, at columns and relief.

Hopes tumbling into each other, they kissed amid flowing rivers of unblinking strangers.

That was five years ago, when she bent down to pick up her phone, and she smiled a smile that rang through him like church bells.

Two years ago that she moved to Montana.

One day ago that he found out about the engagement.

Thirty minutes ago that he took down a box, where he had a photograph of Judy and the Empire State Building.

Ending

This was a flash fiction piece I wrote for the 2014 Stella Kupferberg prize which  – as completely expected – I did not win. The theme was “Things that Happen at Night” and it had to be 750 words or less. It’s a very sad piece, but I learned a lot while writing it.


 

The voices of her friends spun a hollow cloud of murmurs. Wendy’s desire to feign gratitude at supportive intentions was spent.

Hanging up the worn winter coat, she mistakenly glanced in the hallway mirror. Auburn hair stuck together in tiny bales. Dark roots sprouted unkempt. Makeup merely tinted the gray complexion, and could not erase deep circles that gathered beneath dim eyes.

Too many people at the funeral home. They had been bringing food all week. Stews of consolation. Casseroles of comfort. She couldn’t eat, though she was through much of the box wine. She poured herself a glass now, a sturdy cabernet. She kicked her shoes under the kitchen table and slid out a chair. Standing was hardly possible.

The power went out. She sat in the dark. The clouded moon threw light on a small kerosene lamp which stood, mostly decoratively, on her kitchen window sill. It was old and had never been used. She lit it anyway.

The light flickered in indiscriminate drafts. She lost herself in the dancing flame.

Dancing. She remembered dancing. She remembered ponytails spinning in that very kitchen, little feet on hers. Little striped shirts with too-long sleeves, covering small hands that clutched hers. She recalled giggling and jumping. She could almost hear it.

But then there was a fall, and solid objects that did not give way. And fragility. And an ambulance.

The bad memories were in the kitchen tonight. She took her glass in one hand and the lamp in the other, and her feet guided her to Her Room.

Sirens in the background engulfed the regular evening traffic noise. There was likely an accident. With so many sirens, it was probably bad. She set the little lamp down on the white dresser, illuminating a child-sized chair draped with a hand-crocheted blanket. Wendy spread the blanket on the floor and crumpled on it.

Time twisted in long black ribbons, tying together the silence of sirens and the return of hallway light. Half-conscious, she lifted her head off the blanket, and a half moment later, she remembered it all. Eyes focusing, she saw each beautiful, terrible thing. She stood and browsed in muddled numbness. There was a tube-pasta bracelet which had been painted. She slid a piece along the yarn, and remembered. There was a brush stroke; then paint-stained hands; a green smudge on a happy chin. A hair hanging along the face.

She couldn’t hold it any longer; she tossed it onto the middle of the blanket.

She stared at the bracelet’s perfect roundness. But it was completely absent of a wrist to put it on. The wrist was gone.

How could a wrist just be gone?

Abruptly rummaging the dresser, she produced a shirt (the one that was worn for Valentine’s Day) and pants (which were torn, but there was a Very Important Puppy on them). She found some socks that had the little lace bits around the ankles, and boots which were pull-ons, because the zipper boots were too hard sometimes. A pink bonnet which was always for tea parties finished the job, and everything was assembled, exactly right, on the blanket.

Wendy navigated to the foot of the blanket and stood. But then her hands went to her stomach, and then to the blanket. And even though she could inhale her girl, the shirt refused to hug her back. The whole world was rife with denial, so much that it ran through her veins and nested in her heart. It would end her. She would let it.

By allowing the nothing to come, she reasoned, she would produce the together she longed for. And it was possible. All the ingredients were here. She stood up and finished her glass of wine. Taking the kerosene lamp, she settled back onto the blanket. She tossed the lamp’s chimney on the floor and detached the wick. She poured the kerosene along the crocheted blanket, the boots, the pants, the shirt, the hat. She grabbed the edge of the blanket and rolled inside. She lit it.

She wailed. She could not tell which pain was which.

And then, there were sirens again.

Sentence-Level Editing

This post about the writing process is part of a “blog tour”. Check out the original post at https://dailyceil.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/sentence-level-editing-2/.

Daily Ceil

I’ve been writing dark flash fiction since 2011, when I entered a piece in a local contest and won it.

It was a totally unexpected honor, and I might have been addicted to the flash fiction format and light-horror genre combination just for that. But as part of the contest, I had the opportunity to read my piece at a Halloween event sponsored by the writing group.

About 20 people showed up at Historic Hannastown, where we gathered in one of the preserved log cabins from the late 18th century. It was a wonderful setting, and in the fall – with dank air and musty, wet autumn leaves – it was perfect for scary stories.

As the piece I was reading reached its climax, a woman in the audience gasped. I’ll never forget that. It’s so powerful when you can reach a person on an emotional level that’s so evocative…

View original post 1,110 more words

Mrs. Welford’s Candy

This is the flash fiction piece that took 3rd place in Ligonier Valley Writers’ 2013 Halloween Competition. It had to be about cats, bats, and/or rats, and less than 1K words.

Mrs. Welford’s Candy

Ghost and witch shadows skipped down Chestnut Avenue, saving Mrs. Welford’s dandelion-trimmed house for last. Lacey windows inhabited by glowing pumpkins and wavering electric candle flames seemed to strike perfectly at the heart of traipsing children on this night.

Of course, the plump, soft-voiced denizen was well-known for Christmas cookies and baskets of summer produce from her extensive greenhouse. Fresh flowers could be had for free from the basket nailed to her front door, and dried arrangements were available in the winter, for only the asking.

But her masterpiece, her true talent, was found annually during Halloween festivities.

Mrs. Welford’s candy was the most sought-after. It never got traded. It never got lost. It never was forgotten.

Eaten first among the chocolate rolls and fruit chews, before the tarts and certainly ahead of the lollipops, were Mrs. Welford’s candied stripes.

They were a faintly licorice-tasting chew. Usually found in rainbow colors (though Teddy from Statesir Place liked the red ones best, swearing they had magical properties that rendered other candy tasteless for forty-three minutes), they glistened in granulated sugar, and had a sweet, nutty, fruity, salty flavor that was difficult to place, though it was unmistakably itself. They had been a tradition in the neighborhood for a generation, and newly-welcomed neighbors were regaled with stories from past tussles over the treats.

Steven sat in his car nearby the tired, pink house, and watched goblins and superheroes bound over weedy sidewalk crevices and up the fragile porch stairs. Small hands proferring bags were met with approval, and both parties would separate with sublime enchantment.

A stillness in activity permitted Steven to pursue his end: he meant to get the truth from Mrs. Welford.

A bewildered Mrs. Welford answered the door. Steven began, “Mrs. Welford, I’m…”

“You’re little Stevie from Richard Terrace!” she disarmed him. “I can’t believe how big you’ve gotten! You’re going to medical school, right?”

“Yes, and that’s part of the reason…”

“How are your parents? They’re lovely people.”

“They’re fine…”

“Oh, I’m so glad to hear it. And Ronnie?”

“Well, that’s kind of why I’m here.”

“Oh? Is he ok?”

“Fine, fine…may I come in?” It was a question he’d had poised for a while.

“Well, Of course.” She opened her door wide, revealing her living room, gold-carpeted with a wood-accent fruit-patterned woven couch and a well-used orange recliner. A cat was settled on the recliner seat, and another took residence by the hearth.

Once he’d cleared the threshold, he realized she was taller than he’d thought. The perspective of the porch had hidden her now-apparent height.

“Well, I guess I’ll just come right out. Mrs. Welford, I was a little curious about your treats these years, and I’d gotten one off of Ronnie…”

“Trying to find my secret recipe, eh?” Her bemused smile was slightly tweaked.

He looked at the woman he trusted and, betraying shame, striking his leg, he aspirated, “I had to know. I analyzed it.”

She melted into her motherly self, and dislodged a sorrowful, “Someone would, evenutally.”

“It’s rat, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” he demanded.

“I…I don’t leave this house. I don’t ever leave here. I can’t. The neighbors love me, though. They love my cookies. They love my flowers. And I feel connected. But one Halloween, I had so many rats. They were everywhere. And they ate my plants. They ate everything. I had nothing for the children. So…”

Staring at the cats, Steven realized they weren’t pets. They were guardians. They were the strays of the town who’d found their way to the one woman who needed them.

“But…you can’t keep doing this. You can’t feed people rats.”

“Oh, but I cook them. I dry them. They’re flavored and candied! There’s a process…”

“Mrs. Welford. You have to stop. You have to give them something else.”

“But they love me for THIS.”

“They’ll love you anyway.”

“No.” she whispered. Steven, distracted by the rare consideration of his surroundings, didn’t realize that Mrs. Welford had spied the shovel by the fireplace. A quick step and a swift swing had Steven on the floor.

The doorbell rang though, giving Mrs. Welford just a moment to throw a blanket over Steven and check her hair in the hallway mirror. Good enough, she concluded.

“Trick or treat!” they called, and she smiled back. As she deposited her treats, she thought of the intelligent neighborhood boy with kindness, though he was also bleeding to death on her rug. She considered him and thought perhaps – just perhaps – she would change her recipe after all.

In Ashes

This work of flash fiction was published on The Magnificent Nose on September 15, 2012, as part of their second Flash Fiction Week. The theme of the week was “Lack of Communication”. I was privileged to have my customary Friday spot.

Leslie Gray, a stout burn unit nurse, peered through her reading glasses at a business card, then up at the thin, young man, then back to the business card which revealed the various modes of communication for one James E. Silas, Esquire.

“Well, you can go in, but don’t expect much.” Fluorescent lights reflected off the bright counter surface and onto Ms. Gray’s glasses, making it difficult to see her eyes. “Old Mrs. Long hasn’t said a word since the fire three weeks ago. Took her husband, you know.”
(more…)

Ten Years

This article is an epilogue to a series discussing the ten-year anniversary of 9/11.


My story of 9/11 is much like many other peoples’: another story of people at work, punched in the stomach by horrible intent, scared but finding solidarity among their friends and colleagues.

But this story is one of separation. (more…)