Monday, August 14, 2023

New story "The Caretaker" published today at Cowboy Jamboree Magazine and Press

I have a new story "The Caretaker" published today at my author's page at Cowboy Jamboree Press. And I've said it ten-thousand times but you need to know how much I love Adam Van Winkle, CJ Press publisher and mastermind behind it all. And how much I love my fellow authors at CJ Press. It's simply beautiful to find at this time in my writing life a press so supportive and so interested in publishing great books. I am so lucky and I know it.

Monday, May 29, 2023

A CLUSTER OF LIGHTS - Ten Years in the Making

Between May 2010 and May 2011 my great friend and amazing author Michelle Elvy and the gang published compositions as 52/250 A Year of Flash. My story "A Mountain So Lost" was published there during that time.

It was a terrific undertaking - from the website:

"...176 artists and authors who contributed over 1,500 flashes, poems and art. What began as a simple challenge between two friends (let’s write a story a week for a year) swiftly gained momentum and turned into something exceptional in every way. Our first week began with 17 writers taking on the theme of “Breadfruit” and our year ended with 52 authors inspired by “Threesome.” In the collection below you’ll find 52 weeks of stories and poems, each piece limited in word count to 250 or less.

Not too long ago, I was invited to compose another story for the ten-year anniversary anthology from the press Pure Slush. Ten years. Damn that's crazy. In some ways it feels exactly like ten years (or even more!) have passed and then sometimes it feels like a few months ago. But I was happy to be invited to take part and offered a story called "A Common Creation."

This past month, that anthology was published. A Cluster of Lights collects works from all of us ten years later. It's truly ingenious, just as the original idea was a decade ago. 

Go get the anthology and please do enjoy!

Friday, April 21, 2023

Short story published in the anthology Travelin' Thru Townes

Cowboy Jamboree just published a Townes Van Zandt-themed anthology. Here's who TVZ was.

I story of mine called "Marie" was included in the anthology, the title of which was taken from the name of one of my favorite Townes songs.

Townes in cool repose.

It has a ton of fantastic compositions, including work from William Taylor Jr., Brian Beatty, Clem Flowers, Margaret Sefton, Anthony Lawrence, Joe Kille, Kent Rose, Barbara Byar, Burke de Boer, Teddy Griffith, Vincent Cellucci, David Mihalyov, Karl Koweski, John Yohe, Mark Rogers, Charles March, and Colin Brightwell.

Cowboy Jamboree Press's editorial staff Adam Van Winkle, Constance Beitzel, and Kassie Bohannon are to be thanked beyond thanks for the hard work and vision to put together a collection like this.

Go get a copy. It's well worth a few bucks.


So I tried a workshop. It didn't work out as well as I would have liked. Life is like that, though. I'm of an age now that little failures mean less. And I'll try again. And it might work next time. For now, though, Yonder Writers Workshop is in a vague place where it can't connect with anyone or anything. 

Like I said, no worries. 

But by god I've been writing and posting here for 14 years. I can go back to posts I made in 2009 and see what the hell I was doing and thinking when I only had a few short stories published, a couple of which don't exist anymore, in the vague place, too, I suppose.

It's funny because I'm still sitting here with this same interface (colors schemes are the same, tool bar, the strange white "b" in the middle of an orange square in the upper left corner) indeed sitting here with the same interface thinking to myself and writing down the words that come. I still think the voice we hear inside our heads is probably the most amazing thing about us. Not the fact that we can speak those words or write those words but the fact that the words are there at all.


I just finished reading a book about the conscious and it's wiped me a little. Everything is suspect. The world is what I view it as but is that real and should I keep running from snakes when cutting grass? A lot is going on.

Also, I don't think I've posted my author's page at CJ Press here. Here's where you can go read some of my most recent compositions.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Casting Out Into the Dark

So I teach writing. I never thought I would, because I have little to no idea of how I do what I do, be it good writing or bad writing. I just have no idea.

I sit down and write. One sentence comes from nowhere  - 

"The dragon spoke to me and I understood perfectly."

- and I start there. 

I have no idea what is going to happen. Honestly, I have no idea what's even happening when I write the sentence, where it comes from, why I had that thought on my mind to begin with. The entire process is an incredible mystery to me. Always has been.

But anyway, so I teach, and I have no idea if I'm doing any good. I think about it all the time. I teach three or so classes a semester online in the MFA program at Concordia University, St. Paul. I love doing it, I just don't know how much I'm helping the students. I'm a "professor" (I've mentioned many times that I'm just Shel, but it must be a requirement to call us professors) and I'm supposed to have pinpricks of knowledge at the very least to share. Mostly I find myself simply writing in their evaluations that this is good or this could use work, but I have no at all how to break down the process.

There are times the students know more about this breaking down of the process than I do. It's not really all that difficult to do. My process is so haphazard from the outside my suggestions are usually too broad (i.e. make everything you write as memorable as possible). But how does that happen? What are the steps to making the work memorable? Well, my answer is usually, "Remember that the way you see the world will always be entirely unique because no one has had your exact memories. Only you. It doesn't get more original than that."

But what is that teaching them?

I want to tell them to keep their thoughts under constant observation, keep complete concentration. And when something pops up like, "The dragon spoke to me and I understood perfectly," be ready to write that down and start running as hard as they can. Just keep running forward, word after word, and take the risk that what you're writing might not be any good, but it's by god going to come from a magical place, not from an overwrought and overanalyzed prison cell of the heart.

But mostly they only seem to care about grades and due dates and assignment lengths. Though it's possible one of my students might read this post, I have to say that that kind of thing drives me absolutely fucking crazy. I don't want those students thinking about anything except how can I express what's in my heart? Everything else, everything else, is secondary. I won't accept any other way of seeing it. 

Stubborn? Maybe. Idealistic? Maybe. It's possible I'm undermining the structure of our craft, but I doubt I'm doing anything on that level. I want to figure out how to teach passion, ways to set your heart on fire.

It's not asking much, right?

Friday, September 2, 2022

Our Lord and Savior Christian Slater appears today at Cowboy Jamboree...BOOM!

 My friend and publisher Adam Van Winkle published my short story "Our Lord and Savior Christian Slater" today at my author's page there at Cowboy Jamboree Press.

It's a story I've wanted to write for a long time and hadn't felt it yet. I felt it over the past couple months and had a blast writing it. The last third came as a complete surprise to me. It came together quickly.

So please go read "Our Lord and Savior Christian Slater" and comment here and let me know what you think. Thank you!


Sunday, August 7, 2022

"The Good Life" included in Best Small Fictions 2022

 Many thanks to series editor

and guest editor . Gone Lawn editor and BSF 2022 editorial/advisory board members . Read my included story at Gone Lawn #41.

This fucking amazing collection of short stories will be released soon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

An Appreciation of Anthony Neil Smith's SLOWER BEAR

After reading Anthony Neil Smith’s soon-to-be-released new novel Slower Bear, I right away bought his prior novel Slow Bear to get as much as I could of Micah “Slow Bear” Cross. 

A fantastically drawn character can do that to a reader. It is, for me, possibly the biggest test of an author’s talent. I have often called it the Sherlock Effect. Slow Bear stays with me the same way Conan Doyle’s eccentric detective did after the first story of his I read. 

In Slower Bear, Micah Cross takes no time at all continuing headlong toward more violence and a unique sense of chivalry, though unapologetically self-serving at times. He is a former reservation officer with one arm (blown off in the line of duty) and a penchant, if not a preoccupation, if not an outright obsession for a pulpy glass of orange juice. Smith draws the line between likable and unlikable with an incredibly light hand, but Slow Bear’s core goodness stays intact throughout. If not entirely likable, Micah Cross is nothing if not memorable.

And that’s a start. But Smith was clearly not satisfied with only his mastery of character development.

As I read, the book really started in earnest for me when Slow Bear met Abeline, one of numerous women he has picked as possible one-night stands to have a place to sleep. It’s his primary concern. Not the sex. But a warm place to lay his head for a night. With the redheaded Abeline, an older lady who wears a Brooks and Dunn tour t-shirt “that showed her shape” Slow Bear finds more to like than usual.


This was a white woman, sixty-years-old, but sixty now didn’t look like sixty when Slow Bear was a boy. Sixty used to be old. Now, sixty was something else. Sixty could even be pretty, in the right light. Sixty wasn’t front porch rocking material. That night, sixty was horny.



And, for Abeline, when Slow Bear suggests a couple more nights together, her reaction says it      all.


She nuzzled in. ‘Honey, I’m up for more of this if you are. Not like anything in this house is worth stealing. So why don’t you tell me the real reason you’re on the road.’


Though they both are, as my granny said, smitten with each other, they’ve not yet given up their own selfishness or suspicion. So once the two have had their first burst of hard and mutually enjoyable sex, it’s clear that they have a connection, one that will soon be tested in high-stake fashion.

But we have first met Abeline in flashback. In the present, at the beginning of the book, Slow Bear finds himself the temporary guardian of two young girls kidnapped by one Gerardo, a Ukrainian sex-trader, who Slow Bear quickly dispatches early on. The two girls were hell-bound toward a sex trade industry swap, both “brown-skinned, but the older was Latino and the younger Sioux.” As he rescues the two teenagers, the older one lets him know there’s more to the situation and the plot, as they say, thickens. Slow Bear then beats a dead-heat dash back to Abeline’s place, having few other options he can think of at that exact moment.

Neil’s mastery at building characters is then turned next level when Slow Bear arrives and presents her with far more than she ever bargained for from a one-night stand, no matter how enjoyable it might have been.

Once the four of them strike out to find the people responsible, the novel, of course, follows the anticipated path of bloodshed and gunpowder that Smith has formed his reputation on, but these aspects quickly shifted to the background for me as I became truly enthralled with Slow Bear and Abeline’s growing affection for one another. It’s his deft ability to reveal that dynamic when Smith absolutely shines in this novel.

Don’t get me wrong, Slow Bear kicks plenty of ass (as does Abeline, in fact) and ultimately shows the true honor and dignity the reader always knew was there at his core once all is said and done. But those quiet moments in the book when Slow Bear reflects on Abeline in ways that puts his hardened heart on display even as it begins to change and soften are what I found myself most marveling at as a reader.

As this connection strengthens, Smith then expertly draws this abiding affection of Slow Bear’s out into the open. We see a man at the beginning of a real commitment showing grace, hard will, and even happiness in panicked, life-and-death situations, a man who ultimately takes no time whatsoever in making sacrifices for Abeline and the girls.

I went into Slower Bear expecting to read a fine noir novel by a gifted author I respect. I got this in spades. But what I didn’t expect was to come away with a renewed belief in the power of new love to push through even the worst of circumstances, as Abeline’s caring for the girls is also a dynamic we see form right before our very eyes. Smith ultimately offers us a side dish with his crime novel: the formation of an unusual family of four. I’ll take that with my shootouts every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

New story "The Caretaker" published today at Cowboy Jamboree Magazine and Press

I have a new story  "The Caretaker"  published today at my author's page at Cowboy Jamboree Press. And I've said it ten-th...