Category Archives: Featured

The Inspiration Killers: A Story about Monsters that Prey on Creativity

Most of the symbols on the crime map were self explanatory. The blue men’s room signs with guns represented armed robberies, green cars were thefts of motor vehicles, baby blue houses were residential burglaries, red fists were aggravated assaults, purple R’s were sexual assaults, and green dollar bags represented thefts of businesses.

The symbol for what happened to me was black. The image was a floating phantom with a pointed head, winglike robes, and a curved trail for legs.

This phantom symbol covered the map around the liberal arts schools, the downtown design firms, and the bohemian blocks in Uptown.

Zoom into the map and you’d see phantom symbols across the street from the bookstore that hosted poetry readings, on the bus stop outside of the improv comedy club, and the lot behind First Avenue, the concert venue.

If you scanned a crime map of Texas you’d find the greatest concentration of phantoms were in Austin. In Oregon they were in Portland, and in Minnesota they were in Minneapolis. That’s where one got me.  Continue reading The Inspiration Killers: A Story about Monsters that Prey on Creativity

Silver Tongued Devil: A Portrait of a Terrible Person

I was in such a hurry that I parallel parked diagonally: one tire on the curb, the other out into the lane. I didn’t mean to box in the car behind me, but I was running late and its windshield was so shattered it was no longer roadworthy.

On my way toward the church I noticed the neighborhood was in state of transition. There were Christmas wreaths, Easter egg shards, and Halloween gargoyles on every other lawn, pink papers nailed to every other door, and the windows were a mix of bars and boards.

I zigzagged down the sidewalk to avoid the dog turds, condoms, and shell casings that lined the way.

A scarecrow of a man stepped into my path. He wore a football jersey with a starter jacket tied around his waist. His hair was a bundle of straw, with a halo of split ends bleached blond by the sun. His face looked like a topographical globe in a vice: the forehead was cracked, the eyes were sunken ravines, and the lips were little mountain ranges.

Before I could check his fingers for something shiny he opened his hand and extended to me. His palm felt like sandpaper. Continue reading Silver Tongued Devil: A Portrait of a Terrible Person

Shop Dropping: A Spooky Story about People Who Put Things on Retail Shelves

I worked in one of the last bookstores in town. Print wasn’t dead, but it was on life support. The neighboring restaurants drew in most of our business. The bulk of our sales were made while customers were waiting to be seated elsewhere.

Parents paged through new releases as their children collected all the trinkets we’d placed at eye level. Millennials turned all the political biographies around, teens stole glimpses at artful nudes, and couples bickered about Playboy’s newfound presence at the checkout counter.

The bad element snuck in with the dinner rush. They couldn’t look me in the eye on their way in, but they looked out for me the further they went. I’d catch them craning their necks over the shelves and ducking back down once I’d made them.

I’d walk by and they’d say, “Browsing.” before I got one word in.

It’s store policy not to accuse anyone of wrongdoing, but there was no such thing as too much costumer service when one of them was around. I made sure these people had a chance to meet everyone that was on staff at the time.

Troublemakers weren’t hard to spot hunched over in their cardigans with their hands in their pajama bottoms. They came from all walks of life, but they’d devolved into gaunt, pale faced ghouls, with cherry red eyes, and plum purple eyelids. Each one stinking of nicotine, body odor, and box wine.

I’d go back to the section they’d been “browsing” in, scan the shelves, and try to find what they’d done. There were always subtle signs. I’d find a stack of front facing hardcovers repositioned with their spines out, a title set atop the row, or a handful of books on the floor.

Troublemakers had to make room for their additions to our inventory. You see they weren’t shoplifting. They were shop dropping. Continue reading Shop Dropping: A Spooky Story about People Who Put Things on Retail Shelves

Help Me Name My New Podcast

Sometime soon I’m starting a short fiction Podcast in the spirit of The Twilight Zone. I have a library of short stories to draw from, a cover art template, and my own theme music. The only thing I’m missing is a name that has survived a week on the refrigerator (this is coincidentally why I don’t have any tattoos either).

Since most good podcast names are taken I figured I’d add my name to the following options (there are benefits to having a last name your ancestors made up on Ellis Island). These are the names I’ve come up with so far. Help me narrow my them down.

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This is my first collection of musical spoken word recordings. Each recording puts a satirical slant on self improvement, self medicating heartbreak with humor, and dropping the mic on depression. The recordings are scored with synth melodies, backing beats, and radio drama sound FX.

#Unblessed: A Scary Story Told 140 Characters At a Time

The following Tweets were posted between 3:05 and 3:20 AM on Friday April 29, 2016. They were geotagged along the bank of the Mississippi in Minneapolis Minnesota, between Central Avenue and the Stone Arch Bridge. Signs of arson were detected in the Pillsbury A-Mill, downed trees were found throughout the Father Hennepin Bluff Park, and strange prints were spotted along the north bank of the river. No bodies were discovered and the legitimacy of the following Tweets is still in question. Continue reading #Unblessed: A Scary Story Told 140 Characters At a Time

Walk Hand and Hand Into Extinction: Stories Inspired By True Detective

My short story Grieving in Reverse is featured in the new book Walk Hand and Hand Into Extinction: Stories Inspired By True Detective.

This paperback is filled with macabre mysteries inspired by the existential themes of the first season of True Detective and the work of gothic literature that inspired it: Robert W. Chambers The King in Yellow.

My contribution to this collection is a modern noir with a dash of cosmic horror. It’s about a private eye who’s hired to look into the apparent suicide of a script reader. He learns the terrifying truth about a screenplay that drives anyone who reads it to madness. I dare you to read it. Continue reading Walk Hand and Hand Into Extinction: Stories Inspired By True Detective

How to Save Your Twitter Profile from the Algorithm

On February 5, Buzzfeed reported that Twitter was doing away with their chronological timeline in favor of an algorithmic one. Users would no longer see tweets as they were posted in real time, but rather in an order the algorithm thought users wanted to see them. Buzzfeed theorized that this would help manage spam links and adjust Twitter’s signal to noise ratio, but users remained skeptical.

Many users feared, myself included, that Twitter was downgrading everyone in order to sell priority placement tweets to power users, just as Facebook had done with status updates on its Fan Pages. Social media services were shifting stanchions onto their free dance floors, relabeling the spaces as their VIP sections. Twitter appeared to be doing the same; gutting the democracy of the service to benefit a monopoly held by power users, celebrities, and advertisers.

We feared that the algorithm would put an end to Hashtag Revolutions like the Arab Spring or Ferguson Protests, and that breaking news would get buried by Kardashian selfies. Twitter has been championed as the voice of the people. An algorithm would elevate posts based on predictions. It wouldn’t know the value of movements without a point a reference. Continue reading How to Save Your Twitter Profile from the Algorithm

How to Keep Your Writing from Reading like a Bogus Essay Answer

In his book On Bullshit Harry G. Frankfurt wrote, “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.”

Something magical happens when people are called upon to give information they don’t have: rather than admit the limits of their knowledge they give it the old college try. We all know what decisive conclusions sound like. We need not know what we’re talking about to draw them. So we riff to buy ourselves time until we stumble upon a point.

This article is going to explore this phenomenon, identify how it shows up in fiction writing, and what can be done to fix it so that would-be authors can seem like they actually know what they’re doing. Continue reading How to Keep Your Writing from Reading like a Bogus Essay Answer

A Different Kind of Bathroom Bill

DISCLAIMER: Discrimination is ridiculous. Especially when the ability to discriminate hides behind the veil of victimization, like the religious liberty bills that have been proposed throughout the US this year. These bills would give devout shop owners the right to deny service to members of the LGBT community.

The following isn’t simply a parody of this ironic situation, it’s a callback to a prejudice against another segment of the population. They too were discriminated against for religious reasons. They too have a trait that can be found in 1 in 10 members of the population, and they too cannot change the way they are despite efforts to convert them.

The following is written from the perspective of someone with a strong prejudice against them. Continue reading A Different Kind of Bathroom Bill

When Symbolism Goes Wrong

There’s a scene in 2013’s Man of Steel where Clark Kent goes to church seeking guidance from a priest. Aliens combatants, from Kent’s home planet Krypton, are broadcasting a message to draw him out of hiding. He’s torn between stepping forward or remaining in the shadows. The priest stands over Kent, from the aisle, as the Kyrptonian confesses from the pew.

Normally in a scene with two characters speaking the cameras are positioned over the shoulders of the characters to show their point of view. First we see a camera tilted upward to show Kent’s view of the priest (who eventually sits on a railing, but is still looking downward). We should then see a reverse shot from the priest’s perspective looking down on Kent. Instead we see a shot that’s tilted upward, as if the priest was looking at Kent from the floor.

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 12.01.35 PM

Super Jesus
Okay, that’s a little on the nose

Why did director Zack Snyder choose to frame the shot this way? My theory is that he meant to emphasize the stained glass depiction of Christ over Kent’s shoulder, kneeling in prayer, just as Kent is. As far as symbolic references go this one isn’t that subtle.

This weeks article is all about when it’s a good idea to link your story to icons with  deeper meanings, and when they can hurt your story by feeling unearned. I’m going to focus on Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice because they’re filled with examples of heavy handed symbolism.

(Spoilers for Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice follow).

Full Disclosure: I don’t hate either film. There’s a lot to like in both, but this isn’t a review of either movie. It’s an examination of visual shorthand.  Continue reading When Symbolism Goes Wrong