Tuesday, October 30, 2012


You've seen the hashtag: #fridayflash.

For almost every Friday for over two years I--and hundreds of other writers around the world--have posted a story of 1000 words or thereabouts.

But #fridayflash is more than a bunch of stories floating around on the wondrous web. #fridayflash is bootcamp--the pressure always on to present a story every week. And it needs to be good, or you don't get the traffic. On average 60 folks add a story to "The Collector" every Friday. That's a lot of great reading every weekend.

#fridayflash also is community. Behind every story is a real peep. And a good, caring peep at that. We've sent jam and books and money and cards and Halloween stories and Secret Santas to each other. Some of us have met in person. We have cried with each other, and celebrated each other's joys.

So the launch of the second anthology of this collective--BEST OF FRIDAY FLASH II--represents more than excellent words by some of the web's finest writers==> Read the TOC for yourself. I imagine reading BOFF II will feel like sitting around a campfire swapping stories with old friends, and new. I'm honored to find my own small story WHITE included in the collection.

A HUGE thanks to J.M. "Jon" Strother, the Grand-Daddy of this phenomenon, not to mention a fine writer and kind friend. The holidays are around the corner, HINT-HINT.


Monday, October 29, 2012

The Abridged Biography of an American Sniper--Up at SMOKELONG

Very, very pleased to share my story The Abridged Biography of an American Sniper at Smokelong Quarterly. A huge thank you to Christopher Allen, guest editor who chose my story, and the rest of the good folks at Smokelong. And an equally gargantuan thanks to Mark Kerstetter, who illustrated the story with this amazing broken stem of wheat.


Saturday, October 27, 2012


A one-two whammy expected to hit Maryland starting Sunday night and through Tuesday: Hurricane Sandy gets down with the cold front blasting from the Midwest. The Governor has already called a state of emergency in advance of 'Frankenstorm' or, as others call it, the Storm of the Century.

I find it _________ (fill-in-the-blank: amusing, interesting, anxiety-provoking) this storm falls on the two days where I--and my colleagues at the University of Maryland--have so much at stake: our five-year accreditation visit occurs. The accreditation process for Schools of Pharmacy is a multi-year long ordeal, with much internal work and reflection and retreats by faculty, staff, and students. Not to mention the planning and coordination. The site visit team, composed of faculty from all over the country, are expected to arrive in Baltimore Sunday. Maybe.

At the same time, the School is hosting an annual endowed lecture on Tuesday, one in which I have personally invested much time. The guest speaker is local, but he will face the same crummy weather the rest of us face. So.

But really, none of these events concern me personally, as I am slated to head an hour south to the Food and Drug Administration early Monday morning. Two days sequestered in the bowels of the FDA to listen to testimony and evidence--and then vote--regarding the rescheduling of hydrocodone products from Schedule III to Schedule II due to concerns of the pain-killer's abuse and diversion potential.

For a few weeks I have been disappointed in my ability to clone myself into three Lindas. Now, it appears all that worry may be for naught, as I will find myself at none of the above.

MORAL: Don't pet the sweaty stuff, don't sweat the petty stuff. Nothing else matters when Mother Nature gets cranky.

Stay safe, stay dry, and hug the ones you're with. Peace...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

THE PHONE (The Runaway--XIX)

JOSH GENTLY RESTED NIKKO’S HEAD ON THE CUSHION. A phone. He remembered the phone hanging on the kitchen wall. Josh’s feet made wet smacking sounds against the floor, but now he wanted someone to hear him, so he yelled “help” as he ran down the hall.  

But no one yelled back. He turned on lights as he flew by the switches. Bright construction paper cut-outs of cheery Christmas trees and green wreathes and silver chalices covered endless white walls.
In the kitchen, in the space by the door, a fire extinguisher, cherry red. Laughter bubbled up his throat, a laughter that tasted like metal. How the hell had he confused a fire extinguisher with a phone? He scanned the room. There was no phone, no phone he could see, so he rushed back down the hall and rattled door knobs, each one locked. On the last door, a sign: Reverend Gilliam. Of course the minister’s office had a phone, so he turned the knob but the door didn’t budge.

Josh kicked. The door shuddered in its frame. The top half of the door was a plastic window, milky and yellowed. He punched with his fist. The window shattered around him, his knuckles dripped red as he reached past the jagged edges. The inside knob slipped in his hand, warm and slick from blood, and then the door popped open. In the middle of the cluttered desk, a phone. He punched 911. On the second ring, a voice picked up.

“My friend, he’s sick, really, really sick,” Josh said.
“Where are you?” the woman’s voice on the other end said. She sounded calm, content, not at all consumed the way Josh felt.

“In a church,” Josh said, and the panic rose again, he had no idea exactly where he was. “A UU church.”
“UU?” she said.

“Unitarian Universalist.”
“Never heard of that,” she said. “Street?”

“I don’t know,” Josh said. He piled through papers and pamphlets on the desk, hoping one had the address, but all he saw were drafts of what seemed to be sermons, mock-ups of brochures. “Downtown. Near a park. I have no fucking clue.”
“I’m tracing your call now,” she said. “Tell me about your friend.”

“He’s got a fever, really high, and when I shake him he doesn’t respond,” Josh said.

“Uh, not now, not tonight, he might’ve shot up this morning.”

“Is he shaking?” she said. “Having tremors?”

“No. Oh Jesus, hurry.”
“Because of the storm the system is slow. Are you with your friend now?”

“No, he’s in the sanctuary. I’m in an office, it’s where the phone is.”
“Is anyone else with you?” she asked.

“No. We broke in, the weather, we’ve been on the street. Nikko, he’s been sick so long, his arm’s all red, all hot—”
“Arlington and Boylston,” she said. “I’m sending the ambulance now. Now listen to me, this is important. I want you to return to your friend. Hold his head to the side, in case he throws up. Don’t let him breathe in his vomit. Okay?”

“Okay,” Josh said, but he didn’t move, just cradled the phone in his hands.
“Go,” she said with an odd gentleness. “Help is coming. I’ll pray for you both.”

The phone clicked. Josh let the bloody phone clatter to the desk. Josh wanted to stay in the office, connected to her, connected to her voice, but he pushed himself up. His feet crunched in the plastic shards in the hall and he started to run, slow at first, blood from his hand spattering the carpet as he ran faster, until he reached the sanctuary.
Nikko curled in fetal position. Josh sat beside him, cross-legged, and cradled Nikko’s head in his hands. Nikko’s breath floated past his wrist, faint and warm.

The chalice glowed from the altar. He wondered if the people who came here believed in God, whether when they lit their candles they prayed for strangers. He hoped so.
Josh slowly rocked Nikko.

“Spirit of life,” Josh sang, a whisper. “Come unto me. Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.”
Nikko moaned. Josh wasn’t sure, but in the dim sanctuary, it looked like Nikko smiled, so he kept singing Nikko’s favorite hymn.

“Wings set me free, spirit of life, come to me.”
Josh stared at the chalice and sung until the words turned husky in his mouth, until they became a prayer of sorts. His throat grew hoarse, but still he sang. The radiator stopped clanging, the draft faded, and Josh stopped, to listen. Silence filled the vast space. Far off, he heard the faint wail of a siren.

ALMOST at the end. Whew. What a ride. And thank you for riding with me. If you're not sure where we are in the journey, read last week's installment of THE RUNAWAY.

Read hard, write harder, live hardest. Peace...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Prose and Prizes and Punch

Pleased as punch to find out Michael Solender and the other fine folks at Full of Crow Press liked my story COCHINOS (MiCrow 7; Summer 2012) enough to nominate this very small fiction for Pushcart Prize.

I love the annual Pushcart Anthology. So much excellent fiction, poetry, essays, many by familiar writers published in familiar journals. The heft of the volume feels good in my hands. I have last year's on the table by my bed--it makes for a good read when I want to read something dependable and short.

I haven't a chance in hell of 'winning'--I am an unknown, and admit it: the Pushcart judges do not smile too often or favorably upon electronic journals. But the persistence of internet journal editors like Michael Solender and Lynn Alexander, who publish provocative prose, poetry, and art, will eventually wear down the old-fashioned walls of the Pushcart Prize. I am humbled to have my story published in Microw, nominated for the Pushcart, and most of all, to be a small part of the electronic movement changing the face of the written word. Peace...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

FEVER (The Runaway--XVIV)

JOSH WALKED TOWARD THE FRONT OF THE SANCTUARY to the door which he knew led to offices and bathrooms and the kitchen; all churches had the same layout.  His boots squeaked against waxed linoleum, so he slowed down, afraid someone might hear him. Josh passed through the fellowship hall. A long table, set already for coffee hour with two silver coffee urns and white porcelain cups balanced on matching saucers, lined the far wall.
Another door led to the kitchen. A streetlight shone through the only window over the sink, muted by swirling snow. Josh cracked the door of the refrigerator. A loaf of bread and an opened bag of individually-wrapped Colby cheese sticks. Josh dropped the cheese and bread into a plastic grocery bag. A percolator and a can of Italian roast stood on the counter by the stove. What he would give for a cup of hot coffee! Later. After he fed Nikko, got him settled.
Back in the sanctuary, Nikko slept on the floor, right arm thrown over his head as if hoping for a pop fly. His coat sleeve had fallen to his elbow. Angry purple welts trailed down his inner arm. Josh touched Nikko’s forehead. The heat scared him. Josh’s mind scattered, to the snow, to the desolate underpass, to Nikko not getting up off the cold, granite step, to the guitar shining in the storefront window and the coffee, the organ, the eddying white, and the night, the day, the whole last month melted into a white blur.

“Wake up.” Josh shook him by the shoulder. He pushed away the damp hair fallen in Nikko’s face. His friend’s eyes looked sunken. Dried blood caked his lower lip. “You need to get up.”

But Nikko lay there, unmoving. Josh picked up his arm and it flopped to the floor with a thud.

“Jesus, Nikko. Get the fuck up.” Josh wrapped his arms under Nikko’s chest and heaved him forward. But Nikko went limp, a dead weight, and slowly slid back to the floor. 

Josh stood. A strong urge to kick Nikko, anything to get him to move, overwhelmed him, and as he battled the urge, it came to him Nikko was dying, he was dying now, and if he didn’t do anything, Nikko would die there, on the floor in a church in a city four hundred miles from home, and it would be all his fault and how would he, Josh, ever live with himself if his best friend died in his care?

Getting closer to the end. I've decided to shorten each installment (last week's was a bruiser to get through), so maybe 3 or 4 smaller posts. Thank you for reading, Josh and Nikko and I appreciate it! Peace...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


What is it with all the canes? At the corner by Lexington Market, me and three men--all three carrying canes. Across the street, two men with canes, another in a wheelchair. In the elevator, one man--with a cane. The VA is three blocks away--are all these men vets? It makes my heart ache.

Crummy day yesterday. Long commute, too much work, all kinds of crises. I got cranky. Then, one of my pharmacy students dropped by. To thank me. For doing my job, which is to teach, to mentor. A total mood adjustment--Thank you KC!

Caught the last hour of the debate. That Candy is somthing else, kind of thought she was running for office herself. None too partial, either; then again, is the mainstream media impartial? Methinks not.

Grooving on yerbe mate. Not as jagged as coffee, yet more punch than tea. Though have been enjoying Earl Grey Vanilla lattes of late.

READING... Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This is a reread, and it is more gorgeous, lush, and heart-breaking than the first time through. A novel in linked stories, this deserves every accolade accorded, including the 2009 National Book Award. Oh, and they're making it into a movie!

WRITING... Gearing up for NaNoWriMo, focusing on getting down the bones of Maryam, the main character in THE MINISTER'S WIFE. November is my annual month to write without the editor, to write from the bones. You doing NaNo?

LISTENING... My son has me revisiting Nirvana. Here, Lithium for your listening pleasure. Kurt Cobain, what a brilliant voice...


Thursday, October 11, 2012


A LOW ROAR, A LOCOMOTIVE, WOKE UP JOSH. Snow blasted through the cardboard box. His teeth clacked in his ears but he was afraid to open his mouth, afraid the snow, the wind would enter and freeze him into ice.

A gust tore the box from them. Josh chased after it, the swirling white pelting his face like barbs, but the box tumbled up the embankment, down the black street. When he returned to the underpass, Nikko swayed on his knees, hugging himself. The others were gone, their fires snuffed by the storm.

“Nikko, we gotta go.”

He pulled Nikko into a standing position. Nikko’s arm hung over his shoulder, a dead weight. They stumbled up the embankment. An eerie hush settled on the street. They passed doorway after doorway, each already filled with bags and blankets. Slush turned Josh’s feet icy wet, then numb. Streetlights illuminated the falling snow and Josh imagined each flake a ghost dancing, a forgotten soul.

He pressed Nikko against a store window to catch his breath. Nikko watched him with sleepy eyes. In the window, surrounded by a stack of yellow pottery bowls, a tarnished flute, rare books, a guitar. A Gibson. Mother-of-pearl inlay twinkled on the fret board.

“Nikko, look.”

Nikko slowly turned. His jacket drooped, exposing the yin-yang symbol tattooed on his left shoulder.

“It looks like my guitar,” Josh said. His lips felt thick when he spoke. “I miss my uncle. I miss playing. He lived here once, went to Berklee College for music.”

Nikko nodded, a single solemn movement. His scarf fluttered to the ground. Falling snow covered it in seconds. “You were brilliant.”

The way he said it in past tense pissed Josh off, made him want to slug Nikko, but instead he bent to pick up the scarf, but his fingers would not bend. He left the scarf and pulled Nikko close. They continued down the street. Snow whipped around them. Josh told him a little further, just a little further, and at the corner, past a black-spiked iron fence that pierced the falling white, they stopped to rest.

“Tired.” Nikko tottered towards the wide stone stairs leading to the building’s entrance. Josh yanked him back, by his bad arm. Nikko yelped.

“Not here, Nikko. You’ll die.”

“Don’t care.”

Nikko slid to the bottom step. Josh’s knees trembled. He dropped beside his friend. Snow slid down his neck, down his back, cold at first but then just wet. Flakes tangled in Nikko’s eye lashes, his hair, the white dusted them like marble statues in the Public Garden, so still, so white, and he closed his eyes, the cold peeled away, and the snow, and the chortle of birds melded into the white hot glaze of summer.

“See him,” Nikko murmured in his ear. “Your uncle. After.”

After. After what? Nikko snuffled through his nose, already asleep. Josh pushed up, certain the storm would swallow him, swallow his friend, and he would be alone.

“Nikko! Get the fuck up!”

Josh kicked him in the side, hard enough to make Nikko swat at him, and that was when Josh saw the sign. Snow covered the front, the bulb from the overhead light smeared snow down the glass but still, he saw the words in proper black: Sunday Services 10 to 11. All are welcome.

He craned his neck to make sure. Snow eddied around the building. The wind ebbed, the church spire shone against the grey night. Josh hurried up the icy steps. Snow cleaved to the heavy red doors. He felt for the handle, found a metal latch and pulled, but the door failed to budge. He pounded against the wood, snow dropping in clumps, until he found the other handle. The door creaked open.

“Oh God, oh sweet God.”

He hurried down the steps.

“Nikko… come on, come on… we’re at a church… just a few more steps.”

He propped Nikko against the railing and squatted before him on the sidewalk. “Get on me, my back… come on.”

Nikko collapsed on him. Josh staggered up. With Nikko on his back, Josh mounted each step with a grunt. The wind pushed against them, against the door, but Josh finally wedged it open.

They stumbled onto the stone floor of the foyer. Nikko lay beside him, not moving. Dim light glowed from far away. Josh made out choir robes draped over hangers, hymnals stacked on shelves, a vase of daffodils, yellow petals fluttering in some draft, rare golden birds or, perhaps, angels, ready to float through the ceiling, the swirling snow, to some warmer, safer place.

All Josh wanted was to sleep on that stone floor, warmer and softer than anything he had laid on in many weeks. Just for a few minutes. But he forced himself up. Light filtered through a glass door. Illuminated stained glass windows lined the sanctuary, casting the vast room in hues of gold and red and blue. Rows of pews led to the pulpit, a hulking shadow. A single yellow beam of light pinpointed a silver chalice perched on the altar.

“Guess what Nikko? We’re in a goddamn UU church!”

Nikko did not move.

“Come on, get up.”

Josh leaned over and pulled him to a sitting position. Nikko’s head wobbled on his neck. Melted snow streaked down his red cheeks, making him look as though he was crying.

“Okay. Okay then.”

Josh laid his friend back on the floor. He propped open the glass door with his backpack and pulled Nikko by the ankles. Nikko groaned when they crossed the threshold, where the stone foyer ended and the carpeted sanctuary began.

Josh managed to pull Nikko onto all fours. Nikko swayed on his hands and knees.

“Crawl,” Josh said “Pretend you’re a dog. A baby. Like this.”

Nikko raised his head, his eyes like coal. Sweat or melted snow dripped down his forehead. He placed one hand out, then the other. His knees followed.

“Good,” Josh said. “This way.”

Nikko crawled after Josh. At the end of the aisle, Josh turned back. Nikko huddled on the floor, curled into fetal position. Josh pulled him up, holding Nikko under his arms, then pushed with his shoulder. The carpet crushed under their hands and knees. They crab-walked together across the back of the sanctuary and down the side aisle where it was darker. Josh dragged Nikko into a box pew hidden behind one of the columns. He placed a cushion under Nikko’s head and in the shadow it seemed as if Nikko rested on a pillow of forest moss.

“Sleep,” Josh said. “I’ll find food.”

Nikko shuddered once. Josh tucked his coat around his friend’s shoulders. The door to the pew clicked behind him. Gold pipes gleamed from the balcony, rising through the dark like a lost city. Josh had always wanted to play a real organ, one with pipes and pedal stops, not the crappy electronic keyboard at church. He imagined the power of the low D, how the windows would rattle when he banged out Kashmir. Josh’s face felt tight and unfamiliar; it seemed forever since he had smiled.


Two more installments until the end. You do want to know how this story ends, don't you? Thank you, as always, for reading my words. Peace...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wednesday Wonderings

Why doesn't Legolas ever run out of arrows in LOTR, the movie?

There's a lot of spit on the sidewalks. Glossy gobs of it. Have you ever noticed?

Why do kids spend an hour kvetching about homework that takes 20 minutes to do?

Socks. Where DO they disappear to?

Lots to feel grateful for: the sun shines (at last); my friend M is kicking her cancer to never-never land; a friend illustrated a story and his work made me cry, it is so perfect (you'll see soon); my crazy day job is a job; busy-ness is much better than the alternative; and look, my poem, on page 160 of the 2013 POET'S MARKET.

What are you wondering?

Thursday, October 04, 2012


BY THE TIME JOSH RETURNED TO THE UNDERPASS, pinpricks of light from flashlights and matches pocked the night. Voices of those living under the highway ebbed to a murmur; his mother’s voice had the same tenor, the same pitch. Josh crawled into the box. The blanket felt wet, as if mud had oozed through the cardboard. Nikko slept.

“I got us some food.” Josh pulled out the cookies and crumpled sandwich and arranged them on a smoothed-out napkin as if they were treasures.

Nikko moaned. His eyes fluttered open. Josh couldn’t remember the last time he saw the green of his friend’s eyes. Nikko winced when Josh touched his left arm.

“Eat,” Josh said.

Nikko reached for the cracker closest to him but his hand fell short. Josh picked up the cracker, placed it between Nikko’s lips. Nikko’s tongue worked, his throat contracted. Josh thought of Nikko as a little bird, getting small pieces fed to him by the mother robin.

After Nikko had eaten almost half the meager amount and curled back on his side, Josh ate. His throat caught on every bite and he could only imagine how hard it was for his friend to swallow. Josh considered asking the other homeless men for water, for anything to drink, but they had not trusted them, at least not Josh. He was not sure what arrangements Nikko made when he scouted for food and money. Nikko might not have had trouble trading his body for food or booze or drugs, but Josh would die first.

He patted together a nest from bags and the ragged blanket. Nikko’s breath trembled above him, a dusty cloud. He strapped on his backpack containing everything he had of value, which was not much, and zipped his jacket up to his throat. Josh curled tight around Nikko, an apostrophe. His friend’s heart slowly banged through his back and reverberated against Josh’s chest. It calmed Josh. He didn’t know what he would do if that heart never beat, he thought he might die without his friend, and Josh kissed the back of Nikko’s neck. This surprised Josh, for he had never kissed Nikko, even though they had slept most nights for the past weeks wrapped around each other.

A breeze blew through the open end of the box. Nikko shivered, and Josh pulled him closer. Nikko threw heat like a woodstove but still, Nikko shivered. He trembled until the full moon shone, a spotlight, and then, when Nikko grew still, Joshua slept.

Heading into the home stretch. To read last week's installment, head ==> HERE.

Very cool--this is my 600th post on this wee blog. And I passed my 5 year anniversary in August and did not even notice. Hmmmm... I feel  a party brewing. As always, I thank you for reading. Peace...

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Hump Day Happiness

ONE: JMWW is LIVE! A fabulous poetry-packed edition, with amazing stories by Damon Barta, Gay Degani, Matt Robinson, Michelle Myers, and Alex Pruteanu to satisfy prose lovers. Not sure what to read next? Check out the oodles of book reviews.

TWO: The grant proposal is almost. almost. finished. Cannot wait until I can breathe. Tonight, some w(h)ine time with friends.

THREE: Painful workshops can be beneficial--they innoculate you against agent and publisher rejections. But how to separate the wheat from the chaff? More on this later...


Monday, October 01, 2012

Failure is the Key to Success

So says Jonathan Evison, author of one of my favorite books, ALL ABOUT LULU (Softskull, 2008), a quirky coming-of-age-love-story which I reviewed two years ago HERE.

He should know--Lulu, his "debut" novel, was his ninth book. The first eight didn't make it out the drawer. But since Lulu made her entrance four years ago, he's been a writing machine, publishing WEST OF HERE (Algonquin, 2011), a sweeping tale with over 40 characters, and THE REVISED FUNDAMENTALS of CAREGIVING (Algonquin, 2012). At least two more are clearing the pipeline. He noted he's "always working', usually on three projects at a time.

I had the pleasure of hearing Jonathan speak at the Baltimore Book Festival, a weekend of all things, well, books. Across the street, a jazz band tooted foot-tapping music at Centerstage's theater festival, but even above the trumpets' wails, Jonathan kept me rapt. He talked about how family history and grief shape his writing, and place and environment. He spoke of persistence in writing what he is called to write, and not focusing on publication, fame, and reward. Perhaps he did not realize it while speaking, but his words encouraged the writers in the audience looking to tell honest stories.

Jonathan is a gracious writer. He took time to speak with my daughter Lea, and even pose for a picture. Lea was curious--why did he always wear his hat? And while he did not answer the question directly--it turns out the hat was his grandfather's, a "cheap" hat meant to be crushed and shoved in pockets that has withstood over fifty years of use--perhaps he did. Because like that hat, Jonathan Evison's stories are timeless and sturdy.

Twenty pages into REVISED FUNDAMENTALS, I am hooked. No surprise there. More later this month with a review. Peace...