The Things I Learned From an East Texas Murder Movie

Richard Linklater was captivated by the unfathomable story of Bernie Tiede and Marjorie Nugent laid out by Skip Hollandsworth in the January 1998 issue of TEXAS MONTHLY. What could drive the nicest man in town to murder it's richest widow, especially when it seemed that he benefited so much from their friendship? And how could a town believe so fully in the good of one man that they wanted for him to literally get away with murder?

Huntsville, the small east Texas town where Linklater grew up (and where I've lived for the past several years), was, as he described it, his "official east Texas premiere" of Bernie. I was lucky enough to be one of people packed into the sweltering Old Town Theatre for the screening and Q&A. I'm a life-long fan of Linklater's work, but I also wanted to see how a director who had been so commercially successful with movies like School of Rock and Bad News Bears would handle indie film making. The answer is that he did it comically, lovingly, and honestly.

When asked about the townspeople of Carthage being featured in the movie, Linklater said that he loved working people who weren't really professional actors, but that he wanted to show how an event could involve the whole town and truly effect each person. He shook his head and laughed as he talked about how, to this day, people would still tell their stories about Bernie in line at the local BBQ and each add their tidbit of information that they knew (but couldn't possibly know). The film's depiction of this created a winding and more than fully fleshed out image of these two interesting characters in a Stories from Lake Wobegon kind of way, where it seems like something may not be important, but by the end it's clear that without each unimportant piece of gossip, you wouldn't get the whole story.

An older gentleman sitting behind me asked why he didn't show more of the trial and Linklater talked for a while about how witnessing it was somewhere between a town picnic and a sporting event, but that he didn't want to make a trial movie. He wanted to make a movie about the dysfunctional relationship between Bernie and Marjorie and Carthage - that's where the real story was - this man who could see the good in a cold-hearted woman and a town that could see the good in a murderer. Instead of focusing on the media circus, he found the humanity in the people involved and really respected that, in a small town, everyone is involved.

The message I really came away with was his answer to a question about his expectations for the film. He shrugged and with a slacker's smile said he "didn't really have any expectations" for Bernie, or any of his movies for that matter, but he was just happy that he got to tell the story he wanted to and he had fun making the movie that he envisioned. This might just be the healthiest attitude I've seen about indie artistry. Really good art doesn't happen when you grasp at straws and worry about what people will say. It happens when you do what you love and your respect for your subject is as deep as your respect for your craft.

Bernie is playing now on a limited release basis, but you should definitely see if it's playing near you!

Wrapping Nat'l Short Story Month with Tolstoy: "What Men Live By"

Well, here we are at the end of National Short Story Month. I hope you took a moment to check out the story collections featured in our header carousel this month, including Master and Man, a wonderful story by Leo Tolstoy, published by Harper Perennial and available on Kindle for just $1.99 right now.

We were blown away by our #FlashFiction Finalists, and we'll keep those pages alive here on the blog. Feel free to link back. Thanks again to everyone who submitted, and congrats to Cee Martinez, winner of the Grand Prize, a flashy new Kindle Fire.

Leaving May behind with one of my favorite Tolstoy stories. Here's Part 1. At the bottom, you'll find a link to read the rest at Project Gutenberg.

What Men Live By 
by Leo Tolstoy

A shoemaker named Simon, who had neither house nor land of his own, lived with his wife and children in a peasant's hut, and earned his living by his work. Work was cheap, but bread was dear, and what he earned he spent for food. The man and his wife had but one sheepskin coat between them for winter wear, and even that was torn to tatters, and this was the second year he had been wanting to buy sheep-skins for a new coat. Before winter Simon saved up a little money: a three-rouble note lay hidden in his wife's box, and five roubles and twenty kopeks were owed him by customers in the village.

So one morning he prepared to go to the village to buy the sheep-skins. He put on over his shirt his wife's wadded nankeen jacket, and over that he put his own cloth coat. He took the three-rouble note in his pocket, cut himself a stick to serve as a staff, and started off after breakfast.

"I'll collect the five roubles that are due to me," thought he, "add the three I have got, and that will be enough to buy sheep-skins for the winter coat."

He came to the village and called at a peasant's hut, but the man was not at home. The peasant's wife promised that the money should be paid next week, but she would not pay it herself. Then Simon called on another peasant, but this one swore he had no money, and would only pay twenty kopeks which he owed for a pair of boots Simon had mended. Simon then tried to buy the sheep-skins on credit, but the dealer would not trust him.

"Bring your money," said he, "then you may have your pick of the skins. We know what debt-collecting is like."

So all the business the shoemaker did was to get the twenty kopeks for boots he had mended, and to take a pair of felt boots a peasant gave him to sole with leather.

Simon felt downhearted. He spent the twenty kopeks on vodka, and started homewards without having bought any skins. In the morning he had felt the frost; but now, after drinking the vodka, he felt warm, even without a sheep-skin coat. He trudged along, striking his stick on the frozen earth with one hand, swinging the felt boots with the other, and talking to himself.

End of Part 1. Read the rest on Project Gutenberg.

Happy birthday, Rosie the Riveter!

In 1943, our country needed to see that everyone was capable of more than society had ever let them believe. The same is true in the world of publishing today. As indie authors, we need to be reminded sometimes that we, too, can wield the air hammers and build the bridges.
painting by Norman Rockwell

Did you read your short stories this month? (It's not too late!)

Okay, there's a couple days left of National Short Story Month. Check out the collections in our carousel of story collections above.

“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” 
― Graham GreeneThe End of the Affair

#FREE4Kindle: CRAZY FOR TRYING, a powerful love story about a Vietnam vet

Originally published by MacAdam-Cage, Joni Rodgers' debut novel, Crazy For Trying, is out of the vault and free on Kindle today through Wednesday.

With the ghost of her infamous activist mother over her shoulder, Tulsa Bitters, zaftig, bookish and freshly orphaned, takes a westbound train, determined to reinvent herself. Embattled Vietnam vet, Mac White Wolf MacPeters, half Blackfoot and half raging Irish, hears her voice on the radio late one night, and before he can remind himself that he’ll never fall in love, he does.

Praised for its "love-struck energy and sharp-tongued tenacity," Crazy For Trying was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and short-listed for the Discover Award.

Critical kudos for Crazy For Trying:
“Think Jane Eyre with rock’n’roll.” Houston Press

“A fresh pleasure…Rodgers writes unconventional love scenes that scorch the pages.” Orlando Sentinel

“At her best, her prose is dazzling, risky, and intoxicating, and at its heart, Crazy for Trying is an inspired debut.” Pam Houston, bestselling author of Cowboys Are My Weakness

Recipe for the Perfect #BeachRead (2 Beachy Freebies!)

Stella Link has two hot beach reads FREE on Kindle this weekend! Dangerous Attractions by Gwyneth Atlee and Sugarland by Joni Rodgers.

Every beach read needs to take the reader on a swift adventure, a mini-vacation. It needs to leave them breathless and wanting more, an exhilarating roller-coaster you can ride without leaving the comfortable shade of your umbrella and the slick condensation on your Mai-Tai.

RECIPE FOR THE PERFECT BEACH READ (according to Sugarland's 5*Star Amazon reviews):
1 PART TIME MANAGEMENT: "It was a quick read, I didn't need to think too much so it was a perfect "escape book" for me." - K.Nejdl

2 PARTS EXCITEMENT: "Just could not put it down, turns and twists continued to reveal new facets of loving and living.... I found myself holding my breath...and pounding my fist in the air when justice was served." - B.Sasson

1 PART SPICE:   "Funny, Poignant, Sexy, Exciting, Compassionate, Smart, Scary, Earthy, Heartbreaking, Courageous, Lyrical -- just like life." - A.Burk

POP in your beach bag, and enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!

Perfect #Beachread for Memorial Day Weekend

Andrew Crofts spins the web of a story that takes Maggie de Beer from suburban life to London where she chases after the elusive dream of "making it" in show business. The novel chronicles thirty years of a woman who always sees her big break just in front of her. This is the story of a woman who just wanted to be recognized and loved by the public.

It sweeps the reader in and shows the grittier side of show biz while maintaining a fighting spirit in it's main character.

The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer is a perfect beach read for the holiday weekend while you're out on the beach or by the pool basking in your sunnies and indulging in your celeb-side.

Perfect Beach Read, Sugarland is FREE on Kindle Memorial Day Weekend

What if Psyche and Eros had been Southeast Texas trailer trash? What if the story of two sister-act singers went beyond stage makeup and catch-up calls?

Kit and Kiki grow up as the singing, dancing duo the Sugar Babes, entertaining at county fairs and state penitentiaries across Texas. But adult life out of the spotlight is hardly enough for them. Kit's marriage is sliding away as she finds love elsewhere, while Kiki struggles to keep her marriage together in the face of adversity. Joni Rodgers manages to find the poignant humor in all situations and carries the reader along through a tornado of love, loss, humor, courage and passion - setting them down on the other side of an afternoon wishing there were a sequel to read tomorrow.

And our #FlashFiction winner is..."Little Wooden Hands"

Congratulations to the winner of our 1st Annual Stella Link #FlashFiction Contest: "Little Wooden Hands" by Cee Martinez!

All our finalists received a web badge and a copy of First You Write: The Worst Way to Become an Almost Famous Author and the Best Advice I Got While Doing It. Our Grand Prize winner will receive a Kindle Fire from Stella Link via

A note from final judge, Stella Link founder Joni Rodgers:
This was a tough decision! Dan Holloway sifted through 60+ submissions (almost all of which were good, many of which were excellent, at least 10 of which were really outstanding) to select our five finalists.

I asked for input from our Extraordinaries, posted a poll so readers could comment and vote for their faves and created an algorithm including a variety of technical and creative factors from number of typos to narrative voice.

If we'd awarded the prize based on popular vote, "Dumpster Dive" would have won it, barely edging out close popular vote second place "Sweat and Tears." For pure creative daring, I'd have given the prize to "Security Guard," and for visual impact, "Crocodile Tears."

Ultimately, with the highest cumulative scores in both technical skill (by far the least copy edit errors) and creative voice (we fell for that winsome Hans Christian Anderson feel), "Little Wooden Hands" is our Grand Prize winner.

Congratulations, Cee! Enjoy your new Kindle Fire!

Follow the Extraordinary Authors on Twitter

Follow the extraordinary authors in their personal journeys to elevate the knowledge of literature and generally take over the world in 140 characters or less! Can they do it? You'll never know until you follow them...

Andrew Crofts @AndrewCrofts
Mylène Dressler @MyleneDressler
Melissa Foster @Melissa_Foster
Dan Holloway @agnieszkasshoes
John A.A. Logan @JohnAALogan
Kelly McClymer @KelyMcClymer
Roz Morris @ByRozMorris or @dirtywhitecandy
Vanessa Fox O'Laughlin @writing_ie or @inkwellHQ
Susanne O'Leary @susl
Neal Pollack @nealpollack
Dawn Raffel @DawnRaffel
Ingrid Ricks @IngridRicks
Joni Rodgers @JoniRodgers
Orna Ross @IndieAuthorALLI or @OrnaRoss
Sharon Sala @SharonSala1
Barbara Taylor Sissel @barbarasissel
Travis Sentell @travissentell
Sarah Stonich @sarahstonich
Colleen Thompson @Coll_Thompson
Joanna Weiss @JoannaWeiss
Adrian White @lynskeybooks
Jeff Bennington  @TweetTheBook
Dwight Okita @dwightokita
Consuelo Roland @consueloroland
Margo Berdeshevsky @berdeshevsky

Ingrid Ricks shares the story behind the stories in WE ARE ABSOLUTELY NOT OKAY

A highlight of National Short Story Month: This week, Ingrid Ricks launches an extraordinary project, We Are Absolutely Not Okay: Fourteen Stories by Teenagers Who Are Picking Up the Pieces, a collection of true stories written by teens who've experienced life at its darkest. Through these stories, they embrace their past, seize the future and reach out to let other teens know that they have the power within themselves to survive and even thrive.

The Story Behind the Stories
a note from Ingrid Ricks
Even before publishing my coming-of-age memoir, Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story, I knew I wanted to share my story with at-risk women and teens. I envisioned using it as a tool to help them face down their challenges by finding their voice and claiming their inner power.

I wasn’t sure what form it would take. I just knew that this was the overall message of Hippie Boy, and a message that I was passionate about getting out into the universe. Then, in early December, high school English teacher Marjie Bowker contacted me. She told me that a mutual friend had given her my book to read. Her next words were an early Christmas gift.

Hippie Boy is the book I’ve always wanted for my students,” she said. “Do you want to form an author partnership with my school?”

Neither of us was sure what an author partnership even meant. But we both knew we wanted to figure it out. So on a whim, we started brainstorming and Marjie was soon crafting a curriculum that used Hippie Boy as both a reading and writing guide to help her students claim their power by sharing their own stories in a narrative scene format.

Our month-long curriculum kicked off January 4th. And magic has been happening ever since. Marjie’s students have dealt with the kind of heartache and tragedy that most of us can’t even fathom. They’ve experienced gang life and drug overdoses, and have lost loved ones to prison, murder and suicide. Some have been shuffled from house to house without ever having a safe place to call home. Some have been battered and abused and neglected by those who were supposed to protect them.

Using Hippie Boy and a variety of interactive class discussions and writing exercises as their guide, the students spent the month of January working to bring their own stories to life. On February 1st, we hosted an in-class celebration and all- day reading so the students could share their life scenes. They were so charged up by the power they had found within themselves that nine of them stayed after school for nearly three hours to share their stories with a producer from a local public radio station.

Marjie and I realized that we had hit on something powerful and had to keep going. So we decided to offer an intensive four-day mini-course in April, with the intention of helping those students who were interested and committed to turn their draft life scenes into finished stories and publish them in a group story collection that would carry their powerful words out into the universe.

We Are Absolutely Not Okay is the end result of that intensive mini-course. But we’re convinced it is just the beginning of an incredible life journey for the amazing students involved. Having experienced the enormous validation and healing power of personal storytelling, Marjie and I plan to continue our author/school partnership with the message that through writing and sharing their stories, teens can find their voice and claim their power.

Download a free sample or buy the book on Kindle for just $2.99.

Vote for your favorite #FlashFiction contest finalist!

On Wednesday, one of our Top 5 #FlashFiction contest finalists will win the Grand Prize: a Kindle Fire! Dan Holloway sifted through the entries and narrowed it down, now we'll count your votes and take your comments into consideration as we agonize over the final decision.

"Sweat and Tears" by Diane Simmons
"Security Guard" by John Hudspith
"Crocodile Tears" by Angela Readman
"Dumpster Dive" by Mary Frances Roya
"Little Wooden Hands" by Cee Martinez

Vote via the poll (top right sidebar) and comment. Finalists are encouraged to engage in the continuing conversation.

SHELTER by Sarah Stonich wins Northeast Minnesota Book Award

Congratulations to Extraordinary Author Sarah Stonich, whose memoir Shelter was awarded the NE Minnesota Book Award this week!

Adrift within the modern world, Stonich listens to her late father’s voice as she searches for the perfect parcel of Northern land, a place for a nostalgic cabin to sink down family roots once more. On this land, she sweats, digs, remembers, plans for future grandchildren and dreams of a proper outhouse. Threats to her land and new cabin lead to unexpected lessons and peace.

Click this image to read the free Kindle sample.

Dan Holloway checks in after the first ever Flash Slam

Per Extraordinary Author/poet Dan Holloway:
Oxford celebrated National Flash Fiction in style with its first ever Flash Slam, which showcased this fabulous format with some of the performance and pizzazz of a poetry slam.

Fourteen fabulous writers came from as far afield as Birmingham, Bristol, and Gloucester, and included the likes of Jonathan Pinnock, bestselling author of Mrs Darcy vs the Aliens, and Gloucester poet Laureate candidate Sarah Snell-Pym.

They each performed for four minutes to a packed Albion Beatnik Bookstore, and subjected themselves to the scrutiny of expert judge and our headline reader Tania Hershman, one of the UK’s most celebrated flash fiction writers, who delighted us later in the evening with readings from her book My Mother Was an Upright Piano. They were then scored out of 100 by a panel of judges comprising Paul Askew, poetry slam winner and editor of Ferment Magazine, author of short story collection A Knowing Look, Rebecca Emin, and leading Oxford cultural blogger Ingrina Shieh-Carson. All presided over by yours truly.

The top three performed again in a final that demonstrated perfectly the dazzling diversity of the form. The pieces that got them there couldn’t have been more different. Joe Briggs is a music blogger whose semi-autobiographical pieces have the energy and edge and sense of imminent eruption of those underground punk gigs you heard about but never seemed to go to.

Anna Hobson (above right) is one of the leading figures in the Oxford literary scene, coordinator of poetry (and many other things) at Oxford International Women’s Festival and MC of spoken word at Oxford Pride. Her first round flarf (an alternative form of literature achieved by pasting quotations from the internet into a formal structure) was the highest scoring piece of the night by a long long way and it took the audience several minutes to regain their composure after her exquisitely-crafted and breathtakingly delivered look at the strange world of internet dating.

But the winner, fittingly, was Bristol’s Kevlin Henney (left), an award-winning die hard practitioner of the flash form who married superb storytelling with effortlessly engaging delivery to carry off the spoils.

Thanks for the report, Dan, and thanks again for wading through our #FlashFiction contest submissions. 

Announcing our top 5 #FlashFiction contest finalists!

May is National Short Story Month, and today Flash Fiction gets its day. (Visit the National Flash Fiction Day 2012 website for more info.) We decided to celebrate with the 1st Annual Stella Link #FlashFiction Contest. THANK YOU to everyone who submitted!

Dan Holloway, took on the daunting task of selecting the top 5 entries. Here's what he had to say about the competition:
"I was very impressed with the overall quality of the entries, which made selecting a shortlist of just five very daunting. As I read I found myself dividing the stories into four folders with varying degrees of "yes" and "maybe". In the end what the stories I selected all had in common was the strength and originality of their voice. They weren't necessarily the stories that packed most in, or that delivered the most surprising, or even satisfying, twist, but the ones that achieved two very simple things - to make me care in some way about the world created with their words, and to make me think at some point "I haven't come across that before."

This is the very hardest thing to achieve in flash fiction and what sets great exponents of the form apart. These people are able, with fewer words than most of us use to order coffee, to create something with a dynamic of its own yet with its author's unique stamp upon it. Back when I was reading slush for a literary magazine, it's something I only came across once - at least two of these entries achieved it. It's particularly instructive to think for a moment about the really good stories that didn't quite make the cut.

The commonest areas for improvement could be summed up:
1. Too much emphasis on the punchline/twist. Sometimes the rest of the story can feel as though it's only there for the sake of the last line, making the piece feel more like a joke than a story

2. Coming in too soon and leaving too late - this not only wastes valuable words, it lose our attention before it's been grabbed, or lets it dissipate

3. Clunky dialogue. I was surprised how many otherwise very good stories were let down by dialogue that felt either like exposition or simply overly formal/stilted

4. Overwriting. This stands out more in flash fiction than any other format because by the time your purple passage is done so's your word count

5. Trying to fit too much in - this is more likely than anything else to get in the way of you developing your voice.

A final word on the shortlist before I present it. A fresh take on a well-worn subject is wonderful but very hard to do.Lots of stories that just missed out did so because they were highly skilful and beautifully written but trod familiar territory without making me look at it afresh. Some of the stories that did make it steered away from the familiar. Some didn't, but nonetheless made me see things differently."

Without further ado (in no particular order), the Top 5:
"Sweat and Tears" by Diane Simmons
"Security Guard" by John Hudspith
"Crocodile Tears" by Angela Readman
"Dumpster Dive" by Mary Frances Roya
"Little Wooden Hands" by Cee Martinez
We invite you to read and review in the comment section. In additional to the LeagueXA blog publishing credit and a #FlashFiction Finalist badge for their website, our top 5 will receive a free copy of First You Write: The Worst Way to Become an Almost Famous Author and the Best Advice I Got While Doing It by LeagueXA founder, NYT bestselling author Joni Rodgers.

A panel of three LeagueXA members, including Joni, will be taking your comments into consideration as we agonize over which of our top 5 will be awarded the grand prize, a Kindle Fire. So readers, let us know what you think. Finalists, feel free to respond to comments, contribute backstory or otherwise engage in the continuing conversation.

#FlashFiction Finalist: "Little Wooden Hands" by Cee Martinez

#FlashFiction contest judge Dan Holloway says:"This modern fairytale is very Hans Christian Anderson, and has a feel of timelessness but a quick google assures me it's original - the fact I had to do that speaks volumes for its understated effectiveness. Each story on this shortlist excels on many levels but is an object lesson in one area. This is truly heartbreaking, but what really marks it out is its pacing. There is a rhythm of action, dialogue, development and breathing space that is an object lesson in how to draw the reader through your journey."

Little Wooden Hands
Cee Martinez, Golden, Colorado USA

The glass cabinet was open. “Disloyal little doll,” Peter said.

He found her sitting on the daffodils, a letter opener in her brown hand as she carved on her leg.

"Stop hurting yourself!" He shouted.

"But I'm made of wood, and what wooden thing feels?" She said, and she set the blade down and ran her fingertips over the gouges. Powder pale wood shavings sprinkled onto the grass.

“Let’s go back,” Peter said. “You’re not safe here.”

She disobeyed, however, and gathered flowers in her hands, planting a kiss on each bud.

"It will freeze soon!" he said.

She set the flowers on her lap and tapped her cheek. The tapping made a sound like a bell.

"My face is made of glass,” she said, “ does that freeze?"

So he watched from the window as the frost collected on the chocolate brown hair spilling over her shoulders. When she fell asleep he carried her back inside and settled her in the glass cabinet.

He never goes back into that room now, but sometimes he can hear the frantic tapping against the cabinet door. It does not worry him, however, because we all know little wooden hands cannot break glass.

Our finalists were forwarded to judge Dan Holloway without names or countries of origin and were copied here without edits or corrections. A panel of three members of the League of Extraordinary Authors, including LeagueXA founder Joni Rodgers will select the grand prize winner. We invite your comments. Let us know who you think should win the Kindle Fire! 

#FlashFiction Finalist: "Dumpster Dive" by Mary Frances Roya

#FlashFiction contest judge Dan Holloway says:"The most conventional story on the shortlist, with a structure that's essentially anecdote and humorous twist, this rises above that structure both through the sheer surreal inventiveness of the anecdote and the marvellous voice of the narrator, which is pitch perfect. The dialogue is also superlative, a great example of how to write speech that really counts without a wasted line."

Dumpster Dive
Mary Frances Roya, Houston, Texas, USA

Getting up early on a Saturday morning is the best time of the day especially for dumpster diving. There’s not a lot of traffic and it’s an optimum time for finding prime resale odds and ends. My best friend, Sissy’s birthday is today and finding her the perfect gift has been a bit difficult. Shoot just finding a gift for her is a challenge. Money is tight this year so I’m being imaginative. I feel a surge of excitement. Today is the day I find that extraordinary prize. My first stop is at the ‘Pink Pussy Kat’. I start poking around with my grabber, an extended pole with a squeeze and release trigger for pulling items out of the bins. It must have been a really wild party last night, I didn’t dive far to find booty. Oh my God! I gotta call Sissy now.

“Hey Sissy, you will never guess what I found, while shopping for your Birthday present.”

Sighing knowing that once she starts there’s no stopping her, “Mabel, I don’t like guessing games. Just tell me!”

“Well you know how much I love those dumpsters on 85th Street?”

“Yes, what in the world did you find?” Curiosity fills her voice.

“I am poking around the bins behind that old strip club, the ‘Pink Pussy Kat’?

“Mabel, you’re driving me crazy. Just tell me, ok?”

“Aw, now Sissy, just hold on to your horses. I’m telling you great story. Anyway, like I said before you interrupted me. So here I am poking around in the dumpster and I find the most outrageous pink sparkly shirt that I know you would love.”

“Mabel, finish the damn story!”

“Geez, you are so impatient. Then I saw some red, white and black striped socks, as I reached for them. They moved and right under some torn jeans I found a man!”

“Mabel, you’re shitting me, a man!”

“No, I’m not! He grabs me and kisses me right on the lips and gives me tongue! Sissy tongue! He gave me tongue. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had tongue?”

“Good Lord, Mabel. What did you do?”

“I gave him tongue right back. Then I helped him out of the dumpster and into my car. He is naked as a blue jay except for a cowboy hat and socks. He is a fine looking man. So I had to take a little peek.”

“Mabel, you didn’t do anything stupid!”

“Hush up Sissy, this is my story. Let me tell it my way. So, I get him home and to bed. He says he wants to make mad passionate love to me. So I says sure, can I invite a friend.

Sissy hears a male voice yelling “Oh hell yes!”

“Mabel, is that him?” “Oh yes, it’s him. I figure we have a couple of hours before he’s sober. I’m leaving the door unlocked, you are coming over? “

“Yes, I’ll be there in five.”


“Yes, Mabel?

“Happy Birthday, hon!”

Our finalists were forwarded to judge Dan Holloway without names or countries of origin and were copied here without edits or corrections. A panel of three members of the League of Extraordinary Authors, including LeagueXA founder Joni Rodgers will select the grand prize winner. We invite your comments. Let us know who you think should win the Kindle Fire! 

#FlashFiction Finalist: "Crocodile Tears" by Angela Readman

#FlashFiction contest judge Dan Holloway says: "A modern day fable that has a very simple message about what's on the inside versus what's on the outside, told through a simple metaphor, not just told beautifully. That central metaphor is incredibly powerful and perfectly constructed, and there is not just a tenderness, and a lyricality that sets it apart but an emotional layering that made me keep coming back to it as I read other entries."

Crocodile Tears
Angela Readman (UK)

She needed thicker skin. We both knew it. The one she had didn’t blend into all environments. Sometimes worry bleached her lips. Tarnished with embarrassment, anger, or injustice, her cheeks painted the town red with her mood. It’s no way to get on.

‘I didn’t get the job, again,’ she said, undoing her tie.

She needn’t have told me. It was written on her face in caramel patches of disappointment under her eyes.

‘What was it this time?’ I said. ‘A poster of a cat on a wire over the interviewer’s desk. So cruel; it looked like it could fall any time.’

I pictured the cat in question: a photographed cat, sort of famous and probably dead now, but a cat at one point all the same, I supposed.

‘I wonder if the cat landed on its feet,’ she said.

‘It’s best not think about it,’ I said, ‘You need a tougher hide.’

It was clear getting past an interview would always be a problem. Anyone could see just by looking she would not be that girl who could always do a smiley emoticon in the flesh. On casual Fridays, not even a Stetson or a sheriff badge on her jacket would shield her colleagues from the colours she went when they were rude or crass.

I sat on the arm of chair, took her silvery hand and placed it to my lips. I licked her wrists where the skin was so thin I could see the lonely streams of her veins.

‘It’s not easy,’ she said, ‘I know you’re right. I should...’

I handed her the crocodile cream. She read the sleeve and rubbed it into her face, arms, and legs, anywhere not covered by a shirt or skirt.

‘Everyday,’ I reminded her.

She nodded, her face blank. It was hard to tell if the nod was happy, or the nod of bobble-head, resigned to its state.

Now we both have the cream life is easier. She has a job at the loan office and all day her skin stays the same shade like a plaster over her face. After work I press my lips to her cheek and neither feel it give or give in. It’s tough, resilient. I lift her shirt and press my belly to hers, the two smooth none crocodile parts of us touch, our crocodile hands at our sides. Sometimes her eyes shine, sparkle or well up. I don’t know which. We often see little tears in each others eyes, a side effect of the cream. Sometimes they water like someone waving goodbye to someone getting on an aeroplane, or waiting a gate. Our tears are crocodiles digesting small birds. Our skin is pretty leather, good for all weathers. No ones faces change, our crocodile tears all look exactly the same.

Our finalists were forwarded to judge Dan Holloway without names or countries of origin and were copied here without edits or corrections. A panel of three members of the League of Extraordinary Authors, including LeagueXA founder Joni Rodgers will select the grand prize winner. We invite your comments. Let us know who you think should win the Kindle Fire! 

#FlashFiction Finalist: "Security Guard" by John Hudspith

#FlashFiction contest judge Dan Holloway says:"This is so original and lyrical it would be hard not to shortlist it, which is a clever move by the author. But the insight into the rich, not to say alarming inner life of the guy we pass as we go about our lives without noticing he's there lifts the content to a level with the style. Part Vernon God Little part Taxi Driver yet all its own."

Secutity Guard
John Hudspith (UK)

Press R. Right gate rises. Wave. Smile.

Detritus knuckledust wrongdoings fall crumbs to the floor while billowclouds mustard orange blossom hide too soon and birds ribbon and twine a filigree lime on the scabs to pick and scratch hideous pop-crack stab and burn and joy and all those things wriggle at my feet pecking notoriously openly and grindingly badly as if to say you ain’t got it yet mister not ‘til you’re naked and free and the wolves laugh and the boars bore ‘til sides split gurgle tumble free sweating steaming innards and the losers in and the runners out spastically grin no more debauched defiled reminded yet still no lift no rise to the sky no burning sun to muster the bluster to bang open sloping spirals the maddening hatches of grubwitch ninimoths fluttering blind to the mind-stabbing grind falling hard from grasp-worthless rites and mites bite pins and needles slowing the walk to a backward step hokey and kokey and shaking it chokey shuffling heather bushels at the door telling no more than big eyes and voodoo dolls whispering sweet things and beat things and poking prodding and touching and stroking and breaking the rules and the race and shooting the gun raising the red and waving indignant to eyes all eyes but the few spying lying defying denying not really trying tying surprise helterskeltering scuttlemaps and skitterjigs busying buying and above all crying for the tallying marches through marshes on gloopstills and bangwops singing tuneless and moonless and flightless again upon gain without aim only maim to be slain sane inane unavoidable pain-plucked quill from the bone to the mill yet still.


Press L. Left gate rises. Wave. Smile.

Our finalists were forwarded to judge Dan Holloway without names or countries of origin and were copied here without edits or corrections. A panel of three members of the League of Extraordinary Authors, including LeagueXA founder Joni Rodgers will select the grand prize winner. We invite your comments. Let us know who you think should win the Kindle Fire! 

#FlashFiction Finalist: "Sweat and Tears" by Diane Simmons

#FlashFiction contest judge Dan Holloway says: "I hummed and hahed about this because it's either achingly brilliant or just another well-written piece on a par with a couple of others that didn't quite make it. The key is that 110 metre hurdle race in paragraph one. Now, either the author has just made a slip or it's the only clue to the emotional core of the story, but having spent decades saying judges don't pay enough attention to the minutiae I'm giving the benefit of the doubt and saying it's deliberate which, of course, turns this from a teenage girl's first crush to a teenage boy's heartbreaking suppression of his sexuality in a hostile time and environment, told with both engaging whimsy and deep deep emotion."

Sweat and Tears
Diane Simmons, Bath, England

It is June 1974, inter-schools sports day, Armadale Academy, Scotland. It's hot and I've the whole day off school in exchange for a few seconds effort. I've to run in the 110 metre hurdles and the 100 metre running race and then rest of the day is mine to lie around. My pals and I make the most of this freedom, spending the morning sunbathing, our pale legs pink and sore by early afternoon. Perhaps it's the sunburn or maybe the three bags of crisps and glugs of Irn-Bru I consume before my races, but I get no further than the heats. This leaves me free, so I spend the rest of the day watching. When I say watching, I don't mean watching athletics, I mean boys, well one boy really - Ian Mackay.

Ian Mackay starts every school week with double maths. He's fifteen and in the year above me. I have his timetable copied neatly out on pink paper decorated with hearts. The route to my own lessons is dictated by Ian's timetable and the decision over which staircase to go up or down, ruled by which classroom he will be queuing outside. He never notices me, looks straight past me on the few occasions I've managed to look directly at him. We've never spoken.

Ian Mackay is running in the 800 metres - two whole laps of the track when I can stare at him. He looks gorgeous on the start line - his tanned legs stand out amongst the pale Scottish skin of the other runners. I have idea why he's so tanned, but I'll take it. He makes it through both his heats easily.

My pal Shona's been nice to me all day and watches his races with me, but by the time of Ian's final race she's sulking a bit, says she's too tired to get up from sunbathing. I know why she's grumpy and decide not to push it.

Ian's the tallest on the start line and it's obvious he's going to win. He must be six foot and his legs look powerful. I picture him pounding round the track, his face and legs sweaty from the effort. I imagine him sprinting towards the finish line, running towards me, cupping my head in his hands and kissing me passionately. Fat chance.

The race starts and he is in the lead from the beginning. When he is half-way round I realise that I am crying. I wipe the tears with the back of my hand and walk away, but they don't stop. This isn't some story from Jackie magazine - Ian isn't going to run into my arms, isn't going to kiss me - not today, not ever. Today is the last day I'll ever see him. Friends tell me they'll be boys in Blackpool, that it'll be fun to live by the sea, that they wish they could move somewhere new and exciting.

I'd settle for staying here, for being kissed for the first time.

Our finalists were forwarded to judge Dan Holloway without names or countries of origin and were copied here without edits or corrections. A panel of three members of the League of Extraordinary Authors, including LeagueXA founder Joni Rodgers will select the grand prize winner. We invite your comments. Let us know who you think should win the Kindle Fire! 

FREE this week: 2 razor sharp shorts from our #FlashFiction judge Dan Holloway

FREE on Amazon this week: two great reads by Dan Holloway, judge of our #FlashFiction contest!

(life:) razorblades included
From the lyrical Freakshow to the transgressive SKIN BOOK; the Beat-inspired adam to the blankness of The Last Fluffer in La La Land; these stories are held together by a single theme: the decision to live. Not the happy ever after that comes when deliberation ends, but the beginning of the joyous, energising, enervating, exhilarating, immoral, implacable, impossible decision to wake up, open your eyes, and truly live, with all the exhilarating, nightmarish consequences that decision brings.

Ode to Jouissance
A collection of three full-length (5000 words) short stories that explore nostalgia and eroticism in the fragments of modern Europe. From the youthful Ilke, through the middle-aged Ignacio to the elderly Catherin, these stories weave together to form a tapestry of desire that grows stronger and more fulfilled with age. With echoes of Kundera and Murakami, a gentle but insistent theme of hope amidst the ruins builds to a heartbreaking but uplifting crescendo.

Watch this space tomorrow for the Top 5 finalists in our 1st Annual #FlashFiction contest!

Meet our #FlashFiction contest judge, Dan Holloway

The results of our #FlashFiction contest are in, and entrants didn't make it easy on judge Dan Holloway, who was assigned the daunting task of selecting five finalists. Dan was the winner of the London 100th anniversary episode of Literary Death Match, and is the author of The Company of Fellows, voted "favourite Oxford novel" in a poll carried out by the world-famous Blackwell's bookstore.

If you're on the Oxford side of the Atlantic, meet Dan May 16th at the National Flash Fiction Day Flash Slam at the Albion Beatnik bookstore. We Yanks will have to settle for this video of the Literary Death Match winner doing his thing:


ConGRADulations to our summer intern, Jerusha Rodgers!

Congrats on your college graduation, Jerusha! With a fresh English degree in your hot little hand, it's time to dive into the brutal, deckle-edged world of publishing!

On behalf of LeagueXA, congrats and welcome! (Now get to work!)

MILKSHAKE by Joanna Weiss covers what TIME cover doesn't

A social media storm is gathering around the new cover of TIME Magazine featuring a beautiful woman breastfeeding her preschool son. CBS wasn't the only on instantly latching on to the "attachment parenting" controversy. And this isn't the first time this debate has raged. It's probably been going on for thousands of years and has made news for at least the last 35.

Boston Globe Joanna Weiss' wonderfully smart and funny novel Milkshake is by far my favorite take on it.

When she tries to feed her baby in an art museum, new mother Lauren Bruce suffers a wardrobe malfunction and finds herself at the center of the breastfeeding wars. A savvy politician enlists Lauren to help her win the women's vote. Breastfeeding advocates want to make her a true believer. And a group called the MOMs ("Mothers on Modesty") wants everyone to cover up. Now, Lauren has to decide where she stands, all while dealing with political rallies, breast pumps, talk show hosts, perfect-mommy friends, and post-baby sex.

Milkshake is a lot more subtle than the Time cover, which is pretty in your face (pardon the pun), but Time does ask the right question: "Are you mom enough?" Weiss answers with wry humor, great finesse and keen intelligence. calls it "a chuckle-out-loud, parodying page-turner about the politics of the new momism."

Jenna Blum, NYT bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers says: "Smart, compassionate, gently ferocious and always hilarious, MILKSHAKE is about the spectrum of women's mothering choices, breasts, breastfeeding, and babes, and how competition doth make fools of us all. Utterly charming."

Save $6 off the list price when you download Milkshake on Kindle for just $3.99!

Final 48 hours left in our #FlashFiction contest!

We've had fantastic response to Stella Link's 1st Annual #FlashFiction contest! Thanks to all who've sent in their brilliant 500 word entries. There's still two days till the March 12 deadline. Click on the #FlashFiction icon at the right for rules and specs. Watch this space for finalists next week!

Joni Rodgers: "THE HURRICANE LOVER is fiction. Climate change is real."

Set on the Gulf Coast during the devastating hurricane season of 2005, Joni Rodgers' novel The Hurricane Lover weaves real weather feeds from the National Hurricane Center and actual emails to and from FEMA officials into the story of an obsessed weatherman, an ambitious journalist and a con artist using chaos as cover for identity theft and murder.

"It's about 40% fiction," says Rodgers, who volunteered with relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and witnessed Hurricane Ike up close and personal. "The rest comes from what I heard and saw that summer and from five years of mind-blowing research."

Rodgers, a New York Times bestselling author repped by William Morris Endeavor, says she chose to indie publish the novel because she wasn't willing to "sacrifice relationships for car chases" or water down the politics to accomodate a corporate publisher.

"Two weeks before Katrina, a prominent scientist at MIT - a guy with no political dog in the fight - published the results of a study clearly connecting the dots between climate change and megastorms," says Rodgers. "I wanted to make the science accessible by placing it in the context of these characters' lives. My hope is that the suspense will keep the pages turning, the reality of what happened will blow readers' minds and the human heart of the story will stay with them."

Read The Hurricane Lover FREE on Kindle today and tomorrow.

FREE on Kindle: The perfect book to celebrate tonight's supermoon!

An ancient instrument of unspeakable power, Lhant’s legendary Saireflute is meant to be played only as a ceremonial reminder of the Queen’s might, and to be handled only by a docile, well-trained virgin. When an accident of fate --or magic-- instead places it in the hands of a disgraced and disreputable young lady-in-waiting, Elzin sees her miraculous ascent as her escape from a flogging, the furious Queen sees it as the motive for a murder…

"While most readers know me as an author of romantic mystery/suspense or historical romance," author Colleen Thompson tells BoxOcto, "I've long nurtured a fascination for the kind of big, imaginative epic fantasies I cut my teeth on as a young reader. From Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY to Terry Brooks' SHANNARA series to Stephen R. Donaldson's CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT THE UNBELIEVER and so many more, I was inspired to create a world and characters of my own, which I did with the help of the amazingly talented Parke Roberts. THE NIGHT HOLDS THE MOON, is part of an amazing journey years in the making. I absolutely love this story and its characters and hope that you will, too."

Download THE NIGHT HOLDS THE MOON free on Kindle this weekend!

A Little Book of Mormon (and Not So Mormon) Stories by Ingrid Ricks

Are you loving National Short Story Month as much as I am? Here's the first in our featured favorite story collections. (Cast an eye on our carousel widget at the top of the blog for more all through May!)

 A Little Book of Mormon (and Not So Mormon) Stories by Ingrid Ricks As a young Mormon girl, Ingrid fantasized about her real family—the Osmonds —who would soon rescue her from the drudgery of daily home church sessions, embarrassing trips to the church welfare office and the seemingly endless hours spent harvesting and canning fruits and vegetables in preparation for the Last Days.

In this collection of ten poignant, funny and sometimes outrageous stories about life with an intensely devout Mormon mother and an absent, excommunicated dad, Ingrid takes readers into a childhood where caffeine is evil, Satan comes out at midnight, Native Americans are believed to be cursed descendants of an ancient prophet, and turning eight means a life marred by guilt and once-a-month starvation.

The stories follow Ingrid into her teenage years, when she accompanies her Austrian mother on a mental hospital rescue mission, battles her way through the humiliation of banned sex-ed classes and restricted Mormon dating, and escapes her religious home life by spending summers as a tool-selling vagabond with her freewheeling dad. Through her journey —which includes liquor-filled chocolate relationship building with her European grandmother and a disastrous stint as an East Coast nanny —Ingrid finds her voice and claims her own spiritual beliefs devoid of rules, guilt, heaven or hell.

So far, A Little Book of Mormon (and Not So Mormon) Stories has all rave reviews on Amazon: "What gets to me the most is how the writer mixes humor and youthful perspective and weaves them together into a brilliantly related and poignant memory. The author handles difficult details of her story delicately and respectfully while still preserving truth. Very worth the read."

During National Short Story Month, you can grab it on Kindle for just $1.99!

Writerkind: Win a Kindle Fire in our Flash Fiction Contest!

May is National Short Story Month! We're celebrating with daily short story features and (ta-rin-ta-RAH!) the 1st Annual Stella Link Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Extraordinary Author/ poet/ novelist/ Literary Death Match winner/ word-bangin' cult hero Dan Holloway and Joni Rodgers, NYT bestselling author and founder of Stella Link Books.

The top 5 entries will be posted on the League of Extraordinary Authors blog and read at the Flash Slam event at Oxford's Albion Beatnick Bookstore on May 16, National Flash Fiction Day.

Our Grand Prize winner, announced May 23, will receive a flashy new Kindle Fire!

Contest Rules
  • Word limit: 500 (Yes, we really mean it!) 
  • Deadline: May 12, 2012 (midnight USA central time) 
  • Email your story to StellaLinkBooks {at} with subject heading “FLASH FICTION CONTEST.”
  • Include your name (or pen name), city/country of residence and full story entry in the body of the email. (No attachments, please.)
  • No restrictions on genre, theme or style. No entry fee. Stories cannot be altered after entry.
  • No nonfiction (hence "flash fiction" meme...)
  • Top five entries will be chosen by poet/ novelist Dan Holloway. Grand Prize winner will be selected from the top five by author Joni Rodgers. The judges' verdict is final. 
  • Grand Prize: a Kindle Fire from Stella Link Books (click image above for product details) and "Stella Link Flash Fiction Grand Prize" virtual badge for your website/FB.
  • Top five entries will be posted on the League of Extraordinary Authors blog on May 16, 2012. (Authors and readers are encouraged to comment and lobby for favorites!)
  • Grand Prize winner will be announced on the blog and on the LeagueXA Facebook page on May 23. 
  • If your story is a Top Fiver, you’ll receive a Kindle copy of Joni Rodgers’ FIRST YOU WRITE and a “Stella Link Flash Fiction Finalist” virtual badge for your website/FB.
  • Stella Link’s Flash Fiction contest is open to writers of any nationality writing in English. The winning stories must not have been published previously. Simultaneous submissions not accepted. 
  • Stella Link Books is granted one-time publishing rights. Copyright remains with the author. Entry is taken to be acceptance of these rules. By submitting a story, you are granting Stella Link Books the right to publish your story on our website, and you are guaranteeing that you have not plagiarized or unlawfully copied your work from another source.
Go here for more information on flash fiction and National Flash Fiction Day 2012.

Out of the vault: DANGEROUS ATTRACTIONS by Gwyneth Atlee

Prepare to dive into a delicious summer romance. DANGEROUS ATTRACTIONS by Colleen Thompson writing as Gwyneth Atlee scored rave reviews when it was originally pubbed in paperback. Now out of the vault on Kindle for just $2.99!

After surviving a shipwreck off the coast of the Florida Keys, Genna Whitworth, a Boston heiress fleeing from scandal in her hometown, gets the surprise of her life when she discovers that her childhood friend, Eli Blaylock is alive and well. Eighteen years before, she thought Blaylock had been killed in the same Seminole Indian attack that had, tragically, taken the life of her father.

Now a prominent sea captain, Blaylock helps rescue Genna from the sinking ship - and although he is engaged to be married, both find it increasingly difficult to overlook their growing, and dangerous attraction that is blossoming in the intense, tropical heat.