Short Story Contest Update

The results of Round 2 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2017 were announced last night/this morning and guess what? I FINISHED FIRST IN MY HEAT!

Here's the proof:

For this round of the contest, I had to write a horror story. It came very easily, thanks to a lifetime of reading Stephen King. In fact, this time I had the opposite problem from Round 1: I wrote too much. We had a 2,000 word limit, and I could have easily written 5,000 words if I hadn't put on the brakes.

I really like the story I wrote this time, and I think it has great potential. So I'm not posting it. I'm going to work on it and try to get it published somewhere, someday. If you would like to read it in its current form, I'm happy to send you a copy.

What does finishing first in my heat mean?

It means the judges like me, they really like me! (Okay, they like my story--and apologies to Sally Field for the blatant plagiarism.)

It also means that I've advanced to the finals--meaning I get to spend my weekend writing one more short story. I've been doing these NYC Midnight contests for years, and this is the first time I've made it this far. Depending on where I finish in the finals, there might actually be cash prizes involved. This is where the real stakes are.

If there's a word that means "a combination of nervousness and excitement," that's what I'm feeling.


A Little Help from Our Friends

On May 21st, Duncan and I will be walking in a Mutt Mosey, a one-mile walk to support a local animal rescue. This will be a first for us. We walk a mile or more most days, but this will be the first time Duncan walks in a crowd. I have no idea how he'll do. I suspect I will end up carrying him at least part of the way--especially if there are huskies present. (Huskies are his mortal enemy. No idea why.)

Duncan came into my life as a senior pet. Walking in the Mutt Mosey seemed an appropriate way to give back. The mosey, you see, is a fundraiser for Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions. They specialize in rescuing and finding homes for senior pets, who are often shortlisted for euthanasia in shelters for no other reason than their age.

Our participation includes a fundraiser. Any spare change you can donate would be greatly appreciated. To donate, click the orange Donate button on this website:

Thank you!

The Best Book I Read This Month: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro

It was a slow reading month--I only made it through 2 1/2 books, far below my usual one book per week average. Fortunately, it was a good month for nonfiction. The best book I read--and completed--this month was something that's been sitting on my TBR shelf for ages: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 by James Shapiro.

What I loved about this book was that it took an historical approach to Shakespeare's work--a stark contrast to the literary approach I'm used to. In school, we always read Shakespeare's plays in isolation, as works of literature. We analyzed his use of language, his development of characters and plot, his use of symbolism.

Shapiro does very little of that. Instead, he places Shakespeare's work in historical context. He walks us through the year 1599, when Shakespeare wrote and his troupe performed Julius Caesar, Henry V, As You Like It, and Hamlet. Shapiro organized the book so that we follow the seasons, and with each season there is a new play to explore. Each play is discussed in the context of what was happening in Elizabethan England at the time. This is not William Shakespeare, Literary Master; it's William Shakespeare, Political Commentator--and I find that approach far more interesting and convincing than the literary analysis I learned in school. Shapiro notes, for example, how England's Irish troubles influenced Henry V; how assassination attempts--real and rumored--on Elizabeth influenced Julius Caesar; how an act of plagiarism influenced As You Like It; and how England's recent religious history found its way into Hamlet.

Shapiro certainly doesn't ignore Shakespeare's use of language or exploration of character. He integrates discussion of both into his historical exploration of Shakespeare's work, which I think gives more credence to his interpretations because they are not presented in isolation. (As an aside, one of my gripes with the literary analysis I had to do in school was the question of how we were supposed to know what was in an author's mind when a particular scene was written. I mean, maybe the curtains are red because that's the author's favorite color, not because the author intended to create a symbol of blood!)

At any rate, Shapiro's book is definitely one that should be on any Shakespeare fan's shelf.

Note: Clicking on the book cover will take you to the book's Amazon page.

The Best Book I Read This Month: To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

Eowyn Ivey is becoming one of my favorite writers. I was swept away by her novel The Snow Child and her latest, To the Bright Edge of the World, was equally transporting. Alaska is the center of these stories--its landscape, climate, and ruggedness as much a character in the stories as the people. And both books have dashes of magic and unexplained mysteries, which add color and dimension to the stories. They are, I think, fine examples of magical realism.

To the Bright Edge of the World actually tells three stories: two historical and one modern. All three stories revolve around an 1885 expedition into the Alaskan wilderness, and all are told through diary entries and letters written by the explorer leading the expedition, the wife he left behind, one of the members of the expedition, the explorer's descendant, and the curator of the Alaskan museum who receives the explorer's papers. It sounds like a vast cast of characters--and it is--but they are well described and easy to keep straight.

It did take me a while to find the book's rhythm, though, to become accustomed to the jumping back and forth among the story lines. My biggest struggle was with the two historical story lines, which occur a few months apart but are told as if they are parallel.

Once I found that rhythm, however, I got lost in the story. When I was reading, I literally forgot where I was and what time it was. I found the historical story lines more captivating: the explorer trying to navigate and understand the strange land in which found himself and his wife, trying to navigate being an independent woman in a time and place where such initiative was actively discouraged.

The edition I read included photographs, many of Alaska in the nineteenth century and others that related to the story. They were just as fascinating as the text.

While the book was inspired by a real-life Alaskan expedition, Ivey is clearly telling her own story here--one that is engaging and captivating. It held my attention for all of its 400+ pages, and it was worth every stolen moment I took to read it.



If you like mysteries, I cannot recommend Ausma Zehanat Khan's Esa Khattak series enough. It's a new series--the third book just came out--but it's become a favorite. Khattak is a detective with Toronto's Community Policing division, tasked with liaising with the Muslim community and solving crimes connected to that community. He's a quiet, somewhat brooding hero, a man trying to balance his Muslim faith and the demands of his job. The first book, The Unquiet Dead, centers on the Bosnian war. The second, The Language of Secrets, has Khattak racing to stop a homegrown terrorist attack. I had originally borrowed Unquiet Dead from the library but bought a copy for myself before I was halfway through. Now I've cleared a space on my shelves for the series as it grows.


Note: Clicking on a book's cover will take you to the book's Amazon page.