Christmas Tree Farm Murders for sale

cover for The Christmas Tree Farm MurdersMy alter ego, Sara Penhallow, has published her first mystery. As soon as I figure out this “Multisite” functionality of WordPress 3.0, I’ll be creating a blog for her on her page, although I won’t be updating it as often as I do this blog. This is the first of two mystery series I’m working on; I won’t launch the other until two or three of the River Corners series are up.

Below, I’ve posted the first chapter of this mystery, along with links to buy the e-book. (Sorry, no paperbacks yet. I’ll let you know when they’re available, possibly later this year.)

Isobel Santini–managing editor, terrible cook, and best friend–is present at the discovery of a grisly murder. Shaken, she tries to return to her normal routine working at the college press, but when her best friend becomes the prime suspect and a second murder follows the first, Isobel has to drag herself out of her slush and into the snow to hunt for clues, much to the disapproval of her cousin, the chief of police. Along the way to finding the killer, she encounters a handsome newcomer, endures the town Christmas pageant, evades her match-making aunt, and forgets to put up her own Christmas tree. The dénouement comes in the off-white linoleum halls of academe, when Isobel and the killer confront each other face-to-face.

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New short for sale: Rise of Kencha

I uploaded another short story for sale on Friday. “Rise of Kencha” first appeared in Spacesuits and Sixguns, an online magazine that is no longer available. (The Website currently says something’s coming 4th quarter of 2011, in a rebirth of the site, so I check back every now and again to see if there’s anything there yet.) Dave Duggins, the editor, liked my story so much he made it the cover story and commissioned art for it. Happily, Krzysztof Biernacki gave me permission to use the art with the story once again. Below is an excerpt from the opening of the story, as well as the links to buy it, should you be so inclined.

Jani’s been working night shift since she broke up with the commander of her station, Lev Ren, but even with her grief, she notices the problems with engines and airflow on the station. What she doesn’t notice at first is the crew who have altered their bodies, giving up limbs and exoskeleton for machined parts. These crew are playing a game, a deadly game called Kencha. Jani can’t go to her commander, but she can’t let the station be corrupted, either. How she responds will affect everyone on the station.

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The following short story exists solely because the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour topic this month is a writing prompt. Writing prompts mean stories, not posts, at least for me. So don’t fret if you don’t recognize the holiday, or if your holidays don’t go quite like this. Honestly, it’s better that way. Continue reading

Friday Flash: Chosen

Hargold the Chosen One strode up the hill to meet his destiny, wondering at the lack of a castle silhouetted against the sky. At the top of the hill, a hole led down into darkness. A sign beside it read, “This way to the dungeon.”

He’d never heard of a dungeon without a castle or a ruin atop it, but the evil within must be dank indeed to be imprisoned so far from any habitation.

The steps that led down into the hole were straight and true, the walls uneven and dry (and patently free of cobwebs), and the torches in their sconces burned with little smoke. Doubt niggled at Hargold.

The ground leveled out, and the short hallway passed through an arch (no door, he noticed, and wondered how a dungeon worked without a door) and opened into a cavernous space with a line of people — and other beings — snaking their way into the darkness. The line didn’t appear to be moving.


He snapped his attention to his left, where a woman dressed in green velvet lounged on top of a desk. Doubt stopped niggling and started shouting.

“Excuse me?”

“Name?” She waved a clipboard at him. “I need to verify who’s been called.”

“What are all these people doing here? This is my quest!” He glared at the line, trying to decide whether he had truly seen a metal woman. “I am Hargold the Chosen One.”

“Hargold, Hargold, let’s see . . . ” She ran her finger down the clipboard. “Here you are. Just sign here, please, and wait your turn at the back of the line.”

He finally decided to pay attention to the doubt. “Wait in line? But I am the Chosen One!”

“Honey, everyone here is chosen. He’s been chosen to kill his cousin. She’s chosen to look for someone who made a grave mistake, but what she finds is going to surprise her. That one there? The squid? He’s chosen to haunt a freshwater lake. You’re all special, you all have stories, and you have to wait your turn.”

Doubt or no, he would not whimper that he was chosen. Casting about for something else to say, he saw darkened niches around the edge of the cavern. The people inside them glared back at him, as annoyed as he. “What about them? Are they chosen, too?”

“They were. She threw them back, gave up on them, or otherwise rejected them. They stay on, hoping the line will vanish and their turn will come again.” She thrust the clipboard at him. “Now, sign here.”

He looked around the dungeon once more, at everyone in the unmoving line. “I think not. I may be Chosen, but I can also choose.”

As he stepped through the archway, the woman behind him laughed. “No one leaves until she decides. You’re just lucky she’s done with you already.”

His doubt left behind, Hargold mounted the steps, wondering if the baker would be willing to take a formerly Chosen One as an apprentice.

— The End —

Short story “Spiders” for sale

Last week, I put up a couple more short stories for sale. I’m going to tell you about one of them today and one next week — I’m still waiting for it to go live on the Kindle store.

Lenny and Steven are best friends in a society where everyone lives forever — except for those who die on their fiftieth birthday. No one knows whether they’ll be one of those to die until they start showing symptoms, and by then it’s too late. Lenny, however, is convinced he’s going to die, and that colors everything in their friendship.

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Friday flash — growing ivy

Today’s drabble is inspired by Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge, using three of the following five words: enzyme, ivy, bishop, blister, lollipop. (Note if you haven’t visited his site before, some of the language is not words I would say in front of my kids.)


Roots from the ivy pushed between the bricks on the bishop’s chimney. He knew he needed to have the gardener deal with the plant before it damaged the house, but it looked so picturesque, and appearance was everything, wasn’t it? Growth in the diocese, innocence of the mayor, functioning of the enzymes that made insulin in his treacherous body.

He glanced again at the lab report. Maybe it was time to accept things as they truly were. Tell the truth, and let his successor deal with the ensuing outrage.

Afterward, the gardener could always plant ivy next to his tombstone.


I’m not terribly happy with this drabble — it sounds more like the opening of a story than a complete story, but his rule was no more than 100 words, so this is what I have.

N.B.: Changed “peace” to “growth” to avoid certain assumptions, which could easily be read into the story.

A New Start, live

My short story, “A New Start,” is now available to purchase at the usual e-book stores for 99 cents. (Note that you do not need an e-reader to read this or my other stories. Kindle has free software available for PC, Mac, iPhone/iPod, and I think Android. Nook also has their program available for those who don’t own a Nook. And Smashwords has HTML, plain text, RTF, PDF, Java, and other formats. So if you’re interested, don’t let the lack of an e-reader stop you!)

When Fainche gets out of her family’s car at a rest stop, she doesn’t expect to come back and find her husband and daughter left without her. Imagine her surprise when she calls on her cell phone and another Fainche answers! She follows them, intent on discovering who the impostor is and how her family was fooled.

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Monday drabble: Recycling

Len measured out the polymerization agent for the overnight run, the last step in his end-of-shift routine. The suppliers had been and gone earlier, and even the renderers’ shifts had finished for the day. He double-checked the volume in the tanks one last time before adding the agent. He didn’t want either soup or rock.

Satisfied, he set the mixers in motion. In the morning, the slurry would be poured over screens to dry: 30% post-consumer content, as advertised. He turned off the lights on his way out the door, ignoring the tattooed skin that surfaced briefly in the nearest vat.

Tuesday drabble: Eclipse

The shadow crept across the moon’s surface. The eclipse wasn’t due for two nights; astronomers flocked to their telescopes. One backyard amateur didn’t bother. The tabloids had said the aliens were here already; they were only partly right. Now Nifhshaya could go home. She had been found.

She climbed to her roof to wait. Her report would be lengthy, but she could offer hope that the Earthlings understood peace — something not at all clear when she had landed. Too late, she learned the ship’s commander was the one who had sabotaged her shuttle. Earthlings would not be welcomed to the galaxy.

Monday drabble: Silly string

The Silly String took over Joey’s brain when he was eight. He didn’t mean for it to happen — I don’t think anyone even knew it could happen. He held the can up next to his nose and pretended to sneeze the string out, as people do, but he goofed and inhaled. His mom took him to the emergency room, but the doctor said he couldn’t see anything wrong with Joey.

His grades got better after that; he could finally string his thoughts together.

When he grew up, he went to work in a gag factory. He’s working on upgrading himself.