Three Out of Four

A post-surgery cast couldn’t keep me away from Chautauqua!

Spending time at the Chautauqua Institution always inspires me. This year, I was able to spend a few days on the grounds with my some of my family, and that means I was able to submit a story for the contests hosted by the Literary Arts Friends. And I won! For the third time in four years, I received the Charles McCorkle Hauser Prize for Prose. Here’s what the judge had to say about my story:

“Leftovers” uncovers disturbing truths that alight only in the darkness. A simple dinner party turns cruel under the cover of a stormy night. This is a story that haunts the senses. These sentences glow!


At Ease in The MacGuffin

“At Ease,” inspired by a story my mom told about my grandmother cooking in her slip in the heat of summer, is now available in the Spring 2018 issue of The MacGuffin! You can pick up a copy here

This story won the Charles McCorkle Hauser Prize from the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends in 2016. Here are the judges comments from that contest: 

“At Ease” is a poignant story about how one day can change so many lives forever. It evokes memories using stunning, vivid details that recognize how something seemingly small looms large in our minds.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, once you’ve read this story!


And the Winner Is…

My latest short story is now available in the inaugural issue of Spectacle, an illustrated fiction and lifestyle magazine! The image below shows just a piece of the amazing artwork created to go with my story. You can order a copy of the issue here.

Love these kind words from the good people at Spectacle.

I’d love to hear what you think of the story once you’ve had a chance to read it!


Hello Mary Lou: The Haunted Inkwell 2

Happy Halloween! Last night we had a blast doing Halloween-themed writing prompts for our yearly Haunted Inkwell. This year, we each picked a character, place, and object from a set of cards, and spent five minutes writing a short scene. The results were sometimes spooky, and sometimes hilarious. Here are mine!

Round One
character: investigative reporter | place: police station | object: demonic mask

Ronnie hid in the supply closet until the station grew quiet. The night shift was just one deputy and a dispatcher. Ronnie could see them at the front desk, watching Game Seven.

He almost laughed out loud when he realized he was actually tip-toeing down the dark hallway. The chief’s office was unlocked. A half-empty bottle of Pepto sat in the middle of the desk, and next to it was the mask.

Ronnie poked it with the tip of his pencil. The rubbery surface sprang back, and for a second, Ronnie thought he heard a low sound, an inhale of breath.

The mask was white, a dull, dingy white that reminded him of mummy wrappings from old movies they played on Channel 7 late at night. All white, except the eyes, which were ringed in dark red and—


Ronnie dropped his pencil. He screamed as the mask floated off the desk. The deputy and the dispatcher screamed then, too, and their joy at the grand slam covered Ronnie’s terror.

Round Two
character: starting quarterback | place: covered bridge | object: funeral wrappings

Billy’s hands were full of… not paper, but not cloth. Handfuls of mummy clothes? Dammit, he needed Shelby. She always knew the right words. But whatever had worn these… wrappings… had taken Shelby and run off toward the covered bridge.

Billy stopped right where the shadow started. He wasn’t scared. He threw three touchdown passes and rushed for 40 yards in the comeback game of the season versus Waterloo just the night before. A guy wearing old bandages was no match for QB 1. 

Shelby screamed.

Billy’s bladder let go. He rubbed at his crotch with the wrappings, and then squealed when he realized what he was doing. There were wrappings in the dirt at the edge of the bridge. What did it look like without them? Why did Billy’s brain insist on calling it an it?

“I’m coming, Shelb,” Billy whispered, and stepped into the black. 

(Clearly I confuse funeral wrappings with… mummy clothes.)

Round Three
character: computer nerd | place: school boiler room | object: hot air balloon

Nelson crouched behind a stack of 1986 yearbooks. The mold down here was going to set off his asthma soon, and his inhaler was up in the computer lab. No worries. It would only take a few minutes to reprogram the device, save the school, and—

Footsteps. How had Agent Jones found him down here? The last time he’d seen Jones and his partner, they’d been sailing away over the Bluff in a hot air balloon. Nelson was sure he’d shot Jones at least twice, but here he was, coming straight toward him past the boiler with its fiery heart.

“Seems like you have nine lives, agent,” Nelson said, bounding to his feet.

One quick move and Agent Jones would be screaming his last breath, his flesh melting in the heat of the school furnace. The perfect ending for the diabolical government agent.

“You’re really a pain in my ass, you know that, kid? Why couldn’t you just walk away when you found that computer virus?”

(I will never forgive Alex for making ‘hot air balloon’ one of the objects. What even happened in this story?!)

Round Four
character: school janitor | place: submarine | object: silver mirror

Why Rob gave up his boring but safe job as a school janitor to join the Navy was beyond him. It sounded adventurous, sure, but here he was, cleaning toilets on a submarine in the middle of the North Atlantic. He hadn’t heard from Julie Ann in a month.

His fellow sailors were slobs, to say the least. He found the most disgusting shit in the stalls at the end of the night—condoms, sure, cigarette butts, skin magazines. But also stuff he couldn’t wrap his head around: a vial of what had to be blood, a crucifix with Jesus upside down, and a leather bag full of chicken bones. 

He was nearly done when he found the mirror. It was small—it fit in the palm of his hand—but heavy. Silver.

He looked at his reflection—buzzed-off hair, black eye and split lip, and thought of Julie Ann again.

And there she was, in the mirror, smiling at him. Turning around and around, in nothing but a little nightie he’d never seen before. And there was Billy Johnson. Rob squeezed the mirror until his hand dripped blood.

Round Five
character: plucky teenager | place: college quad | object: quill pen

Jemma looked out at the quad over the top of her glasses. Across the grass sat the lot of them—Chelsea, and her sorority friends. Jemma felt heat rise in her face as she remembered listening—again—to Chelsea and Brandon the night before, all panting and grunting. She nibbled the top of her pen.

“It that a quill pen?”

Jemma looked at the girl who’d sat down beside her. “It is.”

“That’s amazing. Can I hold it?”

Jemma handed it to her. She wondered if the girl could feel the power that coursed through it, if she could tell the pen held dark and terrible secrets. Write a name with that pen, and both ink and blood would flow. Jemma had written C-H-E-L- before being interrupted.

The girl turned her notebook over and scrawled her name before Jemma could even scream. Her throat split, ear to ear, a ghastly grin. Jemma screamed then, and people came running. She buried the quill in her bag.

(Clearly I forgot about the plucky teenager part. Well, Jemma seems like she was probably plucky before college, right?)

Round Six
character: werewolf | place: crossroads | object: knife

We’d reached the crossroads. Metaphorically and literally. We could keep going into the night, try to outrace the angry mob and frightened families on our heels. Or we could surrender. And there was a choice there, too: the silver knife that lay between us on the cracked leather of the front seat, or wait for village justice, a rusted ax or shower of bullets.

Jess’s breathing slowed. She turned more slowly than I did. At the first moment of the full moon, I was on my haunches.

“What do we do?” she asked.

I found her hand, the nails long and ragged now. “Let’s run,” I said. She nodded.

We peeled away from the crossroads in a spray of gravel. The knife clattered to the floorboards beneath Jess’s feet. 

In the rearview mirror, I saw headlights. We howled. We ran.

Thanks, Rochester!

Well, would you look at that? I’m the Best Local Author, according to the lovely city of Rochester!

Last night, CITY Newspaper threw a party to announce the winners of their annual poll. It asks readers to pick the best local everything in Rochester. I didn’t even expect to be nominated this year, so you can imagine how excited and surprised I was to find out that I’d won! Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to vote.

I’m also happy to report that one of my short stories will appear in the Winter 2018 issue of The MacGuffin. I received the official acceptance letter in the mail. Yesterday was a good day for fiction!


Best of Rochester Surprise!

I was shocked to find out this morning that I made it to the final ballot for Best Local Author for the 2017 Best of Rochester poll. I hadn’t even asked anyone to nominate me this year. But here we are!

From CITY Newspaper.

I’d be honored to have your vote (click the link below). You need to vote in 30 categories for your ballot to valid. Voting closes on Friday, October 13th. Thanks for your support, everybody!


Then There Were Seven

One of my short stories was published today—number seven! A good way to kick off 2017, eh? You can read it online, by checking out Issue Three of The Olive Press.

Click here, and scroll down to click on my story, “Home Run.” Be sure to come back and let me know what you think in the comments!


The Haunted Inkwell

Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year! Yep, PY Writes got together once again to try our rotting, disembodied hands at haunting and horrific Halloween-themed writing prompts! Here’s what I came up with. (Stories appear as they were written, which is to say, they haven’t been edited.) Each prompt was just five minutes long, so if you don’t like abrupt and unresolved endings, look away! Otherwise: Enter if you dare. 


First prompt: Write a mini sequel to a classic horror story.

He grew sick of the cold after two days on the ice. He didn’t seem to grow cold—his skin was toughened, like the hides of animals he’d slept near in barns reeking of offal—but the endless white nothing was too much. And so he clambered over the ice and snow, avoiding the rare ship ablaze with torches, wooden hulls creaking, and found his way to a little farm on the edge of a glacier. 

A woman sat alone by the hearth, asleep, a pile of knitting in her lap. Her cheeks were rosy from the heat of the fire. The monster gripped the edge of the frost-coated windowsill with his clumsy fingers.

“You there!” A hand clamped on his misshapen shoulder. “Pervert! Get away from there!”

A young man, too young to grow more than a shadow of a beard on his weak chin, stood before the monster. Or beneath him, as he barely came to the creature’s chest. The sound of his neck snapping rolled across the empty fields.

Second prompt: Pick an image (from the cover art of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark) and write about it. 

Creepy bird. Zombie bird, maybe?

Creepy bird. Zombie bird, maybe?

The French exchange students and their American classmates stood in a clump in front of the zoo exit. The gates were down, and locked.

“Mon dieu, mon dieu,” Chantal sobbed. Isabelle put her arm around Chantal.

“What is that?” Alex said, and pointed a shaking finger above their heads.

A bird—or what was left of a bird—wobbled on the branch of a tree near the Snack Shack. It opened its beak and uttered a sound, half squawk, half gurgle. 

At the same time, a guttural growl grew from the quickening gloom behind them. They turned together, clutching whichever hand was closest.

A lion, the bones of his ribs and spine glistening in the dying light, sauntered toward them, thick gray strands of saliva dripping from its jaws.

“In here!” a voice shouted, and the students turned again.

Third prompt: Write about what scares you the most.

It took me a few minutes to realize that my eyes were open. Wherever I was—laying on the cold ground, pebbles pressing into my back—was so completely void of light that I might as well have been blind. 

I sat up. The smart thing to do would be to stand up, or reach out and feel my surroundings. But what if something was there, right in front of me, beside me? What if something was holding its breath, waiting to breathe when I breathed, what if—

Something hairy and hot plopped onto my head and skittered down my face. I screamed hard enough to make my throat burn. Whatever was in wherever I was with me had plenty of time to breathe when that happened.

I did stand, finally, when my foot cramped up. I hobbled across the empty space, hands out in front of me, spine stiffened against whatever terror my fingertips were about to touch.

And then: A light switch!

This is the cover of the notebook I was using last night. Which, given the things I wrote, is a rather unsettling thought. Happy Halloween!

Subtitle: Ahhhhh!

Subtitle: Ahhhhh!


Let Me Tell You a Story

Hey there! What are you doing on Monday night, around 7:30? If you’re in the Rochester/Finger Lakes area, you should definitely come down to Nox, where I’ll be reading a story from Copper and Stone. All the details are here, and the Facebook event is here.

Inside Nox. (Photo from the Democrat and Chronicle.)

Inside Nox. (Photo from the Democrat and Chronicle.)

Did you know they have delicious, original, nerdy drinks there, and yummy food? They’ve got bacon-wrapped meatloaf, people. See you there!

The aforementioned meatloaf. (Ditto.)

The aforementioned meatloaf. (Ditto.)


Two for Two!

You guys, I am so excited to tell you that I won the Charles McCorkle Hauser Prize for prose from the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends for the second year in a row! Boy, was I surprised when I got that phone call on Saturday morning.

One of the many amazing views I had while writing at CHQ.

One of the many amazing views I had while writing at CHQ.

The winning story, “At Ease,” was the 26th short story I’d written this year—and I wrote it while I was at Chautauqua. Serendipity? Fate? Either way, I’m super pleased. The story is being submitted to the Chautauqua literary journal, so let’s hope they like it as much as the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends, and want to publish it.

Here’s what the judge had to say:

“At Ease” is a poignant story about how one day can change so many lives forever. It evokes memories using stunning, vivid details that recognize how something seemingly small looms large in our minds.

The gentleman who called to tell me I’d won said, “You’re on a roll.” Here’s hoping I keep up the momentum!


Strike One

So, when I went to Chautauqua at the end of June, I was thrilled to be able to hear some very successful people talk about writing. I was even more excited to get to meet some of them and talk to them, however briefly, about my writing. I was able to give two people copies of my book, and a third person, who is the editor of one of the top literary magazines in the country, gave me his email address so I could send him some of my work.


This weekend, I got a rejection letter from that man, who said that none of the stories I sent him were right for his magazine. You guys, I was so mad when I got that email. Having thick skin is necessary when you’re sharing your art with the world, but sometimes things get under it no matter how thick you’ve managed to grow it.

I should be reporting in on the progress I’ve made on the novel since last week, but the truth is, after that rejection, I struggled mightily with finding the energy to write anything. I did get a few paragraphs written, but nothing I want to share yet.

So, that’s strike one. Hopefully I’ll have better luck with the two people who have copies of my book. If it turns into three-strikes-you’re-out, well… I’ll have to find three new people to talk to about my work, right? Right!


A True Composer

I should be posting a peek at my 27th short story of the year, but that’s not what you’re getting. And it’s not because I didn’t write something—in fact, I wrote a lot of somethings! During my time at the Chautauqua Institution last week, I finished three stories and started eight more. I have plenty to choose from! But I don’t want to share any more short stories with you. Instead, I want to write my novel.

How could you not be inspired, with views like this? Taken at Chautauqua by me!

How could you not be inspired, with views like this? Taken at Chautauqua by me!

Yep, I’m going to start writing the novel that I started thinking about a year ago. I’ve been taking lots of notes and rereading them often for inspiration, but until now I’ve always felt like I had to have a good chunk of time where I wasn’t working in order to accomplish something on the magnitude of a novel. I figured I would keep my writing muscles strong with this story-a-week project, and then in 2017 find a way to rearrange life to make it conducive to the novel.

But, friends, life is short. Who knows what 2017 will bring? The thing is, I need to write this novel. I can spend the next twenty-six weeks writing short fiction for you, but I don’t need to. When I sat down to polish up this week’s story, I wasn’t satisfied. I didn’t want to share it with you. Instead, I suddenly knew what to do: start the novel.

I’m reminded of this quote from Stravinsky, which I first heard on one of my favorite shows, Hannibal:

A true composer thinks about his unfinished work the whole time; he’s not always conscious of this, but he’s aware of it when he suddenly knows what to do.

I have always been thinking about the novel, even when I was writing about all of the other people and places you’ve seen glimpses of throughout the first half of this year. Half way through, twenty-six stories, seems a good place to stop, right?



I only have the vaguest notion of what’s going to happen to my characters, but they are ready to walk out on to the stage and start speaking their lines. Ready? Let’s go!


Reading Tonight!

Come out tonight to Nox at Village Gate, where I’ll be reading some of my fiction! It starts at 7:30 with a reading by James Black. I’ll probably go on around 8.


Nox is proud to welcome back Bethany Snyder—whose first collection of fiction, “Copper & Stone,” came out a few months back. Bethany’s headlining the show with her brilliant and insightful fiction of the quotidian; opening up for her will be Nox’s own James Black, with his fiction of, um, malaise and semicolons.

Bring a hand to hold—I’m reading something scary! Here’s a link to the event page on Facebook. And here’s Nox. See you tonight!

Review and Preview

Well, would you look at that: It’s 2016. I was pretty busy at the end of last year, and I completely neglected this blog. So let’s recap what happened, and then take a peek at what’s coming up.

In November, I was scheduled to do my first Copper and Stone book signing at Longs’ in Penn Yan. Unfortunately, that had to be rescheduled – but I still made that week’s Chronicle Express! Check out the article here. We were able to hold my signing in early December. What a blast! I signed copies of my book for friends, families, teachers, and even strangers.


In other Copper and Stone news, I’m currently holding steady with 7 five-star reviews on Amazon. If you’ve read my stories and would like to say something about them, I’d love it if you’d pop over and post. Thanks!

On Christmas, images like these started to show up on my Facebook newsfeed:


I couldn’t have asked for a better gift (and neither could they, am I right?!).

As for the future, Alex and I are in the planning stages of more/new events for PY Writes. Keep your eye on our Facebook page for details.

And as for me? Well, I had planned on starting a novel (the idea has been germinating for months, thanks to a chance encounter with an old friend over the summer), but I’ve decided to take a different route. It’s pretty ambitious, so if I peter out, don’t say I didn’t warn you…

I’m going to try to write a short story every week this year. Yup, 52 short stories (I’m thinking 1000 words or less). So by the end of the year, I’ll have a collection ready for a new book! To read them, you’ll have to wait until they are published. (If you’re a literary agent and/or publisher, call me!)


Look, I Made a Hat!

Actually, I made a book, but I love this quote from Sunday in the Park with George: “Look, I made a hat. Where there never was a hat.”

My collection of short fiction, Copper and Stone, is now available from Amazon. Click here!


It includes six previously published stories and six unpublished stories. They are arranged in order of narrator age, from 7 to 85. A lot of them take place in my hometown of Penn Yan, New York. I hope you’ll buy a copy, and enjoy it. Please leave a review on Amazon! Thanks for your support, dear readers.

The Shape Speaks

At last night’s PY Writes workshop, we played around with Halloween-themed writing prompts. My favorite was, “Write for ten minutes from the point of view of the monster/killer.” Here’s what I came up with:

No one understands me. They never have. I’m sure you’ve heard the story of how when I was seven, I killed my sister. I don’t know why I did it. She was just sitting there, brushing her hair, and I had a big ol’ knife from the kitchen in my had for some reason, so I stabbed her. I know how ridiculous it sounds, to say no one understands me and then not be able to explain why I did something that has pretty much defined my life, but what can I say? I’m a man of mystery.

We’re getting off on the wrong foot. I can tell because you keep looking at the door. You look pretty uncomfortable, even though I loosened the ropes. Also, it’s actually freezing in here, so I’m not sure why you’re sweating.

Let’s start again. Everywhere I go, I get this look. I know you know what I mean – you gave it to me when I stepped out from behind the hedge. I didn’t mean to make you scream and drop your pumpkin, and I apologize for that. I just wanted to say hi, see if maybe you wanted to go get a root beer float or something. You just seemed so nice when I was watching you and your friends walk home from school.


Okay, I see you staring at my mask, so let’s talk about it. I mean, we can’t really ignore it, right? I found it in a department store. Well, ‘found’ maybe isn’t the right word. It fits nice, and I really like how everything looks through these eye holes, kind of fuzzy at the edges. Do you want to try it on?

Okay, jeez, please don’t scream. I’m just trying to be nice, and you’re all wild-eyed and flailing. Fine, I’ll put the knife down. I was going to use it to slice the cheesecake, but it seems to really be stressing you out. See what I mean about how nobody understands me?

Can you stop crying, please? It’s making me feel a little nuts.


And then we all wrote for five minutes about a cadaver. Here’s mine:

He tried carrying the body over his shoulder, but that only lasted a few steps before it slid on the slick surface of his silk cape and thudded to the tiled floor.

The guests would be arriving any moment. Although he was known for hosting the most outrageous parties in town, even he drew the line at a cadaver in the parlor.

He heard the crunch of tires on gravel and felt bile rise in his throat. He hefted the corpse onto the couch, slapped a black mask over its eyes, and managed to get one leg crossed over the other.

The doorbell rang.