Miscellaneous Writings and Musings


A genie and her rock band

(Novel and Short Stories)

Steal Tomorrow

Steal Tomorrow
Murder, Mystery, First Love, and the End of the World

(Novel and Short Stories)

My Books and Stories

My Books and Stories
Where to Buy, Read, Download

Flash Fiction/Excerpt: Book Burning

This is an exceprt from Tin Soldier, my free online novel about a post-petroleum dystopia. It's also linked at Sunday Scribblings which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.


The storm overtook them as they reached the valley floor, rolling in with cold gusting winds that rocked the wagon as the rain burst upon them in a deluge. Visibility dropped and the gray, wet world closed in. The downpour plastered their clothes to their bodies and turned the path to mud. Wheels stuck in ruts and Donovan had to get out and push. Goneril and Regan balked. There was no place to find shelter except in deserted Catalunia. Carina climbed down from the wagon, grabbed hold of a bridle and, laboring in the squelching muck, tried to lead the jennets to shelter by example.

House after house was unsuitable. They were caved in, crumbled, or so unsteady in appearance that taking their chances with the storm seemed more reasonable. Finally, in the thick of downtown Catalunia, where the few remaining signs swung crazily in the wind and gusts howled through the alleyways between vacant stores, Carina spotted something promising. "Over there." She pointed to a small stone library.

Donovan pulled a wheel out of a patch of sucking mud, and hurried ahead to try the door. The double doors opened readily and they led the jennies into the shelter of the building.

In the silence of the dusty foyer, Donovan and Carina stood dripping while the bedraggled animals hung their heads in the traces, as cold and dejected as their humans. Outside, the rain continued falling in sheets, but here in the library, the storm was reduced to a patter against the roof and windowpanes. After struggling so long in the downpour, it felt like utter insanity that they should find themselves in a quiet, sheltered place.

"I don't see us going any farther today," Carina said needlessly. "Let's light the lanterns. We need to get the animals settled in."

Luckily the tarps had kept most of their goods dry. The lanterns lit without a problem and Donovan went searching for a place to bed down the animals while Carina unhitched them, rubbing their ears, patting their necks and speaking to them with the first real affection she had shown in weeks.

"I found something," Donovan said, emerging out of the gloom. He took hold of Regan's bridle and led the way.

"A reading room?" Carina said, upon leading Goneril into the place Donovan had found. "Well, it doesn't seem to be leaking. I guess that's the most important thing."

They got the animals clean and gave them some hay from the wagon. "We should build a fire," Donovan said, noticing that Carina was shivering.

"I suppose the ceilings are high enough, and there's enough broken windows we won’t suffocate ourselves," she said. "But where?"

"The only thing I saw that didn't look flammable was the entryway. If we moved the wagon, we'd have enough room." Donovan took her hand and led her back the way they had come, and this time Carina assessed the foyer with an eye toward what might burn. The floor was marble, the ceiling was high, and there was nothing nearby that could catch sparks. Far above their heads was an absurd folly of a cupola where colored glass lit up in the occasional flashes of lightning. "If we moved the wagon into that room over there," Donovan pointed, "We could build the fire here in the middle of the floor."

"What will we burn? Books?"

"Why not? You don’t think anyone’s going to read them, do you?"

"Not likely."

They pushed the wagon into a small room and shut the door, then gathered a stack of reference books which Donovan lit with crumpled newspapers and magazines. The Catalunia phone directory caught first, then a thesaurus and encyclopedia. Then they were all ablaze, and Carina held her hands out toward the warmth. But books burned quickly, and it took a lot of them to keep the fire fed. After a few minutes, Donovan went to the wagon, retrieved a small hand saw and disappeared into the stacks. By the time he returned, Carina had traded her wet clothes for dry. She stood as close to the flames as she dared, looking in her black cloak like a priestess of some strange book-burning cult. When Donovan brought over an armful of sawed-off wooden chair legs, she let the cloak drop to the floor so it would be safe from sparks and helped him make a teepee of them. Then she stood back, picked up her cloak and put it back on. "I'll get some more books," she said, picking up a lantern. "Just to keep this thing going until the wood catches."

Donovan used her absence to change into dry clothes and spread out their bedrolls near the fire. It wouldn't be comfortable sleeping on the marble floor, but he tried to fold as much as he could underneath for padding. Then, realizing they hadn't eaten all day, he brought out some food and a bottle of scotch to take the edge off the cold.

The flames were dying and the chair legs were starting to smoke in a desultory sort of way when Carina returned, her arms full. She set the books next to the fire, collected a few off the top and took them to the room where the wagon was stored. "For Amalia," she said when she returned. "She'd never forgive me if I spent a night in a library and didn't bring souvenirs."

Once the chair legs caught, the fire began putting out real warmth. Carina sat on a bedroll and accepted a brownie. She downed it almost at a bite, ate a second with nearly equal speed, then fell to nibbling some dried apples.

"It's nice to see you have an appetite." Donovan poured a cup of scotch for her, then one for himself.

"We've done a lot today."


Want to read the whole thing? Go here: Tin Soldier.

Flash Fiction: Unwelcome Homecoming

New flash fiction featuring a peripheral character from my recently released blog fiction, Tin Soldier. It's also linked at Three Word Wednesday which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.

She lay in the back of the cart, shivering under a blanket even though the day wasn't cold. The rag that had shielded her eyes from the sun had slipped, but Valerie was too weak to move it back into place or to call out to the driver to fix it.

What did the man say his name was? She squinted at the cloudless sky, aware that her memory shouldn't be so faulty at twenty-three. They had said this would happen if she kept buying cheap huffers, but she hadn't cared; she needed some way of coping so she could make her money and get through to the next day, only to do it all over again.

The wagon hit a rock, throwing her hard to one side. The driver stopped the donkeys and turned around in his seat. "You okay?" He set the brake, jumped down, and arranged Valerie's wasted limbs more comfortably. "You hungry? You want some water?"

Valerie started to shake her head, then realized she was as thirsty as if she had a hangover. With an effort of will, she nodded. She closed her eyes and after a few minutes, felt the man lift her shoulders and press a glass to her lips. She tried to drink, spilling much of it down the front of her dress, but the water was cool and tasted good. He tried to make her eat a little, but although the bread was soft and the berries were sweet and juicy, the act of chewing exhausted her. She accepted another sip of water, then let the man ease her back down and cover her eyes again from the sun.

As they continued up the mountain, Valerie tried to remember who this man was and why he was being kind to her. He had been a client - she was pretty sure of that, but most men were quick to leave after she gave them what they had paid for. This one had actually taken an interest in her. She had a dim memory of telling him about her family and the crazy set of circumstances that led to her being sent to town to earn money for them any way she could.

She tried to sigh but her breath came out as a wheeze. They wouldn't be happy to see her. Why had she consented to this? Not only was she tainted in her family's eyes, but she was coming home empty-handed.

It all came back to money, of course. The rag had slipped off her eyes and she gazed at the pines and aspens. She loved this place as a girl, couldn't get enough of the wind, sun, earth, and all the living things that dwelt here. The trees, deer and birds had no need of money, so why did people? Something was corrupt in this world, and in spite of her family's hostility to the manner in which she had kept them fed, she knew the corrupt thing wasn't her.

Now she just wanted rest and healing, if that was possible. Would she get it here? She had no reason to think so, but she would die for sure if she stayed in town, where only the rich were given sympathy when they were ill. It figured that those with the most would always get the most. It wasn't fair, but what was?

She felt the wagon stop. "We're at the stone bridge you told me about," the driver said.

Valerie closed her eyes. It wouldn't be much longer now.

"You sure this is what you want?"

What was she going to do, tell him to take her back after all this? Where would she stay?

"If you're not up for it, we could camp for the night and continue in the morning."

Camping? In her condition? Had she felt any better, she would've laughed.

"I want this to work out for you," he stressed. "If they're just going to send you away--

Valerie shook her head. "Keep going," she whispered.

She settled deeper into her nest of blankets in the back of the cart, no longer caring about the rocking of the wheels over ruts and stones. She was coming home and her family would just have to deal with it.


If you want more, Tin Soldier is free and online.

Flash Fiction: Holiday Plans

New flash fiction about Amalia and Carina from my recently released blog fiction, Tin Soldier. It's also linked at Three Word Wednesday which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.


"What would you like to do for Christmas?"

Carina gave her sister a blank look. "I'm not interested, and you've never liked all the fuss. Let's skip it."

Amalia understood why her sister might not embrace the holidays with her old enthusiasm this year, but it troubled her that she moped with such persistence. "It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but we need to think of the children."

"They used to be street kids. I doubt they believe in Santa Claus or have had any religious instruction. It's not a special occasion for them; it's just another day."

"Then we should teach them. Not about Santa, of course," she added at Carina's blink of surprise. "But they should know about Jesus and presents and all that. Even if they don't grow up to be Christians, it's part of their culture, and we can't let them go around ignorant."

With a sigh, Carina set her knitting aside and stood up. "Do whatever you want. You usually do, anyway."

"I could say the same of you."

For a moment their eyes met, then Carina looked away. "I would think you, of all people, would understand."

Amalia ducked her head. Of course she understood...kind of. But her husband had been killed early in the war, while she still had clear memories of him. Carina's husband had been gone for a decade, and they had only known each other a few months before he was drafted. How deeply could she grieve over a man who had hardly been part of her life at all?

She was on the point of saying something to put her frivolous sister in her place, when their eyes met again and Amalia understood. It wasn't the loss of Miles that she grieved, but the loss of a youth squandered on waiting for his return. She had put all her hope into a future in which she and her physician husband would transform this poor desert valley. Now it was all a waste.

Amalia stood and took Carina in her arms. "I'm sorry. Christmas can go to hell, for all I care."

Carina pulled away and forced a smile. "You're right, though. It's not fair to the children."

"Maybe just a nice dinner and presents? Presents for the kids, of course; not us."

"Sounds good." Carina smiled again, and this time it was genuine. "We can do presents for us, too."

"I'm sure Donovan intends to pick something up for us when he goes to market, so it would only be fair to have something for him, too."

Carina blushed and turned away. "You figure out that part, okay?"

Amalia watched her walk away and wondered, as she had so many times it made her head hurt, just what had happened between them when he took her to Jonasville to retrieve her husband's body and effects. She had her suspicions, but if she gave in to every little fear or jealousy, she'd have time for nothing else.

Amalia sat down and picked up her knitting. She had a Christmas party to plan.


If you want more, Tin Soldier is free and online.

Flash Fiction: Turkey Day

New flash fiction about Donovan from my recently released blog fiction, Tin Soldier. It's also linked at Three Word Wednesday which is a great place to drop in and read new writers, so go to it!


For days he had been trying, but it was no use. Donovan thought he was a pretty good shot, but these damn quail were so small and flew up so suddenly...he kicked a clump of withered gramma grass in frustration. What was he supposed to tell the women, after boasting that he would bring down enough quail for a Thanksgiving feast for them and their neighbors? So far he had only managed to get one scrawny bird that not even a child would consider an adequate meal.

Unbidden, his thoughts returned to a remark Amalia, the older sister, had made: the God's Candidates cultists raised turkeys, and weren't more than a day's ride away. Buying from them was impossible, though; Donovan's dark skin and obvious mixed-race heritage would get him shot on sight, but who said he had to buy? If they didn't see him....

He headed toward the arroyo, deep in thought. Practical Amalia and her younger, more sensitive sister Carina, had both forbidden him to go anywhere near the cult compound, but although he was a stranger living on their charity, they didn't own him. If he wanted to try his luck at the compound, they couldn't really stop him.

Donovan stopped walking and considered. The women couldn't keep him from going, but the lack of a horse was a serious obstacle. Maybe he could borrow one from the adjoining rancho, though. The Nuñez girl was quick and smart, always up for adventure. If she loaned him one of her family's horses, he could slip out at night and... Oh, yes, it was doable. He shouldered his shotgun and started walking again, composing in his mind how he would broach the matter to the little Nuñez girl.

A sudden stirring in the grasses by the creek stopped him in his tracks and a dark flock rose into the air on thundering wings. Too busy daydreaming, Donovan wasn't able to get off a shot in time, and with a sigh of frustration, he set down his gun and rubbed his face with his hands. Who was he kidding? He would never shoot a quail. He was going through the motions, persisting in the illusion just to put off what was, in essence, inevitable.

For a long moment he looked at the distant mesas, as if daring them to challenge his decision. When the skyline stubbornly remained as it had always been, he picked up his gun again and turned toward the house. He had plans to make.


It's time I acknowledge reality, peeps. I won't seek a publisher for Tin Soldier, the first in my Peak Oil series, which includes Bella Diana, The Will and Diana Adventures, and Diana's Diary. I'm therefore unlocking it. Here's the blurb I wrote for it:

In an America of scarce and expensive fossil fuels, unstable government, and seemingly endless resource wars, former street punk Donovan Sloan deserts his National Guard unit—an act punishable by death. He wanders onto a farm in an overlooked valley of the desert Southwest, where Amalia Channing and her sister Carina Cunningham are living a hardscrabble existence, bitter over the loss of the easy urban lifestyle they enjoyed before the collapse of the oil economy.

Against their better instincts, the women take Donovan in and he struggles to adapt to honest farm life. But his old lifestyle of drinking, gambling and petty thievery is a constant temptation. When he falls in love with the object of a federal spy's affections, the fate of his rescuers and their neighbors depends on whether he can for once in his life, put the needs of others ahead of his own.

Enjoy Tin Soldier and let me know what you think!