Tag Archives: anthology

Crossing Colfax: A Story by Story Review

By Mark Stevens

crossingcolfaxShort-story anthologies can be tricky affairs. Collecting short stories in one volume from multiple authors can end in a patchwork mess. Not the case with Crossing Colfax, a sweeping collection of writing from the ranks of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. The only rule was that each story had to touch on Colfax Avenue—a long, heavily stop-lighted street that runs east-west across Metro Denver. Not surprisingly, most of the stories take place in the grittier sections of the city itself in the dark (and frequently paranormal) shadows. Surprising to me, these stories offer consistently high quality of prose and story-telling. There is a solid composure to the entire volume.

Herewith a brief recap and review of each story, a sort-of “consumer guide” to would-be readers. A caution that I don’t read much paranormal stuff and this collection includes a healthy sample from that genre. And one final note: kudos to the editors. In a project that involved a team of editors and coordinators, I didn’t find one typo in the 370 pages. Putting out high-quality books (dig the snazzy cover, too) through a self-publishing model is a matter of standards and commitment. Good work, Nikki Baird and the whole team.

The stories:

In Angie Hodapp’s “Seven Seconds,” auto mechanic Billy Shump possesses a common superpower. But it comes with limitations. He has the ability to turn back time. But only for, well, see the title of the story. That is, for not very long. It’s useful, but how much? Billy has his eyes on the alluring Kyra, a picture of female “poetry.” Billy gets a chance to save the day, but at what cost? Tricky bargains force Billy to a dangerous crossroads. The old cliché is “only time will tell.” Not only does time tell, it turns out, it takes care of everything. A clever idea and a well-written appetizer for this anthology.

You’ll learn a lot about farm equipment in “Hay Hook,” right down to branding irons and cattle prods. A genteel start to Margaret Mizushima’s story—a veterinarian checking a horse with digestive issues—turns Ugly with a capital “U.” Diamonds are not a horse’s best friend. I liked this story’s jolt from pastoral setting to tense crime drama.

Thea Hutcheson’s highly atmospheric “A Full Moon Over a Desperate Plain” begins with this gritty image: “The air on Colfax Avenue roils with the thick smell of sweet half-burnt gas coming off the finned behemoths rolling along this asphalt river.” Our first-person narrator Mike is a man with no dreams and the keen ability to sense the hopes and dreams in others. “No one ever notices that I’m more—or less—than they are, never know the hunger that pushes me into their company.” He is searching for connections and has an eye on Jenny, a waitress at a diner. Think nobody notices you, Mike? Maybe, maybe not. The sun just might rise one of these days.

We’re in the future in “Crossing the Uncanny Valley,” Martha Husain’s gripping sci-fi yarn that starts in a shuttle careening over western Kansas that soon crashes near Colfax Ave. in Denver. Or what’s left of Denver. But the Mile High City is now rubble. The earth is blackened. “Not a soul” alive. The band of survivors fear the “Mechs,” the artificial intelligence machines that have declared war on the human race. The shuttle crash takes one life and our narrator, Kaleb, sets out with horny Hutch and Gothic Punk Jo to find a way to get to a safe colony at Cheyenne Mountain, sixty miles away. An encounter with an in-stasis cyborg named Corinna could be the answer—or mean all kinds of danger. Corinna can answer certain human needs, but may have her own agenda. You better know the difference between your zombies and your cyborgs, that’s for sure. By the end, you’ll be eager to find out what happens on the road trip for the two who are still standing when this rollicking story ends.

Kate Lansing’s “Colfax, PI” features a Jewish vampire with a problem. His thirst for blood “makes it impossible to keep kosher.” His personal assistant, Lilah, needs help. Lilah’s sister has been murdered. It may be a case of tainted heroin and a vampire’s finely tuned sense of the way blood should taste certainly comes in handy. When push comes to shove, Colfax has the fangs to get his way. A fun twist on a familiar paranormal trope.

Zoltan James shades "The Man in the Corner" in noir. It’s got a cool, Chandleresque vibe. But a blizzard is blowing in and things are going to get even colder in the "sticky one-roomer" that is the watering hole called Dominic's. All eyes on the bartendress, Beatrix. She can "out-tough any bitch or bastard who walks through her door." Our narrator is a private eye with a patch over one eye. He's an ex-L.A. SWAT guy, too, and has a thing for "Trixie." There's an odd stranger and then a cop takes a stool. It seems Beatrix knows a thing or two about some missing money and soon the bullets fly. Blood splatters "like an abstract drip painting." Old habits do indeed die hard. Zoltan James turns up the heat even on the coldest killers.

“Blurg,” “Meh,” and “Snarf” are the first three words we hear Mable say in the ultra-brief short story “Allyah” by Rebecca Rowley. (You could read this one between sips of coffee.) Mable has just woken up from a weird dream about giving birth. She has an unusual job and the story is so brisk and efficient I don’t want to give too much away. Mable likes her clients to follow directions. She also likes specificity. Payments for her services are received via wire transfer to an account in the Cayman Islands. Well, Mable’s not her real name. Probably not a good idea in this line of work. This is a short story that asks a ton of questions and answers them in a few quick brush strokes—and detailed touches—at the end.

In “The Case of the Woman Who Sewed Her Silence,” B.K. Winstead introduces us to two Denver detectives on the hunt for a missing baby. They don’t have much to go on. A woman is found in a coin-op laundry in the processing of attempting to stitch her lips together (if you don’t believe that’s a possibility, you haven’t spent much time on Colfax Ave.) She’d previously been seen with the baby but now the baby is missing. The story weaves in some thoughtful takes on faith. You could almost envision a whole novel or a television series featuring the contrasting views of Detectives Davis and Diaz. Prayer, after all, “is not a gumball machine where every time you put in a coin, you get a prize.” There’s fine contrast and good banter between these two cops, a bit reminiscent of the nihilistic chatter in “True Detective.”

That kitschy cheesy “Mexican” restaurant Casa Bonita is the springboard of inspiration or Zach Milan’s “Stolen Legacy,” a tale of magic, missing children and professional redemption. Viktor goes from suspect to crime solver. He’s good at understanding misdirection and knows what to watch for behind the velvet curtain.

L.D. Silver’s “That’s Love, Baby” introduces us to a hooker whose life “has crumbled.” She has special healing powers and she hears a voice she’s named “Colfax.” A trap is waiting that might end her days plying her special trade or might provide a chance to escape. It might all come down to the voices inside her head. Like many good short stories, Silver leaves behind a few nifty puzzles for readers to ponder.

“Colfax Kitsune,” by Emily Singer, is a semi-steamy paranormal tale that places a Trickster from the Flipside trying to find her way through modern Denver. Yuri isn’t comfortable completing missions alone and would much prefer to have the company of Piccolo, who has ditched her, briefly, for a tramp. Yuri’s sense of smell and sound are, in a word, extraordinary. A stray miniature sphinx has slipped through a hole in the wall between Earth and the Flipside and Piccolo and Yuri must send it home “before its magic starts acting up.” Despite the terror in her veins, Yuri knows she can’t fail again. The hole is closing, the edges “curling in on itself like a burning piece of paper.” Time is running short. Over a coffee at Starbucks, it’s Yuri who will deliver one last message.

Autumn Leaves is the owner of Tea Leaves, a teahouse that sits next to a pot shop on Colfax Avenue in Laura Kjosen’s “Phantom brew.” Yes, Autumn Leaves is her legal name, as she tells the cops when they come around to investigate after the pot shop is ransacked. The story slips gently into poltergeist territory as Autumn works to conjure the ghost of Jack Kerouac with assistance from an acquaintance at a paranormal investigation society. Teapots fly and screams come in full Latin as this wild tale wraps up.

In “Take me to Your Leader, Jackie Smack,” Warren Hammond gives us a brisk and funny story featuring a pair of alley-crawling bums, Jackie and Darrell. Darrell tells Jackie that aliens come for him “every Tuesday,” an event that Jackie yearns to witness. Hearing Darrell’s stories, Jackie considers himself lucky to have found this particular alley and decides on the spot that smack and aliens go well together like “nachos and cherry Slurpees.” If given the opportunity to meet the aliens, he thinks, “he’d jump up to shake hands and say, “How’s it hangin’?” (A great line straight out of an early Seth Rogen flick.) This is sharply-told tale of delusion (and relative grandeur) with a back-to-reality twist ending.

Drugs also play a bit role in T.J. Valour’s “Ghostly Attraction, featuring Dina “who has been dealing with ghosts and their manifestations since she was five.” Dina considers herself “the most abstinent personal escort in history” though she’ll do whatever it takes to keep the customers satisfied. One customer is a full-blown sitophilic (yes, I had to consult Wikipedia). Now a ghost is trying to take over her entire being and she’s seeing utterly creepy sights, like the maggots dripping out of her cop friend’s mouth. Dina blames the hit of smack for intensifying the hallucinations. Dark shapes are following her. “They clung to the shadows of the parking lot across from the police station, absorbing the meager light radiating from the street lamps.” The story shifts points of view with a smooth, confident style in an edgy paranormal tale that deftly weaves together romance, unusual forms of lust and themes of professional and personal jealousy.

“Charlie’s Point of View,” by Linda Berry, wraps up the collection with fanciful story told from the point of view of the life-sized fiberglass and plaster sculpture that is seen to this day at the Tattered Cover bookstore on Colfax Ave. Charlie, with his highly realistic gaze focused squarely on the newspaper in his grip, observes more than you’d think. A couple of bag ladies “get into a situation” out on the street. As Charlie notes, the store isn’t on the worst stretch of Colfax, “but you still need to be alert for trouble.” Not everything—or everybody—is what it appears to be. What’s real? What’s not? Charlie knows he’s got the best seat in the house. Maybe the whole city.

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Mark StevensMark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

Book three in the series, Trapline, was published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

So You Want to Publish An Anthology? Read On…

By Nikki Baird, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Anthology Chair

nikkibairdAnthologies have experienced something of a renaissance, thanks to the indie publishing market. Lots of writers have short stories that they've written over the years, and in a lot of cases, the publishing rights to those stories revert back to authors fairly quickly, so there aren't a lot of legal reasons that get in the way of republishing.

Plus anthologies can be great marketing tools. They can help promote a collection of authors by making the workload something you can share, and they can provide a way for readers to try a lot of new authors for a low entry price. For single-author anthologies, they can also serve as a "try before you buy". Anthologies are also great books to give away for free when promoting a new novel, especially when they are stories you've already written.

So what goes into making an anthology? Well, a lot, trust me. But I'll give you three big ones, with a primary focus on multi-author anthologies, since that's where my experience lies.

A Theme. An anthology needs something to hold it together. For single-author anthologies, the theme is simple – it's the author! However, even then, you might want to think about selecting a collection of short stories that relate to each other.

When you come up with a theme, probably the biggest challenge is to make sure that it is rich in possibility. The core conflict or tension needs to be easy to grasp and yet also deep and/or broad. Also, the theme should relate to your group. Sometimes this means genre – for example, you wouldn't really want to throw a blood-and-guts zombie story in with a bunch of regency romance. But if you're looking at a collection that crosses genres, then a core subject or theme becomes particularly important in helping readers understand what to expect from the book.

For the RMFW anthology, particularly because we chose open submissions, we put theme front and center: Colfax Avenue. We could've chosen Sunset Boulevard, or Madison Avenue, or some other historic/infamous street in America, but as we are the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, keeping the location close to home seemed important. Plus I was dealing with a precedent set by previous RMFW anthologies. Dry Spell and Tales of Mistwillow were both based on themes important to the Rocky Mountain region – water, and life in a (made-up) mountain town. RMFW's third anthology deviated from this theme (Broken Links, Mended Lives), and we may stray from a Rocky Mountain angle again in the future, but this year the Colfax idea quickly took hold and became a slam-dunk.

 A Submission Process. If you're soliciting submissions, you need a well-defined submission process. We had to navigate several choices. Do you want to invite specific authors to contribute? Famous authors, when you can get them, can help sell the book. But their time is very precious, especially writing time. If you're looking to hook a famous author, it helps to either have an existing relationship or to have a cause that they support as a beneficiary for anthology proceeds.

For Crossing Colfax, we opted to not pursue specific authors. One, people like Carol Berg, Mario Acevedo, and Jeanne Stein have already been very generous in the past. Two, we specifically opted to open submissions only to RMFW members in order to feature and promote the writing talent within RMFW. So it didn't seem quite right to hold spaces in the anthology for select authors when what we really wanted were good stories no matter who they came from within our community. In the end, we had about the right mix: 3 stories from established authors (Linda Berry, Warren Hammond, and Thea Hutcheson) and 12 from newbies.

We held open submissions with only the membership requirement. We also had a blind reader panel, rather than a committee. There were a couple of reasons for that. One, not everyone was co-located, so trying to have meetings was going to be difficult. Two, and this one's all on me, I liked the idea of getting basically as much reader input as I could. A small selection committee can fall into group-think mode, where everyone ends up reinforcing each others' opinions, and radical new ideas get lost. With blind readers, this was in some ways like stopping people on the street who like to read and asking their opinions. Stories that I didn't particularly like at first came back with thumbs up from readers, and stories that I loved didn't do nearly as well as I thought they would. In the end, we ended up with a collection that I think is the better for it – with a wider appeal, and a more varied set of stories than we otherwise might have.

A Contract. This one's always the fun part. The last RMFW anthology was published in 2009. That contract included no provisions for e-pub. In fact, that is why you don't see any past RMFW anthologies in e-pub format in the market today, because we only have print rights to those books. Someday I'd love to go back and get the e-rights to bring the past anthologies online, but that is work for another day. Since we are writers helping writers, it seemed silly to have the kind of contract that makes agents wince, so we tried to be very open and fair. We asked for exclusive rights for one year, and perpetual rights to the story as long as it was published in the anthology. Outside of the anthology itself, RMFW has no rights. So after the year is up, the authors are welcome to publish their stories in other anthologies or stand-alone or however they choose. I will say, though, that we had our contract reviewed by Susan Spann, who volunteered her considerable legal services. And I would not recommend skipping that step!

Is it all worth it? From an editor perspective, you bet. It's hard work, and multiplied because you're working with multiple authors, but I get a smile on my face every time I see the Crossing Colfax cover. I'm so proud of the variety, the freshness, and the imagination that sits within those pages. Over the next year, I hope I'll also be able to say that it was a valuable experience for our authors too – because, while a lot of the work is over, a lot more work has only begun!

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Originally published at Patricia Stoltey blog September 18, 2014

You can find out more about Nikki by reading the RMFW Spotlight post from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog.

Crossing Colfax is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

A Few Reasons to Write Short Stories

By Lori DeBoer

It’s official: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers now welcomes writers of short fiction into its fold.  Since I am noodling away on a collection of short stories, a few of which have been finalists for awards or been published, I felt relieved to be able to come out of the 10,000-words-and-fewer closet, so to speak.

This change of policy makes a lot of sense, especially since the RMFW is putting out its fourth short story member anthology. (The most recent one, Broken Links, Mended Lives, was a finalist for the 2009 Colorado Book Award.) This year’s anthology is themed “Crossing Colfax” in honor of the avenue in Denver that Playboy Magazine dubbed “the longest, wickedest street in America.” The deadline for submission is March 14, 2014; for more info, click here.

While securing a spot in the RMFW anthology is a great goal -- I hope you'll submit something -- I believe writers of all stripes can benefit from writing short stories. Think of it as a cross-training exercise. Here are a few reasons why:

You Gotta Start Somewhere
You wouldn’t run a marathon without taking a few short runs and working your way up. You wouldn’t get married without going on some dates.  (Well, some folks would, but that’s a topic for another type of blog.)  The point is that writing short stories has been a time-honored way for fiction writers to learn their craft. Garth Risk Hallberg has been building buzz for scoring a $2 million book deal for his 900-page novel, but he published a novella and a fistful of short fiction first. Many successful authors of all genres cut their teeth on short stories, including Mary Oliver, Ron Carlson, Joyce Carol Oates, Kelly Link and Ray Bradbury.

You Should Expect to Experiment
Most beginning writers are still finding their voice, let alone their genre, and writing short fiction gives them ample room to experiment. Even experienced writers sometimes long to break out of their niche and play the field. Short stories offer plenty of room to experiment with voice, style, genres, characters and other narrative nuances without breaking the bank or frittering away too much time. If something does feel right, you can always scale things up.

Practice Perfects Process
Completing and polishing a short story so it’s publication-ready gives you an understanding of your writing process, from drafts through revisions. If you take the step of submitting to the types of magazines that accept short stories in your genre, querying becomes more mundane and less intimidating. While it’s always painful, getting rejected on a short story you spent months on, then dusting yourself off and submitting again, helps inoculate you against falling completely apart when your novel gets rejected.  Plus, any feedback you receive on your short stories might just be applicable to your novel-in-progress.

To Shorten the Time to Publication
Writing and submitting a short story provides a short-term goal to punctuate the months (or years) it takes to write a book.  Professional writers can generally draft, revise and polish a short story in two to three months, though some work more quickly and some are more patient, taking  much as a year or more to perfect a piece. With the trend toward micro-fiction—stories of a thousand words or fewer—the investment of time in writing becomes even more dialed down. The writing pace is up to you, but short stories in general have a quicker turnaround time for getting published than do novels. With a few thousand literary magazines of every genre in the United States alone, new writers may find a foothold in publishing more easily by writing short.

You Can Fashion a Reputation
Getting published in literary or genre magazines helps you pitch your novels, because those credits indicate that you are a working writer, not just a one-hit wonder. Many agents and publishers troll these magazines, looking for the next writing wunderkind. Marketers know you need to get a brand in front of consumers seven times before they remember it. The same holds true for building a base of fans. Short story writers have plenty of opportunities to reach the kind of readers that can eventually build a book’s buzz, be it a novel or a collection of short stories.

For the Love of the Form
Writing short stories need not be a station on the way to learning to write novels; the form can be savored for its own sake. The art of the short story differs from long-form fiction in a myriad of ways; it focuses on the present, what is, rather than running pell-mell toward what-may-come. Its compact form means that every phrase, nuance, gesture and narrative element needs to be worth the space it occupies. Because it requires a deft and practiced touch, many consider writing short stories more of a challenge than writing novels. The relationship between the form and the writer can be more complex than it first appears. Canadian Alice Munro, master of short stories, started out writing short when she had children to raise and a household to run. After her fourth book of short stories was published, she told The Guardian that she realized her attempts at writing a novel “never worked.” This week, her daughter accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature in Sweden on her behalf in recognition of her short stories, which includes 14 collections. In her interview, she noted that short stories are “often brushed off as something people do before they write a novel .  .  . I would like them to come to the fore without any strings attached.”

Do you love to write short stories?  Please tell us why.
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Lori DeBoerLori DeBoer, a Boulder-based author, journalist and writing coach, is finishing up a collection of short stories that started as her MFA thesis at Arizona State University. Her stories have been a Top-25 Finalist for the Glimmer Train Fiction Open as well as being shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize. She’s been published in Arizona Highways, The Bellevue Literary Review, Gloom Cupboard, The New York Times, Iowa Woman and America West Airlines Magazine. One of her clients was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and four of her clients have been finalists for the Colorado Gold Award.  She has volunteered to help edit the RMFW anthology and will be sharing information about writing short stories at the educational workshop in January 2014. For more information, visit her website and blog at www.lorideboer.net.