Tag Archives: bloggers

A Brief Comment on Book Reviews

While most self-respecting authors refuse to admit how much they enjoy reading customer reviews on Amazon, I don’t mind telling the truth: everyone does it and everyone enjoys it. Let’s be real here, it feels good to see what people say about our writing. I find it thrilling whenever a reader really gets what I’m saying. Earlier today I checked out my Amazon page for But the Angels Never Came, and I found a new review that really got it. In my excitement, I wrote this blog post and then pasted the review below. Check it out:blur-old-antique-book-medium


But the Angels Never Came, by Eric James Olson, is a multi-layered tale that takes the Bible story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, and sets it – with some significant changes, in two time periods in the future.

It’s important to read the introduction, which is part of the story. It explains that this is a 400-year old manuscript from the late 21st century, written between 2070 and 2117. It was also banned. Like many a scholarly presentation of an ancient manuscript, this one is annotated, with notes appearing in brackets at various points in the story. My favorite note explains that all errors of wording, spelling, and punctuation have been retained in the annotated version as part of the editor’s quest for verisimilitude.

It’s also important to be familiar with the Bible story, since the author uses elements of it all the way through the book. According to the story (Genesis 22: 1 – 19), God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac (though many Muslims assume it is Ishmael). Abraham agrees, though he loves his son, preparing the altar and tying his son on top of the wood. When he takes out his knife to kill Isaac, an angel stops him and tells him to sacrifice a ram instead. It’s a puzzling story usually interpreted as a test of Abraham’s faith. The crux of this book, as the title explains, is what would happen if the angel didn’t show up.

The main story features a group of survivors escaping the post-Apocalyptic anarchy of the city and trying to reach the relative safety of Church Peak.

The inner story, told by a man originally identified as the Storyteller, concerns the flight of Abraham, his wife, Sarah, and their son. The more you know about the book of Genesis, the more you’ll enjoy the many references.

The Storyteller uses elevated diction typical of the Bible: “Thou shalt not steal. Would you be as Adam Lot? Would you sacrifice your life for the theft of another’s morsel?”

Sarah, though, uses very casual language and seems to be the only who sees people as they really are.

The Storyteller has a recurring vision, where he is a younger man standing on a field of grass. He sees a ram with the face of a boy. “The dagger found its place,” the boy said in the voice of a ram. But the second. The second can be prevented. Abraham,” the boy-ram said, “Do this and you are absolved of your sin.”

At the center of the story, the two stories overlap. Both groups are headed to Church Peak, and talk of faith and sacrifice abounds.
The ending is powerfully fierce.

This book is a treat – a layered, engaging read that never loses its intensity. Highly recommended.


And that’s it. Thanks for reading. And if you’d like to read it, click the title: But the Angels Never Came


Bad Writing Advice

We’ve all received bad writing advice at some point or another. Usually, the advice starts with one of the following: “always do this” or “never do that.” I actually work with someone who tells her students that they should “never use the word ‘that'”. Anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows THAT I don’t believe in limiting our choices when it comes to expression. I think it’s best to know how and why certain words, literary techniques, literary devices, etc. are used so that we CAN use them when it’s appropriate or when it serves our artistic purposes. untitled (5)So, to help battle against all the bad advice out there, I’ve made a list of literary “TRUTHS” that aren’t actually–well, true. Here’s the list of bad advice:

  • Never use personal pronouns when you can use a characters name
  • Don’t end a sentence with the word “it”
  • Never use digression
  • Never use flashback
  • Every character should be well-developed
  • Never place a comma after a prepositional phrase when it begins a sentence and is under 5 words
  • Never use an oxford comma
  • Always use an oxford comma
  • Always use the word “and” before the last item in a list
  • Never use sentence fragments
  • Never use dialect
  • Spell everything “correctly”
  • Don’t use a “hard” period
  • Don’t write in short sentences
  • Don’t write in long sentences
  • Don’t ever use flowery language
  • Avoid using plain or simple language
  • Don’t be repetitive
  • Always describe your settings in detail, so the reader can see what it looks like
  • Don’t ever bore your reader by describing the setting. Let them picture it for themselves
  • Always attribute your dialogue so the reader knows who is speaking
  • And most importantly, don’t ever use the word “that”

Well, I hope this list is helpful, and the next time you hear someone sharing one of these literary truisims, don’t be afraid to question them: “Why can’t I do ‘THAT'”



Flash Fiction Contests

Recently I was invited to submit something for a flash fiction contest. No, it wasn’t a personal invitation, I doubt that I’m that important. It was one of those spam type invitations that get sent out to thousands. Normally I wouldn’t submit anything, but with little to do this morning as my daughter played a game on her mother’s ipad, I decided to write something.

The genre is fantasy. So I decided to parody it all subtle-like, incorporating the lyrics of a Grateful Dead song. The prompt starts it off and I put the prompt in italics. The rest of the words are my own. Enjoy.


Deer People

She noticed a hint of movement beneath the starlit trees. But, that was nothing compared to the trail of blood that led out of them. And there were seven bodies left behind. He was afraid to move. The knife might come out of his stomach. Fortunately, the song he was humming provided the power to keep him alive. Then moonlight glinted on antlers in the trees.

Henry staggered, knife in hand, blood dripping through cracks between fingers.

“…Look out of any window,

Any morning, any evening, any day…”

Still singing. “Stop singing that damn song!” She screamed. “Stop it! I said stop it!”

“…You’ll find the sun is shining,

Birds are winging,

No rain is falling through a heavy sky…”

She took another step back. “You made me do it! You did! You made me do it!”

Henry fell, his face smashing into a sapling, bending the tree, denting his cheek. From the ground he sang:

“…What do you want me to do.

To do for you. To see you through?…”

And behind him she saw Elroy, of the deer people. And the antlers danced in the moonlight, the bodies obscured in shadow. Bloodthirsty eyes burned red.

Henry stood up, still holding his stomach in. “I’m fuckin…,” he said. That wasn’t part of the song. He staggered. “You…” He couldn’t say “killed us.” He spat blood.

But behind him the deer people danced on—she saw them dance on. She could see them. They were real. She knew they were real. “They’re real,” she repeated. She had been saying it but didn’t hear herself. “They’re real. They’re real.”

Henry fell again. On the ground he sang:

“…For this is all a dream we dreamed

one afternoon, long ago…”

“It’s not a dream! Not a dream. Don’t say that. Don’t say that!” But Henry wasn’t saying anything. He was only singing the song to stay alive, to keep thinking, to keep moving.

The deer people, they stopped dancing—she saw that they stopped dancing. And the red fires of eyes turned inward, towards the clearing, menacing, hungry.

“Why didn’t you drink the punch!” she screeched. “It happens quietly when you drink the punch! Like the others. You made me do it! You made it hurt!”

Henry didn’t get up. He stayed on his back and tilted his head towards the woods behind him, the last thing he would ever see. But there was only darkness behind him. Shadows of trees and nothing else.

She took a step towards him and could see the deer people closing in—she could see them, Elroy in front with his Great Claw Hammer.

“No, I’ll do it!” But she wasn’t screaming at Henry anymore. “I’ll do it. I’ll finish it.”

Henry didn’t hear her anymore. He heard the singing of his voice.

“…Just a box of rain, Wind and water, Believe it if you need it, If you don’t just pass it on Sun and shower, Wind and rain, In and out the window Like a moth before a flame…”

Henry felt something. Her. The knife slid out. He groaned.

“A sacrifice to Elroy and the deer people.”

When she looked up, knife in hand, raised above Henry’s throat, she saw them, and knew they were there, eyes blazing, antlers nodding up and down, white teeth shining in the moonlight.

Henry saw nothing behind him. Deer people aren’t real.


It would be hilarious if I actually won. The story makes no sense at all. It’s also funny that I’ll probably get an unusual amount of hits for this post because I titled it “Flash Fiction Contests”. Sorry, I’m not offering a flash fiction contest. I have nothing to offer. But I doubt very many people looking for a flash fiction contest actually read this far anyway. Thanks for reading!

Writing as Art: A,B&E

thNCEN8Z70Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. The purpose is educational and based off of the idea that we can all learn from each other. I start off the conversation by incorporating annotations every few paragraphs. (These are surrounded by parenthesis and written in bold) But my annotations are only the starting point. I encourage you to comment, critique, disagree, agree and argue the literary merit of each piece.


For this week, we have an excerpt from the opening of  Mark Nash’s novel  A,B & E. Let me know what you think of it.

from A,B&E

Oh, don’t mind if I do! Thank you very much. Isn’t that just a sight for sore eyes? A Black Russian in the a.m. Vitreously fleshy. Caffeine intake at its smoothest. For nudging you back into the daylight. A tender kiss of life, to expel the deathly, dried spume from the small hours dousing. Nyx you utter tart, I salute you! For guiding me home once again and delivering me safe and sound into the arms of dowdy old Eos! A toast to…Priapus. God of the vineyard and the other thing of course. Double bubble. All my hobbies rolled into one figurehead. My ideal consort of an evening. A Greek God to top all Greek Gods. Top of the morning after the night before to ya! Na zdorovia! Eis igian! As we say here in Greece.

(I like how we jump right into this conversation. It’s exceptionally one-sided of course, somewhat like talking to a stereotypical mother-in-law or an old rich lady who’s been around the block a view times. She’s handed a drink and off she goes. She’s not completely typical, however. The several allusions, many of which I couldn’t place, could be used to show how disconnected she is from the majority of humanity. This will continue in the following paragraphs. She also has fun with word play. Specifically, she uses epanalepsis. This is the repetition of the first word/phrase from the beginning of the sentence, at the end of the sentence: “A Greek God to top all Greek Gods.” She’s smart but full of herself)

Present company excepted of course, but I find revenge is a dish best served flush across the bloke’s cranium. Well, the Greeks are all for cracking the crockery. So when in Rome and all that. Besides, they were the first ones to craft an art form from vengeance. No wait a tick, it was my second husband Damon, who really elevated it to Olympian heights. The final word in retribution. Where they look in his unblinking, guillotine eyes and heed there’s no coming back at him. Nipping any escalation in the bud. A la thalidomide.

(More fun with words here. Some alliteration and assonance with “cracking the crockery” and I like how Nash transforms the idiom revenge is a dish best served cold. This narrator takes ownership over language through this transformation. This is reflected in her claim that her second husband “really elevated” revenge to “Olympian heights.” A pretty hefty claim. It appears that she owns stock in language and revenge)

An avenger therefore, ought to be up close and personal. Doesn’t merit the soubriquet, if the recipient is ignorant as to who’s responsible. Nor on what grounds. Eyeball to eyeball, Damon’s was a pinpoint perlustration. The polygraph of his blue ice chip eyes, needling whether a man was with Damon or against him. His laser red sight, locking on to the cornea’s yellow spot. Myself, I was granted more biddable access, always with a lascivious wink.

(The big words do three things here: they further disconnect her from the rest of humanity which doesn’t know the definition of “perlustration”, they make her seem all the more full of herself, and they further show that language is her tool of choice. What do I mean by that? Allow me an analogy: Saw is to carpenter as language is to this narrator)

untitled (4)Yet even cherished in lodestone adoration, I never located the bottom of those frozen pools. And when I reversed my polarity through betrayal, I bailed out of my own ducking stool ordeal and skipped the concrete verdict.

So you see I had a good mentor. Since when immersed in an alien culture, you can’t help but have some of the local custom rub off. But I suppose I must also have borne a propensity for it. Damon always said I fucked like a woman but fought (and thought) like a man. A heady cocktail. Diamond cut diamond. That’s what made me attractive to him. How I could gain privileged entry into his fierce Brotherhood. Honorary member without member.

(Another epanalepsis “Diamond cut diamond” and a bunch of big words. Although I can’t say that I like this narrator, not as person, she’s incredibly intriguing. As a narrator, she’s both an original creation, and oddly reminiscent to some of the narrators in Poe’s short stories. She assures us that we can trust her, but she’s oddly unreliable)


And that’s all folks. Honestly, that one impressed me and I think I might need to read the rest. If you’d like to pick up a copy, here’s the link: A,B&E . And if you want to check out other books by Mark Nash, here’s a link to his Amazon author page. Thanks for reading!

Epic Fail: Bad Writing…well, not quite epic

A week ago I thought it was a good idea to ask authors for excerpts of their earliest writing in its original and unedited form. A week ago I thought I’d be sifting through submissions. Clearly, that didn’t happen. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time, but it seems obvious to me now that no one enjoys exposing their flaws. You see, I thought it would be fun, looking back at old manuscripts and pointing out the mistakes we would never make again. But again, no one wants to do that. th (9)

The reason is obvious and I know I’m not the first person to say this: as writers we’re constantly running away from our earliest attempts at fiction. There’s no point in dwelling on those early attempts because we’ve already learned from them.

I did, however, receive one e-mail. Yes, that’s right. I received one whole submission. It’s  from a writer working on her first novel. Here’s the message she sent me describing her excerpt: “The main issue I see with this excerpt is telling not showing. The narrator also has an inner voice sounding between 12 and 14, when she was supposed to be 16. Since doing revisions from this draft I’ve learnt much about showing emotions through actions and facial expressions, and the novel has developed to be a YA/New Adult (not quite sure yet) with an inner voice between 18 and 21.”

And here’s a paragraph from the excerpt: “I was too busy watching Lei, interpreting his expression that I only just heard Harley’s sigh of relief. Whatever that meant, sometimes it really sucked caring for people. I just couldn’t let him believe I wanted to kiss him. Or that I liked him. It’s best to be true my feelings even if that means Lei’s aren’t spared.” You’ll notice that she hit the nail right on the head. We all made these mistakes in our first books. I’m particularly touched by the phrase “interpreting his expression.”thG54L7ATM I always used to have characters interpreting or analyzing expressions. I also liked “it really sucked caring for people.” Yep, 12 year old girl. But none of this matters because we already know this. Jo Carter, the author that sent me the excerpt, she already knows this and that excerpt we all just read has already been edited. I mean seriously, none of this benefits anyone. There’s nothing to even say about it. She’s already fixed it.thN8WEX1ZP

But I shouldn’t despair at bad ideas. It’s better to move on and all that. Halfway through the week I received a message from a fellow author that said this: “How about first attempt vs edited attempt – same scene. That would be cool to see,” suggesting that I should’ve taken excerpts that show a before-and-after, a look at the decisions an author made in the editing process. And he’s right, that seems much more productive. So, learning from my mistake last week, allow me a second attempt. Please, if you are reading this and wouldn’t mind sending me a short excerpt of your writing, both before and after the editing process, send it to ejamesolson1@gmail.com. Or, if you would like to send an unedited excerpt and would like a semi-professional critique either public or private, send that along. Yes, I just offered a free critique. And like always, I’m responding to everyone.  And hopefully this second attempt will prove more productive. Thanks, and have a good day.




Send me your firstborn! I’ll feature your excerpt

Hi folks,

Next week I’ll be writing a post on the common writing errors we all made when we first started–well, writing. thE6RXNWOLPersonally, I know I’ve come along way since my first novel and I still cringe when I look back at my first attempts at describing a setting, a character, or even a feeling. Back then, I used too many adverbs, I over-explained, and I made choices with spelling that could be described as either unconventional or flat out wrong depending on who you ask. If you have an example of your early writing that you wouldn’t mind sharing, please send me an excerpt. I can’t do this without you, and I’d like to feature as many authors as I can. Here’s how you submit:

  • Send an e-mail to Ejamesolson1@gmail.com with the following:
  • Your name
  • Your  excerpt (200 words or less…less is better) pasted in the body of the email (Sorry, but I’m not opening attachments. I’m dreadfully afraid of viruses)
  • (OPTIONAL) A short explanation of why it was bad or what was wrong with it or what you learned from it
  • Title the subject line with the word “Submission Bad Writing” followed by your name. Like this: “Submission Bad Writing Charles Dickens”

thM9HIJKJFI respond to all submissions and will let you know if your excerpt has been selected. All genres are welcome, but remember that the focus is on making bad writing better. If I decide to feature your excerpt, I’ll include a link to your blog, Goodreads page, or Amazon page,  a great opportunity for anyone looking to increase their visibility. Thanks for reading this, and I look forward to hearing from you!

How to Write an Ugly Character

Good evening folks. As you’re  aware I’ve been sharing a lot of other people’s writing lately. But tonight I figured I’d show off some of my own fiction. The excerpt below is from an unpublished novel I wrote. I chose this as an example of how to create an ugly character. “Big” Jim, the character described below, was my attempt at creating the ugliest character possible. He’s intolerant, racist, sexist, abusive, and uses terribly offensive language. th6SFZ10U9But before you read it, I’d like to mention three important things to keep in mind. First, even though I created him, I don’t condone anything he says or does. Second, in my life I have met people very similar to him. People like “Big” Jim exist in the real world and I’m going for realism here. Third,  you’ll likely notice that his strange speech patterns and mispronounced words seem grating. Although this is set in the Eastern Panhandle, he still speaks a little strange.  This is done purposefully to put the reader on edge. You might also notice a preponderance of hard syllables. This gives the passage a cacophonous and unsettling sound. Hope this gives you ideas for the next time you sit down to write an ugly character.



from From A to B

“Big” Jim is 6’2” and three-hundred pounds. His head is round and balding gray. He shaves it to keep it “lookin’ neat”. His face is red and bloated; he looks at your chest and then down in front of him and then your chest when he’s talking to you. His eyes are always shifting, and he always has something dangerously attractive to say.


Well, let me tell you about it.

That son-in-law-uh mine, Gene, that is, he pulled up just ‘round five or six. It was Friday night and I could already feel my hand shakin’ if you know what I mean.

So, I went right ahead and just popped one open. Figured-uh beer would do the trick just fine. Didn’t need to start mixin’ the liquor drinks just yet. It’d be a late night I figured, and I didn’t want to get all crazed up too damn early.

Teresa, my old lady, she wasn’t set to get back from the vet clinic for another hour and Gene was just unloadin’ his shit, so I figured I’d just set right there on my own sippin’ my beer till the family was ‘bout ready to join me. I’ve found that when I’m throwin’ a party, it’s always best to start drinkin’ ‘fore the crowd gets settled. That way, when they see you there drinkin’, they’re liable to want to do some drinkin’ too. And then when other folks get there, they’ll see that everybody’s drinkin’, and that’ll get them thinkin’ “Hell, I could go for a drink myself.” One thing goes ahead and leads to another, and ‘fore you know, everyone’s there drinkin’ and carryin’ on and actin’ like it’s the god damn fourth of the god damn July. Know what I mean?

Course you do. Anyway, I’ll tell you how it was. Well, first of all, it’s wasn’t the Fourth of July. I said LIKE the Fourth of July. It was actually Memorial Day. Well, not the actual day. But the weekend that goes with the day. And I was excited. I got to admit that. You see, I knew Gene’s dick would be all hard because there hadn’t been any snow days earlier in the year, meaning that he only had a week left of work and then he’d be free for summer. Last time it happened that way, Gene drank so damn hard I almost died keepin’ up with him. Uh night to remember.

Well, like I was sayin’, I was just settin’ there on the porch sippin’ from my beer can. It was right out the cooler and goin’ down like water. Then Gene and that damn daughter uh-mine and that little boy uh-their’s came round the side of the house. Somethin’ was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but somethin’ just wasn’t right. Gene’s mustache. He shaved it off. Now, I know what you’re thinkin’. You’re thinkin’ I’m some kinda fag for noticin’. But I didn’t really notice it, or its significance just then. Just then, all I noticed was that somethin’ was off.

He was holdin’ my daughter’s hand like a queer and that boy of theirs, he was standin’ there behind him.

“Gene, my boy, come on up here. I got a cold one right here in the cooler. It’s for you buddy boy.”

I went ahead and reached in the cooler for him. I was just so damn excited if you know what I mean. Well, I pulled out uh-beer for the boy and when I looked up he was still holdin’ the hand uh-my daughter like some type-uh fudge packin’ dick-lickin’ faggot. Just standin’ there while the beer I pulled out for him was burnin’ my damn hand with cold.

“Got your beer for you boy!” That’s what I said and he just kind-uh looked at me with this funny faggoty grin.

Well, that’s when that slut of-uh daughter-uh mine opened up her big damn mouth and started sayin’ somethin’ about Gene bein’ off the stuff, sayin’ that he ain’t drinkin’ no mo’.

“What kind-uh dick-lickin’…” I started to say but cut myself off when I saw that little shit of-uh boy-uh their’s lookin’ at me fawn-like.

“What the hell got into you woman?” I said to that no good daughter-uh mine. “What the hell! What did you do? What did you do to the boy? Gene, my boy, what the hell’d she do to you, boy?”

I could see right then that I had an effect on him. He wasn’t gonna budge right then. He couldn’t. But he looked at me. Then he looked at that slut of-uh daughter-uh mine. He looked back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and shit. And I knew it right then. Right then I knew his new attitude wasn’t at all set. Just a little coaxin’. That’s all it’d take. Just a little coaxin’.


That’s it. Let me know what you thought. And if you have an ugly character of your own, feel free to send me an excerpt for next week’s Writing as Art:


Thanks and have a good day

Writing as Art: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality


Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. The purpose is educational and based off of the idea that we can all learn from each other. I start off the conversation by incorporating annotations every few paragraphs. (These are surrounded by parenthesis and written in bold) But my annotations are only the starting point. I encourage you to comment, critique, disagree, agree and argue the literary merit of each piece.

For this week, we have an excerpt from Henry Martin’s novel Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality. Enjoy, and let me know what you think of it.


from: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality

The food sits comfortably in my stomach, washed down with a few glasses of Riesling wine. Strange bar, strange city—but for all its strangeness, no advancement has been achieved today. The wine, the food, and the atmosphere were making me sleepy, drowsy, and indifferent—in a nonchalant way. Nice, the land of art, beaches, riches and fame—the land where one should be fortunate to be. Do I feel that way? No. Across the sea, across the border, across a zillion stories lies the place I want to be. Where? I do not know, but I am certain that it is not here. Perhaps my quest will never come to an end; perhaps I am never to feel peace and harmony. The stillness and lethargy of the Pyrenee annoyed me, yet, the indifference and apathy of the Cote d’Azur is not proving to be a better medicine. Only a few hours ago, I thought Nice was nostalgic, colorful, friendly, and refreshing. Now, under the veil of darkness, it shows its true face. Or, it is that my eyes have opened? Am I finally seeing things for what they are? Will I ever find a place that will not reverse my perception after only a few hours?


(Martin blends form with content intelligently in this opening paragraph. Let’s start with content. The narrator, unnamed in the paragraph, first appears in a liminal state, a purgatory, stuck in a “strange city” miles from where he “want[s] to be.” Yet, he’s seems to be at the cusp of a realization. Perhaps it isn’t the city that irritates him. He acknowledges that Place doesn’t matter. Regardless of where he goes, his “perception” spoils “after only a few hours.” To express this, Martin chooses both his words and setting carefully. This takes place in Nice, a beautiful city on the French Riviera. But at the same time, the word “Nice” in it’s common form has a separate meaning of it’s own. Nice could also mean nice. It could also be interpreted as it’s philosophical form “Niceness.”   th89L7RA6PWhile the narrator believed that the “Pyrenee” and “Cote d’Azure” would be “friendly and refreshing,” he only found “stillness” and “apathy.” While these places promised to be “Nice,” he realizes that it looks different “under the veil of darkness.” He uses diction and juxtaposition to create this ironic effect. The philosophical form “Nice” as well as the city of Nice transform into darkness as the sun sets. Friendliness is stillness. Refreshing is apathy. The positive becomes the negative as he asks “Am I finally seeing things for what they are?” And the questions are important too. The questions further reflect the narrator’s liminal state even after his “eyes have opened.” Another part of this paragraph that interested me was the ambiguity of the second sentence: “no advancement has been achieved today.” For who? I’m not sure, but I think the ambiguity puts the reader in a similar state of mind as narrator. The line “across a zillion stories” had a similar effect. What stories?)


Leaving the bar behind me, I stroll back towards the harbor. This time my eyes are open, as if the short experience in the bar had corrected my vision. Nice at night is not the same as Nice during the day. The air remains warm, only now it seems to be charged with perfumes, scents, and electricity. While I was inside, enjoying my late meal, someone had turned the street upside down, replacing all the well–dressed couples and families with hookers, pimps, dealers, and lonely men driving around, aimlessly looking for an exciting fuck. Everywhere I turn, there is a whore. Some are eating the flesh of their clients right on the street; some have the decency to hide their profession in shadowed entryways. On the hood of a Renault sits a woman old enough to be my mother. Her exposed skin hangs loosely over her leather skirt, which is rolled up well above her hips. Her hair, dried out and bleached, is tied in a ponytail; her eyes and face are covered in so much make–up that it almost overpowers the presence of the man penetrating her with swift moves—her legs thrown over his shoulders. Pandemonium, circus, humanity. Amidst the trash, the cigarette butts, the luxurious yachts, and the cars and buildings lies a street where human genitals are pre–positioned, dancing with each other, dangling in the air, ultimately swallowing one another like the mating dance of a praying mantis—Ballare, Ballare, a formal dance in this informal setting. Yet the justification to dance is a righteous one, as long as they are touched and held.


(Martin further develops the ironic reversal of Nice by describing the ugliness of the streets at night. Again, this is done mostly through word choice and negative connotation. Check out this line: “Everywhere I turn, there is a whore. Some are eating the flesh of their clients right on the street.” Ugly right? Prostitutes don’t have to be ugly, but when they are “eating the flesh of their clients,” they’re definitely ugly. Check this one out: “Her exposed skin hangs loosely over her leather skirt, which is rolled up well above her hips.” Pretty ugly. And yet, I found the final line perplexing. He seems to excuse the ugliness for the basic needs of human nature)


These streets may as well be the streets of Constantinople. These prostitutes are but Roman whores, sitting on the steps of the ancient basilicas, and these lonely men, searching for the cheapest and the most exotic of meats almost mirror the anxious warriors of the Empire, returning from some bloody war—eyes and hair shining through the night, diluted and dyed in phosphorus—smiles so innocent and evil at the same time, resembling a poisoned strawberry, glowing with a lustrous sheen. Lust, lust, lust—like an unexpected avalanche the covetousness and cupidity knows no feelings, no boundaries. Sex to kill the boredom, sex to feel better about the self—does that really work? The worm made out of the two counterparts in this trade keeps swirling and swishing, growing wider and larger with each new arriving client. Concubines and business suits take over the harbor and the surrounding streets, while the bums jerk off in the alleys. Not befitting to this unorganized orgiastic swirling, I leave the harbor behind, marching away like the soldier of God, left, right, left, right…until the scent of sweating bodies can no longer be found in the air, until the trees and bushes provide me with a comfortable hideout. The street lamps glow far below, their light reflecting off the water like a burning inferno, but up here, I am alone, a cigarette in my mouth, watching the true life show before I settle for the night.


In the morning, I awake to the sounds of sea horns, traffic, and birds. Like a mad shivaree for civilization rather than newlyweds, it bounces off the green leafage, vibrates through the leafhoppers, and comes out of their tiny buttocks in the form of a sound, spreading everywhere like cosmic dust. I brush away the few leaves dropped on me as I slept, stand up, light a cigarette, and inhale. Exhaling a puff of smoke into the brisk morning air, I take a look at the harbor. Nothing left resembles last’s night imagery—the calm sea gently rocks the docked ships; the street is deserted. I descend back onto the main road, my body rested like royalty. It is no wonder that I feel like royalty; the castle in the background, standing proud on top of the hill, is certainly suitable for royalty of any kind, including me. I smile.


(I felt a certain sense of closure with the final sentence. “I smile.” Short sentences tend to have that effect. Now that the narrator sees the civilized world for what it is, “unorganized orgiastic swirling,” he’s happy to find his Place amongst the “green leafage” and “trees and bushes” describing the natural world as a “castle in the background…suitable for royalty.” I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the novel to see if the natural world also “shows it’s true face.”)


51BtuEKMatL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_And that’s it. Here’s a link to the rest of the book: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality. If you have an excerpt from a novel or a short piece of fiction, please e-mail submissions to Ericjamesolson1@gmail.com And as always, please comment. It helps us all out.


Henry Martin was born in 1977. 6583769Aside from his regular job at a preschool, he spends his nights writing fiction and poetry, which predominately deals with the often-overlooked aspects of humanity. He is the author of three novels: Escaping Barcelona, Finding Eivissa, and Eluding Reality; a short story collection, Coffee, Cigarettes, and Murderous Thoughts; and a poetry collection, The Silence Before Dawn. He is currently working on a joint project with an Australian photographer, Karl Strand, combining one of a kind images with short stories. He lives with his family in the Northeast. Check him out on Goodreads: Henry Martin


Send me Your Novel Excerpts!

Writing with Style takes submissions of novel excerpts and flash fiction to be featured on a new type of blog post, Writing as Art. If you are a writer interested in having your short fiction or excerpts from your longer fiction read and critiqued in a public forum, please send a brief e-mail to ejamesolson1@gmail.com . No need to pitch an idea or anything like that. Just a simple email will do. Make sure to include the following:

  • Your name
  • Your story or excerpt (750 words or less…less is better) pasted in the body of the email (Sorry, but I’m not opening attachments. I’m dreadfully afraid of viruses)
  • Title the subject line with the word “Submission” followed by the title of your story. Like this: “Submission: Godzilla vs. Batman”

I respond to all submissions and will let you know if your excerpt has been selected. All genres are welcome, but the focus is on the literary merit of each piece. If I decide to feature your story, I will also include a short write up with bio information and a brief critique, a great opportunity for anyone looking to increase their visibility. Not sure what to send or if this is right for you? Check out last week’s post here.


So, what are waiting for? Send your story to ejamesolson1@gmail.com by 3/4 and check in next week when I announce the next title to be critiqued on Writing as Art. I look forward to hearing from you!

Writing as Art: Approaching Twi-Night

thNCEN8Z70Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. The purpose is educational and based off of the idea that we can all learn from each other. I start off the conversation by incorporating annotations every few paragraphs. (These are surrounded by parenthesis and written in bold) But my annotations are only the starting point. I encourage you to comment, critique, disagree, agree and argue the literary merit of each piece.

For this week, we have an excerpt from M. Thomas Apple’s debut novel, Approaching Twi-Night. Enjoy!


from Approaching Twi-Night

She arrived at an overcast Friday noontime, the last day of the homestand, in a tiny red car packed with clothing covering the back windows. Through the balcony sliding doors he watched her pull into the back lot, but he waited until she had come around front and rung the buzzer. He greeted her with a forced friendliness, an awkwardness which attempted to conceal two feelings, one of nostalgic longing, one of unforgiving regret. She smiled and said she felt as if she’d been on the road for days.

(Although it seems simple, there is a lot to say about this opening paragraph. To start off, Apple sets the scene without boring us to tears with explanation. The word “homestand” lets us know that the protagonist plays baseball. No other sport has “homestands”. We also know that he lives in an apartment because she parked in the “back lot” as he looked at her through the “balcony sliding doors.” Apple establishes the mood by describing the weather as “overcast”. Typical, right? Wrong. He’s a baseball player so an overcast sky could mean no game tonight. This establishes a parallel between his baseball career and his relationship with the woman in “the tiny red car,” through a simple juxtaposition. He reveals his mixed feelings for her as, “nostalgic longing” and “unforgiving regret,” which is further shown through his use of parallel structure/anaphora in that same sentence “one of…one of…”. There’s a lot I could say about characterization here, but this annotation has already grown exceedingly verbose. I’ll leave those comments to the masses. One last thing then I’ll move on. I liked the use of alliteration with “forced friendliness.” It makes it feel forced. Great effect)

He made her some coffee. John, Vi said, with some hesitation, is there anything I could eat? A bagel? A sandwich? She’d been living on pbj, she said, picking the mold out of her last grape jelly jar. He acquiesced.

She ate as they talked, carefully treading with conscious discomfort.

John mentioned to her that he had been writing again. But, he muttered, it stunk. It would never be good enough. It was crap. He was crap.

If you don’t think you can write, she asked, why do you bother doing it? She put down her cup and pulled out a cigarette. Do you mind? she asked. Well, I don’t have any ashtrays, he replied. I quit smoking.

(I always think Cormac McCarthy when I see dialogue without quotation marks. It’s hard to do because it can be confusing for some readers, but Apple does it masterfully. It isn’t that each character has a very unique voice, not yet at least. It’s clear who’s talking because Vi is limited to asking questions and John only makes statements. The sparse dialogue also contributes to the bleak atmosphere of the apartment and the bleak prospects of both character’s lives. We don’t know what Vi does as a profession but we do know she’s “living on pbj.” John is a failed writer and I’m starting to think he’s a minor-leaguer meaning that he’s poor and his life isn’t likely to go anywhere)

I didn’t know you ever did, Vi laughed, lighting up. He wandered over to the couch, picked up a random empty bottle from in front of the TV and thought: Two and a half years. We were seeing each other for two and a half years, and you don’t remember that I smoked. He set the bottle in front of her, watching her tip the ashes past the lip, casually. She coughed briefly and lowered her head.

(The use of imagery in this paragraph, “a random bottle from in front of the TV,” adds another layer to the already bleak atmosphere. I’m picturing a beer bottle and I’m questioning why it isn’t in the trash can. Reminds me of college, which was cool back then, but John’s not in college)

I don’t have anything to say, he stammered, gripping the coffee mug with both hands. He took a sip and swallowed. Nothing new. Everything I want to write has been done before. Everything I could say has been done before, everything I think has been thought before. What else could I say? What could I write that would make any difference?

Why do you still play ball? she asked, standing up. He opened his mouth to respond to the non sequitur as she took a couple of steps toward the kitchen. Do you mind if I make myself another sandwich? she asked, cutting into his train of thought.

No. No, go ahead, he said, waving a hand. I don’t know if there’s anything left besides bread, though. I mean anything good. Things might have gone bad after our first road trip.

That’s okay, Vi said over her shoulder. She had opened the fridge door, extracted the jam. She continued, I mean, you told me once you didn’t think you were good enough to stay in the majors. So, that means all you can do is play and make numbers in the minors. You know, all those statistics, all those numbers, they’ve all been done before. You’re not going to make it into the Hall of Fame or whatever. All you can do is make more numbers, right?

(Very intelligent use of dialogue. Did you see what he did here? He just asked “What’s the meaning of life” without sounding annoyingly philosophical. Apple tempers the question in two ways. First, it’s Vi who asks the question. Clearly, her voice comes off as informal and innocent. Second, because she’s making a sandwich, Vi seems a bit absent minded)

Stats. Vi had been a psych major, John remembered. Three years younger than him, when he first met her through a mutual friend in Amherst, an opposing pitcher. After an away game during a rainout makeup doubleheader, the second game a fairly good outing for himself, he was introduced to Vi at a party of some sort. John wasn’t good at parties, never was. He just liked to drink and to watch the goings-on. She liked to watch, too, she said in a private conversation. The body is the physical manifestation of the inner person, she confided. You could tell what someone was like through careful examination of material context: gestures, gesticulations, mannerisms, intimate corporeal details of the anatomy.

He had believed her, then.

John brought himself back to his present, surreptitious peeks at Vi, standing at his kitchen counter, cig in mouth, purple-covered knife in hand. What had she told him, at the time? Fifty. She’d been with fifty. I don’t want to be just another number, he’d told her that last time. She looked pleadingly. I can’t help how I feel. I can’t…

(This part brings it all together, his baseball career, his struggles as a writer, and his failed relationship with Vi. If the stats he accumulates in baseball don’t matter and the words he writes don’t matter, then why does the number of men Vi’s slept with matter? The logical development of this parallelism adds to the cynical beauty of the piece)

Fifty-one. How many numbers were there now? John wondered. He supposed she was right. There are no new numbers.




And that’s it. Here’s a link to the rest of the book: Approaching Twi-Night which happens to be free to download tonight. If you have an excerpt from a novel or a short piece of fiction, please e-mail submissions to Ericjamesolson1@gmail.com And as always, please comment. It helps us all out.








Originally from Troy, New York, M. Thomas Apple spent part of his childhood in a tiny hamlet in the Helderbergs and his teenage years in a slightly larger village in the Adirondacks.13500352

He studied languages and literature as an undergraduate student at Bard College and later creative writing at the University of Notre Dame du Lac, where he wrote a controversial, award-winning opinion column for the student-run daily newspaper, The Observer, while composing the initial draft of what would become Approaching Twi-Night.

After further studies at Temple University, he now teaches global issues and English as a second language at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan.

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