Tales From an Untethered Mind

An Interview with Giovanni Valentino

Ok, Kiddies, another interesting interview for you – This time with Giovanni Valentino, the publisher of Strange Musings Press, and the editor of the series of  five anthologies entitled Alternate Hilarities. His newest one, ONE STAR REVIEW OF THE AFTERLIFE has some very funny, strange, and quirky insights into what a handful writers think may happen to us when we “pass over.” God help us all if any of these stories actually pan out! Trigger Alert: If you are serious about the afterlife, this book is not for you!




Giovanni Francesco Valentino has struggled with the art of writing for four decades, against the demons of self doubt, chronic depression OCD, and severe dyslexia. He has written a few memoir pieces about these struggles, as well as a dozen humors, speculative short stories. His long term goal is to be a science fiction and fantasy author that will inspire other people to write fan fiction in worlds.      http://giovannivalentino.blogspot.com/


JWM: You have a very prolific background as both short story writer and an editor of five successful anthologies. Which one of these is your favorite role – and why?

GV: I’m more proud of my success as a writer because I grew up with a severe learning disability. If you could find any teacher of mine from school, all the way up to high school, and told them I’m a published author, they’d laugh at you. It’s not really their fault. I was in school during the seventies and eighties. Learning disabilities weren’t even a thing back then. I didn’t even hear the work dyslexia until college. Teachers just presumed because I sounded intelligent but did poorly in school that I was just lazy.

Before computers, 1000 monkeys with 1000 typewriters had a better chance of producing readable text than I did. Now with modern technology like spell checking (which google is better at than word), text to speak and online grammar checkers, my creative spirit is finally free to express the mad capped ideas in my head for others to comprehend.

I do like my role as editor because I enjoy working with and helping other authors. At least two or three stories per edition have gone through a revise and resubmit process. I do this when I get a story that’s really close to acceptance but it’s missing something fixable.

I’ll send the story back with some notes on what I think didn’t work and even suggest a joke or two. If the author wants, they can make these changes and give it another try.

Not everyone is on board. I’ve had a few people thank me for my time but pass. They usually say they liked the suggestions but they just don’t see it fitting the story they were trying to tell and that’s the author’s right.

I’m sadder to admit that I’ve had a few come back without enough improvement or in one case, return in worse shape than without the changes and I had to reject it.

Still, it has worked more than a few times and has resulted in some very good stories in each anthology.

JWM: Your five anthologies are all branded as ALTERNATE HILARITIES – 1) ALTERNATE HILARITIES, 2) AH VAMPIRES SUCK, 3) AH HYSTERICAL REALMS, 4) AH WEIRDER SCIENCE, and now 5) AH ONE STAR REVIEWS OF THE AFTERLIFE. Alternate Hilarities is obviously a take off on the overworked term of Alternate Realities. Does this mean that you (and your stable of writers) find the alternate universe a lot funnier and more ironic than this one?

GV: That was the general idea. The first edition was just named after the original fan zine to express that very concept. I started using the subtitles after that because I felt the lack of theme made the first edition a little too disjointed by covering fantasy, science fiction and horror all at once.

Still, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton are running for President in this universe. I can’t imagine things could get any more strange or ironic here in the real world.

JWM: Your own stories obviously reflect this view point, Your website categorizes your writing as humors science fiction, humorous fantasy, and humorous horror – with a only a short nod to memoir. But yet some of your short stories reflect a deep dive into serious issues – such as your story KIDS DON’T GET CHOICES ( Eleven-year-old Eliza finds out a surprising secret about her past… and her future) – Do these serious stories come from your struggles with OCD, dyslexia, and chronic depression, as stated in your biography?

GV: Often these short stories are bits and pieces of character histories created for larger works that never got off the ground. I wrote KIDS DON’T GET CHOICES as a background history for a novel featuring the Uncle Gavin character. I never got further than that.

Although, TAMING YOUR INNER CHILD is definitely about people struggling with mental illness. I’ve never had it as bad as Mickey does in this story but it was an attempt on my part to bring people into my world. I actually wrote that for a writing prompt about my greatest fear.

My one and only memoir piece, Sometimes it’s OK TO BE NICE to people, was more about forgiving myself for not appreciating my grandmother’s complete and totally unconditional love for me while she was alive. I still choke up when I read it.

JWM: When (and how) did you get the inspiration to start STRANGE MUSINGS PRESS?

GV: Strange Musings Press came into being as a dream reinvigorated. I published Alternate Hilarities as a fan zine in the 90s, more about that later, but stopped because the cost of publishing back in the day was too high and the quality you would get was too low. And you couldn’t get small print runs either. I would have to order at least 1000 copies of any one issue to get time on the schedule with the printers and I didn’t need anywhere near that many.

Fast forward to 2012 and an author friend of mine had just gotten back the rights to two of her novels because her small press publisher had gone under. She asked me to look into the cost and efforts of getting those books back into print via self-publishing and I was surprise to see how easy it was now a days to get your own work to market if you just had some computer savvy. Having mad skills in Microsoft office, I could do a lot of the work myself and I had a few good contacts that could help me with the rest.

My friend got her books back into print with a different small press but I’d been bitten by the publishing bug again. So I started Strange Musings Press and for much less money and at a higher level of quality, I brought Alternate Hilarities back from the dead.


JWM:  It’s easy to get the impression that you are a one-man-band at STRANGE MUSINGS PRESS and in putting together the AH anthologies. Is this true? If so, how do you find the time to put all of this together, plus the financing, marketing, etc.?

GV: I am not ashamed to admit that I am a one man band for the most part. I outsource the jobs that I can’t do like cover art and the final proofreading but the rest of it is all in my wheel house of skills.

I read all the submissions. I typeset the print and ebook editions. I run the blog tours, the social media and Kickstarters.

As for the time, I’m already doing all these things for other people as a freelancer. I just added Strange Musings Press to the calendar like it was any other client. I have the experience to budget my time because I’ve done it all before. Although, I do enjoy complaining about what a jerk the client is when working on Alternate Hilarities.

JWM: Do you have a consistent stable of writers that you work with for your anthologies or does it vary widely, depending on the theme (i.e., the folks writing vampires may not be into weird science or the after life)?

GV: The anthologies are open to anyone. I post notices of the reading periods on the Grinder, Duotrope, and a number of Facebook groups to get the word out.

Still, I’ve developed a few authors that I like for their style or just being easy to work with. I always give those people special invites to the anthology. I’ve even gone so far as to prompt them to submit a few weeks before the deadline rolls around if I haven’t heard from them. Case in point, I will be inviting you back for sure.

JWM:  What is the favorite story that you ever wrote (and why)?

GV: My favorite story so far is in One Star Reviews of the Afterlife called THE ACCIDENTAL  RAPTURE. I got to work out my frustrations from my long career in I.T. with that one. I hope I was fair by mocking the end users and the IT people evenly. My biggest struggle with the story was keeping the tech references in check. I wanted them to be difficult to follow for a laymen but not impossible.

image001 ONE STAR REVIEW OF THE AFTERLIFE – an Anthology

As you shuffle off this mortal coil, many things will go through you mind. Will you be remembered well? Did you leave the iron on? Did you delete your browser history, lately?  But the big question – is there something after this? If so, will it suck? This is a collection of humors tales of the afterlife that cover the I.T. woes of heaven, the dangers of out-of-state occult tools. the perils of not saving appropriately for the hereafter, the shock of finding out not every good deal will get you through the pearly gates, and maybe, just maybe, paradise isn’t for everyone!


JWM: How busy are you with your Editorial Services? Do you enjoy this as much as you obviously do writing and putting the anthologies together?

GV: The Editorial Service is a pleasure and a burden. I do enjoy working with good authors helping them get their manuscripts ready for submission. It brings me great joy to see a good manuscript grow into a great one with my insight and guidance. I’ve been told I have a very strong sense for plotting and character development.

I like making the money the work brings but it does take time from my writing which I do enjoy more by far.

I have had a few instances where I just couldn’t help the author that has contracted me. Either their work was nowhere near publication ready or they just didn’t want to listen to anything I’ve told them. In each of the cases, I’ve just canceled the contract rather than steal the author’s money. My help doesn’t promise a publishing contract but I feel bad working on something I don’t think will have a chance even with my help.

JWM: Now that you have the ONE STAR REVIEWS OF THE AFTERLIFE launched, are you already planning your next anthology? Any hints about the theme?

GV: I am planning Alternate Hilarities 6. It probably will not happen this year but I definitely want to put one out in 2017. I’m still mulling over the theme but I’m leaning heavily towards Apocalypse/Dystopia. I have the sub-title “Not your Mama’s Apocalypse!” stuck in my head but there’s still time for that to change.

JWM: Your bio says your long term goal is to become a famous science fiction and fantasy author, which usually means moving into novel writing – Do you have a few such novels hidden in drawers ready to come out? Or are you working on these in your “spare” time? Anything you want to share on this?

Writing is my main focus at the moment since fate has given me a little unscheduled time to work with. I have two novels on tap right now. One that I am shopping around as we speak. I’m hesitant to go into too much detail about it because I might be using a pen name for that. The story is a nice clean young adult Fantasy and I’m not sure if my humorous speculative fiction background is going to help or hurt in getting that published. I’ve been told by a few industry friends to consider using a new pen name to make a clean break between the styles. The book would be the launching point of a huge fantasy world that I’ve been working on in my head for over thirty years.

The second one is a humorous science fiction novel called Happy Birthday to the Galaxy. It’s about a high level government Bureaucrat that gets thrown to the wolves during a global coup. He’s forced to live by his wits and the apps on his smart phone to avoid taking the fall for the gross corruption in his government. I’ve finished the first draft of that and I’ll be working on the second next month. I hope to be sending that out by July. That one will clearly work with the Giovanni Valentino name on it.

For more stops on Giovanni’s blog book tour for the One Star Review of the Afterlife, go to:  http://www.strange musings press.com/2016/03/one-star-reveiw-of-afterlife-blog-tour.html                      


Initiation Night




OK, Kiddies, another story to illustrate the randomness of a writing career. This was about the 3rd story I had ever written and I submitted this story to the Writers Digest Magazine national short story contest in 2010 – And to my stunning surprise, it received an HONORABLE MENTION in May, 2010.  So my first reaction is, Hey, I have a good story here! So I kept submitting it, and submitting it, and submitting it, only to receive a wide range of rejections. Finally, in May, 2013, it was accepted at Over My Dead Body, with great feedback. Thank you ODB (a great group to work with)!  It just shows the random subjectiveness of getting your stories accepted.

   Initiation Night

“Stop dicking with the damn gun,” Leshawne said to Jason who was seating next to him in the front seat, irritated at the way Jason was flicking the safety of the cheap imitation .38 Smith & Wesson on and off, on and off. “You’re going to fuck up and shoot your stupid balls off.” Truth was that he was less worried about Jason shooting his balls off than he was about getting the gun back in one piece. He had lent it to Jason when they had gotten into the car and was now sorry he had.

Jason responded by giving him the glare, the prison don’t-fuck-with-me glare that was supposed to put people in their place, but Jason had never been in prison (yet) and he was only 14 years old and still cursed with baby cheeks and soft blue eyes and smooth skin, so the glare came off as a teenage pout that wouldn’t even intimidate his own baby sister back at the house.

They were cruising down the boulevard waiting for a sucker to flick his lights at them. Jerome was in the back seat saying nothing and looking mean and menacing.

Sitting next to him was Washington, Jason’s cousin, who was smoking what he said was weed but smelled like wet hay. But it worked for him as he was giggling and talking to himself and only now and then focusing on what was going on around him, which at this moment caused him to repeat, “Shoot your stupid balls off,” leading him into another giggling fit, which told Jason that he was not going to get much back up from his cousin tonight, no matter what happened.

Lashawne continued to drive, growing irritated at all of them. They were not respecting his vehicle. He felt someone should compliment him on the smooth ride, the comfort, and the sound system of the slick dark green Lincoln Navigator SUV. He had boosted it on the street last night and liked it so much that he had even gone over to New Jersey to switch some plates from another car. That would confuse the cops for a day or two, at least.

The plan for tonight was simple: They would drive around until some jerk flicked his lights at them in a well meaning effort to tell them that they were driving without their lights on and then they would follow him until Leshawne could corner the sucker with the SUV, then Jason would earn his bones by jumping out of the SUV to shoot the unlucky driver in the head.

Following that they would celebrate with a few beers, maybe smoke some of that cheap weed that Washington was inhaling, then take Jason downtown to get the tattoo on the forearm of the devil’s head with bleeding fangs with KD underneath and, finally, find some sisters to get him laid, making him one of them, a man and a full member of the righteously feared KillDevil gang.

The wait wasn’t long. They had barely gone four blocks when a blue Ford Taurus coming across the intersection flicked its lights, twice, as if angry at them for driving around without their lights on.

Leshawne didn’t say a word. He just cranked the SUV around into a tight U turn right in the middle of the intersection, ignoring the other cars honking at them, then hurried his way through traffic to catch up to the Taurus.

“You gonna do this, Jason?” Jerome asked in an intimidating voice that would not accept no as an answer.

“He’s gonna do it,” Leshawne said, impatient now, not taking his eyes off the Taurus a few cars in front of him.

“He, he, he, My cuz Jason is going to do this, ain’t you, Cuz?” Washington giggled.

Jason flicked the safety off and on, off and on, staring at the Taurus.

“I’m gonna pass him and then cut him off at the next intersection,” Leshawne warned, pulling the SUV out into the left lane.

But as they passed the Taurus Jason said, “Oh shit, it’s a woman!”

Jerome sneered, “So?”

“I thought it was gonna be a dude, not some old white woman!”

“Who give’s a fuck?”

“Shoot your stupid balls off, he, he, he.”

“She looks like one of the teachers over at middle school!”

“Cut her off, Leshawne,” Jerome ordered.

Leshawne swerved far left and then cut back hard to the right to stop

perpendicular in front of the Taurus, T-boning her to a stop. There was a screech of brakes and an angry horn.

“This ain’t right. It oughta be some dude.”

“Just shut up and do it, Jason. Now!”

Jason shrugged, expressing his indifference, and opened the door to step down

from the passenger seat of the SUV, flicking off the safety catch and holding the .38 straight out.

Then nothing went as expected.

The woman behind the wheel didn’t flinch, didn’t shield herself with her hands, nor try to back her car away. Instead she stomped on the accelerator and rocketed the car forward directly at Jason, who barely managed to leap out of the way before the Taurus smashed into the side of the SUV, exactly at the spot where he had been standing.

Jason tripped when he jumped out the way and fell hard onto the street next to the SUV but quickly scrambled to his feet, feeling dazed, and watched in wonder as the woman back up, before realizing that she just coming at him again. He yanked the door open and dove into the perceived safety of the passenger seat of the SUV. The Lincoln rocked violently a split second later as the Taurus slammed into its side.

“What the fuck is going on?” Leshawne screamed.

“She’s trying to kill me!” Jason screamed back.

Jerome cursed, “That dumb bitch!”

“Jesus, she’s coming again!” Washington shouted, joining the others in reality.

The SUV rocked a third time before he could finish the sentence.

“She’s destroying my car!” LeShawne shouted.

“That woman has some anger problems,” Washington noted.

“Turn around and get out of here,” Jerome ordered.

“Where’s my gun?” Washington asked, fumbling through his baggy clothes. “I’ll show her. Where’s my fucking gun?”

Leshawne tried to reverse the SUV to straighten it into the street but Jason was climbing on top of gear console trying to get away from the bashing on the Ford Taurus. Jerome was shouting, “Move, Move, Move!” while Washington found his gun, But he pulled it out too hard and accidentally squeezed the trigger as he got it out, blowing a hole into through the roof, causing everyone in the car to grab their ears from the blast. “Oh, shit, sorry, sorry,” he muttered.

Leshawne managed to push Jason off the gear console and straightened the SUV but the woman rammed him from behind before he could get started.

“I’ve had enough of this shit,” Jerome said, pulling out his own gun and firing over the back seat through the SUV, blowing out the rear window. But the SUV was so much higher that it passed harmlessly over the Taurus’ roof.

“Oh. Man, my car, my car,” Leshawne whined.
The woman rammed the rear once again, jolting them hard.
“Stop the car,” Jerome said, his voice evil incarnate. He opened the door and

stepped down to directly face the Taurus, his gun in his hand. But the woman swerved around the SUV, slam banging the side of both cars as she straight for him. He jumped back into the SUV just as she tore off its door at high speed.

Washington was waving his gun around, yelling, “Oh, shit, Oh, shit,” and then aimed it out the side door that no longer existed and fired again.

“Oh Ow, Oh Ow, you just shot me in the fucking foot, you sorry son of a bitch!” Jerome yelled.

“Oh shit, man. Sorry. Sorry.”

The Taurus stopped 100 feet in from of the SUV.

“Now what is she doing?” Leshawne asked in utter amazement.

Jason peeked over the dashboard and saw smoke spinning off the Taurus’ rear tires. “She’s going to ram us with her trunk,” he said, totally impressed. “I saw this on ESPN. The Demolition Derby. She is gonna smash in our radiator so we can’t drive no more!”

“Where’s my gun?” Leshawne shouted at Jason. “Shoot the bitch while she is in front of us!”

“I don’t have it! I don’t have it! I musta dropped it in the street when she tried to run over me!”

The Taurus smashed full speed into them, crumpling the trunk of the Taurus but shoving the SUV radiator back into its engine compartment. The Lincoln Navigator died in a hiss of steam and a grinding of metal as the woman pulled away. She again stopped 100 feet in front of them and starting spinning her wheels for another backward bash. Jason was hiding under the dashboard, fumbling with his cell phone. Leshawne was holding his broken wrist to fight back against the pain but managed to ask, “Who the hell you calling?”

“The cops. Before the dumb bitch kills us.”

The cops were already arriving on the scene and it didn’t take them long to sort out the situation. The four men from the SUV were taken into custody, two of them in an ambulance. Later, when both vehicles were pulled over to the side of the road with cops kicking debris off the street surface and waving cars past the flashing squad cars, one of the older cops wrapped a blanket around the shoulders of the woman and handed her cup of coffee, then asked, “Why did you do that, Mrs. Davis? That was an extraordinarily dangerous thing to do.”

Mrs. Davis did not respond for a long moment, as if searching for the words to explain it but then glanced at the forearm of the older cop and smiled when she saw the tattoo USMC.

“What was the first thing the Marines taught you to do when caught in an ambush?”

The older cop hesitated, puzzled by the strange question, then said, “Attack. Don’t try to run away because you would drop your defense and there may other ambushers behind you or to another side of you. And most ambushers do not expect you to attack into the ambush, so you have the element of surprise, taking theirs away. That’s Marine Corps doctrine. But has that got to do with this?”

Mrs. Davis let the blanket slide off her shoulders, then lifted the short sleeve of her blouse to show him the shoulder tattoo with its globe and anchor and the letters USMC.

“Semper fi, Mac.”



Interview With an Outstanding Writer – Sally Paradysz

This is a change of pace, kiddies: New stories fromTales From an Untethered Mind will return but in the meantime I want you to meet a great new writer – Sally Paradysz.

Sally’s book – “From Scratch” –  is a memoir, launched in Nov. 2015, to great reviews, large book signings, and great success. No one has worked for it harder or deserved it more. The hidden kicker in  this? Sally wrote this book when she was sixty-six years old.

It is a memoir about a sixty-six year old woman changing her life by building a new home “from scratch” on three acres in the wilderness in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania. “From Scratch” means exactly that: She and her partner Melanie build their home with their own hands while living in a tiny, uninsulated shed in a strand of trees.

Changing her life? That is an understatement.  After 35 years in tension filled marriage to an overbearing husband, and reeling from the after effects of a violent rape, this gentle, older woman realizes her need to reconnect with her true self – and does so by moving off the grid with Melanie, her new partner, and her two Maine coon cats, to camp in that small shed in the woods, dealing with contractors (a closed universe dominated by men) and ever dwindling financial resources as they battle to construct a new home for themselves in a pristine environment.

The following interview is about how she wrote the book, and about her writing. If you want to read the full story “From Scratch” itself (and you should!) go buy the book. It is 287 pages of great reading!

The Interview:

When did you seriously start to write?

SP: I began writing at the age of eight. To me, all of my writing has been serious. I began with poems, and they turned into meditations, which in time went back to poetry. I wrote about what I knew best at that age, nature and family, horses and the life of a woodsman’s daughter. I thought my poetry was beautiful and important. Was it?

In the years to come I continued to write. No one took me seriously so most of the time I hid my work. Lots of us do. But with time, I stopped being embarrassed because I felt deeply about it. I never once stop to consider if it might ever be relevant.

Your major achievement has been your memoir on building your house, while you were rebuilding your life. Did you know you were going to write this book when you started your housing project?

SP: No! The experience of building my home while living in a tiny tool shed on my land, gave me a spiritual experience with nature that I never believed possible. It wasn’t until the last nail was in place that I realized the gift I was given. The love that came to me during the process helped me take on my own personal challenges.

I loved that time, not only for building a home, but for rebuilding my life. For one of the first times ever, I felt a lift in the knowledge of what was important. To me and my life. With that awareness I felt an enormous need to tell my story.

Did you keep a detailed diary while in the process of building your new home or did you write from memory after the housing project was completed?

SP: I wrote almost entirely from memory. I have a fine one of those tools and put it to good use.

Also, I did keep a house file with all my receipts in it. Kept track of the construction auctions and costs associated with that, along with the dates on the receipts. That gave me the knowledge of a nice time flow.

Tell us about your about your other stories that have appeared in wide variety of anthologies since 2009. Which was  your favorite and which garnered you the most attention?

SP: I loved doing the Essay, Tool-Belt Spirituality. When asked by Sellers Publishing to write a thousand-word essay for the book 65 Things To Do When You Retire, I felt challenged and excited. Not only because I would be published in the same book as Gloria Steinem and Jimmy Carter, but because it made me feel worthy of my writing.

From Scratch stretched me as a writer. It not only helped me find my true voice, but expanded my vision for the expectations I had for the rest of the book.

Do you prefer memoir over fiction? If so, why?

SP: Actually, I’m not sure. I love both, but memoir has a life of its own. I think if I had to choose I’d do more memoir.

I feel with memoir I’m given the chance to give from the heart. Give something of me to those who have chosen to live in fear or some other uncomfortable place. I may be able to help, but I can listen.

Do you have any outstanding mentors that have aided in your growth as a writer?

Susan Richards, Helen Papashvily, and my writing group. Great writers, good people.
Tell us about your relationship with the Bethlehem (PA.) Writers Group?

SP: I was one of the first to join this amazing group of writers. All of the BWG writers are outstanding in their own unique way. Each has his or her own voice. I love it. They are dedicated to their craft and the group.

All of us who have the BWG in our back pockets feels fulfilled. We feel heard, as if the time spent was worth the effort, and feel privileged to be critiqued by everyone who is a member.
Do you participate in other critique groups or frequently attend some writing conferences or seminars?

SP: I have spent time participating in writing workshops, and have been to a conference or two. To be honest, I like to think that no one helps me make a story better but me. I listen, I  work hard, and then I write honestly. The BWG is the only critique group I will listen to.
Are you planning another large writing project now that your 1st book is fully launched?

SP: Yes. I’d like to do a sequel on the next decade of From Scratch and how that unfolded. Many events have happened during this time and one is critical to my continuing story. I’d like to tell that story.
Do you have any strong advice for “older” writers, who may just beginning to write?

SP: Yes. Do not be put off! It’s your story, be proud of your work and tell it! There is always a beginning, but even better is knowing the accomplishment when you’re finished.

Scan 5




Tales From an Untethered Mind

If you are a writer, you should live what you write. This story was just pure fun. It was published in BWG Writers Roundtable in Feb.2013. It will always be one of my favorites!
   Papa’s Big Day

Mama always woke early on special occasions. The morning was grey and sullen and she could sense that the humans were coming. They would be here soon. She reached over to tap Papa on the butt with her paw. “Time to wake up, Papa.”

He squirmed away from her touch and snuffled into his fur. “I’m sleeping.”

“You’ve been sleeping since late November.”

He responded with a snore.

She tapped him again, harder. “Wake up, Papa, before they come.”

He sighed but did not open his eyes. “What time is it?’ he grumped.



It was the same every year. If he wasn’t awake and ready, they would reach into the hole to grab him and he would awake with a start, then get angry and bite the fingers that were trying to pull him up and out of the burrow.

But they would just come back, wearing heavy gloves the second time, and he would continue to bite and struggle but they would finally pull him out. But during the fight the dirt in the tunnel would crumble and collapse, dropping into her Momma’s eyes and face and into her fur. Then the cold would blow in through the rest of February and March and keep her awake. Worst of all, that fallen dirt would mat into her fur and it would take all April for her to shake it out.

“Get up, Papa,” she growled, starting to get angry. She poked his butt with her sharp claws. He hated that.

“Hey, that hurts!”

“Then get up.”

“Why don’t they pull Junior out of his hole. He’s just on the other side of the field.”

“They want you. Junior is too small and scrawny. They want your chubby furry body, your plump cheeks and your big fat butt.”

He opened his eyes and smiled at her, “So I still look good to you, huh, after all of these years?”

“You’re perfect, Papa. Everything that a groundhog should be.”

“Can we go back to sleep, then, after they leave?”

“We can snuggle and snore until April.”

“But you’ll wake me in time, right? I’ll be hungry by then.”

Papa was now fully awake. He, too, could hear them coming. A big crowd this year. Cars and trucks being parked on the far side of the field. The voices quiet and hushed as if they wanted to surprise him.

“Don’t forget the treats,” Mama said. “Tuck some into your big pouchy side cheeks and bring them back to me. Promise?”

“I forgot about the treats,” Papa said eagerly.


“Yes, yes, I promise.”

“Smile and look bright. Cheerful and alert. They like that.”

“I forget. Do they want me to see my shadow? Or not?”

Mama shrugged. “Who cares? We’re going to go back to sleep either way.”

A hand came down the hole. Mama could see Papa’s grin. He was enjoying this. He always did. But the mischievous glint in his eye told her that he might just nip the man’s fingers, just for the fun of it. But he relaxed at the last minute and let himself be pulled up.

She let out a deep sigh of relief, not realizing she had been that tense. She was always afraid that he might be hurt if he struggled too hard against them.

“You’re a star, Papa,” she called after him.

“I’ll bring back the treats for you, I promise,” his voice trailed back to her.

She snuggled warmly into a corner. Every year was the same thing. Every year. Ground hog day all over again.

Tales From An Untethered Mind

Paris July 06 083

This was the third short story I ever wrote. To my utter delight, this was published in the e-zine Flash Fiction Offensive in June, 2011. To my even greater delight, it was awarded a 2nd Place Bullet Award for the best Crime Fiction to appear on the web for that month. Got some great feedback from the readers, too: “…Funny as hell..”  “…Made me snort my morning soda…”  “…reminded me of World’s Dumbest Criminals…’  All good stuff but it made me worry about what to do next.

Note: Some delicate issues have been handled in an indelicate manner – you have been warned!

Convenience Store

Patel felt something was wrong when the two men walked into the convenience store. One wore a crocheted stocking cap that was inappropriate for the summer night and the other had black “do” rag that made him look mean. Both looked nervous.

They fooled around the magazine rack before picking up a box of donuts, then took a long time to come up to the counter

“Anything else?” Patel asked.

“Carton of Marlboros,” the first man said.

The second one pulled out a gun, giggling as if embarrassed to have the weapon in his hand but added, “And all of the money you got in the cash register.” He didn’t point the gun at Patel, just held it down along side his leg. keeping it out of sight.

“You know there isn’t much money in there,” Patel said, his voice a little high but trying to stay calm. “Fifty dollars, not more. It’s been a slow night.”

“You’re lying. Bro. We seen people coming in and out all night.”

Patel shrugged, “Ain’t my money and I sure as hell don’t want to get shot over it but it’s been nickel and dime all night. I just don’t want you to be disappointed. It ain’t worth an armed robbery charge.”

The man in the crocheted cap made a face and reached under his t-shirt to pull out a gun, too, and said, “Why don’t you let us worry about that?”

Patel said, “You got it,” and hit the release button on the cash register. But the entry bell to the front door jingled again. All three men turned to stare at two other men walking into the store.

“Dammit, I told you to lock the door after we came in,” Crocheted Cap whispered to Do Rag.

“You didn’t tell me shit,” Do rag whispered back.

Patel raised his hands off the cash register and asked, “What do you want me to do?”

“We gonna step back over there, behind that aisle, and wait. You take their money and get them the fuck out of here. And remember, we got guns.”

“Like I’d forget.”

“Don’t be smart, boy!”

Patel shrugged and closed the cash register. Crocheted Cap and Do Rag stepped around the aisle just as the other two men walked up.
Patel managed to control his voice, “May I help you?”

“A carton of Marlboros.”

“And all of the money you got in the cash register.”

“I, uh, I think you might want to talk to those two guys.”

“Talk to who?”

“To us, motherfucker.”

“Who the hell…” but the man stopped when he saw the two guns coming around the aisle.

The man behind him pulled a gun from under his t-shirt and said, “I’m gonna cap your ass, motherfuckers.”

Patel ducked under the counter as at least two guns went off. The sound was stunning and the choking acrid smell of cordite instantly filled the small store, but apparently no one was hurt as no one yelled, or screamed, or fell down, and there were sounds of feet scrambling away in opposite directions to hide behind different aisles.

“We were here first, you stupid mofos.”

“Big fucking deal.”

Someone fired again and there was a crash of glass in the frozen food section, which prompted someone to shoot back, causing a crash of glass at the front door.

“The man behind the counter says there ain’t but fifty dollars in the till.”

“Well, it’s our fifty dollars, asshole.”

“Then step right up and get it, dumb shit. It will be the last fifty dollars you will ever see.”

“We got all night and probably a lot more ammunition that you got!”

There was a long silence as both sides glanced at their watches and counted their bullets.

“Fifty dollars? We could split it four ways. Twenty-five dollars each.”

“What are you? One of them dumb shits that got left behind?”

That merited another shot, which splattered a five pound sack of Gold Medal flour.

“You’d better not be trying to outflank us, ‘cause we’re watching for it.”

“Keep watching, asshole.”

Suddenly there were sirens off in the distance but it was difficult to tell if they were coming towards the store or not.

“You’d better not have called the cops, boy, or all four of us will cap your white ass.”


“You hear me, boy?”

“Asshole probably fainted.”

The sirens were coming closer.

“Somebody’s going to have make a move here!”

Silence, then, “OK, Don’t shoot at us. We’re gonna back outta the front door. You can have the money and the fucking cops, too!”

“I’ll shoot at you if I want to shoot at you,” Crocheted Cap yelled but he couldn’t see the other men go out the front door as they crouched low and used the aisles to cover themselves until the entry bell jingled to tell everyone they were out the door and gone.

Do Rag started after them but Crocheted Cap grabbed his arm to hold him back, saying, “They may be waiting out there for us, Bro. We’ll grab the money and go out the back door.”

They crept around the counter, expecting to see the Patel huddled in fear on the floor but he was not there. And the cash register was open and empty. And the back door was open. Crocheted Cap and Do Rag stared at one to the other, just starting to understand what happened and to get pissed about it when the cops came through both the front and the back doors yelling at them DROP YOUR GUNS AND GET DOWN, GET DOWN.

The newspaper reported the next day that two men had been arrested and another two were still being sought. It also reported that nearly two hundred dollars was taken from the cash register. Patel Diol, who was working in the store when the robbery took place, was quoted as saying he had no idea which pair took it.


Tales From an Untethered Mind

This was one of the first short stories that I had “published” – meaning that it was accepted and read aloud on stage by the Liar’s League in London, England, in April, 2010. So I thought I had a hot one that would get quick acceptance in an e-zine or magazine. In fact it took two more years before it was accepted by the BWG Writers Roundtable in March 2012. So goes the life of a fiction writer.

Note: This story handles some delicate issues in an indelicate manner – with bad words, too boot – You’ve been warned!


                   Hanging With the Neighbors

He was standing on a short stepladder, facing me. The expression on his face said Piss off, this is none of your business. One end of the rope was secured to the overhead garage beam. The other end formed an expert hangman’s noose around his neck.

He kicked away the stepladder just as I stepped through the door.

I surged forward and managed to wrap both arms around his legs to lift up as he hit the end of the rope. There was a sharp jerk and a heavy grunt but I pushed upward with all my strength.

“You OK?” I asked.

I could tell he was alive. We had a delicate balance, me carrying the brunt of his weight, his neck straining hard against the taught rope. I couldn’t raise my head high enough to see his face. In fact, I was talking into his crotch. There was a long moment of silence , then, “What… the fuck… do you… think you’re doing?”

“What the fuck do you think I’m doing?”


“Don’t bother to say thanks.”

“I hope…you’re… not …a pervert.”

“I feel you getting a hard on, I’ll drop you. That a deal?”

“This is a mistake.”

“Hanging yourself, or my stopping you from hanging yourself?”

“Hanging myself.”

“Just had a change of mind ?”

“How you gonna get me down?”

I hadn’t given that any thought up to this moment. I was too busy trying to just hold him up. I glanced around the garage. The stepladder out of reach and there was nothing within six feet of us.

“You got a knife on you?” His voice was a hoarse whisper.

“I have a Swiss Army knife, but it’s at home.”

“My hero.”

“What if I lift you up? You put your feet on my shoulders, then you can reach the beam to untie the rope.”

“I got a rope cinched tight around my neck and you want me to balance on your shoulders to reach the beam?”

“OK. I’ll lift a little to put some slack in the rope, then you use your thumbs to loosen the knot. Maybe you can pull the noose up and off?”


I pushed up as I high as I could and he inserted his thumbs inside the noose, but the shift in weight made me lose balance and lurch backwards. He gagged with a loud squawk, his eyes popping out like huge marbles as the noose cinched even tighter.


“My… fucking… thumbs… are caught… under the noose!”

“I guess that eliminates trying to reach the beam?”

“This… really… hurts.”

“You were going to hang yourself and you didn’t think it would hurt?”

“I thought… it was… going …to be… a little quicker… than this.”

“Why not sleeping pills? Or gas yourself in your car?”

“I’m… flat broke. Didn’t… want… to waste… a hundred bucks… on fancy sleeping pills… just to kill… myself. And… my car…repo’d… last week.”

I shifted my arms, trying to avoid a cramp.

“Be… careful…will ya?”

“I guess you’re not Catholic?”

“…the fuck… has that… got to do… with anything?”

“Catholics think you go to hell when you commit suicide.”

“I’m about… to die here… and you’re… worrying… about me… going to hell?”

“Sorry I mentioned it.”

“You… Catholic?”


“Then…why the hell… bring it up?”

“Just making conversation while we figure out what to do. Why you doing it in Chuck’s garage, anyway?”

“Chuck…away… for the weekend…Had no where else…to go. Why…you here?”

“Chuck said I could use his hedge trimmer. Just get it out of the garage while he’s away.”

“You…friend of… Chuck’s…too? Surprised… we haven’t… met.”

“Just lucky up to now, I guess.”

“What the… hell… does that… mean?”

“Your friend’s away and you hang yourself in his garage? He comes home and finds you hanging. He’s in shock but has to get you down, call the police, explain who you are, then clean up the mess. Who the hell would want to be your friend?”

“Schmuck… deserves this. Got me …into this.”

A ring tone went off over my head. “You gotta cell phone?”

“Shirt… pocket.”

“Who’s ever calling can help us out for chrissakes!”

“You… gonna reach…it? My thumbs…trapped upside… my neck!”
Pure sarcasm. He knew damn well that I couldn’t reach it. The ringing stopped.

“ Probably… the bitch…anyway.”

“That what this is all about?”

“I am… flat as… broke. Lost my job…Bitch says… we ain’t… got a… future …together. No place… to go… except…end of this rope.”

“She sounds a bit shallow.:

“You…a marriage… counselor?”

“If you were in love, you could work it out.”

“Thank you… Dr. Phil…She doesn’t… work…Just a housewife…Her old man …barely… has a pot… to piss in…Wouldn’t get… a dime… if she divorced him.”

“She’s married?”

“Neighbor…. Chuck… introduced us…Thought we… would be… a real match. …So he deserves to… find me here…stretched out… in his garage… Ruin his day.”

“Does she know you’re this depressed?”

“Saundra… only worries… about herself.”


“yeah…Saundra…Only worries about… herself….No money…no honey…And I ain’t got… no money.”

I shrugged my shoulders, lifting his legs a few more inches, “I don’t think we’re going to make it.”

“What?,,, We’re… not going… to make it? What…does…that mean?”

“I can’t see any way out of this and I am getting tired of holding you up.”

“You…going… to drop me… just like that?”


I dropped him. He bounced and gurgled and danced in the air and turned blue and purple, his eyes bugging out again, then fell silent.

I spent a few minutes looking for Chuck’s hedge trimmer before leaving the garage. I giggled on the way out about Chuck finding his buddy hanging in the garage. How he was going to explain about the thumbs caught up under the noose?

But I was anxious to get home. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife, Saundra, about finding her boyfriend hanging in Chuck’s garage.