Friday, June 27, 2014

Got 6 Seconds? Read 6-Word Stories!

I love flash fiction and 6-word stories take the idea of flash to the absolute limit. Even if it's only 6 words, a story still has to be told, some sort of narrative still must emerge and the stories collected and showcased on Morgen Bailey's Writing Blog this week really take the cake.

I have three 6-word stories featured in the collection and would love for you to check them out, then stick around and read some of the other fantastic flash fiction, book reviews, author interviews and more than Morgen Bailey offers up on her all encompassing website.

Come on, I know you've got at least 6 seconds lying around somewhere. Read a story!

Vegas recommends that you read these stories now... They are short, like his attention span.....

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"A Heart of Bone" featured in "From the Depths" from Haunted Waters Press

Please check out the 2014 Summer issue of From the Depths: Objects of Our Desire from Haunted Waters Press. Aside from the fact that the magazine is mind-blowingly gorgeous, it contains stellar works of fiction and poetry, including a story by me titled "A Heart of Bone." I'd love for you to read it.... You can buy print copies or download a digital version of the magazine for free. Thanks for all of the support- happy writing and happy reading!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Flash Points: It's All About Risk.... a Critique

I was actually up last night in the middle of the night, working on a short story while sitting in bed, wishing that for the love of God I could be asleep instead, and being reminded yet again how much writing has taken over my life. 

So this morning, when I checked my email, still pretty much stumbling around, tripping over dogs, and, though I'm terrified of needles, wishing someone could just give me an IV of coffee already, I was surprised and thrilled to discover that a flash fiction piece I wrote last week for Flash! Friday was up for critique on Flash Points.  

I knew I was taking a risk when I submitted the prose poem "Never Enough," but once an idea starts, its hard to stop it and there was no stopping this piece, let me tell you.... Rebekah Postupak nailed it in this critique and so eloquently explained (probably much better than I could have) what's going on in the work. Her analysis floored me (and flattered me) with observations such as:

"And here’s where Steph’s structure work really shines, because she uses structure itself, the poetic refrain, to create and continue the story’s tension."

"The reader is the conquered. Our capitulation is assumed. Now that’s arrogance painted in garish, un-ignorable colors."

"This story is unique. It’s risky. It’s beautiful, haunting. It’s terrible and tragic, angry, thirsty, and desperate. This story is the sort that devours your soul and doesn't let you be."

Yeah, you see why this critique made my day? Definitely.... 

And as always, check out the weekly flash fiction happening every Friday at Flash!Friday. Read, comment and then maybe try your own. It's all about taking a risk....

Monday, June 23, 2014

Taking the Scenic Route.... an Interview with Regina West

This week I was lucky enough to sit down with fellow author and editor at Pandamoon Publishing, Regina West, to discuss writing, editing and her latest book, The Long Way Home, which releases July 30th. I was also fortunate enough to read an advance copy of West’s book and I’ll go ahead and admit it now: yes, it’s a tried and true Romance novel and yes, I actually really liked it (the first one in this genre that I’ve EVER read all the way through and liked). If you’re interested in the book, but don’t usually read Romance, that alone should tell you that this book has a lot more going on than just bodice ripping…. Curious? Keep reading!

The Long Way Home

Forty-two-year-old Twilah Dunn has it all: an exciting life in the big city of L.A. and a thriving ad agency she owns with her fiancé/business partner. But one phone call changes everything and leaves her with a dead dad, a cheating fiancé, and a score to settle.

Twilah returns to her small hometown in North Carolina determined to sell her father’s horse farm and use the money to buy her business out from under her cheating fiancé. Twilah’s plans change when she sees the farm’s dilapidated state. She can’t bear the thought of selling it that way.

Against all reason, she abandons her fast-paced, metropolitan life and moves into her childhood home to restore it to its former glory. But she knows she can’t do it alone.

She hires sexy, forty-something cowboy Aidan Perry to help her. Soon, she can’t keep her mind or her hands off him. But she’s heard the rumors of his dark past, and she was burned before by mixing business with pleasure.

Will Twilah push through her fear and let herself love Aidan? Will his mysterious past prove too dangerous? Has she really left Los Angeles behind? For some, the path home is straight and narrow, but others take The Long Way Home.  

And now a little conversation!

Steph Post: The Long Way Home will be released in a little over a month! How excited are you right about now?

Regina West: I’m excited and super nervous. I really can’t wait to hold my book in my hands, with a cover and a real binding and everything. I’m also excited that I’ll actually have readers! I can’t wait to connect with them.

SP: You consider yourself a romance writer and The Long Way Home is a contemporary romance novel. What draws you to this genre? Have you ever written in any other genres?

RW: In the best romance novels, love is messy and complicated but always wins the day. The female lead may be far from perfect, yet she becomes extraordinary in the eyes of her lover. And where else can you get whole chapters devoted entirely to sex? Romance gets my heart and mind racing, so I love reading AND writing it.

That said, I have dabbled in other genres, primarily literary fiction. I wrote a short story once that accidentally morphed into horror. But in everything I write, I find myself examining the complexities of relationships and the human need for love.

SP: One of my favorite aspects of your novel is that while it stays true to the romantic genre, your characters are very unique and unpredictable. What is your process for developing characters in your work?

RW: If I’m really, really lucky, a character will pop into my head fully formed, but that rarely happens. Often, I’ll get a visual and some dialogue. Then it’s a matter of getting to know this character who just introduced him/herself to me. I’ve imagined riding in the car with them: what radio station would they choose? What would we talk about? Are they chatty or taciturn? Would they tell me about the person they love or be cagey?

If a particular character trait like sweetness, loyalty, intelligence, etc. is forefront, I’ll borrow mannerisms and modes of thought from friends of mine who also display the same trait.

Eventually I end up with a whole, multi-faceted character.

SP: In addition to being a novelist, you are an avid blogger. I just read one of your posts on “Twinkie Novels” and loved it (and not just because I have a dog named Twinkie). Can you explain to my readers what Twinkie novels are and your thoughts on them?

RW: I don’t know if I’d call myself an avid blogger. I have a love/hate relationship with my blog in that it’s a great way to get my voice out there and connect with other people, but it also consumes time I could spend writing novels.

Anyway, I have a serious sweet tooth. Twinkies themselves don’t rank high on my list, but sweets, especially pastries, are my go-to comfort food. Dessert is super yummy and lots of fun, but it isn’t very nourishing and, in large quantities, can make you feel sick. I realized that the same is true for my reading choices. Reading light books with light themes (i.e., Twinkie novels) can be a lot of fun, but they do little to nourish or inspire my writing. For that, I turn to literature.

I believe both are necessary. All work and no play…

SP: As if novelist and blogger weren’t enough literary hats for you, you are also an editor at Pandamoon Publishing.  How is the experience of editing someone else’s work different from writing your own stories?

RW: Editing someone else’s work is much easier. Since I don’t know the story and I’m not attached to the words, I quickly see what needs to be fixed and have no problem changing or deleting things. The most important factor is keeping the author’s voice.

When I’m editing my own words, it’s very hard to be detached and view the writing as a reader might, so I miss a lot of stuff. It truly pays to have someone else edit your work.

Although it sounds dorky, I really enjoy the process of editing. It’s very left-brained and detailed, which I find fun, but more importantly, there’s nothing like helping authors make their work the best it can possibly be.

SP: Once The Long Way Home is published, do you have your sights on any writing projects in the near future? Care to give us all a hint on what you’re working on?

RW: I have a six-book paranormal romance series in the works. It falls into the Twinkie category, which means it’ll be a lot of fun, but there are deeper themes running through it of redemption and right and wrong. Oh and lots of sex and naughtiness, of course. :-)

Want to know more about Regina West? (of course you do!)

As a child, Regina West loved to peruse the fantasy worlds that filled her imagination. She created characters, places, events and even wrote some of her stories down. In recent years, she truly found her niche in the romance genre and embarked on her first novel, The Long Way Home.

She comes from a long line of romance readers. Anytime her mother and grandmother had a moment of quiet, they immersed themselves in whatever paperback romance they’d picked up that week. So it is fitting that Gina has chosen romance as her favorite genre for both reading and writing.

She grew up in North Carolina, spent a few years moving around the U.S., but has settled in beautiful Colorado. She spends her days working for a non-profit organization and her evenings hanging out with her two smartypants boys. In the middle, she manages to squeeze in writing, editing, classical guitar and knitting. Currently, she’s working on a six-book paranormal romance series.

One day, she hopes to leave winter behind forever and retreat to Tahiti to live in a yurt and while away the hours writing and sipping umbrella drinks.

And be sure to check her out at:

 #Romance #Author #Interview #TheLongWayHome

Monday, June 16, 2014

Can't get enough of Eric Shonkwiler? (An Interview)

Have you ever finished reading a book and had the burning desire to pick the author’s brain? (of course you have…) I think one of the hallmarks of a good book is that desire to engage with the author, to ask questions, to connect and to feel like, for a moment, you are part of the book’s journey. For without readers, would we really have books? I’ll dispense with the philosophy already because I got my wish with Eric Shonkwiler and his stunning novel Above All Men. He was gracious enough to answer some questions for me and I’m thrilled to share them with you.  

Steph Post: I’m going to go ahead and jump right in with the most noticeably startling feature of Above All Men—your dialogue structure. I’ve seen this style before, of course, in works by Cormac McCarthy and others, but you take it to a new level by incorporating dialogue and narration together in the same paragraph without dialogue demarcation. This can be jarring at first, but soon feels completely organic. What made you decide to use this style in telling your story? What effect were you hoping it would have on the reader, and do you think you achieved it?

Eric Shonkwiler: It should speak to my presence of mind when I say that this is the first time I’ve realized I’m being more difficult than McCarthy. My style now started with the marriage of McCarthy’s lack of quotations marks, which I felt suited the sparse quality of the narrative, and a tic I developed early on in writing—I dislike the word said. I know readers gloss over it, but I couldn’t in my own writing, and so rather than tag dialogue that way, I use actions. I think this further pares down the page until what’s there is, hopefully, only what’s necessary. And, as the beginning of my answer indicates, I don’t think I was really hoping to do anything at all. I don’t think of the reader all that much, but instead I try to be as faithful to the story as possible. I trust the reader will benefit from that.

SP: One of my favorite things about the premise of Above All Men is that the reader never finds out exactly what has happened in America to make it the way it is in the story. Unlike, say, a zombie apocalypse striking, it seems as if the collapse has happened naturally and gradually—which makes it that much more realistic and unsettling. Why did you choose to create your setting in this way?

ES: A couple people have riffed on this, calling it the slowpocalypse, which I enjoy very much. I took this route because it is the most realistic one—at least that I could come up with—and that was important. Though this coming end is really just a combination of smaller, even somewhat common, disasters, it provides what I feel is a kind of foreboding you don’t get with zombies, or more supernatural apocalypses.

SP: Delving deeper, I’d like to ask you about David Parrish, Above All Men’s central character. He’s the protagonist, but many of his actions range from ethically questionable to downright morbidly disturbing. Yet David himself is obsessed with his moral obligations. Do you think David is a hero? Do you think most readers will perceive him that way?

ES: He’s just a man. I never set out to make him a hero or antihero, and I hope that shows with the decisions he makes throughout the book. This is David’s story, and I had to be true to him before anything else, and that often led to dark places. Readers are free to think of him as they like, but thus far I think most people see him for what he is: a deeply, deeply troubled person trying to do what’s right.

SP: Aside from David, Helene, and Samuel, the landscape seems to be the next biggest character in the story. The earth, the sky—they seem to be forces at work that literally do battle with the people trying to survive on the land. How central do you believe this conflict is to Above All Men?

ES: I think it’s one of the two largest conflicts in the book, the other being David’s own internal struggle. The smaller conflicts that arise in the book are born from this fight with nature, and this, ultimately, comes from humanity’s actions as a whole. All the lessons we failed to learn create this world that is fighting back, and so in many ways the battle with the land is the most important conflict.

SP: I think one of the reasons I love Above All Men so much is that its themes and style are in the same vein as many of my favorite writers. In reading your novel, I was immediately reminded of works by Daniel Woodrell and Cormac McCarthy. How would you describe your style and/or genre?

ES: I’d like to think I’m occupying that very niche, Woodrell’s and McCarthy’s. Frank Bill gave the most precise definition of my style: “sparse and poetic,” and I couldn’t do a better job describing it than that. My genre, it seems, is really a little more nebulous than I’d have thought. A number of people have called Above All Men sci-fi, a mystery, a thriller, I believe someone even said fantasy. I don’t think it pays to get too hung up on the idea of how to classify yourself—people will be quick to do that for you.

SP: What or who are you reading right now that excites you?

ES: I’m currently in a research phase for a book, and so a lot of what I’m reading is non-fiction, and books I’ve read before that I think will bolster the atmosphere, and get my head where it needs to be to start writing. The book I read most recently that really thrilled me was Schuler Benson’s The Poor Man’s Guide toan Affordable, Painless Suicide. Helluva voice, great collection of stories. I was lucky enough to read an ARC to blurb, and it’s a must. Particularly if you’re a fan of authors like Woodrell.

SP: And finally, I have to ask, what’s your writing future look like at the moment? Any works in progress or thoughts for future work you’d care to share?

ES: I’m finishing my second novel, and will hopefully be ready to send it out into the world any day now. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say it’s got a bit of a noir twist to it. Once that’s out in the world I’m setting my sights on something with more of a western bent.

Thanks so much to Eric for stopping by. If you haven’t read my review of Above All Men, please do so. Then, go out, buy the book and write your own. This is the magic of reading and writing in action, people.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

If you only read one book this summer.... Read Smith Henderson's Fourth of July Creek

I'm not kidding. Every once in a great while a book like this comes along. A book that you stay up late and get up early to read. A book that you think about, talk about, worry about until you can finally struggle out of whatever else is keeping you from the book and go back to reading. A book that is as momentous as a raging love affair- you want to furtively secret it away in your own heart and scream its name from the middle of an interstate highway at the same time. And when it is over, when you have finished reading the last page, when you are staring dumbly at the back cover wondering what the hell you are going to do with your life now, you know that you have just experienced something bordering on the sublime.

Smith Henderson's recently released novel, Fourth of July Creek, is my raging love affair.

How to describe Henderson's book? I could say that it's the story of social worker Pete Rose who becomes entangled in the life of mountain survivalist and conspiracy extremist Jeremiah Pearl and his young son Benjamin. That the resulting conflicts, which spin wildly out of control and draw the attention of federal agents, mirror Pete's own tail-spinning family life until there are no longer any lines to blur. I could say that it is a political commentary on American rights and freedom, an epic personal odyssey of tumultuous personal relationships and a glimpse into the life and mindset of those we feel to be 'others,' but who are so clearly ourselves.

I could also say that it is ripping, gasping, slashing, aching, suffocating, torrential, mournful, shattering, and disturbingly, disastrously beautiful. Both the story and the writing will tear you up from the inside out and leave you breathless and in awe. Take your pick.

Either way, Fourth of July Creek will renew your faith in the possibilities of pure, raw American writing.

Yes. It's that good. Now go buy it and read it already.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Desolation, Desperation and Hope- A Review of Eric Shonkwiler's "Above All Men"

Desolation, desperation and hope: I headlined this review with those three words because I could think of no better, and no simpler, words to describe the shades of emotions that David Parrish, Above All Men's protagonist, and the reader experience on the pages of Eric Shonkwiler's debut novel. 

Desolation is clearly reflected in the setting of the novel. David is a Mid-Western farmer trying to fight the land for a living against shortages, drought and apocalyptic dust storms. Though this calls to mind images from the 1930s, this is not a tale of historical fiction. Instead, Shonkwiler sets his tale sometime in the near future, which makes the premise all the more unsettling for its impending possibility. America is falling apart, people are fleeing the cities and becoming isolated as communication breaks down and they must rely on more primitive ways to survive. The landscape becomes one of bleak struggles, where men are at the mercy of vengeful skies and their own depravity. 

A feeling of desperation permeates the pages of Above All Men and from the first word to the last, the reader can sense this knife's edge looming over the fate of the characters. David, though haunted by memories of a previous war that he and his best friend lost their innocence to, is willing to go to dangerous and violent lengths to protect his family. Yet he is a conflicted man, a post-modern cowboy who stoically sits his horse against the sunset, while inwardly battling the demons of PTSD. When a neighbor's little girl is murdered, David assumes the role of vigilante and begins the nightmarish stalking of surrounding towns as he searches blindly for the killer. The vision of David, riding his dust-drenched horse through abandoned towns, calls to mind the iconic image of Rick Grimes entering the city of Atlanta, though David has more to fear than just the walking dead. His righteous pursuit of the murderer opens old wounds in his psyche and puts the one thing he loves the most- his family- at risk. 

Yet despite the harrowing setting and plot, there are glimpses of hope peeking through like rays of light through dust-choked weatherboards. David's resilience, and that of his wife and son, remind us of the strength of human will and the primal instincts of loyalty and love. Above All Men is not a Hollywood disaster flick- it won't leave you with a feel good embrace when the credits start to roll- but it does elicit a powerful feeling of the potential of the individual to survive against all odds. 

Adding to all of this is Eric Shonkwiler's masterful use of stark, raw style and form. If you've been reading my reviews, you know that my literature loves fall in the camp of Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner and Daniel Woodrell, and Shonkwiler's work is definitely in this vein. The cadence of his words mirrors the landscape of his characters so intimately that the language and the story become inseparable. Shonkwiler took a risk by challenging his readers' expectations of his style and it pays off. 

In short, Above All Men will leave you uneasy, it will leave you with questions and most importantly, it will leave you feeling alive. 



Friday, June 6, 2014

The End (Or Beginning) and Writing...

Whenever I tell people that I am a high school teacher their first reaction is usually, "wow, I'm sorry" or "man, you must really hate your life." Reaction number two? "They let you show your tattoos in the classroom?" asked with either awe or disapproval (answer- yes.). Finally, usually out of politeness or pity, people will smile and say "well, at least you have summers off!"

And for those of you reading this who are teachers, you know- the magical time of summer vacation is upon us. It's the end of waking up at 5:30 every morning, of grading, and ever-changing bell schedules and parent phone calls. It's the end of evaluations and paperwork and lesson plans and, oh yeah, students..... (for the record, I do love my students. most teachers do. that's why we're the underpaid, overqualified rock stars that we are!)

It is the beginning, however, of life outside of school. Most teachers become so much a part of their jobs that it becomes a second identity for them. Ask any student. Seriously, they all think we live in pup tents in our classrooms and have wild late-night parties where we invite teachers down the hall over and play hangman on our whiteboards. A few days ago a student asked me if he could swing by at the end of June to get help with his summer reading project. He was shocked when I said no. He was shocked when I told him that for two months I will not be a teacher. I will be a human being with a life not broken into 50 minute periods.

I will sleep in, stay out late, go to the beach, go to shows, read for pleasure, mess around endlessly with the dogs, hang out with my family and friends and maybe even just sit in the sun and stare out into space and do nothing for a moment.

And I will write. Always, I will write.

Now, granted, I do all of that and more during the school year as well. But, now, I can do a little more, a little longer and not feel an ounce of guilt. For ten weeks, I am not Ms. Post. I am just Steph. Happy summer everyone......

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sam Kean has done it again! (a book review)

If you haven't been following my book reviews over the past year, you might not know that Sam Kean is one of my favorite science writers. In fact, he is THE writer who got me- a punk rock, writing teacher, fiction author, terrified of the word 'science' person- interested in science in the first place (Radiolab had something to do with it as well...).

If you've read my reviews of The Disappearing Spoon or The Violinist's Thumb, then it shouldn't come as a surprise that I had Kean's The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons on pre-order from the moment I first became aware that it was going to be on the scene. And let me tell you, this book does not disappoint. In fact, I think Kean has raised the bar on popular science writing with this one (and he had already set the bar pretty high).

With this new tour-de-force, Kean creates a road map of the human brain and guides readers on a journey populated with tales of madness, murder, carnival "freaks," sex, love, royalty, ethnology and bizarre, yet real, neurological diseases that will leave you flabbergasted. (I am still trying to wrap my head around "alien hand" syndrome.) Kean also brings mind-boggling questions to light about, well, the mind. He explores the links between the body and the brain, the soul and consciousness and what this means about our identity and how we perceive ourselves. In short, as with all of Kean's works, it is science meets art meets history meets humanity.

It is a masterpiece. And I would have expected nothing less.