Truck Stop Madness

Hey everyone,

I have two Truck Stop stories to review today: “The Smugglers” by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray and “Better Angels” by Steven D. Brewer. (Vanessa and Steven were on the “Technical Fiction” Panel Discussion with me.) The Smugglers was released in July, and Better Angels came out just last week. Both of these stories deliver characters and settings you want to know more about. Read on for my reviews!

The Smugglers” by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray

Attachment is everything.

Mother says, “Don’t name the merchandise,” and “Don’t let the humans see you.”

But Boy can’t resist naming the cute, fuzzy ball of feathers and knife-sharp talons they’re delivering. And why be afraid of weak, ignorant humans?

Plus, this old skinsuit works, but it’s getting cramped. Maybe it’s time for a change.

“The Smugglers” is a novella-length coming-of-age story that is layered and complex. There’s a lot going on here, having to do with what’s hidden and what’s not. The relationship between mother, Deralka, and child, Boy, is woven through the story, along with the fate of the adorable creature that’s being smuggled. On a more subtle level, there’s the need to squeeze into a skinsuit to blend in at the Truck Stop, as well as Boy’s leap into puberty that results in unexpected changes.

When Deralka and Boy, the smugglers referred to in the story’s title, arrive at the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy to meet the buyer of their goods, the deal immediately goes sideways. Then Mother and Boy get separated and Boy goes on a round-about adventure that leads to the Truck Stop’s mysterious Orange Quadrant. The story is well-paced and engaging, with characters I hope to find in future stories. This is a great addition to the Truck Stop series, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Better Angels” by Steven D. Brewer

After trailing a notorious trafficker across the galaxy, a self-appointed guardian angel arrives at the Truck Stop.

Hidden within the trafficker’s cargo hold may be just what he needs to shut down the trafficker’s illicit trade for good.

“Better Angels” is a kick, no pun intended. It’s short, immediate and forceful. It catches you right from the beginning with an attention-grabbing surprise that may put some readers off, but I suggest that you read on. “Better Angels” will surprise you again and again, and it’s impressive how the author is able to accomplish this in a short 20 pages. It’s great science-fiction, and is another strong addition to the Truck Stop series.

So that’s it for today! Catch up with you again in a few weeks.


Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy

Hi all!

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I last posted. Jeez, I have great intentions for a steady schedule, but….we all know how that goes!

Truck Stop Tuesday was last Tuesday already and I wanted to let you know about the third story in the Truck Stop series, “Hippolyta’s Dagger” by the talented L.A. Jacob. In addition to writing Carnival Farm, which I reviewed last November (and really enjoyed), she’s written two fantasy series published with Water Dragon Publishing (a Paper Angel Press imprint), Grimaulkin and War Mage, as well as a number of other works, which you can find on her website. Besides being a prolific author, L.A. Jacob is also the host of the Small Publishing in a Big Universe podcast. She’s also been curating submissions for the Water Dragon short story program, submissions I’m now reading. (Which is so much fun!)

Anyway, here’s my review:

Hippolyta’s Dagger” by L.A. Jacob

Someone’s always watching.

Graduate student Laurie Miller makes an unexpected find while working at an archeological excavation site in the Orange Quadrant.

When she learns that the head archeologist has taken credit for her discovery, her revenge comes from a surprising and ancient source.

This is another story in the Truck Stop series with several universal themes: power, privilege, gender, prejudice.

Laurie Miller, a student in archaeology, is completing her graduate studies under the preeminent, and pompous, Dr. Tom Jameson, an expert on the Orange Quadrant, the area currently under examination. Their excavation effort has been on-going for many months now, with nothing, other than dust, to show for it. Unusually, the site is guarded by sentinel bots, who look like a lot like Spartan warriors in their metal skirts, chain-mail breastplates, and bucket-like helmet; complemented with seriously pointed spears.

When Laurie finds something unexpected, and knows that Dr. Jameson will take full credit, her blood boils. But revenge comes in unusual ways…!

This is an fun story and a quick read, one you’ll definitely enjoy.

Favorite sentence: “Writing in minimum gravity, while wearing a clunky space suit fit for an overly tall human male, seemed to be more difficult than impossible.”

Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy

Hey everyone,

Paper Angel Press has a new short story series underway, with the first story released several weeks ago, and the next to be released on April 12th. Stories will be released monthly, on Tuesdays, so get ready for Truck Stop Tuesdays! Based on the first two stories, “The Stargazer Gift Shop” by Steve Soult and “Coke Machine” by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray, this series is a winner.

At the center of the galaxy rests a mystery — a fully-functional space station abandoned by an alien race for centuries.

Now a thriving hub for interstellar commerce and tourism, the station still contains more mysteries than you might imagine …

Both of these stories blew me away. I was taken with how both authors, from the first sentence, created a fully-functional world in such a compressed format. The characters are alive, the plots are quick and nimble, and the setting is fantastic. The premise is brilliant; this series is going to be so much fun. You can purchase the stories as they are released; the full complement of stories will be out as an anthology sometime in 2023, but I suggest not waiting — read them as soon as you can!

My reviews of the first two stories in the series are below:

The Stargazer Gift Shop” by Steve Soult

What would you buy at the Stargazer Gift Shop at the center of the galaxy?

Would you buy a soft drink, science kit, makeup, data disk, gumball, something else, or perhaps nothing at all?

While you are there, Rhoda will always be very happy to help you find the perfect gift.

On the surface, this is a sweet story about an android, Rhoda, who works in a gift shop at the center of the galaxy. She’s getting older, is eager to help, and worries about being shut down and her components farmed out. Rhoda is fully invested in her community and her job. She worries about the other androids working in the station and checks in with them during the course of the day. She enthusiastically helps out folks who wander into the shop, having to react quickly to avoid sticky situations. She has an ugly confrontation with a family of tourists, who, through some fast thinking and a small measure of grace, she manages to connect with in a positive way.

I love science fiction for its ability to reflect social justice issues. This story accomplishes that brilliantly. As the story unfolds, you’ll find universal themes: community, empathy, and kindness; along with privilege, prejudice, and power. As I read the story, I found myself resonating with the daily challenges of anyone working with the public — you never know what’s coming.

Favorite sentence: “It’s always nice to be fully charged in the morning, she [Rhoda] thought. That way I can get through the day without having to conserve energy.

Coke Machine” by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray

Every truck stop needs a coke machine.

What a way to die — coated in sticky effluent, upside-down in a disused access tube, lost forever in a drifting, abandoned, bankrupt trader ship.

Skip-ship engineer Marichka’s busy with a fire, a faulty Ancient-tech component, and now the etheric cabling’s sprung a leak.

Could everyone just shut up already?

Just like MacLaren-Wray’s full-length book, All That Was Asked, this story captured me right from the get-go. The author has an uncanny ability to draw the reader all the way in, starting with the first sentence, and not letting go until the hapless reader surfaces for air at the end. The story takes place in the compressed engine quarters of a ship, where Marichka, the ship’s engineer, is floating in a vat of goo, trying to make life-or-death repairs before the engine overheats, incinerating the ship and its crew.

Maclaren-Wray’s imagination is brilliant, bringing her world to life with vivid imagery and fierce characters. And her strong knowledge of engineering and physics, along with her attention to mechanical detail, pull the reader into a vortex of adrenaline-fueled, realistic action. It’s thrilling!

Favorite sentence (which happens to be the first sentence!): “Hanging upside down, lungs on fire, fingers sizzling with bad information, I’m trying to reconstruct a joke I heard once, back in my beer-clouded apprentice days, a long story ending in a terrible pun.”


That’s it for today — hope you enjoy these stories as much as I did.

Until next time,


Judging Corporate Catharsis


The latest release from Paper Angel Press, Corporate Catharsis, is a collection of stories you’ll definitely want to read, even if you’ve never set foot inside a corporate environment. These stories range from the wicked to the horrifying to the cold terrors of day-to-day work life. Some are funny, some are serious, and some are downright terrifying. All will capture your attention.
I was so delighted when Steven Radecki, the Editor in Chief of Paper Angel Press, asked me to participate on the judging panel. I was intrigued from the get-go. For starters, the teaser was great:

The anthology we all need — one that can help us survive our corporate servitude with our hearts and souls intact.

And the hook:

We’ve all been there: standing behind a desk or a counter for ridiculously long hours, letting the movie of our imagination roll behind our eyes. Maybe you open the supply room door and find another dimension; perhaps the photocopier reproduces cryptic messages from other realities. We’re certain that you can, far too easily, find inspiration from your workplace. Magic, mayhem, revenge — and, yes, perhaps even redemption — can all be found there.

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve been in a corporate environment, it’s something I’ll never forget. Meetings were what sent me over the edge. Those looong hours spent in pointless meetings where my time would have been much better spent doing actual work. My mind would wander. Though I never saw witches during those hours spent in poorly lit, interior conference rooms with limited fresh air, I did some of my best story outlining as my eyes glazed over watching yet another PowerPoint presentation or CaliberRM bug tracking session.
There were three judges on the virtual panel for Corporate Catharsis, and comments and results were tallied in a spreadsheet. I didn’t look at the other judges’ comments until I’d done my read-through and formed my own opinion. The stories came in bit by bit, and I tended to save up and read a few at a time. I’d never done anything like this before, and was not sure what to expect.
I was blown away. The stories were imaginative and well-written. Solid. Unbelievable, ranging from alternate realities to witches and warlocks, mayhem, horror. A few were based in cold, hard reality, which, though not as over-the-top-crazy as a paranormal creature swooping in to mix things up, proved to be mighty disturbing.
I found that we three judges were most always of the same opinion, which was curious. I’d assumed that our reactions would not necessarily be in alignment, but the well-written, solid, engaging, stories definitely stood out and captured everyone’s attention equally. There were several submissions with a great premise that needed some tightening and re-write, and we all agreed on those as well. The authors of those stories were able to rework them with excellent results.
Having submitted stories to anthologies in the past, and with both positive and negative results, it was such a privilege to be on the other side. I know how hard it is to write a story in the first place (in my opinion, so much more difficult than writing a novel), and how much courage it takes to submit once it’s done. Thank you to all the authors who submitted. Your skill and imagination is amazing!

To all you readers out there, I urge you to get your copy of Corporate Catharsis now. It would make a fantastic holiday gift for your team members. Or perhaps a copy will find its way anonymously onto your manager’s desk?!


Hey everyone,

I wanted to let you know about some exciting news.

First, my story, ‘The Great Santa Cruz Treasure Hunt,’ featuring Shelby and her brother Dexter from Due Date and The Stork, is out in the new anthology Santa Cruz Weird. The book is available on Amazon, of course, but also in our local bookshop, Bookshop Santa Cruz. It’s filled with great stories, and the cover is fantastic! Here’s some more info:


If you travel anywhere in the world and are asked where you’re from, people smile when you say Santa Cruz. They know us. We are famous: land of The Lost Boys, the Mystery Spot, home to the Bigfoot Museum, and the Giant Dipper. Tourists flock to us, sometimes on their way from San Francisco or Big Sur, but more often just to experience Santa Cruz.

Our unofficial motto is “Keep Santa Cruz Weird;” we have bumper stickers proclaiming that’s our intent. Santa Cruz Weird just seemed like a good fit for our County with its long interesting history, colorful residents, sunny beaches, fog-shrouded mornings, and lush forests.

Here are short stories by Santa Cruz writers who had fun with what they wrote. Hopefully you’ll have fun reading their weird Santa Cruz stories, too. As editor of this book, I surely did.

So hop on board the literary version of our iconic Giant Dipper and prepare for an up and down ride of Santa Cruz Weird stories.

On another note, I’m a guest blogger on Lizzy Stevens’ blog today. I know Lizzy through the Solstice family. She’s a great author, and I appreciate her hosting me. Click here for the post.

I’ll be starting up my author interviews in a couple of weeks, so stayed tuned.


Plots & Schemes, Vol 2.

Hey everyone,

I want to let you know about Plots & Schemes, Vol 2, a mystery and suspense anthology from Solstice Publishing.  A good mystery will keep the reader engaged in the story while they’re also trying to figure out who done it. Solstice Publishing brings you ten mysteries by nine talented authors that will have you panting for more. Enjoy these stories!

“For me, time is the greatest mystery of all. The fact is that we’re dreaming all the time. That’s what really gets me. We have a fathomless lake of unconsciousness just beneath our skulls.”
–Anthony Hopkins

Plots & Schemes Vol. 2


Print book:

Book Trailer:

A hunter mistakes a woman for a wild turkey. A tragic accident… or murder?

Who killed library patron, Mr. Small?

Escaping violence doesn’t mean you won’t get away!

To the edge of Heaven and back!

With friends like these…

Two high school teachers become vigilantes.

Surprising mysteries lie behind Walt’s death.

Just another unusual day at Farstone Town.

Come on over to Tough Luck Lounge and relax in a Tiki Bar!

For nearly a hundred years, no one knew the truth.

Ten tales by nine talented authors will take you through mysteries of all sorts. Join with Susan Lynn Solomon, Debbie De Louise, Johnny Gunn, Jeffery Martin Botzenhart, Jack Adler, E.B. Sullivan, Palvi Sharma, Lois Crockett, and K.C. Sprayberry for Plots & Schemes Vol 2.