The newest issue of Phoebe is out, and I’m happy to say that it includes my short story “The Fat Man Invites You to a Picnic by the Sea.” It’s a love story. I’m afraid it’s print-only, but here’s an excerpt:


          The fat man implores you to join him. This is a picnic for two.

          The menu will consist of a bucket of clams fresh from the sea, red-skinned potatoes tossed in sheep’s milk and blue cheese, acorn squash stuffed with quinoa and braised lamb, and one sliver of peppermint cheesecake, as small and rich as a poem.

          The picnic will be held tonight, just before sundown, at the gazebo overlooking The Devil’s Punchbowl, where the Pacific Ocean whirls and roils in that great rocky cauldron at the edge of the world. You know the place well. You visited it on your first outing with the fat man, drove there from Salem as he sat in the passenger seat smoking menthols and humming Mahler’s Fifth. At the time he was built like a carnival barker, rotund but not yet fully globular.

          His affection for you, however, was already immense…

          …You seemed to understand everything about the fat man. You saw that he was someone who for much of his life had felt invisible despite—in truth, because of—his tremendous size. So many times he had felt unseen by the rest of the world, by eyes that linger on the slender or the muscular but pass over the large and the soft. You realized that the fat man’s bombast was a form of revolution, a demand to be seen, demand to be acknowledged. He chose to embrace his girth, to flaunt it, to force the world to reckon with his immensity. You understood this. His size did not repel you. A spirit such as his, you said, required a grand container….


I hope everyone’s having a good 2017 so far. Maybe this year will be better than the last.



My first short story about Korea has just been published in the winter issue of Cleaver Magazine. Big thanks to Cleaver for the beautiful presentation!

You can check it out here:


If you have five minutes to spare, head over to Gravel magazine and check out my story “Train Nights,” which appears in the latest issue. I spent far, far too long researching late nineteenth / early twentieth century railroading for this story, which is under 1,000 words. It’s also a horror story. Happy October!

To read, follow this link:


A beautiful new issue of Fourteen Hills was recently released, and it includes my short story “If in the Night a Grizzly Bear,” which, out of all the stories I’ve written, has the best title.

The journal is print-only, but if you can get your hands on it, I hope you enjoy the story. It’s about a troubled man coming to terms with events in his past, which include surviving a plague of red dust and being subjected to a painful ordeal with a mysterious machine. The title comes from a “Montana lullaby” his grandfather sang to him:


If in the night a grizzly bear

Comes slinking through your door,

He’ll take a taste

Of your face

When you start to snore.


A grizzly bear’s a ghastly beast

With teeth as sharp as knives.

He’ll turn your tongue into a feast

And gobble up your eyes.



If in the night a grizzly bear

Comes crawling in your room,

Don’t delay,

Just start to pray

Before you meet your doom.


A grizzly bear’s a loathsome lout

With black and empty eyes.

He’ll open you from gut to snout

And snack on your insides.



If in the night a grizzly bear

Comes growling in your home,

You’re out of luck

‘Cause he will suck

The meat off all your bones.


A grizzly bear’s a gruesome brute

With paws of razor claws.

Your tender parts are juicy fruit

In his wretched jaws.



If in the night a grizzly bear

Comes creeping to your bed,

You’ll hope to die

After you eyes

Are gobbled from your head.


A grizzly bear’s a fiendish fiend

With fur as soft as lace.

He’ll give a belch after he’s cleaned

The meat off of your face.


I hope everyone’s having a nice summer.



My short story “Dangerous to Go Alone” has just been published in issue 7 of Pinball, a very cool online literary magazine. This story is a re-imagining of an iconic moment in video game history, from the The Legend of Zelda. Hope you like it!

The Big Game

November 8, 2013

I’m working on a new story. Here’s the beginning:

Despite the recent attacks on local livestock by Mutant Death Worms – two mutilated cows, one maimed horse, six dogs missing and three confirmed dead – the school board decided, after a long deliberation, not to cancel the football game. Other than a few unsubstantiated reports from Mexico, there was no evidence that the creatures had acquired a taste for human flesh. And, after all, it was Homecoming.

Hey, a Pushcart Nomination

November 15, 2012

I was checking my junk mail folder today when I saw an email from the good folks at JMWW telling me that they were nominating my short story “Young Billy is Reprimanded for Teasing His Sister’s Ghost” for the 2013 Pushcart Prize. I marked it as “not spam.” JMWW is a classy online journal that has published a lot of excellent writers, so this is a big honor. Of course it’s a long shot that I’ll make it into the anthology, but I’ve been told that the story has been “sent to New York,” so at least I know that it will be read by someone important. Or maybe by someone who works for someone important. Or, more likely, by someone who volunteers for someone who works for someone important. And really, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.

I had a class of three 14-year old girls today, and I taught them about haiku poetry. None of them had ever heard of a haiku before. Here are the poems they wrote:

Haiku is boring
I don’t want to write haiku
Therefore I’m sleepy.


Test is reluctant
Haiku is too reluctant
Sorry Robert Teacher.


Ah-lim is sleepy
Hee-jeon is very quiet
I am nice student.

I created a conversation / debate activity for my Korean students called “The Lifeboat Game.” Here’s the scenario: the students in the class are passengers on a sinking ship. Luckily, there’s a lifeboat. Unluckily, the lifeboat can only hold six people. Since my debate classes have 14 students, this means that eight of my adorable pupils will meet a watery end in the cold arms of the Pacific Ocean. So it goes.

As chance would have it, there is a deserted island within rowing distance of the sinking ship. Those who are lucky enough to secure a spot in the lifeboat will float to the island and begin a new life there. Each student is randomly assigned a character to play, and the goal of the game is for the students to convince the rest of the class to vote them onto the lifeboat. As we all know, there are six criteria for a successful island utopia: food, shelter, peace, health, entertainment, and babies. Students should base their votes primarily on who they think can best provide these six elements, but arguments from other perspectives are also encouraged.

Here are some examples of the characters in the game:

Nurse Nancy is a 24-year-old nurse who is friendly and flirtatious. She won’t go on the lifeboat without her boyfriend, Steve Sloth, an arrogant, indolent (and possibly lecherous) buffoon.

Connie Carter is 31-year-old escaped prisoner. She was in jail for vehicular manslaughter after one foolish decision to drink and drive changed her life forever. She’s very kind-hearted and has a lovely singing voice.

Chris Carpenter, 35, is an expert builder. His specialty is hut design in areas with limited resources. He is gracious and jovial. He weighs 375 pounds and takes up two spaces on the lifeboat.

I’ve played the Lifeboat Game with three different classes. The students have made some great and surprising arguments for why they should be voted onto the lifeboat. Almost every character has made the cut, including all of the characters above. (In one game, Steve Sloth made such a good pitch that he ended up with more votes than Nurse Nancy.) However, one character has never made it on the boat. This poor misunderstood soul who is doomed to always drown in the Pacific Ocean is the writer Polly Pencil.

Trained in both poetry and prose and published in several well-respected literary journals, Polly Pencil was working on the Great American Novel when misfortune brought her to the high seas in search of a remedy for writer’s block. She’s described in the game as 29 years old, usually fun and friendly, although occasionally she will cry all day and refuse to work or talk to anyone. A typical writer, basically. As the only passenger with the skills to properly chronicle the survivors’ story, as well as being able to provide entertaining tales of adventure around the campfire, I thought she had as good a chance as anyone else. But she’s been shark food every time, never getting more than two or three votes.

Why the hard luck for Miss Pencil? Probably because it’s more difficult to justify bringing a writer on the lifeboat than, say, a sushi chef (Kate Cook), or a roofer (Rufus Randolph), and the “entertainment” element is usually satisfied by someone with musical or sports talents. Besides, Frank Fisher (a belligerent fisherman) can probably be a writer too – how hard can it be? Also, the young students have a hard time articulating the importance of writers to society. They lack the vocabulary to describe the ways literature can make our lives richer and fuller, more meaningful.

So I’m never that surprised when Polly doesn’t make the cut. Still, it’s always hard for me to leave her behind. I imagine her waving sadly to the lifeboat as the prow of the ship slips below the surface and she’s left treading water and thinking about her family and her unfinished novel and the seven other souls around her also preparing to leave this mortal coil.

On the lifeboat, Steve Sloth tells everyone he’s looking forward to working on his tan.

I have always admired the computer game as a storytelling medium. The successful merger of narrative and gameplay is a rare and wonderful thing. One game designer who I think has mastered the art of delivering powerful messages through fun gameplay is Jonas Kyratzes, creator of many thought-provoking, beautiful, and joyfully mischievous games. My two favorites are “The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge” and “The Book of Living Magic.” These games are woven together with humor, philosophy, social and political commentary, and fantastic point-and-clickery. You’ll unfortunately need a PC to play “Desert Bridge” (which means I can’t play it anymore – I’m Mac only these days), but you can play “The Book of Living Magic” on any computer. And you should.

These games are free. They are also obviously labors of love, and I can only imagine the hours that went into creating them. And so, when I saw that Jonas Kyratzes was asking for donations to help put food on his table and more games out into the world, I sent $10 his way. In return, he brought a small piece of his Lands of Dream (in which both “Desert Bridge” and “Book of Living Magic” are set) to life for me on his website. I gave him the prompt of “something related to trains,” and here is the result:

The Alteration Train

Jonas’s wife Verena created the artwork (as she does for most of the games), and Jonas provided the words. I think both are wonderful. Here’s an excerpt:

No-one has ever been able to establish the exact nature of the phenomenon – some say it was a hole in the fabric of reality, others claim it was more akin to a gate by accident unlocked – but what is certain is that for an instant, there was an opening into some unknowable Abyss, and through it came a train.

This train brings profound changes to all who witness its passing. Of course, in true Kyratzes style, the train is also politically active.  It is a great deterrent to war. Those who see it lay down their weapons and refuse to fight. I think we can all get on board with that.

I’d like to encourage everyone who reads this to make a small donation this week to a cause you care about. Think of something that enriches your life and send a little money that way. For me, this year, it was a literary journal database (, a podcast (RISK), and an amazing computer game designer.

Have a wondrous, strange, and somewhat sinister February!