Ruin – a Short Story

I wrote this a few years ago to submit to an anthology that never got published. So, I thought I would share it here, now. Enjoy!

And yes, I know it’s Monday.

Three weeks into the dig, Hayley sat up, staring down at the object half buried in the bottom of the hole, dirt matting the faded blond hair and clogging the indented plastic nostrils, one blue eye cracked, the eyelid stuck at half-mast.  A Chatty Cathy doll just didn’t belong in a layer of earth from the 1600s.  All that should be in the trench was Native American pottery. 

“Dr. Sutherland?”  Her voice shook when she called out for the dig leader.  Dr. Graham Sutherland was head of the anthropology department at the University of Virginia.  Had been for decades.  He was known as the best at identifying Native American pottery, and had already published three papers on this particular dig.

The older man’s light gaze wandered in Hayley’s direction.  He was tall, white haired and blue eyed, fit and trim, and looked younger than his 70 years.   

With her bitter chocolate skin and tight short curls, wide nostrils and curvy figure, Hayley was what many called the epitome of a black American female.  Though her mother always told her she should be proud of her heritage, proud of looking like her mother, every time Hayley looked at the face in the mirror, her self-disgust reflected back in her blue eyes.  Those blue eyes were what she hated the most.  Those blue eyes told the stark truth about her heritage.

“Yes, Hayley?”  Dr. Sutherland strutted from the main trench, a fisherman’s cap on his head, multi-pocketed shorts hitting mid knee on his wiry legs.  “Did you find something?”

“It’s Dr. Kent, and yes I found something.  But not what you would expect.”

The professor smiled and set a hand on her shoulder, his fingers massaging into the flesh and muscle.  He leaned down and spoke directly into her ear.  “Let’s have a look-see, shall we?”

She moved away from his hand and stepped aside, pointing to the bottom of the hole.  “There.”  She hated the shiver that rode down her spine, but she couldn’t help it.

Dr. Sutherland bent over the hole, setting his hands on his knees. “Is that a…?”

“Looks like it.”

“It can’t be.”

“What do you want me to do?  It’s there.”

“But it shouldn’t be.”  Dr. Sutherland scratched his head, doffing his hat to slap it against his thigh.

“It is.”

He straightened, his sun-pink skin looking green.  “Don’t tell anyone you found this.  Go work on trench 2.”

“Yes, sir.”  Hayley backed away from trench 4, picking up her tools, shoving them into her olive green canvas bag.

“Have you catalogued anything from this area?”

“Um.  Yeah.  Lots of shards.  Even a nearly complete pot.”  Hayley shifted her tools; she wanted to get away from the trench.

“You’ve turned them in?”

“Yes.  Your rule is to turn them in ASAP so there’s no mistakes.”

“Right.  Right.”  The older man rubbed dirty fingers over his face, dragging down the jowls, smearing his face.  “Go ahead.  Go.”  He waved a hand at her.

“Yes, sir.”  Hayley walked back to trench 2, looking over her shoulder once at the dig leader.  He stood, a little stooped, staring down into the trench.

She couldn’t help her smile.


“Dr. Sutherland wants me back here for today.”  Hayley settled on the ground next to Sacha, one of Dr. Sutherland’s current graduate student. 

Sacha Hernandez was 22, tall and lithe, and engrossed in the pot shard slowly revealing itself from the dirt.  “I thought he assigned you to trench 2?  Only his graduate students are in trench 4.”

She was correct, of course.  Trench 4 was reserved for Dr. Sutherland’s best students.  No one else was allowed – not even a colleague from another school.  Trench 4 had some of the best artifacts coming out of it; Dr. Sutherland wanted to keep them in the family, so to speak.

Of course, that was before Chatty Cathy.

Hayley shrugged.  “He just changed his mind.  Told me to come work over here.”

Sacha sat back and stared at Hayley through narrowed eyes.  “He never changes his mind.  This is my fifth year with him.  I know him.”

Hayley struggled to keep the smile from her face.  Sacha wasn’t just Dr. Sutherland’s student.  Never married, rumor was he always took a lover from one of his graduate students. 

“You’ll have to ask him, Sacha.  I just know he sent me over here to work.”

“Sacha!”  Dr. Sutherland’s voice cut through the conversation, high and shrill.

The girl jerked up, catching the edge of the shard with her trowel, breaking it.  “Damn it.”


“Just a minute!”  She threw her trowel down and hoisted herself out of the four-foot deep trench.  “Selfish bastard.  What the hell does he want now?” 

“Want me to keep working on this shard?  I think I can get the rest out and salvage it.”

“Sure.  Whatever.”  Sacha flipped a soiled hand and stalked off toward trench 2.

Sacha wasn’t really interested in Native American pottery.  She wanted to work the middle Americas – where her “ancestors” came from, to rewrite their forgotten history. 

At forty-five, Hayley was old enough to understand history couldn’t be rewritten – it could only be avenged.

She worked on the shard, slowly uncovering the rest of the large piece of pottery.  She’d been a little surprised when she’d been accepted to work on the dig.  Her degree – taking a good long time to complete – was from a mid-West university, and she’d been working on digs in the Southwest – Navajo territory – and only teaching for ten years. 

“Dr. Sutherland!”  It was another student, in another trench.

Hayley stood, dusting damp soil from her khakis, and looked over to the other trench.  Three young men, all scratching their heads, were looking down into the hole.

White hair standing straight up, face flushed, Dr. Sutherland trotted to the students.  One pointed into the trench. 

“No.  No.”  Dr. Sutherland sank to his knees in the grass, fingers curling into the sod.  “Sacha!”

The Latina student’s head appeared over the rim of the edge of trench 2.  “What now?”

“There’s another one.  Over here.”  Dr. Sutherland had a hand over his heart, and his voice rasped between gasping breaths.

Sacha jumped out of trench 2, and Hayley pulled herself out of trench 4.

“Easy, Graham.  Easy.  Calm down.”  Sacha reached him first, kneeling next to him.

“Calm down?”  The man turned on her, grabbing the girl’s upper arms and shaking her so that her head snapped back and forth.  “I’m ruined.”

“Hey, easy old man.”  One of the young men pulled his hands away from Sacha, dragging him back and keeping him away.  “No reason for that, dude.”

“No reason?”  He jabbed a finger at the trench floor.  “That is wrong!”

Hayley looked down, following the pointing digit.  There, half covered in brown clay, was another toy, a bright and gold cymbal stuck to a fuzzy stuffed arm.

Sacha rubbed her arms.  Bruises, faint but getting darker, formed on her biceps. 

“I’ve submitted data on this site.  I’ve published on this site.  I’ll lose my tenure if this gets out.”

He’ll lose his tenure.  Hayley swallowed her snort, coughing to cover. 

“You attacked, Sacha.”  The young man that had pulled Dr. Sutherland off the girl towered over the old man.  “You’re tenure can go to hell.”

“Do you honestly think her degree will mean anything if I lose my tenure?  If this gets out, you’ll all lose credits and have to retake classes.”  Dr. Sutherland panted, sneering at each student in turn. 

“Re-retake classes?”  The other young man, blond and slight of build, gulped and began to pace.  “My parents will kill me.  They can’t afford more classes.”

“Get that thing out of there.”  The professor waved at the trench.  “Stick it somewhere no one will ever find it, and don’t tell anyone you found it.”

The blond looked around at each of them, then jumped into the trench and dug, flinging dirt helter-skelter, regardless of any authentic relics it might contain.  In only minutes, the object – a chubby wind-up monkey – landed on the grass at Dr. Sutherland’s knees.

The blond head popped up out of the trench.  “I think I busted a shard getting it out.”

“Doesn’t matter.”  Dr. Sutherland backed away from the object, still on his knees, looking like it was a wild animal ready to attack. “Get rid of it.”

Sacha stood and picked it up, examining it.  “It doesn’t even look new.  It looks old, like it’s been in there a while.”

“Get rid if it!”  Spittle – white and foamy – gathered at the corners of Dr. Sutherland’s mouth.

“Yes, sir.”  Sacha pivoted, holding the statue at a distance, and walked back to trench 2.

“Where are you going?”  The professor’s voice was high and cracked.

Sacha spun back.  “To get rid of the other one, too.  I thought that’s what you wanted?”


That evening, in her hotel room, the credits from an unwatched movie running up the TV screen, Hayley sat cross-legged on her bed.  The polyester comforter stuck to the back of her thighs; uneaten Chinese food, the sauce seeping through the little paper boxes, grew cold in her hand.

“Dr. Kent?”  Sacha knocked on the door.  “Are you in there?”

Hayley stood and stretched, setting the box on the table before opening the door.  “Yes, Sacha, I am.”

The young woman stood outside in a thin t-shirt and sleep shorts, lime green flip flops on her feet.  “Sorry to bother you, but I was hoping you’d let me bunk in here tonight.”

“Sure.”  Hayley opened the door wide, letting the girl walk through.  “There’s two full beds.  You can have the other one.”


“You okay?”

“What do you think those objects mean?”  Sacha sat on the edge of the second bed, hands gripping her thighs.

Hayley shrugged.  “My mother had a collection, but I don’t know much about old toys.  I specialize in Navajo artifacts.”  She picked up the Chinese and held it out to Sacha.

“No thanks.  I had pizza with Matt, Sam, and Kyle.”

Hayley frowned.

“The guys that found the monkey.”

Nodding, Hayley set the Chinese back on the table.  “Probably for the best.  The sauce is pretty salty.”

“Graham is…”  Sacha’s mouth opened and closed but nothing more came out.

“Upset?”  Hayley sat back on her bed, self-conscious that her body was twice as old as her guest’s.  Nothing on the younger girl sagged; nothing of Hayley’s would be described as pert.

“That’s an understatement.  He’s frantic, pacing around the suite, tearing at his hair.  I’ve never seen him like this.”

“Well, he is… older.”

Sacha nodded.  “He always had good stamina, though.  I never expected him to act, you know, old.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

Sighing, Sacha stood up and walked the room, looking at the identical pictures hanging over the beds, at the thermostat next to the door, at the “in case of a fire” directions posted on the door.  “We’ve been together for three years, you know.  Since before I got my undergraduate degree.  Longest anyone’s ever lasted.”

“Do you love him?”  Hayley had to ask.

Sacha looked at her, her brown eyes dilated to full black, shrugging.  ” His last girl got into Stanford for her PhD.  The one before that got into Penn State.”

“It wasn’t always a good thing.”

Frowning, Sacha turned from the door.  “I thought you didn’t know anything?”

“About his stamina?  No.  About other things?  I’ve heard stories.”  Hayley lay back on the bed, crossing her legs at the ankles.

Sacha wrapped her arms around her middle, rocking on her heels.  “I’m stuck.”

“No, you’re not.”  Hayley stood and walked to the younger girl.  Standing in front of her, she brushed stray strands of brown hair back from her damp face.  “It’s not like you’re married to him.”

“I suppose not.  But, everyone knows.”

“Do they?”

“Of course.  It’s common knowledge among his students.

“What does the dean say?”

“No one tells the dean.”

“Ah.”  Hayley nodded and walked back to the bed.  “There’s always a price to pay.  It may seem easy enough, no harm done.  But there is always a price.”

Sacha narrowed her gaze.  “Sounds like you paid a price.”

Hayley laughed.  “Yes.  In a way, I suppose I did.  I had to study hard and make sacrifices to pay for my education.  But yes, there was still a price.  Not for me as mcu as for my mother.”

“Your mother?”

“She made a mistake, took the easy way like you, and paid a high price.”

“How high?”

“She got pregnant.”

Sacha snorted.  “I’m on the pill.  And I doubt Graham is firing a full load.”

“Older men than him have fathered children.  And you can’t go on a dig with kids.”

Turning, Sacha paced away.  “Graham would do the right thing.”

“Would he?”


“How do you know?”  Hayley crossed her arms.

“I just know.”  Sacha spun back.

Taking a breath, shaking her head, Hayley dropped her arms.  “Where did you put the stuff we found today?”

“In the trash.”

“What if there’s more tomorrow?”

“Why would there be more?”

Hayley shrugged.  “Why were there two today?”


Morning was bright and cool, but dark clouds gathered on the horizon. 

Dr. Sutherland paced the briefing tent, his movement jerky, his hair disheveled, his clothes rumpled, like he’d slept in them.

“If anyone – and I mean anyone – finds something off today, they are to tell me immediately.”  The old man spun, his fevered gaze ripping over students and professionals alike.  “Do you understand?”

Everyone nodded, murmurs spreading through the tent. 

“Get out there.  Hurry.  Before it starts raining.  The media will be here this afternoon.”

Hayley grabbed up her bag and sun hat, placing the latter on her head.  “Where am I working this morning?”

“What?  Huh?”  Dr. Sutherland looked confused.  “Who are you?”

“Dr. Kent.  Brigham Young University.  I worked trench 2 yesterday.  Until I found something… off.”  Hayley raised her brows.  Surely he hadn’t forgotten?

Sacha stood under the tent flap, Matt, Sam and Kyle behind her.  “We need instruction, too.  We were in trench 4.”

Panting, Dr. Sutherland rounded to the opening.  “You can’t work in trench 4.  I’m closing trench 4.”

“That’s why we need new instructions.”  Sacha shifted back.

Dr. Sutherland pulled at his face.  His blue eyes darted around, but they didn’t seem to focus on anything.  Swaying on his feet, the professor moaned.

“Graham?”  Sacha stayed outside the tent.

“Dr. Sutherland?”  Hayley stood her ground.  “Are you okay?”

Those blue eyes fixed on her and he raised one shaking hand, pointing a finger at her.  “I know you.  I know you.”

“Of course you do, Dr. Sutherland.  I’ve been working on this dig with you for three weeks.”

“No, no. no.  Before.  Younger.  I taught you.”

“No, sir.  I attended the University of Arizona, in Tempe.  I’ve never taken one of your classes.  I told you, I teach at Brigham Young.  It’s in Utah.  Have you ever been to Utah?”

The old man pulled at his hair and sat at one of the benches.  “No pottery in Utah.”

“Graham?”  Sacha stepped into the tent.  “Should I call a doctor?”

“If you don’t, I will.”  Matt ducked under the tent flap.  “A recommendation to Yale isn’t worth this mess.”

“Matt.  It’s more than a recommendation.  It’s a guarantee.”

“Not anymore.  Look at him.  He’s drooling.”  Matt stood over the professor, stopping to place his hands on his knees.  “A recommendation from him will be worthless.”

“Dr. Sutherland!”  The call came from outside.  The sound of pounding feet got louder, until a student ducked her head inside.  “I’ve found – something.”

Eyes wild, Dr. Sutherland staggered to his feet, pushing Matt aside and rushing out the door.  “Where?  What is it?”

“Well, I’m not sure, sir.”

They all followed the student back to trench 3.  A crowd milled around the top edge, pointing and whispering. 

“Out of the way, out of the way!”  Dr. Sutherland shoved students left and right; one landed on his bum in the dirt.  The whispering got louder, the pointing got harder, but no one looked in the trench anymore.  Instead, they stared at the professor.

“No!  No!”  The old man grabbed his hair again, spinning on the spot, stamping his feet into the grass.  “No!”

“Sir?”  A man approached, another man with a camera perched on his shoulder following.  “Are you Dr. Graham Sutherland?”

“Who are you?”  Dr. Sutherland’s sneer reached his ears.

“Tom Clark.  We had an appointment for a video interview.”  The reported jerked a thumb back at the cameraman.  “Someone called the station this morning and suggested we come by earlier than scheduled.  To avoid the rain.”

“You can’t be here, now.  You can’t be here.”  Dr. Sutherland stalked forward, advancing to within a foot of the reporter. “Get out of here!”

The cameraman circled, a light flashing red on his gear.  The reporter pulled out a tape recorder and microphone.  “Why?”  He held out the mic.

“Get out of here!”  Face purple, spit spewing from pale lips, Dr. Sutherland screamed at the reporter.

The cameraman hovered over the edge of the trench, ducking away from the camera’s sight to peer into the trench.  “Is that a Howdy Doody doll?”

“Looks like it.”  The female student that reported the discovery smiled into the camera and flipped her hair over one shoulder.

“What the hell are you doing?”  The professor grabbed the girl and flung her away from the trench.

“Hey!”  Matt grabbed the doctor, jerking his arms behind his back and holding him.  “That’s the second time you’ve done that.”

“The second time?”  The reported stepped forward, mic held out, eyes scanning the students.

“He grabbed me yesterday.  After another oddity was found in one of the other trenches.”  Sacha held up the sleeves on her shirt, showing the deep bruising on her arms.

The cameraman swung the lens from the trench and focused on Sacha.

“Oddity?  What kind of oddity?”  The reporter stepped forward, eyes trained on Sacha.

“Well, something that shouldn’t have been in the trench.  We found two yesterday.”

“Shut up!  Shut up!”  Dr. Sutherland struggled in Matt’s grip, and Sam and Kyle stepped forward to help restrain the professor.

“A Chatty Cathy doll and a stuffed monkey with castanets.”  Kyle spoke over his shoulder.

“Cymbals, Kyle.”  Matt smacked Kyle’s leg from where he knelt beside the professor.  “They were cymbals.”

“And your name is?”  The reporter pulled out a small notebook, looking at Kyle.

“Kyle Mitchell.  And that’s Sacha Hernandez.”  He pointed at Sacha, then Matt.  “And Matt Brendan.”

“I’ll fail you all.  I’ll make you pay.”  The professor was on the ground now, writhing to get free.

Matt used his body weight to hold him down.  “Professor.  Calm down.  You’re only making it worse.”

“Sir?”  A student from trench 1 ran over, slowing when he saw the crowd, the professor on the ground, the reporter and cameraman.  He held up an old Aunt Jemima bottle.  “We found this in layer 10 of trench 1.”

Dr. Sutherland twisted to stare at the bottle.  “What is that?”

“A syrup bottle.  Old, from the looks of it.  But not old enough.  I mean, they didn’t have Aunt Jemima back in Jamestown.”

“Let me see that.”  The cameraman stepped forward, lowering his camera and holding out a hand for the dark brown bottle.  The cap was rusted and dented, but the bottle was whole.  “They had these in the 60s.  This is an antique.”

“1960s, right?”  Sacha looked like she was going to vomit.  Sweat beaded on her top lip and temples, and her lips were pale and thin.  “This dig is from the 1600s.  Shit it’s an antique.”  She spit, like something foul had invaded her mouth.

“Can’t be, can it?  This dig is shit.”  The cameraman held up the bottle.  “Not with this in there.  Or Howdy Doody over there.  Probably a 50s toy.”  He jerked his head back at the trench.

“Get rid of it.  Get rid of it!”  Dr. Sutherland struggled again, throwing Matt off and standing, lunging for the bottle.

The cameraman jumped back, dropping the bottle, and took up his camera.

Dr. Sutherland picked up the bottle, fingers gripping it so that his knuckles turned white.  “It’s Aunt Jemima.  I’m ruined.  Ruined.”  He sank back to his knees, the bottle still in his clasp.

Students, reporter and cameraman backed away.  The reporter nodded to his partner and they trotted off, the reporter whooping about the scoop of the year:  the great Dr. Graham Sutherland’s breakdown over Aunt Jemima.

Students wandered off, talking and whispering, glancing over their shoulders at their professor.

Hayley stood over him, arms crossed over her chest, hands fisted.  She wanted to shout and jump, but she didn’t dare. 

Dr. Sutherland raised his head.  He looked lost.  At sea.  He turned his head and found her steady gaze.

Blue eyes met blue. 

“Jemima.”  He blinked, and frowned.  “But you’re not my Jemima.”

“You should have remembered sooner.  When I got here.  Before that even, before she died of cancer ten years ago.  Forty years ago, before we got kicked out of our apartment when she got laid off.”

Tears streaked his dirty face and snot ran from his nose.  He looked down at the bottle, shaking fingers stroking over the soiled glass.  “Jemima girl.”

“Is that what you called her?  Is that what you thought of her?”  Hayley walked forward, squatting next to the sobbing man, and patted his shoulder.  “Don’t worry, Daddy.  I’ll stay by you, just like you stayed by Mommy.”


Can a Font be Controversial?

[begin rant]

DreamPunk Press uses opendyslexic font for all publications, and has used it for the last couple of years. It is a font designed to be easier for those with Dyslexia to read. Even though I don’t have Dyslexia, I like using this font and find it easier to read on a computer. (You can download it from:

But in person, when explaining to folx that we use this font, and why–that we feel everyone should be able to enjoy reading–some people sneer and walk away.

“That’s too hard to read.”

Really? Have you ever had to squint at Times New Roman in 9 point? Now that’s hard to read.

I find it a little difficult that a font designed to be easy to read would be hard for someone to read (except those with sever Dyslexia, of course, or those with other reading or sight issues).

Maybe I’m being too hard on folx, but I wish they would read a page or two before sneering. I think they’d find it not that hard to read after all.

Do you have a favorite font? What are your thoughts on a publisher using a font like opendyslexic for all its publishing?

[end rant]

A Valentine’s Ficlet

The chili sloshed in the crock, and Janie stopped her slow, unsteady pace to the back door of the building she worked in. Whose bright idea was it have a chili cook-off the day before Valentines?

Oh, yeah. Her crush. Carson McMichaelson.

Which was why, even though she was a vegetarian, she’d spent fifty bucks on ingredients, borrowed her neighbors crock pot, and made chili last night. She’d left it on cooking all night on low; she;d had to, it hadn’t been put together until five minutes past her bedtime.

So the pot was hot, wrapped in a large bath towel, and set into her laundry basket for the ride into base and for the treacherous walk across the lot to the building.

It still might not make it all the way in.

Struggling–her purse wanted to slide down her shoulder and it took her three minutes to find her badge onthe end of the lanyard withonly one hand while resting her laden laundry basket against the wall–she made it into the building and to the conference room where everything had been set up the day before.

“Just put yourpot nextto a number, thenput your name by that number on this sheet of paper.” Karen, fromaccounting, waved the printed paper in her face.

Janie wasn’t overly fond of Karen; the young woman had a tendency to wave papers–and other items–in her face. She was also pretty and slim and talked with Carson a lot.

Doing as she was told, Janie left the room in a rush, basket and towel in hand, and marched to her desk. Being on the bottom of the ladder in Admin meant she needed to be at her desk, working, before the supervisor came in.

Mrs. Bradshaw was nice to work for, in all honesty. She didn’t expect Janie, only 3 months in to the job, to know everything she needed to know and was a very good teacher. There were instruction and policies to follow, and Janie appreciated that to no end.

The woman just had a few odd rules that Janie sometimes had trouble complying with. Like being at her desk, busy, when walked in the door.

Mrs. Bradshaw smiled at Janie then frowned at the empty desk on the other side of the room. “Millie not in yet?”

“I haven’t seen her, Ma’am.” Janie winced. Poor Millie was going to get an earful later. Even if she had a good reason.

“Did you bring a chili in?” Mrs. Bradshaw smoothed her dark grey curls away from her face and hung her grey greatcoat on the coat rack.

“Yes, I did. I took it in sgtraight away.”

Mrs. Bradshaw smiled, “Oh, good,” and went into her office, almost closing the door behind her.

It was a busy morning without Millie–who had indeed gotten an earful from Mrs. Bradshaw when she’d finally called in to let them know she was sick. there was a slight easing of the lecture when Millie explained she;d been at the hospital emergency room.

At lunch, everyone crowded into the conference room to hear the announcment of the winner and then to chow down on the offerings. It would cost money to get a bowl of the winning chili (as well and second and third)–that would go tto the winners as part of their prize. Everyone else was free.

Carson–who was a stand-in judge when the Deputy had a meeting–was pale and sweating. Janie wondered ifhe had the same bug as Millie.

Janie hadn’t won, of course. She hadn’t expected to, after all, her’s didn’t even have meat in it, but a soy and wheat substitute.And it was her first chili.No one won with their first chili.

Though getting her picture taken with the Colonel and Carson would have been nice.

A loud retching noise made everyone pause and look.

Poor Carson wasn’t pale anymore, but flushed, with vomit on the floor in front of him.

“Oh, God!” Karen gasped–she’d been standing closest to him–and waved her papers in front of this face, backing away. “Carson!”

The Colonel, who’d been standing next closest seemed unfazed–which was probably a good quality in a Colonel. “You okay, buddy?” He called everyone Major and below “buddy”, even his civilians.

Carson shook his head,doubling over. “Soy..wh..wheat. Allergy..allergies.”

Janie felt sick herself. She’d poisoned Carson with her chili.

[I hope you enjoyed this little fic–inspired by the chili cook-off at my work–dubbed “heart-burn day” that we hold the Thursday before Valentine’s.]

It’s Wednesday again…or About an Editor

So, I’m beginning to suspect that my subconscious is trying to tell me something…like Mondays will not be my day to post here.

So, Wednesday it will be.

Let’s cross our fingers that I’ll be able to stick with it.

On to my actual post.

I want to share a bit about editing, since my day job that pays the bills is as a technical (generalist) editor. I use generalist because most technical editors work within a specific field that they have a background in. They are responsible for checking the technical content in what they edit.

That’s not what I do.

I’m a copy editor, for technical documents. I have a technical background from my time in the Navy, which helps, but I’m editing in a technical subject that I don’t have a background in. What my time in the Navy did was give me a technical acumen and familiarity with how technical jargon works, and that allows me to help smooth and clarify an array of subjects for digestion by folks like me–folks without the same technical background as the author.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have an editing education: I have a Bachelor’s in English (and at this point, nearing 20 years of editing), as well as many editing and communication courses over those 20 years.

I also edit fiction for a select number of individuals (namely, folks I know). While the basics of editing remain the same, the mechanics are different. While for a technical document I’m ensuring the system under discussion is always called my the same name–EVERY TIME–in fiction, it’s different; variety is the key in fiction, though not so much that the reader thinks it is something else.

Putting together newsletters and press releases and articles (all of which I have take formal classes in, and have at one time or another been paid to do) also take a slightly different angle on editing; in the end, it all boils down to the audience, and the editor understanding who that audience is.

Which is why I will never edit a dissertation for anyone ever again (unless we share close blood) because that is an audience I will never, ever understand…but I digress.

When looking for an editor, check what they’ve already edited (be suspicious if they have a web site but don’t share who they’ve worked with or what they’ve edited) and ask for references. Don’t be afraid to ask other folks doing the same thing as you who they use, or don’t use. At the same time, don’t be afraid to take a risk on someone trying to break into a different type of editing (as long as they are giving you a break on the cost).

You may find the best editor ever.

It’s Wednesday, not Monday

Welp…I’m already falling off my schedule. It’s Wednesday and this should have been put up on Monday. Of course, I had a headache that lasted two days…and now its Wednesday.

So, I wanted to post about pen names and why folx use them. Though I can’t really speak for others, I can speak for myself.

I publish under several pen names…one of which is Tara Moeller; this is for my adult novels and novellas. There aren’t a whole lot of them yet, but there should be another one out by the end of the year. There are also a couple of short stories under this name that were published in college.

I also have novels published as E. G. Gaddess. This is the first name I used for any of my novels, which happen to be young adult steampunk and vampire novels (two different trilogies, btw). Very different from what I write under my own name. Though I think this name lends itself to the Victorianness of these novels, its actually my grandmother’s maiden name, and the initials for the names my grandfather thought I should have been given when I was born. I use it to honor them.

Then, there is T. L. Frye, used for my middle grade books, like the Secret of Magik and Dragons. The Truth About Magik and Dragons is in cover art production now and when it publishes, will use Open Dyslexic like the rest of the books DreamPunk Press puts out.

And now, I have Zhara Jons for young adult contemporary stories (and YA contemporary paranormal). The first under this pseudonym will publish in March of this year. And I am excited. There are two more completed and another in the works.

But why do I use pen names? I write so many different stories, and not everyone will like all of them. I am hoping that each pen name will become a brand for the types of stories I tell using them. Like the steampunk new Victorians of E.G. Gaddess.

Other writers have other reasons. Do you use a pen name? Or two (or three)? If so, why? I’d really like to know I’m not alone in my reasoning.

I’m back… I think

It’s been awhile, I know. More time that I want to count.

But…my mother passed and it will be two years this coming April (she died on Friday the 13th). It was a peaceful event, I think. For her anyway.

I thought I was ready, that I’d prepared myself for her to be gone. I wasn’t.

I bawled. I wasn’t there. I’d gone home to grab something to eat and make the hard phone calls to her siblings–my aunts and uncle–that she was ready to go. We all knew it was coming. It wasn’t a surprise.

She’d had lymphoma–a rare primary site of the brain–since the summer of 2012. By all rights, she could have died then, almost did, maybe it…no, I’m not going to think that way.

But she wasn’t alone on the 13th in the nursing home (we’d only moved her into one a few weeks prior). My kid (an adult) was with her, along with their best friend, a nursing school student. They painted her nails and put lotion on her hands. They spoke to her. Said goodbye. I’m sure they sang.

I wanted–want–her back, even though her dementia had taken much of her away from me long ago. Even those small bits of her would be better than nothing.

Insurance Fraud in Ancient Egypt

At MarsCon 2018 in Williamsburg, Virginia last month (check out their website for next year’s con info: , I participated in a 5-minute fiction panel. The goal was to write a piece of short fiction in 5 minutes, and the audience would vote to choose the favorite from the three pieces written by the panelists.

I never won.

But it was fun. It really made me stretch my creative process. Stretching was hard, since the panel started at 11 p.m., and we should all know by now I turn into a pumpkin at 10.

Despite the struggle, I thought I would share my favorite of the pieces I wrote. We were given three things from the audience: a place/time, a crime, and a monster. For this particular piece, we were given Ancient Egypt, insurance fraud, and a swamp monster.

Here is what I came up with (unedited, as written in the 5 minutes, other than the correction of spelling errors):

“I’m sorry, sir. You’re policy doesn’t cover that type of damage.”
“I pay through the nose-ring for flooding.”
“Sir, this is not caused by flooding.”
Standing at the edge of the Nile, the agent shifted his robes.
“My policy specifically calls out water damage caused by the Nile.”
“While I am certain, sir, that the damage, in some way, came from the Nile, it’s not from flooding.”
The homeowner sniffed and surveyed the damaged scow. “And what do you think caused it?”
“Sir, those are bite marks in the hull.”
“Which is what let the water in.”
“True, but-“
“And thus, flooded my scow and it sunk.”
The agent sighed, rubbing his nose. “But it is the gaping hole that caused the damage, not a flood.”
“And how do you think I should handle this for the future?”
“You need to add swamp monster coverage to your plan.”

The exercise was fun, and if I made mods to this piece and spruce it up, I will share it here, so you can take a look at how stories can change from that first, swift outpouring of an idea through an editing and (hopefully) polishing process.


So, the SquareSpace site isn’t working.  I’ll have to set something up here for those to order copies of the charity anthology, Go Ahead and Howl: Werewolf Stories.

So now, I’m researching shopping cart sites and platforms.  Sigh.

It never ends.

Anthology -phew!

So, over at DreamPunk Press, the writer’s cooperative I’m a part of, we just completed our first anthology. It is a fundraiser for the official charity (the Heritage Humane Society) of MarsCon 2018 in Williamsburg, VA (for more about this AMAZING convention, check out its website:

Since this year’s convention theme is werewolves, that is what the stories in our anthology revolve around. And it has some really great stories in it by some really great authors: Travis I. Sivart, Wynn Mercere, Mx. Knowitall, E. G. Gaddess, Nyall Robert Frye, Kimi Darnell).  You should check it out.  I have a page over on Squarespace where (until February 15) you can order a copy and the net profit goes to the charity (, or if you are local and want to come to the con, we have a special goody bag for the first 25 who purchase a copy of the anthology.  There will also be an opportunity to have some of the authors sign your copy if you buy it in person.

But man, that took a lot more work than I thought it would.  You see, in addition to writing a story for it, I also managed the project and acted as editor.  Getting everyone’s submissions in on time was hard (though some were very good at hitting deadlines).  Then, we ran so close to the wire, I had to use a different printer to get the copies in time for the con (here’s hoping; my fingers are crossed because I’m still waiting on them).

Next time I do this (and I probably will for next year’s MarsCon charity), I am going to allot a whole lot more time for the editing.

And the making of the cover.  Morven Moeller (yes, a relation and fellow author at DreamPunk Press, who is also the resident artist at the cooperative) put it together, but finding something that represented the stories without being too generic, was difficult. They went generic, in the end, and I think it a beautiful cover:

werewolf anthology cover

But it was still a rough decision.

Anyway – I’ll post more about the printing, and how the convention goes, and other stuff more often (you know how that promise goes), now that I’m not stuck in editing limbo.  🙂



Newsletter Mailing Lists – revisited

So, hopefully you never saw my first post about the newsletter mailing list I was trying to set up and failing miserably at. I sent it to the trash because the embed code just wasn’t working. Then wrote a very short post about that as follow-up and apology for those folks who actually saw it.

My heartfelt and humble apology for that.

I still can’t get the embed code to work, but I was able to integrate the form into the Facebook page for DreamPunk Press, and I have a url that will take you to the sign up form (try it, here:

But the code is no go.

I’m not sure I need it — yet. I can always just provide the url link somewhere, like in a Facebook post, or embed that link in a button at the website so that it opens the sign up link.

But that code is really pissing me off. Probably not the fault of the mailing list site I’m using, or WordPress. They are likely just incompatible, or I’m copying it wrong.

Or it’s just the whole world is against me creating this mailing list in the first place.