2015 Pac West Spartan Race

On Saturday, August 8th I finished my second Spartan Race.

I didn’t train. Crazy, I know.

It didn’t start out that way. I signed up for the race last October. I also planned to do a Spartan Race Sprint in Montana, in May, and possibly the longer Super in October 2015. My enthusiasm had me out training each day — slowly. I walked. I bought SandBells. I made my very own Spartan spear. I bought a massive concrete block, attached a chain and dragged that around our property. I planned to build my upper body strength and work up from regular walking to running. With seven months before the Montana Sprint I figured I had time to get in better shape than when I did the first race last August.

Then on February 2nd my ankle flared up on my walk with sharp, hobbling pain. I saw a physical therapist I had already seen for problems in my right shoulder. She put me on a slow plan of stretching and generally discouraged me from pursuing the Spartan Race plans.

It took a long time for my ankle to feel better and I canceled the trip to Montana — and with it any plans to complete any other races this year.


I talked to my brother about the Spartan Race and he wanted to do the Sprint in August. I decided to go. And as we got close to the race day I found it harder to imagine going and NOT racing. Surely I could take it easy, and try to finish.

Crazy, I know.

I think I forgot how I felt after the last Spartan Race. It doesn’t sound bad, 4+ miles and 23 obstacles. I could walk. I hadn’t trained — still, didn’t I know what to expect? Tough it out. I couldn’t go just as a spectator.

I told my brother I’d be slow. He was okay with that.

I left the house at 5:30 a.m. to meet him and head to Washougal, WA for the race. We didn’t start until 11:15 a.m., but it would take a couple hours and I didn’t want to rush. I wanted time to check out the festival area too, and see some of the elite runners.

IMG_20150808_093556I took time to check out the map before this race. I noticed familiar obstacles and new ones that I didn’t face last year.

We saw the elite women finish.

IMG_20150808_092619Amelia Boone came in second right at the last minute.

IMG_20150808_092626Rose Wetzel finished seconds behind her.

Eventually it was time and my brother and I hopped the wall into the starting area. No going back. I had committed myself to the race. I was laughing — because it was insane. I took snacks in my zippered pouch on my shirt because I knew I’d be out there for hours.

Hills. The first obstacle (not counted on the map). Leave the start, turn and run up a hill. Initially the same route that it followed last year, then it changed. I didn’t even try to run up the hill.

Moats. After a bunch of hills — water. Just a big, long pit of muddy water. Nothing to do but jump in and get through. Back to hills after.

Dust. Not on the map. The ground was very, very dry and in places inches deep in powdery dust. Not fun to breathe.

Hurdles. Flat stretch with hurdles to climb over. Jump over if you had the energy and strength to do so.

Vertical Cargo Net. No idea how high (high) this was basically a big cargo net wall to climb up and over. Straw at the bottom in case of falls. No problem except high.

Trails. Long trails up and down through the woods and rocks. I ran some flat and down sections without pushing too hard. Trying to conserve what energy I had.

Sandbag carry w/over wall. SandBell carry (40lbs) up a very steep hill, then around to a wall. Put the bag on the wall, climb over, bring SandBell over and continue on down around to where you started. Heavy but familiar since I’ve carried mine around. Despite my slow pace I was having fun — despite having a hard time believing I was doing the race.

Log Carry. Same spot where I did the gravel bucket carry the last year. Big logs. Heavy logs. Which nonetheless made me happy because it wasn’t the gravel bucket carry.


This was coming up on the end of the log carry. Oh, and this year I wore gloves and tighter shorts. Both worked great! The woman and guy in the black tank look like the same people that were behind me in the picture of the gravel bucket carry last year. Weird.

Monkey Bars. Up to this point I was feeling pretty good. I laughed when I saw the monkey bars. Not even straight, they alternated high-low, high-low. I knew going into the race that this sort of obstacle was my greatest weakness with the shoulder troubles I’ve had. I tried, didn’t make it across, and did my first burpees. Demoralized, tired, I staggered on.

Inverted Wall. Might have been feeling tired — it looked bigger this year. Still, not too much trouble climbing up and over. Give me an inverted wall any day over what was to come.

Atlas Lift. Shortly after mile two I hit the atlas lift. Check out this video for an idea of it.

Got it? Carry a 100 lb ball. Do 5 burpees. Carry back. Insane. I managed. Somehow. Worn out.

Plate DragImpossible. At least for me. This was a metal plate loaded with heavy sandbags, attached to a rope. You had to sit down and pull it to you. The ground was so full of holes the plates just got stuck. Couldn’t budge it out of the hole. Finally gave up on this one and pulled it (with the chain on the plate) back to the starting position.

Beginning to think doing the race wasn’t the best idea.

Wall Series. This killed me. Okay, not all of me, but my shoulder. High walls. Trying to get over the first my right shoulder flared up and I thought I was done. I spent too long looking at the wall, watching other people doing it, not wanting help but having no idea how to get over the wall and it was only the first. They did have boards on each side to help those who needed help and I used it and still barely got over.

The next walls were higher.

I helped a woman get over the next wall and then had to try. I managed to get up and over. Two down, so I helped her with the next and then dragged myself over too.

My shoulder was painful but I was relieved to be over the walls.

A-Frame Cargo. I had a blast with this one. Maybe 20′ high? Not good for someone afraid of heights, fortunately I didn’t have a problem this that and crawled up and over quickly while a few people around me fought their fears and made it over. Awesome.

Spear Throw! I laughed when I got to the spear throw. One, everyone was groaning anticipating the burpees to follow. As I walked up I saw the woman I’d helped over the walls already doing burpees. Two, I didn’t know with my shoulder if I could throw — but it sounded better than burpees.

nailed it. Center mass. Stuck in place. I did a spontaneous fist bump into the air.

I was seriously happy. The volunteer congratulated me. Best moment right there.

Horizontal Rope Traverse. Right after the spear throw, and again, I didn’t know how my shoulder would take it, but it looked like fun. No water or anything underneath, just a few feet above the ground. Cross out to the bell and done. A lot of folks were standing around like they weren’t sure about doing this one.

I got right up, swung my legs up and my shoulder didn’t seem to care. I rocketed across it like a mad squirrel. Hit the bell, swung my legs free and my hands lost my grip. I landed on my ass.

A volunteer checked if I was okay, gave me a high-five and I was on my way. Shaky dismount, but one of my better obstacles.

Slip Wall. Past the third mile, water trench and slip wall. It looked bigger too this year. It’s a big slippery sloped wall with ropes. I waded out to the wall, crawled up and grabbed the rope. The trick is to lean back so your legs remain perpendicular to the wall surface and walk up. Just as I was about to reach the top a big guy next to me made a desperate grab for the top, missed and fell. He slid to the bottom, rolled into the water and got up, hopefully okay. I swung my foot over and took in the view.


Herc Hoist. I don’t have the upper body strength for this one. Last year I made it about half way up before having to lower it down. This year, with my shoulder, I couldn’t budge it. Burpees.

Barbed Wire Crawl. It made me laugh crawling under low barbed wire through mud that was both very slippery and rough enough to shred my knees and elbows. Also killed my shoulder so I mostly went through on my left side and belly, hence the uneven mud distribution.

20150816014634The other reason I’m smiling is what I see ahead. I thought I was safe from it this year.

Gravel Bucket Carry. I hated this obstacle last year. Take a heavy, muddy bucket with ~75lbs of gravel and carry it over rough terrain. After carrying the log I thought I was safe. No. This time it was the hill where I carried the SandBell last year. Very steep up, and back down in a loop. I was so tired by the time I got there I didn’t know if I could even lift the thing.

It took a long time. I stopped and rested. The hill was steep enough (like so many on the course) that falling was a real possibility. I eventually made it, don’t know how, except I kept going.

Z-Walls. This is the traverse wall in a ‘Z’ shape. With my shoulder and arms I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have a problem last year. Burpees.

Dunk Wall. Deep water pit with a wall across. Dunk under the wall and come up on the other side spitting muddy water and try to clear your eyes without rubbing more mud into them.


Cliff Climb. Last year this was a steep muddy barbed wire crawl. The top gets so steep that there are ropes. This year water was running down the hill. It was very slippery but you could walk it. Some people fell. I didn’t, so that was something.

Clif Multi Bar. Like monkey bars but with a set of rings, then a horizontal bar, then more rings. I didn’t make it across. Burpees.

Rope Climb. A bit of a traffic jam at this point. I eventually got into the water and attempted to get on the rope. With my shoulder it wasn’t happening. Burpees.

“Fire” Jump. This year the wood wasn’t on fire given the dry conditions but the jump was a ramp up to the wood and then a deep pit of water on the other side. Some people hesitant to jump made me wait but by that point I was done, so who cares?


Finish time: 3:00:27

I finished. Confession: with my shoulder hurt I didn’t complete a full 30 burpees at each obstacle failed. I did early in the race and cut the number down to ten by the end when my shoulder was killing me. I probably shouldn’t have even done those. Even that was painful and difficult.

It took me fifteen minutes longer this year. Of course different course route, different obstacles and I didn’t hurt my shoulder last time. And I had actually managed some training.

My brother managed in 1:50:55, a great time, I thought given he hadn’t trained extensively either.

In the past eight days I’ve mostly recovered. I couldn’t hardly move the next day. My main problem now is my shoulder. It still is giving me trouble, so I’ve got to work on that.

I don’t have any plans to complete another Spartan Race. I may. I just don’t have any plans. With going back to grad school I also don’t anticipate having time to do any serious training. I’m not setting any goals for that either. I do hope that if I’m crazy enough to try a Spartan Race in the future that I’ve done a lot more serious strength training to protect my shoulders — and can run 10+ miles comfortably.

Then maybe I’ll be ready to tackle something like this again. I’m glad to have completed the race, overcoming the difficulties to finish. I’ll need that same determination to finish my degree despite whatever obstacles come up.




The Forest Path

Don Hyland served his country and now he paints landscapes, imagining the wild places of the world untouched by human hands. Or saws. He studies a scene until he can picture what it might have looked like when the very first people set eyes on it — and that’s what he paints.

Only this time his painting leads him to a world he never imagined, a world that couldn’t possibly exist, one hidden behind the magically alleys that connect every city in the world — and an ancient connection believed lost to time!


Rolling back time, that’s how Don Hyland described his portfolio when he met people and they asked what he did. If only he really could roll back time!

Fat rain drops pounded the evergreen boughs far, far overhead as a wind blasted through the giant-sized trunks. Don easel rocked on the uneven split-log boardwalk. Don moved quickly, forty-one years of climbing and hiking the outdoors had kept him nimble, collapsing the easel’s legs.

He was thin and of average height. What hair he had was a mix of dark and silver buzzed close to his scalp. For this trip up to Mt. Rainier, to the Longmire visitor area, he had just worn cargo shorts and one of the t-shirts with his weary lumberjack painting on the front. Instead of hiking boots he had on his trail running shoes. This wasn’t meant to be an expedition into the back country, just a quick pop up the mountain to do some plein air studies.

Don finished folding the portable easel as fat rain drops pelted the board walk. Out in the Longmire meadow the tall grasses waved back and forth in the wind. The studies he’d already done that were drying on the half-log bench, flapped and threatened to fly off. Fortunately he’d had the sense to weigh them down with his painted rocks or they’d already be gone. That didn’t stop the rain drops from hitting the sheets.

As he gathered them up, stuffing the sheets into the easel case, he could see the damage already done. There were visible water drops on the paintings, running and blending colors. He got them all up and snapped the brass catches on the wood case. He slung the strap over his arm and scooped up the painted rocks, which disappeared into his pockets.

That was everything? Don looked around and spied a water brush that had rolled away into a crack between the logs of the board walk. He was bending down to pick it up when he heard a scream behind him.

Don’s fingers closed on the brush and he spun around. Another scream sounded on the mountain behind him. A woman? Someone might be hurt!

He ran down the board walk and hit the dirt trail. The easel case bounced under his arm and banged into his side. He clutched the water brush in his hand as he ran. The Trail of Shadows, this path was called, an easy loop near the visitor center. Nothing too hazardous or difficult.

No one was visible. Rain drops hit his arms as he ran. The wind howled through the trees.

“Hello?” Don called out as he ran. “Hello? Is someone there?”

He reached a small log bridge over one of the many little streams coming down the mountain and pounded across. Up ahead he saw a white-haired couple, a man and woman. The woman clutched at the man’s arm. Both were looking up the slope as Don ran up.

“Did you hear that scream?” Don asked.

The man nodded and pointed a liver-spotted arm at the slope above them. “It came from up there. I dunno what it was, a cat maybe? Do those big cats scream like that?”

“A cougar?”

The man nodded.

“I don’t know. I don’t think it was a cat,” Don said.

He studied the slope above them. It was wooded, of course, covered in big trees and fallen debris. He couldn’t see anyone.

Then there was another scream. Don slipped the easel down to the ground. “Watch that, for me, will you? I’ll be back.”

He bounded away across the path and scrambled up the slope. Only when he reached for a thick root did he realize that he still held the water brush. He shoved it in a pocket, knowing it might leak, and pulled himself up.

His legs felt the effort of the climb up the slope, but he was used to that feeling.

There was undergrowth and ferns, but not so much that it impeded his progress. Before long he had climbed up out of sight of the path below and he slowed his pace. He still hadn’t seen anyone and it was making him nervous.

What if the cries had been a cougar? It might be watching him right now.

Don braced himself against the papery trunk of a cedar tree at least six feet across. “Hello? Is someone out here?”

He saw something flash white between the trees. Not a cougar. A person with long white hair. That’s all that he saw before whoever it was disappeared behind a thick Douglas fir.

“Hey! Are you okay? Was that you screaming?”

He picked his way around a clump of thick ferns and climbed over a moss-covered log to get closer.

A woman looked out from behind the tree. She didn’t look like anyone he’d ever seen before. Fine porcelain features, narrow, with high cheekbones and large wide eyes. White eyes. No iris that he could see at all, just a wide dark pupil as she looked at him. Her eyebrows were up, mouth open. She looked terrified.

Don raised his hands. “Hey, I’m not going to hurt you. I heard screaming. I wanted to help.”

She said something fast and musical. It almost sounded like bird song, but he heard her voice tremble as if she was scared. From the looks that she gave him, and the sound of whatever it was that she had said, Don guessed that she wanted him to move away.


He took a step back and to the side, so that he could see her better and she could see him. “I’m not going to hurt you. I only want to help.”

The woman eased around the tree, still watching him with her oddly white eyes. They didn’t look cloudy, just white, and it was clear that she was watching him carefully. But that wasn’t the only odd thing about her. There was also what she was wearing, some sort of silvery tunic with black laces up the front. She carried a deep purple tube-like bag that wrapped around her back, the strap crossing from her left shoulder, down under her right. The tunic went down to her knees, but she wore nothing else below that. No shoes. Her feet were coated with dirt.

“It’s okay,” Don said softly. “Are you hurt?”

She eased out more from behind the tree and looked around. Her lower lip trembled. The sight of it was heart-breaking. He wanted to do whatever he could so that she wouldn’t look so sad. Was she part of some role-playing group? Maybe she got lost? Her eyes could be part of a costume.

“Are you lost? There’s a path right down there, it’ll take us back to Longmire.”

She still didn’t respond to what he was saying. Instead she went to a big tree that had fallen, roots made a wall at least ten feet high of gnarled twisting wood, like a nest of giant snakes frozen in place. She didn’t even come up to the mid-point, but she walked into the hollow where it dipped down into a small cut between the roots and the hillside like a natural alley.

It must drop off fast, because she was almost out of sight. It didn’t feel right. Don felt it in his gut, like something was pulling him after her. He gave into the sensation and ran after her.

She was gone before he reached the cut where the giant tree had fallen. He scrambled down, loose rocks sliding beneath his shoes, and nearly slipped. A root caught his sleeve for a second but he pulled free and hurried around the root mass.

His next step landed on a rock he hadn’t seen or expected. It was flat and anchored firmly. That wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t only one rock, but a whole semi-circle of stones like a small stone patio.

Don turned, surprised to find the small stone circle here. The fallen tree and its roots were gone. Not only that but the trees had changed. The trees growing from this slope were beyond massive. Each one thrust up to the skies above as if they were the very pillars upon which the sky rested. Where there had been roots and a cut through the hillside was now a path paved in cobblestones with two stone fences along each side. The path traced a line off down the slope to his left before disappearing from view.

Either he’d lost time and been taken someplace else with trees that dwarfed the redwoods in California, or he had moved from Mt. Rainier to somewhere else in the time it took to take a step. Both sounded equally impossible, but these trees were unmatched in his experience.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore,” he said aloud.

He laughed, but it wasn’t that funny. He’d read about such things. Oz, Narnia, and others, but it was one thing to read about it in a children’s story. For it to happen in real life?

“Hello,” said a soft voice behind him.

Don spun around. The woman he’d seen before, with the long white hair and the silvery tunic, stood just down the slope from the stone circle.

“Hi,” he said, and remembering that she had been screaming. “Are you okay?”

She bit her lip and nodded. “I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have been able to follow me here.”

Don spread his hands. “Where are we? And why didn’t you say something before?”

She twisted her hands together. “I did say something, you just couldn’t understand me.”

“Then why can I understand you now?”

“Now, this place, it makes it so that we can understand each other.”

Don wasn’t sure what she meant but he pressed on. “What is this place?”

“An olden place.” She pointed to the path behind him. “This once led to a trow keep, a place of learning. I came here to study the path, to try and find a way to shut the connections between the goblin city and your cities.”

Don shook his head. “This is a lot to take in. Why were you screaming?”

She ducked her head and shrugged. “I was set upon by a woodwose and fled. I didn’t even realize I’d crossed over at first. It’s never worked before.”

“What’s a woodwose?”

She gestured at him. “A human, like yourself, but one one of the wild ones that lives in the wilderness. They can be dangerous.”

Don looked around at the surrounding forest. Wild men in the forest? “I’m Don, Don Hyland. You are?”

“Na’pi.” A smile touched her thin lips. “You aren’t what I would have expected from a man of your world.”

“You’re exactly as I imagined someone from your world,” Don said.

“You know of our world?” She stepped forward. “How? Do many?”

Don laughed. “I was joking. I had no idea that anything like this existed outside of children’s stories.” He looked again at the trees, ten feet across and more thrusting up to the sky. So high up that their tops looked fuzzy. “I wish I had my paints.”


Don pulled out the water brush and noticed it had made a wet circle on that pocket. He held it up. “I’m an artist, watercolors, mostly. I left my kit back there when I ran up the hill. I only have this.”

Na’pi took a small step forward and held out her hand. “May I see it?”

Don closed the distance between them and handed her the brush. Her fingers grazed his as she took it. Even with the odd eyes, she was beautiful. It was all just so strange.

Na’pi turned the water brush in her hands, shook it and poked at the plastic. “What is this made of?”

“Plastic, I guess.”

She brushed it on the back of her hand, leaving a trail of wetness. She looked up at him, eyebrows raising.

“It’s only water. I use pencils, with pigment? Then the brush dissolves the pigments to spread them on the paper.”

Na’pi handed it back to him. “Remarkable.”

Don pocketed the brush. “This is all a bit much. I have to ask, how do I get home? You said something about a connection?”

Na’pi shook her head. “I don’t know. The stories suggest that this path was one of the first to connect to your world, but I haven’t learned much. I didn’t even know that the connection still existed at all.”

The path behind Don was quiet, peaceful even. The place had a feeling of age about it, like really old. It was the trees that did it. To be so big they had to be many centuries old. So old and big that they were like part of the mountain itself.

Don looked back at the path. “If I just walk down the path, will it take me home?”

“I don’t know,” Na’pi said. “I’ve walked the path many times without finding the connection.”

“But it was there this time, when you ran from the wild man?”

Na’pi walked up beside him. Don noticed a minty scent from her, over the dusty pine smell of the forest. She touched her shoulder. “We should go back to my camp. It might not be safe to stay here, in case the woodwose returns.”

“Let’s try the path first,” Don said. “If it works, I’ll be back home and you can go on with whatever you need to do.”

“If you must do this, be quick. I’ll wait.”

The stones that made up the path were worn, almost flat from the passing of many feet but the spaces between were filled with dried fir needles. Looking at it again, it looked old, with plants growing up alongside, and even on the path.

It wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine Na’pi out here clearing out the path, opening it up for study. It might have been better to leave it covered. But what had she said about a goblin city? Did he even want to know?

Don followed the path as it curved down the slope and vanished around the undergrowth. As he got closer there was more and more debris on the path until the stones were completely covered and the plants hung over the short walls.

He stopped, frustrated. It hadn’t taken him back. A chill curled up in his gut. What if he couldn’t get back?

Don turned back on the path. If there was a connection that would get him him home it wasn’t there now. His best home lay with Na’pi, maybe she could find some other way of getting him home. What had she said? She wanted to learn to close the connections. Maybe he couldn’t go home this way, but there might be other options.

Na’pi stood waiting for him at the end of the path and seeing her his shoulders relaxed from tensions that he hadn’t even been aware he was feeling. If she left him he might not have any other way home.

A man stepped out from behind a tree behind Na’pi. Then two more came around the other side. All of the men were lean, with clearly defined muscles. They didn’t wear much, only ratty skins tied around their waists. All had bushy beards and unkempt hair. Their attention was entirely on Na’pi.

Don opened his mouth to shout a warning when Na’pi turned toward the men as if she’d heard something, or sensed something.

The men responded instantly, howling and sprinting forward, grinning like mad men.

Na’pi screamed.

In his mind Don sprang forward to save the beautiful young woman, but his feet refused to move. Other than a few school-yard scuffles he hadn’t ever been in a fight, didn’t know the first thing really about fighting.

Na’pi bolted down the path in Don’s direction. That moved Don into action. He sprinted forward to meet her. As they came together he pushed her behind him and faced the three charging men.

“Stop! Stop right now!”

The men didn’t stop. They kept coming and the distance between him and the men shrank quickly. The one in the middle was closest. He had startling blue eyes, like deep pools but Don didn’t see anything in them. Like deep ice. Beneath the dirt and the beard and the hair, the man was probably half Don’s age, and didn’t have any fat on him. Nothing but corded muscle, arms as big around as Don’s legs.

Don spun around and grabbed Na’pi’s arm. “Run!”

Together they bolted down the path away from the men. Don had little hope of escaping their pursuers, but it was the only thing he had.

Na’pi stayed with him, clinging to his arm. Don’s stomach lurched and he felt dizzy. His next step came down hard on flat bricks as light blinded him. Don raised his arm against the light and saw a brick building towering four stories above him.

Twisting around he saw another building, this one six stories, of dark brick on the other side. Don looked back, expecting to see the men behind them, but instead there was a brick-paved alley between the two brick buildings. Lines criss-crossed the alley, hanging with laundry. A woman leaned out the window, fat, with lank blond hair. She tugged on the line and pulled off a wide shirt. As she did her head turned and Don saw that she had two yellowed tusks protruding between fat lips. Her skin was pink, not a normal pinkish color, but pink like a pink rose, darker near her cheeks. Her nose was up-turned slightly at the end and pointing. She saw him looking and her lips drew back revealing more fang.

Na’pi tugged on his arm. “We’ve gone through.”

He looked at her odd white eyes. “Okay, I see that. To where? Another world?”

Na’pi shook her head. “No, it brought us to Goblinus, to the goblin city.”

“I thought the path was supposed to take me home?”

“Ordinarily, it would. Usually the connection only flows from one world to the other. The alleys don’t connect to one another within the same world, but according to stories the path is where it all started. Now that it’s open, it may connect to anywhere.”

Don looked up and down the alley. At the far end was obviously a busy street, with people going past. Only they didn’t all look like people that he was used to. For one thing, they came in more colors. He saw a couple walking past that were dandelion yellow and short. A man passing the other way was tall, broad and granite gray.

“These people, they aren’t human?”

Na’pi shook her head. “Goblins, this is the goblin city. You’ll find mostly goblins, but also humans and others.”

“Not to be indelicate, but what are you? You don’t look entirely human, but not like them either.”

“I’m trow,” Na’pi answered. She tugged on his arm. “We should go. The Navigator’s guild watches the activity on the alleys. They will send the Royal Guard to investigate our use of the alley.”

Don followed her down the alley. The day was already so incredible, how stranger could it get? And besides, he’d be lost without her. She knew this world. He still needed her help to get home. That hadn’t changed.

Although Don tensed as they moved out into the bustling throng in the street, no one paid any attention. They fell into the crowd, turning right and headed down the brick road — an actual brick road! — which dropped away before them. All around the street buildings rose up, a massive city that stretched away as far as he could see. Buildings piling upon buildings, rising higher against the crystal clear sky.

Store fronts lined the street and spilled out their wares into the crowd. Signs and banners flapped in the cool, spicy breeze blowing between the buildings. The unfamiliar smells made Don’s mouth watered. Up ahead he could see a cafe, tables and chairs gathered around the front. Goblins sat and ate and drank, and a few humans too.

They’d gone nearly a block before he realized what was missing. Cars. He saw people on bicycles, and a few pedicabs pulled by shirtless, muscled goblins, but no cars. Just the crowd of people. The goblins looked a bit odd at first glance, like the time he had found himself in the midst of a costume parade, but otherwise nothing strange.

“Watch out.” Na’pi tugged on his arm.

Don looked where he was going and saw the curved green pole of a lamp post that he’d nearly walked into. He started to laugh but then he looked up and saw at least a dozen tiny faces looking down at him from the glass bulb on top of the post.

He stopped moving, resisting Na’pi’s pull. On top of the post was a big round glass ball. Within it were more than a dozen tiny, winged people. Naked, but each looked exquisite and perfect. Faeries. They couldn’t be anything else. There were faeries imprisoned in the lamp. For each that was looking sadly at him, another lay languishing against the bottom of the lamp.

“Don! We mustn’t draw attention to ourselves.”

Don glanced at Na’pi, and in the process noticed that he was attracting looks from those passing.

It felt terrible to simply walk away, but Don did, letting Na’pi lead him by hand away from the lamp post. But there was just another one coming up after the first and more down the street. Since the street dropped way down hill he could see the posts dotting the street on both sides on down the hill into the city.

And in each of the lamps were fairies slumped against the glass.

As they passed under the next lamp post a fairy beat on the glass with his tiny hands, his mouth opening soundlessly. It looked like he was screaming, but no sound escaped the glass.


Don looked at Na’pi. She took his hand and led him around a fruit stall into the opening of an alley.

“You’re attracting their attention, and that’s drawing attention to us. We can’t afford to be noticed.”

Don glanced at the crowd walking past and moved closer to Na’pi, lowering his voice. “Why? What happens if they notice us? Why are those fairies in the lamps? They are fairies, right?”

“Yes,” Na’pi said. “It’s all more complicated than you realize.”

“Faeries,” Don said. “I mean the rest of this is incredible, but —”

“They’re prisoners of the Goblin King. It isn’t safe to notice them.”

“But that’s wrong!” Na’pi winced at his shout. Don took a breath and spoke softer. “How complicated can it be? You don’t stick people in glass balls. That’s not complicated.”

“This situation is complicated, and you’re not making it easier. I feel obligated to help you get home, but I can’t do that if you don’t listen to me.”

“So you’re not part of this?” Don waved his hands in the air. “This city? You don’t live here?”

“No. I serve another, and I can’t talk about it right now. Let’s try and get you home. It’s my fault you’re here.”


They walked then for a time without saying anything. Don found himself itching for his sketchbook, so he could just sit and sketch this city.

It was unlike the car-filled cities back home. This was a place bustling with bodies rather than combustion engines. Rich scents floated in the air from cooking food. There was a new establishment every few store fronts. Farmers sold fresh produce and even slaughtered animals from carts. The street had the feel of a fair or farmers market.

Except that the goblins, in the whole range of colors, were the most common people on the street. Still, they acted like people anywhere. Talking, bartering, and walking in a hurry. They wore all sorts of clothing, much of it recognizable. Suits were popular for women and men and made the odd skin colors and tusks all the more unusual. T-shirts and jeans were equally common as well as wrap-around robes. He even saw a group of tough-looking lemon-skinned goblins wearing black leather. Their short-stature and color combination suggested biker bees and Don had to cover a laugh with his hand.

Despite the lack of cars, technology certainly wasn’t lacking. Don saw plenty of people, human and goblin both, checking cell phones or reading on iPads and similar devices. Plenty of customers at the outdoor tables had laptops. They even walked past a male trow in a dark suit working with several holographic screens at one table.

Not a technologically backwards world.

Na’pi never slowed her pace. If anything she walked faster, her eyes darting from side-to-side as she obviously searched for something.

Don touched her arm to get her attention. “What are you looking for?”

She didn’t stop. “We’re being followed. We need to get away from here. I’m trying to find a connection to get you home!”


“Don’t look!”

Abruptly Na’pi turned down a side street, not quite as busy as the one they’d left, but still with plenty of people, just fewer store fronts. Her delicate forehead creased.

“Can you run?”

Don nodded.

“Then come on!”

Na’pi took off running, her lithe form slipping around a cyclist coming up the road.

Don chased after her. In a few seconds he caught up and matched her pace. For now. Despite all the hiking he did, he wasn’t sure how long he could keep it up. He wasn’t a runner.

They’d gone two blocks before Don caught his first glimpse of their pursuers. Three goblins dressed in black uniforms ran around the corner a block ahead, onto this street. The crowd parted before them like sheep before a wolf.

“This way!” Na’pi grabbed his arm and pulled dim around.

They plunged into a narrow alley between two low buildings. It was empty, marked only by a dry drainage channel down the middle of the passage. Litter and dirt clogged the spaces between the bricks and piled against the walls.

Don tensed, expecting every step to care him someplace else but that didn’t happen. They ran down the alley and came out the other side without going anywhere.

Even then Na’pi didn’t slow. She ran straight across and into the next alley, not so different than the last except the building on the left was four stories tall and concrete instead of brick.

As they ran down the alley a scarlet swirl of graffiti on the wall suddenly moved, taking on the form an an emaciated person clinging lizard-like to the wall. The creature snarled, showing teeth like broken shards of brown glass.

Na’pi grabbed his arm.

In the next step a cool rain-mist sprinkled Don’s face. The alley wasn’t brick anymore, but cracked asphalt, and a dented and rusted green dumpster appeared just ahead. Don stopped running, gasping for air.

Na’pi had also stopped and came back. She stood near him and crossed her arms.

“Where are we?” Don asked, when could manage it.

Na’pi shook her head. She spoke in that fluid, bird-like language that she had used when they first met.

The implication sank in. They weren’t in her world anymore, he couldn’t understand her. He smiled at her and held up his hand as he looked around. It was late evening by the look of the light. The alley could have been anywhere. Power lines ran along it above. And at the far end Don heard and saw cars driving past.

“Come on,” he said, beckoning. “Let’s find out.”

Na’pi hesitated, but she followed him. As they left the alley Don saw a Subway sandwich shop across the street, which was a wide four-lane road. Turning left the street dipped down a hill and he could see the spill of the city. One building in particular was very recognizable.

It rose up with slender, sweeping grace, topped with a fat saucer. The Space Needle. Don laughed. “We’re in Seattle!”

Na’pi said something else. Her voice and words were beautiful, but he didn’t understand any of it. Still, it seemed clear from the way she pulled back that she wanted to go.

He carefully took her hands and pressed them together in his. He smiled at her.

“You might not understand this, but thank you. I can get home from here. But what about you? Do you want to come with me?” Don pulled her hands closer to his chest. Then he pointed at the alley. “Or go back into the alley?”

Na’pi bent and her lips brushed his fingers where he held her hand. Then she stepped back, slipping from his grasp. She spoke again, musically, and gestured at the alley.

She was leaving.

Don touched his chest and gestured at the alley.

Na’pi shook her head and gave him a small smile. One step, two, and she raised her hand in parting.

It was hard not to follow, but he stayed standing in the alley mouth as she sprinted away. One second she was there, then she faded just for an instant, and was gone.

Don reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone to call a cab. He’d go home, but he needed to go back up to Mt. Rainier to get his plein air kit, assuming it was turned in to the rangers. Could he find that cut in the hillside again? Did he dare?

In his head he saw images of another world, one he hadn’t imagined. Na’pi had left a lot unsaid about what was going on between her people and the goblins. It might not be something that he wanted to get involved in, even if he decided he wanted to go back.

The phone was ringing in his ear. Don walked down to the awning above a nearby camera shop to take the call, leaving the empty alley behind. For now, at least.

5,024 WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 24th weekly short story release. I wrote this almost exactly three years ago, in anticipation of writing Trow Forge, the third Goblin Alley novel. It was included, with a few changes, in that book. It introduced a new major character into the story.

I’m releasing each of these stories, one per week, here on my website. Eventually I’ll do standard e-book releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the books. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new  e-book versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next week for another story. Next up is a science fiction story with a very special kid, Oswald Hamilton, Invader.

Podcast #14 Unwalked Trails

As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more aware of the trails that I haven’t taken in my life. Thinking back, it’s easy to picture those points in time when you could have taken a different path. What you don’t see was the death that lurked down that path.

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Trow Forge

Pre-orders start today for the third Goblin Alley book, Trow Forge, publication date: December 22nd, 2014.

While it is available for pre-order, it’s at a special $0.99¢ price, and will switch to the regular price on release. Buy Now

If you can help spread the word, that’d be great!


A college student. A natural born runner. A fierce upcoming competitor among ultra-runners. The goblin king’s chosen messenger, gifted with the ability to navigate the shifting goblin alleys.

Dalton Hicks lives an uncommon life, turned upside down by an assassination attempt on his life.

A shape-shifter, fox spirit. Ghost rescuer. Specializes in obtaining the unobtainable. Skilled with knives. Protective of her freedom.

Mingmei lives between two worlds, ours and the faerie world. Recovering a rare artifact, she struggles to evade pursuers.


A veteran. An artist able to envision landscapes untouched by man. Isolated and alone among those he fought to protect.

Ben Hyland finds new purpose in protecting the faerie world from potential destruction.

The paths of these three intersect in a new novel of fantasy, of wonder and darkness, joy and fear. The world of Goblin Alley lies just ahead, connecting every city on the planet.

Novel, 440 pages
Publication Date: December 22nd, 2014

Podcast Episode #3

We’ve had a cold catching in the house this last week. I’ve been fighting it off, but today I’m feeling a bit worn down. It might not be the cold, it could just be that I’ve been busy.


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Podcast Episode #2

I’m not a big fan of how early it gets dark this time of year. It’s dark when I get up, and it’s dark by the time I get home from work. Usually I’m a morning person and get up around 4 AM, so that I have time to write, paint, publish, or exercise before I go out to work. But it seems when it’s dark like this I tend to want to sleep longer. Last night that wasn’t true.


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The Eleven Lords Pre-order

Pre-orders start today for the second Goblin Alley book, The Eleven Lords. I’ve wanted to get this book out for a long time, so I’m thrilled that it’ll finally be up. Publication date: November 3rd.

While it is available for pre-order, it’s at a special 0.99¢ price, before returning to the regular price.

If you can help spread the word, that’d be great!


Plunge into Goblin Alley, a world wide web of magic, wealth and danger linking every city around the planet to the goblin city Goblinus.

Dalton Hicks, about to start college, meant to leave the goblin alleys behind and live a normal life safe from the powerful forces that nearly killed him the last time.

Burning for revenge over the loss of the Bloodied Fang, the Erlking, ruler of the sylvans, orders a special assassin to remove Dalton before the Goblin King calls on him again.

Dalton’s escape from the goblin alleys proves short-lived. He returns to Goblinus alone, unaided by Mingmei, the shape-shifting fox girl that helped him last time.

Summons from the Goblin King disrupts Mingmei’s own life when he orders her to find Dalton Hicks and help him complete a mission to the Eleven Lords of the Goblinus council.

Hunted by an ancient evil, Dalton faces his greatest race yet!

Novel, 440 pages
Publication Date: November 3rd, 2014

Pac West Spartan Race Sprint 2014, Washoughal, WA

I’ve been meaning to post about my very first Spartan Race that I completed last month, on August 2nd. What was it like? Tough. Very hard and different than anything I’ve tried before. It was set in the hills along the Washougal river.

When I got there it was obvious that there were lots of people. Many acres of rolling green pasture became an enormous parking lot for the thousands of racers and spectators showing up. Everyone seemed to be having fun.

The racers were grouped by start times. I was in the 9:30 AM group, which actually got going closer to 10:00 AM. Right at the start, to get in the race chute, you had to go over a 4′ wall. A loud DJ and announcer then worked to pump up the group of racers before sending them out. Each group was broken into waves of probably twenty or thirty people.

The race started and I ran out with the group and immediately went right up a steep hill. It’s a rocky trail climbing up the hill and pretty quick most of the people are walking. I haven’t been running many hills so it didn’t take long for my slow run to become a walk. Then the trail turned and got even steeper. That went on for quite a distance, working up the hill. Some of it beneath trees, other sections out in cleared areas.

When the trail leveled off on the ridge it went back beneath the trees and I reached the first obstacle – a series of four or so walls like the one at the start of the race chute. I climbed over those without any problem and pressed on. After that the trail started down hill and continued on. A large part of the race was this continual up and down run (mostly walking on my part) trail. Very steep, Lots of loose rock. And then every so often the other obstacles:

  • Over, under, through walls. The walls got taller and varied. We had 6′ walls, walls to roll under and then a wall with square openings to go up and through.
  • Inclined wall. You’ve got to come up underneath it and have to climb up and over. That wasn’t much of a problem.
  • Up and over the rope climb. Giving racers a preview of the rope climb, this was climbing up and over the high twenty-five feet or so rope climb structure. Easy to do unless you’re afraid of heights. The top of this wasn’t solid, so you did have to watch your steps and could see through the gaps to the water below.
  • Water pits. Muddy water pits. This was a nice chance to cool off and it was the first time that you got wet and muddy. There were several pits to wade through.
  • Traverse wall. Long wall with hand-holds and foot-holds. You had to move across the length of the wall, fall or grab the top and it’s burpees. Ring the bell at the end. Not easy, but I made it across. I wasn’t too sure about this one, so I felt good that I’d done it without having to do burbees (penalty for failing any obstacle is 30 burpees).
  • Cargo net climb. Cargo netting strung between trees. I thought this was fun and easy, maybe 15′ high, or a little more.
  • High wall, 8′ tall.  Another obstacle I wasn’t sure I could do, but I managed to jump up, catch the top and pull up enough to get my leg over the top and lower myself down the other side.
  • The hoist. Bags full of sand ~100lbs tied to a rope, up over a pulley attached to a metal scaffold at least twenty feet tall, maybe taller. Racers were expected pull it up to the top and lower it back down. Penalty for failing any obstacle: 30 burpees, full chest down to the ground, jump up after burpees. My first attempt to pull the rope I thought my feet were going to leave the ground even though I’m not that light. Then I leaned back into it and managed to get the bag up. I got it about halfway up and simply couldn’t move it any more. Lowered it down and accepted my 30 burpee penalty.
  • Tractor tire flip or tire drag. Racers had to choose. The flip was a very big, heavy tire you had to flip over four times, two times one way, two back. The drag was dragging a big tire (not tractor-sized) out twenty or so feet and then drag it back with a rope. Given the difficulty I had with the hoist I went for the flip figuring my legs were stronger. Very big, very heavy, but I managed to get it up and flip it all four times.
  • Bucket Brigade. Fill a big heavy duty plastic 5 gallon bucket full of gravel up to the top and then carry it up and around a washboard area of track. Very hard, uncomfortable to hold. Had to keep stopping. If you spilled the gravel then it would be burpees. Eventually made it.
One of the hardest obstacles on the course
One of the hardest obstacles on the course
    • Block drag. Heavy concrete block attached to thick chain dragged up the hill and back down. Very heavy and steep. This section looped so you left the block where you collected it.
    • Culvert. Not really an obstacle, just a big culvert that you ran (or walked) through and then back uphill to the top of the water slide.
    • Water slide. Very high. Very steep. The end shoots racers out into the air and drops them into a big pit of muddy water. They recommended keeping your arms crossed on your chest, sitting up so that you’d hit the water feet first. And pulling down the headband around your neck because people were losing them. There was a bit of a line here, and I saw the Unbreakable Jones on one of their later laps, doing this tied together. You end up going very fast! Hit the water so fast that it ripped off my Road ID bracelet. The water was pretty much shoulder deep until I waded up to the end and climbed up the muddy hill to get out. Once up and out I realized the bracelet was gone. I wasn’t happy about that! Still had my timing bracelet at least. No way to go back and look for the Road ID.
    • First mud crawl. Washboard area so racers have to crawl, roll, scoot up and over small slippery muddy hills beneath barbed wire. Preview of harder things to come.
Slip, slide and roll beneath the barbed wire
Slip, slide and roll beneath the barbed wire
  • Sand bag carry. 40lbs Big neoprene “Sandbell” bags made by Hypewear. Carried up a steep hill and back down. That was harder than it looked.
  • Big Uphill Mudcrawl. Under barbed wire up a very steep, very slippery hill. Hardpacked ground beneath the mud but extremely difficult to get purchase squirming and scooting, clawing for grips. Muddy, but also rough and hard on the arm and knees. The whole thing was a mass of people so sometimes I couldn’t even move but other people did help by bracing each other when they could. Eventually get to a steeper section with a rope in the mud. Hard to climb up it at a steep angle, muddy and slippery, but somehow I got to the top.
  • Rope climb. Back to the rope climb obstacle from the other direction. Now to climb the high rope to the top. Down into a chest-deep water pit. I barely got up on the rope. Tried hooking the rope between my feet to brace and climb, but it was wet, muddy, slippery and I had no strength left. Hard to climb up the muddy hill out, but managed and did my next set of 30 burpees. Very tired, but getting close to the end by now.
  • Spear throw. One attempt, throw spear and stick it in the bales of the target. My throw went a bit wide and glanced off the bales. 30 burpee penalty.
  • Underwater wall. This was a short crawl up a hill under barbed wire and down into a pit of water with a wall across the water. You had to duck under the wall and come up on the other side.
  • Slippery wall. Inclined wall with no grips except a rope. Using rope walk up wall, lunge to grab the top and climb down the ladder-like other side.
  • Fire jump. Right before the finish they have a fire burning across the course that you jump over.

I ran to the finish, got my finisher’s medal and turned in timing chip. Picked up food/beverages at the end and somehow missed the race t-shirts. I completely missed the showers and t-shirt area (the great support folks at Spartan Race mailed me my finisher shirt after I emailed them when I was home). I had brought water and towels and stuff so I got cleaned up a bit and changed out of my muddy, wet race clothes before leaving.


I found the race very challenging. About 4.75 miles long, there’s a lot more running than the obstacle list indicates. It was hills, trail running, and I lost a lot of time just because I wasn’t up to running the distance.  I had a lot of muscle soreness afterward, pretty much everywhere. Plus scratches on knees and arm, mostly from the big mud crawl. Some bruises. Peeled back the toenail on my right big toe trying to get up that big muddy hill, digging in my toes. I was pretty worn out. I definitely need more upper body strength, as well as needing to be a stronger runner with good hill endurance.

Despite my relative lack of serious training, I managed. I finished even though it took me 2:45:52 to do it, and 90 burpees. I could have cut the time down a lot if I was just up to running on the hilly, trail parts of the course. More strength would have made things like the gravel, hoist and sandbell carries go faster. And if I had the strength to do that, I might have managed the rope climb.

Future Races? AROO! AROO!

Right after the race I wasn’t sure if this was going to be something I wanted to do again. A few days later I was thinking about the next race. I want to get in better shape, be able to do more.  Simply improving my running fitness, endurance and ability to run hills would have knocked a lot of time off the clock.

I didn’t train particularly well for the race. Now that I have a better idea of what’s involved, I plan to start training more for the next race. Although it’s tempting to think about doing the trifecta (a Sprint, Super and Beast in the same year), I think I may just aim for doing this race again next year. If I’m doing well at that point then maybe I’ll consider a trifecta for the next year. Plans can change, but the main point right now is that I want to get in better shape.

Before the start of the race...
Before the start of the race…

July Update, or Daily Chaos and Dead Things

Here we are and it is mid-August already and I haven’t posted a July update.

Daily Chaos, Disrupted Routines

Ordinarily I tend to follow a regular daily routine. Get up early, exercise, have breakfast and read a book or magazine, check emails, social media, play around with my latest book or art project, and then get ready for the day job. During breaks I’ll typically have some more fun working on my book and / or reading.

A lot of that changed in July with helping my folks move. The timing worked out, I’d planned some time off around the fourth, and again at the middle of the month, and it just so happened that they were moving right then. I was glad for the chance to help them out. It just meant things weren’t typical.

Then, about a week later, I also got some sort of stomach bug and wasn’t feeling well for several days.

Pushing Through

Despite the disruption to my usual routines, I kept writing without fail. I didn’t always write a lot of words, but I did write something each day. In the process I finished a new novel, Time Retrievers on July 29th. The same day I finished that novel I moved on and wrote 1,111 words on my next book.

July also saw the release of the third Dead Things novel, Killing Dead Things.

Killing Dead Things

I’m glad to get the book out at last. With this release both the Moreau Society and Dead Things series have three books out. Now my attention is focused on getting the first three books in the Goblin Alley series out. After that there will be another Moreau Society novel, and then some more reissues as I continue to release new editions of works that came out under different pen names.

Spartan Up!

I didn’t keep up as much training as I would have liked in July, but I continued with the Yoga and some workouts. I didn’t push myself as hard as I probably should have, but I did work on it. I’ll post an update soon about the Spartan Race (which I did complete).

Word Counts

Although I continued to write daily, I didn’t quite hit 500,000 words in 365 days (I’d started the streak on July 22nd, 2013). I was within a couple thousand words, though, so not too bad. Since then I’ve backed off on my word count goals a bit so that I have more time for painting and publishing tasks. I’m still writing daily, but I’m not going to worry about keeping that 500,000 word goal right now.



More of the same! Exercise, writing, painting, and publishing while working a day job and finding time to spend with my family. There’s also an exciting promotion coming up that I’ll be posting about, so check back for that. You can get blog posts by signing up, or find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

June Wrap-Up or 4 AM Yoga

Don't ask for my downward-facing dog.
Don’t ask for my downward-facing dog.

New Year Plans

Remember back at the New Year and all of those plans you made? I made plans too, I’m no exception. I’ve done pretty good at a bunch of them, and not so good at others.

Here we are at halfway through the year and it’s a good time to take a look at those goals. Dean Wesley Smith talked about this and writers, in his “New World of Publishing…The Time of the Great Forgetting.”

Six months ago on the first of January, many, many, many thousands of writers around the world decided to start up their writing, give it more attention, get stories out, and so on and so on. 

I set myself a bunch of those goals. I wanted to keep my writing streak going (I have, more later), finish novels (I have), get more published (I have), and send out more stories (I’ve done that too). Basically I’ve got no complaints. Have I done everything I wanted? No. There’s always more I’d like to get done, but I haven’t done bad as far as the writing goes. On the illustration and publishing side, I’d like to do more, but I’m working on that too.

My other big goal was my health. I signed up to tackle a Spartan Race, which is coming up in 31 days! I started with  good intentions, did too much too soon and had to back off.

4 AM Yoga and 30 Day Challenges

Seeing that the Spartan Race was coming up I decided to tackle some 30 day challenges to try and be a bit better prepared for the race. My goal is simple: go, have fun, and finish the race. It’ll be my first time tackling an obstacle course race, so I figure it’ll be a good measure of my fitness.

But burpees…

The Spartan Race penalizes failing an obstacle with 30 burpees. That’s it’s own challenge. They make you work for your medal. There’s no ‘good effort’ finish. Either you do the obstacles or you do the burpees to finish the race.

Time to Spartan Up.

So I signed up for 30 day challenges, made some challenges of my own and set my alarm for 4 AM every day.

First up when I roll out of bed is Erin Motz’s 30 Day Yoga Challenge.


20 minutes or so of yoga. I am so inflexible, it’s hilarious but I’m doing my best. I’m enjoying it and think I need to really make yoga a regular part of my fitness. I’ve dabbled on and off, and have even gone to a yoga class but I never stuck with it before. This time I plan to make the commitment to my health.

Erin Motz, the Bad Yogi has a new challenge starting up in a few weeks too, so that should be starting when I finish this one.

After the yoga practice I’m going for a walk / run, using my FitBit to track my progress there.

And when I get back I’m doing a 30 day burpee challenge that’ll be increasing across the month.

Along with all of that I’m paying more attention to what I eat. At the end of all of this I’ll do the Spartan Race, have fun, and finish. That’s the plan.

Word Counts

I’m on track for hitting 500,000 words over the past year. I started my current streak back last July, so I’m nearly to that point and still within reach of my goal.

I’ve had a few days where I haven’t met my goal, but I’ve at least written and kept the streak going.



More writing, more illustrations and more books coming out. We’re focusing on getting the novels done, so the short stories are taking a back seat right now. Once all of the novels are up then we’ll get back to the stories again. I have another story appearing in Fiction River this September, in the Fantastic Detectives issue, so I’m looking forward to that as well.

Check on back! I hope to have more news to post, and I think I’ll at least try to do a monthly summary like this one.