Short Stories – The Djinn Falls In Love and Other Stories

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

The Djinn Falls In Love and Other Stories by Mahvesh Murad, K. J. Parker, Kuzhali Manickavel, Maria Dahvana Headley (2017) – A collection of stories from around the world focusing on the djinn, the magical spirits from Arabian and Muslim mythology.  From breakthrough writers to the world-renowned, like Neil Gaiman, this is a fascinating and sometimes challenging collection of stories.

  • Keep Calm and Focus on the Short Stories
    •  Amal El-Mohtar — A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds
    • Catherine King — Queen of Sheba
    • Claire North — Hurrem and the Djinn
    • E.J. Swift — The Jinn Hunter’s Apprentice
    • Helene Wecker — Majnun
    • Hermes (trans. Robin Moger) — The Djinn Falls in Love
    • Jamal Mahjoub — Duende 2077
    • James Smythe — The Sand in the Glass is Right
    • J.Y. Yang — Glass Lights
    • Kamila Shamsie — The Congregation
    • Kirsty Logan — The Spite House
    • K.J. Parker — Message in a Bottle
    • Kuzhali Manickavel — How We Remember You
    • Maria Dahvana Headley — Black Powder
    • Monica Byrne — Authenticity
    • Nada Adel Sobhi — Time is a Teacher
    • Neil Gaiman — Somewhere in America
    • Nnedi Okorafor — History
    • Saad Hossein — Bring Your Own Spoon
    • Sami Shah — REAP
    • Sophia Al-Maria — The Righteous Guide of Arabsat
    • Usman Malik — Emperors of Jinn

This is a highly recommended collection from just last year.  For most westerners, the “djinn”, are the “genies” of A Thousand and One Nights and the variations on the theme.  As with so many cultural items picked up along the way, our understanding of the character is largely reduced to a cartoon.  The Djinn can be found in cultures all around the world, and they are a multi-faceted concept.  This collection offers a wonderful insight into them.

Every offering is written with great skill, and I was challenged to expand my understanding along the way.  Which is what great storytelling always does.  Some of the stories touched me more deeply than others.

My favorites here are:

  • “Reap” – In some ways the least”challenging” of the stories.  Not because of the writing but because the story of U.S. military operators directing drones in Afghanistan is very familiar.  What they see through the eyes of their drone is something else entirely.
  • “Majnun” – One of the djinn has turned away from his kind and become a human who exorcises djinn from other humans.  His confrontation with his ancient beloved is beautiful and heartbreaking.
  • “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” – This is a stunning piece of writing that shows the djinn fleeing from one form in our world to another trying to survive.
  • “Message In a Bottle” – a scientist has the cure for a worldwide plague.  It is sealed inside a bottle.  The question is this, is it the cure for the disease inside, or the pestilence that will destroy the world entirely?

I could list almost every story here as a favorite.  There is just a handful that didn’t connect with me.  But none of them left me feeling that I had wasted my time reading them.

Looking for something new and different?  Here’s a great collection to add to your list.


Writing – We Don’t Need No Stinking Rules!

I am fascinated and troubled by many posts I see from new/aspiring/beginner writers on some of the writing social media sites I frequent.  There is a recurring theme of “What are the rules for…?”.  How many words in a chapter, how many chapters in a novel,  what’s the “right way” to write such and such.

It just makes me shake my head.

So, after first stating that I am a journeyman author myself but a veteran reader, let me say this clearly:

There are no rules.

Every English teacher, every grammarian, and a great many authors just had their heads explode.  So let me explain.

Certainly, there are “rules” when it comes to things like grammar and usage in any language.  Knowing those rules is a solid foundation for any writer.  A foundation that I absolutely support.  Learn the rules.

Then toss them over the side as needed.

You will see me say this over and over and over on this blog – the only things that matter is the story.  If, in the pursuit of your story, you need to use non=standard English, do it.  If, in the pursuit of your story, your chapters are five words long or five thousand words long, do it.  Ignore the classic plot diagram of introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution if they get in the way of your story.

Great stories have been told that ignored the rules.  Great stories have been told that adhered to every rule.

It’s not about the rules.  It’s always about the story.

Looking for “the rules” is a belief that there’s a magic formula for writing.  Once you know the proper “spell” you will become a great/popular/best-selling author.  It just isn’t so.  If it were that easy, there would be a lot more best-selling authors out there.  Sadly, there are people who claim to sell exactly that.  Without even looking at their product or ideas, I say stay away.  There is no easy checklist of rules for success.

Learn your craft.  Learn how great writers have done it for centuries.  Watch as some of the greatest simply do their own thing.  Watch them tell their story.

Then do likewise.



A Life In Faith, Whatever the Hell That Is

(My faith is an important part of my life.  I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine.  If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)

I do not wear religious jewelry except at worship times (and not always then).  I have no religious symbols or scripture tattooed on my body.  I have a small Episcopal Shield bumper sticker on my car.  I don’t pray in public.  I don’t use any of the common religious phrases in conversation (sometimes I will use “Amen” sarcastically). I almost never quote Scripture outside of my community of faith.   If you passed me on the street, you would see no obvious indication that I am a person of faith.

And I’m just fine with that.Triquetra symbol

My guides in living a life in faith begin with Matthew 6:5-6, which says:

 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

I’m also a big fan of Matthew 7:16-20, which says:

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

I want the world to figure out my faith by watching me live my life.  By the work that I do and the manner in which I deal with the people around me. I do not trust people who make a big show out of their faith.  I know there are many fine, faithful people who do all of the stuff listed above.  It’s not for me.  Judge me by the fruits of my faith, not the flash.  That’s just me.

I am unconvinced that I have anything to brag about spiritually and therefore it’s not my place to be telling anyone that I’m going to a final reward.  I’m suspicious of those who seem convinced that their heavenly ticket is punched.  I live in hope of redemption.  I am yearning for the gift of grace.  But if I’m honest, I’m not making any claims about my personal salvation.

I have no desire for crowns or harps or wings.  My goal is to come before God and saying “I know it wasn’t enough, but it was the best I could do.  I took the gifts you gave me and made as much out of them as I could.  I’m sure I didn’t get it all right.  But I did the best I could.”.  And being greeted with “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”. (Yeah, I kind of like the old fashioned language.)

A life in faith isn’t about fear of Hell.  It isn’t about certainty.  It isn’t about piety or purity or polity.  It’s about taking what is given us, good and bad, gifts and challenges, and doing as much as we can.  Knowing that it will be imperfect, knowing that our great mighty works in this world will be the least of our accomplishments in the next.  That it may be the tiniest moment, when we get that speck of creation time and space just right, that is the true jewel of our time on this planet.

Any moment may be the moment. So my goal is to live every moment as a moment of faith.  And to do the best I can.



Writing – A Walk Through Memory

(I attended a “Writers Salon” put on by the wonderful folks at James River Writers late last year.  An interesting evening.  JRW is a great local writer’s organization.  The exercise was to do some “free writing” in a short period of time.  Don’t worry about editing or spelling, just write.  The prompt is those first two words.)

I remember…

The simple joy of walking. Today it always seems like walking has to be for a reason, to a destination. But there was a time when walking was just for the joy of seeing what was on the next block, over the next hill or around the next corner. My head was up, my eyes and ears were open and I experienced the world in a way I don’t seem to have the time to do anymore. The air was filled with wonderful aromas and I filed my lungs with it. I remember the joy of seeing things I had looked at a hundred times before but actually seeing them for the very first time. I remember that the world seemed a startlingly wonderful place. Rainy days, sunny days or days when the wind blew hard, it was all thrilling and wonderful and new. I remember when a walk was an adventure. Today when I walk I think to look for those wonderful sights and intoxicating smells that I remember.

(I did this on my phone originally.  Went to a writing event with no writing materials! What was I thinking?  That was an interesting experience.  I’ve determined that I don’t like writing on my phone.  I have cleaned it up to post here.

Sound like fun?  Try it yourself.  Five minutes.  No editing in that time period.  Share in the comments if you’d like.  You can clean it up for posting!)

Life Among the Underemployed – Milestone?

(These posts will appear when there is something to report)

I am comfortably in excess of 400 days without full-time employment.

need-a-jobAnd that sucks.

In the course of that time I have been:

  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Depressed
  • Inspired
  • Hopeful
  • Defeated
  • Tired
  • Scared
  • Scared
  • Scared

I hate writing these damn posts.  I hate that I have anything to add to this series.  I hate that I feel like I am not pulling my weight in my family.  Everyone else has steady, full-time jobs.  I’ve applied for over 150 job openings.  In as many different industries as I can think I might qualify.  I’ve gotten two interviews.  I didn’t get the nod at one and did at the other.  I tried the work with Aflac (great company and products) but the work just wasn’t for me.  It made me dread getting up and going to work each day.  Nausea, anxiety, you name it.  So I told them that it just wasn’t working out.

As it turns out, looking for a full-time job is almost a full-time job in and of itself.  Which is hard when you are trying to staunch the bleeding from our financial reserves doing multiple part-time jobs.  There’s never enough time and that adds to the stress.

I don’t know what to do.  I know that I can’t quit.  Quitting sounds really inviting some days.  Roll up into a ball and quit.  Pull the blankets over my head and quit.  Dive to the bottom of a bottle and quit.

Just effing quit.

But that’s not who I am.

Maybe things will change before I hit 500, or 200, or 600, or 300…

So I will keep my head up, my eyes open, my heart strong.

Waiting to see the next chapter in my life.

Whatever it turns out to be.

And I’ll keep you up to date on how that goes.


So, What Are You Gonna Call This Sucker?

I don’t know about you, but as a reader, I spend very little time thinking about book titles.  They either interest me or they don’t, and I have no idea why usually.  To be honest, a title has to work at it to turn me away from a book.

If the title hasn’t managed to destroy my desire to read, it’s more about the blurb and the cover that make me want to pick up the book.

Shorts - A Collection of Short Fiction by JD PhillippiWhich isn’t to say that the title is unimportant.  A great many titles inspire near interest or repulsion.  They just sit there with a bored look on their face and say “Maybe you’ll like this book.  Or maybe not.  Who knows?”  That may not inspire me enough to turn the book over to read the blurb on the back, or on the jacket flap.  Which means it hasn’t done its job.

All of which leads me round to why my book of short fiction is called “Shorts”.

Total transparency time.  I was trying to be clever.  A book of short fiction called “Shorts”!  It was snappy, it felt clever (never trust that feeling my friends), and it was probably unique.  Boom!


There are at least two other books with that title.  One of them was written by some big name English author from 75 years ago.  I can not remember the author, and I can no longer track down the book.  But it exists.  As does a book from the 1990s with the same title.  So not quite unique.  And not really all that clever.

It is snappy.

And to be honest, I still kind of like the title.  So I have no intention of changing it.  I have pretty much given up on publishing a small collection of poetry under the name “Pomes” (no, that’s not a typo).  I’m thinking that’s a good idea.

Having written your donation to the literature of our time, and having selected a name (perhaps choosing to avoid the pitfall of cleverness), you have to come up with a cover.

Covers can make or break a book.  I didn’t always believe that.  Once I started looking at the dreadful covers that indie authors like myself were foisting on the public, I changed my mind.  Some of these folks may be great writers.  But they have no eye for design whatsoever.

I did choose to design my own cover.  I studied covers that I liked and tried to come up something that was clean and distinctive.  Maybe it proves that I have no eye for design either, but I was mostly happy with the design above.  Later this year a new edition (and audiobook!) are coming out and their covers will be slightly re-designed.  I think I’ve learned something in the last two years.

Now some indie authors, and a fair number of graphic artists are shaking their heads in dismay at my foolishness.  They will tell you that only a fool does not have covers done by professionals.  They would have you believe that professionals will confer some magic dust on your project and save it from eternal ignominy.  Certainly, there are plenty of books that scream for professionally designed cover art.  But there’s an issue here – cost.  Covers can be a “you get what you pay for” proposition.  And if you’re not in a position to pay for a quality cover, what do you do?  Well, you can put a really crap cover on your book, you can decide not to publish, or you can try to do your own.  There are places that can help you create covers at little to no cost.  But that brings us back around to have some feel for what looks good.

I didn’t have a lot of money. Still don’t.  I think I have a halfway decent eye.  So for the moment, I will design my own covers.

In the end, I hope I’m a better writer than graphic artist.  Which is probably just as well.




Adventures in Urban Bicycling – Past and Future

Still catching up on the year that was.  While I continue to plan the year to come.

My goal for this year on the bicycle was 1,000 miles.  It was a bet with a friend and an ambitious one.  I don’t think I’ve put half that many miles on the bike in a given year.  The advantage (I thought) was that the biking season here in RVA was much longer than I’m accustomed to, so I had more days to pile on the miles.

I was kind of right.

What I hadn’t anticipated was how the much hotter summer days would effect my riding.  Very quickly through the middle of the summer, the day simply became too hot to ride safely.  Which meant I didn’t ride as much as I had hoped for when I set my goal.

The other thing I learned was that being a Type 2 diabetic changes the equation on the bike as well.  My plan had been to ride the Capitol Trail multiple times.  On my first attempt, I got my snacks wrong which meant my blood sugar did unpleasant things.  Forty miles into the ride I was toast and had to call for a ride.  I think I have a much better grip on the concepts I need now.

So what did I manage?

38 rides

614.95 miles

Two one way trips on the Capitol Trail.

That’s not half bad.  Not half bad at all.

I also did almost all of it on the streets of Richmond.  Urban cycling is a whole different experience than what I did in western New York.  With only a couple of exceptions, the experience was positive.  Drivers were aware and polite. I tried to make sure that I was predictable and obeyed the rules of the road as much as possible and practicable.  As a result, I had nothing worse than a couple of modestly close calls.  The worst was when a door was flung open in front of me from a parked car!

I’m looking forward to riding in 2018.  While I hope I don’t have nearly as much free time to toss the bike on the back of the car, I still should have plenty of time to top the 2017 total.  Add in a couple more Cap2Cap rides and look toward doing a round trip.  That’s 100+ miles, which is pretty daunting. I have been wiped out by the one way rides, so there’s a lot more training to be done for there and back again.  I’d also like to go a little further afield.  Maybe bike along Virginia Beach or on the DelMarVa peninsula.

The other consideration is that not only is the rider getting old, so is the ride.  Barney is going to need some TLC this year.  But I think we’ve both got at least one more hard year of riding in us.

I track my riding using MapMyRide.


Let’s roll.