2017 Authors Cycle Story

Once again, we did a cycle story or exquisite corpse with as many of the authors who read at PSB as we could wrangle. The authors were only allowed to see the last entry and had an inch and a half of space to write what happens next. Here is the result.  


The audience had all left and the stock for the store had been signed. It was a great event and The Author was looking forward to a quiet night before the next leg of the tour. Unfortunately for The Author, the parking lot outside of Porter Square Books was in utter chaos.

The camels were running amok. The moose were all in bad tempers. And the giraffes, well. They stood with their noses in the air, antlers quivering and refused to move an inch. And that made sense, when you saw what they were all looking at. --N. Griffin, author of Smashie McPerter & the Mystery of the Missing Goop, 1/7/17

One clawed foot drew delicate furrows in the moss. The horned head dripped ichor, the forked tongue flicked. “Bow to me,” said the beast, wheezing around the spear in its side. “Bow and get out of my way.” The creatures parted and did not move, though the beast staggered as he passed between them. --Katherine Arden, author of The Bear and the Nightingale, 1/13/17

The beast suddenly stopped, froze in place--it heaved its scaly chest, wobbling and started making hiccuping noises, little bubbly froths of pink sound, until it vomited out one after another a series of tiny elephants, wearing top hats, with In ‘N’ Out burgers balanced on their trunks.--Adam Scheffler, author of A Dog’s Life, 1/18/17

And after a few moments, these hidden elephants began to expand in a series of rotating helices up toward the tops of the trees. They began to emit a sort of cascading hum, and the birds overhead began to circle. Cyril stood up, dumbstruck…--Kevin Holden, author of Solar, 1/18/17

and questioned his good fortune to witness such a beautiful and unusual event. Then as the excitement began to slow,Cyril packed his things to continue on his journey. He strolled along the path, under the walnut trees, wondering if he would ever make it to his final destination. --Paula Ward, author of Death by Cyanide, 1/20/17

Having not eaten for hours, he suddenly felt the need for sustenance, but there was nowhere to turn for food. He drank the last of the water he had and even considered picking nuts from the tree, but he couldn’t find any. Just as he began to give up hope, he heard the sound of an approaching party. Perhaps they would have some food to share…--Robert Peck, author of The Natural History of Edward Lear, 1/21/17

No food, but plenty to drink. After a while no one remembered how hungry they were. Eventually, using dead reckoning, they found their way to safety. Everything was fine until the police spotted the party and insisted they all take a sobriety test. --Tony Rogers, author of Fake Smiles, 1/24/17

Which, of course, they promptly failed, all except the one they called “Tiny.” He was left in charge of the massive yellow Range Rover while the rest piled into the back of the police cruisers, three deep. The seats were torn beige vinyl, the radio turned to generic new country music. --Caroline Woods, author of Fraulein M., 1/26/17

Tiny looked in the rearview mirror and said, “That’s why I stay away from happy hour. It never lasts an hour, and it’s never, ever happy.” Then he put on his blinker and peeled out of the parking lot. --Jacqueline Davies, author of Panda Pants, 1/28/17

He was off to meet a woman he had met online. He knew her only from a photo and a few quick texts they had exchanged. When they met, she hugged him, took a sideways glance, and said, “This will never work.” “Why?” he asked. The response was surprising. “You smell.” --Scott Solomon, author of Future Humans, 1/31/17

“Why would you say that? I worked so hard to look good and smell great when I met you.” She felt bad that she had hurt his feelings. It wasn’t in her nature to do that. They parted, walked to the [] and sat down while trying not to feel awkward. She decided to say something interesting about her beloved dog. Talking about him always made her feel better. --Sandra MacKay, author of The Measure of Love, 2/1/17

“My dog is  trained to kill,” she said. “Not that I mean anything by that. Just...you know. He can kill you. If I want.” Dirk leaned back and smiled, “I love dogs,” he said. At that moment, a crow screamed in the distance. Rex jumped, snarling, and his teeth sank into Dirk’s leg, eliciting a high-pitched scream. --Kristan Higgins, author of On Second Thought, 2/1/17

Dirk wanted to hate her, but she got off on a technicality. I mean, she didn’t give the kill order, after all. It was clear that she could have, but she didn’t. It was the damn crow’s fault. He would find that crow and make it pay, if it was the last thing he ever did. That was the price for costing Dirk his love of dogs. --Tanya Lee Stone, author of Girl Rising, 2/18/17

She remembered the time she had been a crow. Never had she felt more alive, more part of a community, of the rush of life. The bright mornings, the sparkling air, the half a squirrel in the middle of the road… --Erica Ferencik, author of The River at Night, 2/21/17

In truth, she had been a spider. Joyfully so. A happy escape of an egg sac filled with cannibal relatives. She made her web the loveliest thing in the gorge. --Richard Mason, author of Who Killed Piet Barol?, 2/23

Though gorges aren’t always the brightest, nor the most heathlful of habits, she could see the sun. And the egg sac, as egg sacs do, evolved into a bunch of little spiders--all of whom climbed toward the light, trying to decide what to be and do. --Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, author of Island People, 3/1/17

The spiders, given little opportunity, and even less information, decided to separate. There’s safety in numbers, but there is also stagnation. The only way for them to thrive was to never seen one another again. They did not say goodbye. They just walked. And they hoped for a sign. --Tom McAllister, author of The Young Widower’s Handbook, 3/8/17

And the sign came when night fell, a star dropped from the sky--a tiny star, not bigger than a book, and lay on the field, sparkling. And a hedgehog came and talked to the star. But the spiders didn’t see any of this. They had fallen asleep. --Bernhard Schlink, author of The Woman on the Stairs, 3/15/17

And they dreamed of flies--fat, dumb, flies so easily enticed into a web that you hardly needed to throw more than a strand or two together and dinner would arrive, wriggling. In dreams, spiders are fat and lazy, like so many of the rest of us. --Tom Nealon, author of Food Fights and Culture Wars, 3/17/17

Then she woke up and took a shower. Dreams are silly, useless things, unless you are awake. The dreams you have when you are wided eyed give you power. She ate her bagel and planned her life. --Rachel Ignotofsky, author of Women in Science, 4/1/17

To accommodate her planning, she pulled out an iPhone. She never expected it to explode, and her last thought was: “I didn’t need to do that much planning after all.” --Rick Beyer, author of Rivals Unto Death, 4/6/17

Drawing by Gareth HindsShe found herself floating above her own body, disoriented, but curiously warm and comfortable. She wondered if there had been foul play, but abstractly. It didn’t seem to matter much. --Gareth Hinds, author of Poe: Stories and Poems, 4/13/17

Once you have left your body, it is so peaceful. --M.T. Anderson, author of Yvain: The Knight of the Lion, 4/13/17

At least, it feels calm until you notice the flies--or are they very small bats--and how intently they followed you. --David Valdes Greenwood, author of The Revengers, 4/28/17

One of the small bats flew overhead and cast its shadow on the ceiling, appearing as a monster intent on chasing us out of our home. --Camilie DeAngelis, author of Life without Envy OR Meta Wagner, author of What’s Your Creative Type?, 5/4/17

We took heed, knowing that to ignore the signal was to place ourselves in peril. Hearts pounding, legs pumping, we flew down the steps outside the house and ran, ran, ran as fast as our legs would carry us, the forest loomed, black branches, stretching against a full, fat moon. --Kate Moore, author of The Radium Girls, 5/5/2017

The vines began to tangle our hair, pulling us back and dragging us down to the forest floor. A small golden beetle crept up my arm, wings flailing, its mandible opened and a sad wailing song filled our ears. --Nathalia Holt, author of Rise of the Rocket Girls, 5/5/2017

I knew I had to do something fast to save myself, and immediately broke out into a chorus of “Oh Susannah.” I soon felt much better. --Leonard S. Marcus, author of Golden Legacy, 5/11/17

But the beetle wasn’t to be stopped by my song. It soon whispered in my ear…--Diane Muldrow, editor of Golden Legacy, 5/11/17

It’s our song. Not the one I hoped would calm my constant fear. --Mary Gordon, author of There Lies Your Heart, 5/12/17

Fear is our companion, old dog, that wants to sleep. --Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Stairway to Heaven, 5/17/17

And in the aftermath, there’s hair everywhere, evidence, and the smell never goes away. --Richard Hoffman, author of Noon Until Night, 5/17/17

Even bleach won’t get the blood stains out, so we’ll just have to keep the police away. --Lisa Davis, author of Undercover Girl, 5/18/17

Luckily, I fired the FBI director when I did, or it would be even worse. --Tom Ryan, author of Will’s Red Coat, 5/20/17

It’ll come back to bite me, I’m sure, like the time I assumed the girl next to me at the Junior League fundraiser was a call girl. --Sonja Yoerg, author of All the Best People, 5/23/17

Boy was she mad! But it all worked out in the end, because she saved my neck when I needed it most. --Laura Sook Duncombe, author of Pirate Women, 5/25/17

I just wish I had thought through those texts I sent her though… --Sarah Prager, author of Queer, There, and Everywhere, 5/27/17

She may be in the T station waiting for me while I have destroyed her reputation. --Delia Cabe,author of Storied Bars of New York, 6/13/17

I’ll just walk! --Allegra Goodman, author of The Chalk Artist, 6/14/17

I couldn’t believe that they could cover the 500 miles on foot. --A.V. Crofts, author of Meet Me at the Bamboo Table, 6/15/17

Thank goodness there was a rest stop before they took off. --Daniel Kimmel, author of Time on My Hands, 6/20/17

He left the gun in the garbage can in the parking lot while she changed the baby’s diaper in the back seat. --Sarah Moriarty, author of North Haven, 6/28/17

He learned to fly and sing--as if it was the only song he ever knew. --Alexis Chute, author of Expecting Sunshine, 6/30/17

He rode and he played and then became the world’s most famous man--his only regret was having no children and not freeing his slaves. --Philip Smucker, author of Riding with George, 7/5/17

OK, maybe he didn’t regret not having children; he regretted not having someone to pick him up after a colonoscopy. --Randy Ross, author of God Bless Cambodia, 7/7/17

It wasn’t embarrassing, exactly, but it left him woozy, dizzy, even (unexpectedly) dazzled. After, with his bill of health, he went down to the coasters, by the ocean, the sand, the dripping ice-cream cones, and the kids. He watched for hours, unreflective as a carpet, while the tide did its thing. --Ezra Dan Feldman, author of Habitat of Stones, 7/12/17

A little boy approached. He was, unlike the others, completely unsullied by the debris of either coasters or cones. “You look sad,” the child said, “like my dad when he watches baseball.” --Lindsay Hatton, author of Monterey Bay, 7/14/17

“He gets so excited, he yells and screams, but sometimes that scares me, just like I feel bad for the pail when it gets smashed. Can you help me with him?” --Dick Cluster, author of Kill the Ampaya!, 7/19/17

“I can help you,” I said, “but I don’t know you realize what you’re asking me to do.” --Rachel Kadish, author of The Weight of Ink, 8/2/17

“No, I get it, but it’s not just me that’s asking.” --Tony McMillen, author of An Augmented Fourth, 8/4/17

“It’s for the good of everyone.” --Catherine Magia, author of The Fisherman’s Bride, 8/9/17

“I’m sorry if I’m making you uncomfortable.” --Barbara Lynn-Davis, author of Casanova’s Secret Wife, 8/22/17

“No not at all. I love the feel of your arms around me--especially all those strong, white, insistent suckers.” --Sy Montgomery, author of Amazon Adventure, 8/23/17

“But if you don’t mind, I’m just going to take off this sweater, take a quick shower, and run out for some calamine lotion.” --Ellen Zachos, author of The Wildcrafted Cocktail, 8/25/17

Then the wild debauch in the alley--the dim lit sazeracs and echoes of spirits past--lead to an unexpected ethereal sunrise along the canal. --Michael Diebert, author of Haiti Will Not Perish, 8/30/17

The canal was filled with hungry piranhas, which made the morning swim unpleasant. Bandages were necessary. --Stephanie Gayle, author of Idle Fears, 9/5/17

We made our way to the Sea-V-S, on a little detour to pick up bandages. Turns out the store was staffed by piranhas and felt bad. --Jonny Sun, author of everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too, 9/8/17

The piranhas were surprisingly friendly, but they tried their best to help us. However, the language barrier kept us from finding what we needed, and we went back out into the street at last. --Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere, 9/12/17

In the street we found a pack of wild dogs, though “wild” was a bit of an exaggerations, as they came up and licked our fingers (though we weren’t finished with those fruit rollups yet). One followed us back to our camp and waited outside, howling, until we let him crawl in bed. --Megan Giller, author Bean-to-Bar Chocolate, 9/22/17

About 4 AM we realized it was a bad idea. The dog himself was fine--it was the skittering through the ceiling that awakened him and he decided he was going to protect us. --Pope Brock, author of Another Fine Mess, 9/28/17

His nose quivered as my wife and I followed, and honestly my hands and legs quivered too. But he was a good dog, a strong dog, he wouldn’t let harm come our way. So he padded up the stairs, and we followed one slow step at a time. But as we reached the top of the stairwell, a white flash exploded off to the right. Buster shot off after the light and we… --Scott Loring Sanders, author of Surviving Jersey, 10/4/17

...ran in the opposite direction, so terrified we were of such light. Forgive us.

-I won’t take orders from you.

-I’m not. I’m just. Asking for forgiveness.

-Have you gone through the usual channels. You know you must. --Paul Yoon, author of The Mountain & Hernan Diaz, author of In the Distance, 10/5/17

And that, of course, was when the penguin made his dramatic entrance. “Zounds!” I cried. “Fiddlesticks and feather bones! How many times have I told you to stay in your penguinarium until I call you.” --Lisa Rosinsky, author of Inevitable and Only, 10/10/17

The penguin bowed his head in guilt. “I apologize,” he said, “but I was just so excited to meet you. You are the most famous celebrity among penguins, after all.” I stared at him in astonishment. --Julie C. Dao, author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, 10/10/17

“Yes, yes, of course,” I replied dismissively. “When you’re as famous as I am, you get used to it. I suppose you’d like an autograph?”

The small penguin gazed up, eyes wide. “Um, no actually. I was hoping you could do something else for me. Something more...dangerous.”

My breath hitched in my throat. --Rob Vlock, author of Sven Carter and the Trashmouth Effect, 10/14/17

I suppose it was natural for readers to assume I had accomplished the great feats I wrote about in my novels, but the truth was, I’m more like Gilderoy Lockhart than James Bond. “I need your help with a job, and you would be very unwise to decline my offer.” --Matthew Chavez, author of Signs of Hope, 11/1/17

I once was asked to do a job I didn’t particularly care for. It involved cleaning out the gutters at a fancy estate house in Cambridge. While I stood on the ladder, scraping dead leaves out of the metal tubing, it suddenly hit me: I was not alone. --Anita Hannig, author of Beyond Surgery, 11/2/17

The presence was there; somewhere in the back yard. Not a person. More of a gaze. The odd sense of being watched--a lost gaze sensed with a sixth sense. The ladder shook. I lost my balance. But I gained it soon again. The sense was still there. I still felt wretched. --George Paul Meiu, author of Ethno-Erotic Economies, 11/2/17

Even as I climbed down onto the grass, I couldn’t shake the sense. A cat nearby, maybe? Someone with a telescope down the block? I shivered. --Joan Dempsey, author of This Is How It Begins, 11/3/2017

A telescope? Why isn’t it pointing up to the night sky? Should I go ask to look? --Cynthia Enloe, author of The Big Push, 11/7/17

But would I then be responsible for some way for what I’d see? Does looking implicate the viewer? But...I had to ask. --Mark Bowden, author of Hue 1968, 11/9/17

He left without looking back. She sank to the floor--but then jumped up and pondered his words. Yes, he would be implicated. And he would reap the consequences. --Barbara Ridley, author of When It’s Over, 11/15/17

She knew he had done something unforgivable. It had been a harrowing episode and the story would surely get out. She felt a mixture of rage and righteousness, but to who could she turn in this very moment? --Olivia Hoblitzelle, author of Aging with Wisdom, 11/16/17

Her mother, her confidante, had died. She decided to address a complete stranger. The old man next to her on the bus. --Anne Edelstein, author of Lifesaving for Beginners, 11/17/17

But the bus stranger paid her no mind. He avoided all attempts at conversation and focused all his attention on the bicyclist keeping pace with the bus. --Stephanie Gayle, Idyl Fears, 11/25/17

What was it about the cyclist that held him in such sway? The puffy down coat and knit cap were practically a uniform of New England winter. There were no identifying features she could make out; not even any logos or stickers. That in itself was a bit odd. She guessed but it felt like a stretch. --Judith Klausner, Noah the Narwhal, 11/25/17

Biking in Boston during the winter is not for the faint of heart. New Englanders are bred for the cold, born olde to withstand the chilly weather. Born chilly, without the warmth exuded by folks born elsewhere. --Simone John, author of Testify, 11/25/17

To be continued....

P.S. When I transcribed the scroll for this blog post, I typed in reverse chronological order and it was fascinating to see how one entry was explained by the one that preceded it. Often I would be utterly baffled as to how a certain detail appeared only to get something close to answer when I typed the preceding entry. It created an entirely different kind of surprise. So, if you have the time, I recommend also reading this backwards.