short stories

"Widow's Watch" now appears at Lonesome October Lit

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My short story, “Widow’s Watch,” now appears at one of my all-time favorite online journals, Lonesome October Lit. I’m honored that they chose my story to cap their 2018 run of fantastic eerie tales and poetry, and I assure you that a deep read through their archives will not disappoint fans of the macabre and the spooky. This story of mine, which involves a trek through a forest to an abandoned seaside estate where things are not as they seem to be and escape may not be as easy as one hopes, also appears in my latest collection of flash fiction stories, Nights Without Rain, which you can find at Amazon or order direct through me. Thank you very much for all of your support in 2018, and I hope you enjoy this spooky story!


New Flash Fiction "Hopper House" at South Broadway Ghost Society

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I’m very happy to announce that my flash fiction story “Hopper House” is now posted over at an excellent online journal called South Broadway Ghost Society. This short tale is about a strange and possibly haunted green Victorian standing just down the street from wherever I lay my head, following me around for age after age, dream after nightmare. I hope you enjoy reading it, and if you do, it’s also in my latest collection of short stories titled Nights Without Rain, which is now available at Amazon in both print and digital formats. My deepest thanks to the editors at South Broadway Ghost Society, and to all of you for your support!

"Ages of Us" from Nights Without Rain

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My new book Nights Without Rain contains 50 brief stories, and this is the newest story of the bunch and the last one added before publication. Signed copies of the book are available and you can find both print and digital versions at Amazon. I hope you enjoy!

Ages of Us

Incandescent afterglow 3 a.m. where the streetlights stain brick walls and dumpsters yellow, orange, filthy neon silent in the southern nights, cigarette ash on my shirt, on the floor, out the door to the broken pavement where the wind carries everything away in time, nothing really yours, never will be mine. I cannot afford a motel room and I cannot afford to call her again. All that is left is the rest of her cigarettes in this pack that I’m burning through one by one and the single REM cassette she left in the dash radio, Dead Letter Office.

It plays on near-muted repeat, insufficient willpower to turn it off, up, or change anything. Drinking Jameson dregs from a pocket bottle all the way down until it’s just the taste of glass on my lips, dull and bitter. Held up to the light, the bottle reflects a dead street, a blurry line in the sand, empty hours approaching 4 a.m., dawn, and whatever comes after.

It was the long drive through Vermont that started it all, a silver creek running along the back dirt road to an A-frame she knew was empty for the summer. We stayed a week, driving into town to find food and liquor and things to talk about.

We met at a party in the town of Hudson and decided to drive north, easy as that.

Want to go for a drive?

And the days took hold, along with black flies that swarmed our eyes during long walks through the forest, but at night they disappeared as we’d slip into that silver water rushing, stony footholds, orchestral turmoil, sweet and daring, holding hands to keep balance. Nocturnal extravagance in the earthen pitch of night. Wet as all things when they begin.

A derelict honeymoon of stupid love.

She began smoking again in Nashville after some good panhandling and stealing quarters from pool tables. We both had the look now, dark rings under our eyes at all hours, unshakable desires that glued our piecemeal existence to one another. We would take the money and feed jukeboxes up and down the back streets where the tourists fade to distant shadows and blinking lights. Her weight against my weight as she played all her favorites: Dead Letter Office, Chronic Town, Life’s Rich Pageant, Document...

She ran her finger down through the condensation along the side of my glass of whiskey and anointed my forehead with a thick bead of water, a blessing. “St. James of New York,” she said, and I asked, “Patron Saint of…?”

In the neon dim of the bar we would pray over glasses and bottles and jostle elbows among rising plumes of smoke and circular stains of dampness on bar tops. Halos cast aside by long dead sinners and saviors. Holy nights of music and her finger wet with condensation, her lips a eucharist I gratefully accepted and returned with all the fumbling grace I could muster, leaning into the night and neon of the bar. We ate the music and stole any drinks we could scrounge up, leftovers, free popcorn at this bar, peanuts at that one. We slept in a parking lot down by the river with legs entwined and music whispering from the dash. She was never far from music, never far from the home we built within one another.

Outside the car the remains of her cigarettes scattered as the wind carried everything away in its own good time.

“Going west is going home,” she said, “all of us going home.”

In Tujunga, CA we ate at diners and would watch for unattended tips left too long on tables, coffee going cold. We got by like that, but by that point our silence with each other stung and we worked that pain like a tongue into a dead tooth stinging long and deep and undeniably pleasurable despite the gutting pain. There was a bar there with red leather booths that opened at ten in the morning and we’d go, play pool, watch the TV showing black and white movies with LuBelle the bartender on weekday mornings.

It was nearby in Montrose where she met the country club chef, tall and rangy and funny, so it wasn’t long before we lost track of one another. The west held little else for me despite the months I spent holding on to any scrap of life that tumbled by, and when I heard she was not long for this world I tried to find her again. But the nurses said she only cried when they told her I was outside waiting, and they would not allow me through.

I like to think that whatever remained of her after the ravenous transition of her body ascended into the fog and warm California nights, thick with condensation and holy silence. I like to think she rose northward beyond Los Padres and Morro Bay, beyond the Big Sur wilderness and the aimless seagulls calling her death song, flying in damp rings in the sky, the lights of Monterrey and Santa Cruz like distant bar signs, calling us home.

But not my home yet. We had lost something at every dot on the map when we headed west, so I headed east, hoping to find a few of those pieces along the way. But whatever I found only made the loss hurt more, made the glaring absence in the passenger seat just goddamn intolerable.

Now, through the blur of windshield rain, the lampposts all catch fire and explode in the 5 a.m. light. The Jacksonville dawn edging on, dashboard clock dead, instincts ticking that internal clock toward the last grain of sand. I’m sobering up now and thinking maybe I’ll drive until I find a boat ramp and roll this old Honda into the sea to find what the land and all its cities have kept for itself all these years, jealous of all us wanderers and what we seek.

I’ll go down there into another age, down into the cool deep, where the holy jukebox music cannot go, where the fire cannot follow. It might be worth it to find her again, and it couldn’t be any worse than this chronic sort of life without.

'Best Of' Anthology from Nixes Mate Review

Nixes Mate Review just released a Best Of Anthology comprised of poems and stories from their 2017 and 2018 issues, and they included my flash fiction tale “Cold Beer—Cheap Rooms”. I’m very excited and honored that they decided to include my piece alongside the work of such writers as Matt Borczon, Meg Tuite, Suchoon Mo, Susanna Lang, Alan Catlin, and Pris Campbell, among many others. This story about a young couple on the cusp of breaking up trying for one last vacation of normalcy and possible redemption also appears in my latest book, Nights Without Rain, which is available in both print and digital formats at Amazon. Thanks for taking a look!

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New Release: The Girl Who Loved Halloween

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The Girl Who Loved Halloween is a story I wanted to write for a long, long time, and I finally sat down and infused all of my favorite Halloween and October memories into this tale of one little girl who loved the holiday just as much as I did, maybe even more so. The details within are heavily autobiographical, but the events are totally new, especially Hannah’s discovery of her unique talent and the people and things this talent brings into her life one Halloween. Here’s the back cover text:

"It’s finally Halloween weekend. Hannah has waited all year for the parties, the pumpkin picking, the costumes, the decorations, the scary stories, and especially the candy. She thrives on the spooky fun so much that her imagination begins to cross boundaries, and dancing skeletons and flying witches evolve from playful daydreams into eerily realistic visions. And on the afternoon before Halloween, on an innocent visit to a local cemetery to make gravestone rubbings, Hannah discovers why her love for the holiday is so special, and so frightening..." 

The book is a standalone story released as both a physical booklet and a digital ebook for Kindle and Fire readers. If you aren’t able to access those versions and would like a free PDF in exchange for a brief review at either Amazon or Goodreads (or elsewhere!), just let me know. I’ll set you up. Thanks, and Happy Halloween!

New Flash Fiction "Two Kings" Now At Indigent Press

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My new flash fiction story "Two Kings" now appears at Indigent Press, which you can read online alongside a slew of other great poets and writers, including Heather Minette, Jason Ryberg, Kat Giordino, Paul Corman-Roberts, and a bunch of others. This quick little story of mine takes place just before Christmas as I scrounge for extra cash to get by and visit the quarreling "two kings" to trade gold for cash. I hope you enjoy. My deepest thanks goes to the Indigent Press editors for including my work!  

New Flash Fiction in Full of Crow, Winter 2017

My flash fiction piece "Desperate Ain't Lonely" now appears in the Winter 2017 issue of Full of Crow. It's a brief story about a couple driving through the West Virginia mountains at night pondering what love and loneliness really mean. I'm planning to include the story in a collection of flash fiction perhaps later this year, tentatively titled Nights Without Rain. I'll post more about that as publication nears. And as always, thanks for reading!

The Review Review's Review of Drunk Monkeys Gives My Short Story "The Philanthropist" a Nod

In a review of Drunk Moneys first full issue of poetry and prose, The Review Review mentioned my short story "The Philanthropist" as a notable story within the collection. In calling out the story, The Review Review says it is one of the many in the issue that blurs the line between coincidence and circumstance, responsibility and guilt. The main character in the story is torn about what to do with the last of his tainted money from a heist job in which he gets screwed over by a criminal higher up in the food chain. He needs the money, but it reminds him of his stupidity, his guilt, his shame. He tries various ways to excise this guilt and rid himself of his money, before finally doing so in a most unexpected way. And The Review Review said, "There is something visceral in the relief that the protagonist feels in Duncan’s “The Philanthropist,” after he rids himself of his burden, something animal in his desire for simplicity." Check out the story and all the other great pieces found at Drunk Monkeys. Many thanks to The Review Review for taking the time to read the issue!  

"The Philanthropist," a short story

My short story "The Philanthropist" now appears at Drunk Monkeys, a fantastic literature and cultural website offering fiction, essays, poetry, reviews of books, movies, and more. This story is my second with them, and it mixes elements of noir and crime with a sobering look at life on the streets and what we value most when there's nothing left of value. I hope you enjoy the story, and if you do, consider picking up one of my short story collections, What Lies In Wait or The Cards We Keep, each full of similar tales. Thanks!  

What Lies In Wait - Just $10 Through Halloween!

It's that time of year where the leaves turn, the air gets cooler, and the ghost stories come out to play. If you're into that kind of thing, stories about a tentacled beast who dwells beneath the surface of a picturesque lake, of a house full of the ghosts of everyone who ever lived within its walls, of an abandoned car on a lonely country road with bloody handprints on the windows, of a motel in the Texas desert whose temporary residents are hunted by an ancient evil, of ... well, you get the idea: monsters, ghosts, and the end of the world. I've got you covered with What Lies In Wait! From now until Halloween, it's just $10 for print or $1 for the Kindle version. I hope you enjoy! 

    New Short Story "Long Road to Luckenbach" Now at Drunk Monkeys

    Call "Long Road to Luckenbach" flash fiction, call it a short short, but whatever it is, it's now live over at Drunk Monkeys, and I'm really excited to be there. The story, inspired by hearing Waylon Jennings' song on a jukebox, is a quick and (hopefully) amusing tale about how quickly plans can go awry when they're made over shots of whiskey in Texas dive bars. The story has a little truthful backstory to it, but I'll let the reader decide what really happened and what's fiction. The names, however, have been changed to protect the guilty! I hope you enjoy. 

    My Top 3: Stephen King Short Stories

    My Top 3: Stephen King Short Stories

    I still remember the first time I picked up Stephen King’s short story collection Night Shift, and after the first tale within I was forever changed. I had previously tried my hand at his novels when I was in middle school and early high school, but they never did much for me (not until much later), but those shorts…oh man, they got me good. Here are my Top 3 stories that sank in their claws and still haven’t let go.

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    My Writing & The Best of Old Time Radio

    My Writing & The Best of Old Time Radio

    Over the past several weeks, a number of people who have read or have heard me read aloud some short stories from my upcoming collection of fiction, What Lies In Wait, have commented that the stories would make intriguing radio plays and they remind them of those old time radio shows that aimed to give listeners a late night chill. There’s likely a good reason for this, as old time radio has long been a quiet passion of mine. Over the years I have been listening to a wide variety of suspense, mystery, horror, and crime radio programs from the 1930s through the late 1960s, using the Old Time Radio Internet Archive, which has hundreds if not thousands of episodes available for streaming or downloading. To say they have affected my storytelling in recent years is probably not giving them enough credit, as I’ve become absolutely fascinated with the eerie tension within these stories

    If you like podcasts like Serial, or if you are an audio-book junkie, you’ll love some of these old programs, and many are complete with their original commercials for everything from Wheaties to wine, coal to car batteries, and even U.S. war bonds. I throw them on my iPod and ride the subways of NYC listening to some of the best actors and writers to ever lend their talents to radio, people like Ray Bradbury, Humphrey Bogart, Vincent Price, Dorothy L. Sayers, Lucille Ball, Orson Welles, and many others. Below are my Top Five favorite programs that I highly recommend for all of you out there. 

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    What Lies In Wait: Crawling Closer Every Day

    I'm getting closer to having my next collection of short stories - What Lies In Wait - ready for all you eager readers out there, if only to help you level out your uneven coffee tables and couches. In all seriousness, I'm hoping you'll enjoy these fifteen eerie, pulpy, humorous, and memoir-ific tales, exploring all kinds of genres and stories, everything from a young boy's adventures while running away to the circus, a woman's struggle to decide what to do when the ghosts in her house portend a coming evil, and even a lumberjack stranded in the deep woods who finds himself hunted by an unspeakable, writhing beast. I'm getting back some fantastic edits and feedback from test readers, and there's some proofreading left to do, but the book is getting closer to a release with each passing week. Stay tuned! 

    What Lies In Wait, a New Review, and Other Updates!

    What Lies In Wait, a New Review, and Other Updates!

    I have so many new writing updates that I'll present them to you in lightning-round format. Ready? Let's go!

    1. What Lies In Wait will be the title of my upcoming collection of short stories, and I'm aiming for a mid-2015 release. I'm extremely happy that all fifteen stories are now finished, or finished enough for beta readers to finally give them a look. There's still tweaking and proofing to do, but the final lineup is set and it feels like a relief. All fifteen tales share elements of apprehension, fear, and a challenge to face, whether it's something out there in the dark or something within that must be put down. Half are straight-up horror, while others blend mystery, noir, and survival tropes into tales that fall between literary and genre-driven stories. I'm looking forward to feedback, and I'm always open to new test readers! 

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    Too Much: An Anthology of Excess

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    I am pleased to announce that my short story, "The Rube," is scheduled to appear in the upcoming Too Much: An Anthology About Excess from Unknown Press. The book is due in late July and is overflowing with poems, short stories, essays, and interviews about the pleasures and pitfalls of excess, be it alcoholic, sexual, mind-altering, or what have you. A big thank you goes out to editors Chuck Howe and Bud Smith.

    My story, "The Rube," is a brief and humorous look at alcoholic excess experienced during a point in my life when I was ... well, to be honest, a bit of a barfly, working as a freelance writer, surviving on meager poetry sales and the kindness of friends, and how a destination wedding invitation turned into an alcohol-infused brush with death in a third-world country. Part memoir, part fiction, and definitely excessive.

    I'm also excited that a poem of mine, "Burning in the Freeze," will soon appear in riverbabble #25. I just need to return the publishing agreement on Monday morning. I haven't sent out many poetry submissions recently, so this is a real treat. I'm excited to be in riverbabble once again. Many thanks to the editors for selecting my poem.

    I'll post more details when each of these pieces become available. Thanks!   

    The Cards We Keep - Signed Copies Available

    Signed copies of my short story collection The Cards We Keep will soon be available again! The book includes ten stories of down-and-out private detectives, bounty hunters on the run, disgraced celebrities, crumbling marriages, and boxcar hobos heading for the end of the line in search of love, redemption, and maybe just a little peace in this crazy world. Author Bud Smith recently said the books contains "wonderfully written short stories that take on a wide variety of genres, purposefully, and carries them through to succession with some sharp writing, interesting characters, and non-formulaic plotting." (See the full review at the link.) There are also a growing number of great reviews over at Goodreads. If there are any presses or magazines that would like to review the book, I have free PDFs and e-reader files I can send along. Just shoot me an email at jhdwriting@hotmail.com for details. Thanks for all of your support!  

    The Hustle Continues: Updates on Life & Writing

    So far this new blog is mostly writing advice and a couple of new book announcements. In the hopes of appearing more like an actual human doing actual human things and not a PR spam-bot posing as a writer, here are some real, true, honest "life-things" for your optical intake receptors. Engage!

    The new novel (the one fictionalizing a real missing persons case from 1945) was in a major slump over the last week, like a ‘Dostoevsky freezing at the train station I’ll never be able to write again’ slump. Then I finally broke through in the last 48 hours. Mostly because I told myself, “forget about description and action right now, the next 3-4 pages is all dialogue, so just do that and come back later and pick up a Crayola and jazz the scene up.” And that worked. Just stop worrying, thinking, planning, outlining, tinkering, and just write dialogue and revise later. So, like the Kool-Aid Man — KABOOM — breakthrough.

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