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All God's Children

Nature is a funny thing. Not ha-ha funny, but the other kind.

The look away for a second and end up under six feet of water or with somebody's incisors in your neck funny.

All God's Children by F.J. Gallagher



"History may be written by the winners,
but all God’s children got a story to tell."

For as long as he could remember, Rex had been chained to the rusting ’72 El Camino up on blocks out behind the doublewide.

The passenger-side door was gone, and so was most of the engine. Rex slept on the front seat, curled up behind the steering wheel. He slept a lot, but over time the scraggly grass around the old car had been worried down to hard, packed dirt.

Rex’s days ran together in a relentless stream of low-grade misery, fuzzy and dark around the edges, spattered by bursts of crimson rage. More often than not, the source of that rage was Mittens.

Every day, just before sundown, Mittens came into Rex’s yard, and made his way over, stopping at the line where the grass gave way to the dirt.

And every day, just beyond Rex’s reach, Mittens would carefully groom himself, preening while Rex quivered with rage, his anger building until it exploded and he lunged, growling and snapping, only to be jerked back when he reached the end of his chain.

And every day, as Rex coughed and gasped for air, Mittens would slowly stand, stretch and wander off, leaving Rex alone with his shame and ebbing fury.

One day, late in the afternoon, a squirrel came into the yard while Rex dozed behind the wheel of the El Camino. He opened his eyes and watched, but did not move.

The squirrel came closer, pawing at the edge of the dirt near Rex’s water bowl, and still Rex did not move. The squirrel began to dig. Concentrating on the tiny hole he was making, he never saw Rex coming, flying from the El Camino, until it was almost too late.

Rex’s jaws snapped shut, but the squirrel was already running as fast as he could toward the safety of the fence. Rex strained against his chain, aching to chase, and as the squirrel climbed higher, Rex pulled harder.

With a tiny popping sound, the chain gave way.



Rex stumbled forward. He caught his balance and ran to the fence where the squirrel had been. He sniffed around, but the squirrel was gone. Rex lifted his leg, pissed, and sniffed again.

Near his water bowl, where the squirrel had been digging, the scent was strong. Rex felt the fur on his back begin to rise, and as he lowered his head to drink, Mittens appeared at the top of the fence.

Rex laid down, covering the broken end of the chain that had held him, and Mittens ambled over, just like he always did.

Rex growled low, but this was nothing new; Rex always growled when he saw Mittens. Mittens kept coming and stopped at the edge of the grass, where he always stopped, and Rex’s growling grew louder.

When Mittens leaned forward to lick that special spot between his legs, Rex struck, quickly, violently and without warning. Mittens tried to jump back, but Rex’s teeth were already at his throat, tearing at the tender flesh.

Mittens screamed, but out behind the double wide, there was no one to hear and nobody cared. The people who lived here heard worse every day. Rex squeezed harder, crushing Mittens’ windpipe, and the screaming stopped. He tasted blood.

Rex shook  his head viciously from side to side, whipping Mittens back and forth until his neck broke with a satisfying snap. He dropped Mittens’ battered and bleeding body in the grass and watched him struggle to breathe, nudging him every now and then to make sure Mittens was still awake.

With the grass stained red around him, Mittens’ legs spasmed, as if he were still trying to get away somehow. Gently, Rex took Mittens’ back legs in his mouth and bit down hard, crushing the delicate bones at the knee like they were pretzel sticks.

Mittens gurgled and was still. Rex nudged him again, but he didn’t move.

Rex stood up, sniffed, and pissed on Mittens’ body. He sniffed again and trotted back to his water bowl. He drank, and the water in the bowl turned pink as the blood washed away. 

His face dripping, he ran around the doublewide to the front yard and took off down the street. There were still a few hours of daylight left.

F. J. Gallagher is a former reporter, columnist and editor whose work has appeared over the years in a variety of local and national outlets. He writes under the name F. J. Gallagher because have you seen what comes up when you Google the name Frank Gallagher, which is what the initial stands for? Fuck that shit.

Checking In on Pop

You know about Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory, right? How all the good stuff is what’s left unsaid, the subtext lurking just beneath the surface?

Yeah, well, the old man drank a lot, too.

Checking In on Pop by Jen Conley




Hey, Pop.

Hey, son.

I got you some coffee.

Thanks. Add some of that vodka in here.

Your hands are shaking.

Yeah, I know. Just pour that in for me.

It’s a little early for alcohol.

Pour it.

All right . . . is that good?

Yeah.

You want me to help you? Hold it to your mouth? You’re gonna spill it.

I got it.

You sure?

Yeah.

This happen every morning now? The shaking?

Hit me again.

Really?

Hit me again.

Fair enough . . . That good?

Yep.

It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?

Yeah.

You should get out. Walk around a bit.

Maybe.

Or sit outside. Enjoy the sun. Read the paper. I brought you the Daily News. I know you like reading the sports section.

Thanks.

Your hands seem a little better now.

Yep.

I came over to check on you but also because I need to pay your bills but I don’t know the password on your bank account.

You trying to take my money?

No, Pop. I’m trying to pay your bills. Keep the lights on. I got my own money and I wouldn’t take yours.

How’s your mom?

Good.

What she up to?

Nothing.

She still with Joe?

Yeah. They’re going down to South Carolina to visit Gina.

Your sister is living in South Carolina?

She moved there last month. Charleston. Her boyfriend lives there.

Hit me again.

Pop, that’s three shots of V. You need that much?

One more.

You gotta tell me what the password is on your bank account.

One more.

Fine.

Cheers.

Where’s the password?

It’s on a sticky note. Your sister is living with her boyfriend?

Yeah. Matt. He found a job down there. They like the South.

I hate the South. Too hot. Your mother and me went down there, I can’t remember when. You and your sister were small.

I don’t remember that trip.

No, no. You guys didn’t go. Me and your mom went to a wedding. A friend of hers. I got drunk and she left me on the lawn in front of the restaurant. I woke up to a beautiful morning.

Like today?

Just like today. Hit me again.

I need the password, Pop.

Hit me again.

No, I won’t.

Give me that bottle.

Fine. Let me pour it.

Salud.

The password, Pop.

I’ll get it for you.

You need help getting up?

Leave me alone. I got it.

If you tell me where the sticky note is—

It’s in my brain. Right in my head.

Okay. What is it?

Elizabeth22.

That’s Mom’s name.

Yeah. We met when we were twenty-two. That’s how I remember it.

All right. Just sit down and I’ll try the password.

Okay. I’ll sit.

Good. I’m gonna give it a try on my cell, okay?

Yep.

What’s the username? I forgot to ask you.

Shit. I don’t remember.

Pop, this is important.

Wait. I gotta think.

Okay.

Shadowbrook.

Shadowbrook?

Yeah. I took your mother there for dinner and afterwards, while we were strolling around the gardens because it’s a beautiful place, I asked her to marry me.

Sounds like a nice proposal.

Girls don’t like bad proposals.

Right. That’s funny, Pop.

I’m a funny man. Still.

Have you called any of your guys? Someone to come over and help you get to a detox, help you get to a rehab or at least back to the meetings?

No. They don’t need to see me this way.

What about that kid you sponsor?

He probably found someone else.

I can get you set up with a rehab.

Don’t want it right now.

But when you do, you got my cell number. Right?

Yep.

Let me try the username and password.

Go ahead. I know they’re right.

They work, Pop.

Told you.

Okay. I’ll be back tonight to go through your bills and figure out what needs to be paid.

Thanks. Hit me again.

Pop, I can’t do that.

Then give me the bottle.

Pop, no.

One more hit and then help me to bed.

Fine. Here. I’ll pour it.

You’re a good boy. You always were.

Pop, I hate to see you this way. You had three good years. You can do it again.

I like drinking. I like being sober. I like drinking. It’s my problem. It’s the way it is. And I ain’t drinking because of your mother and Joe. Don’t care.

Pop, let’s get you into bed.

I miss what I had.

You should sleep.

You know?

Let’s get you to bed.  

All right. Put the TV on. I like that channel. Home improvement. The one with the brothers. They make a mess out of things.

Careful, Pop. It’s just down the hall.

You still fixing up that little house? Remember when I’d come by and help you?

Yeah. Still working on it. Watch where you’re going.

I can come by. Tomorrow. You need help with them counters. In the kitchen.

I finished that, Pop. My buddy helped me.

Ah, shit. I’m a crap father. I should be dead.

Careful, Pop. Lay down now.

You got the TV on?

Doing it now.

Channel 42. That brother show.

I know. I got it.

Good.

Well, I’ll see you Pop.

I love you, son.

I know. I love you too but I have to go to work.

I love you, boy.

I know. I love you, too, but you gotta let go of my hand.

Don’t let me die this way.

You won’t die. Sleep it off and when I come back tonight we’ll get you set up for a detox and rehab.

I don’t want to go.

I know. Let go of my hand, Pop.

I love you, son.

Let go of my hand.

I can’t. Don’t leave me.

Sleep it off, Pop.

I love you.

I’ll be back later.

Okay.

That’s it. Watch your show. I’ll be back tonight.

Yep.

See you, Pop.

Yep.

Jen Conley’s short stories have appeared in Needle, Crime Factory, Yellow Mama, Thuglit, Grand Central Noir, All Due Respect, Trouble in the Heartland and others. She is one of editors of Shotgun Honey and her stories have been nominated for a Spinetingler Award and shortlisted for Best American Mystery Stories. Find her on Twitter @jenconley45 or jen-conley.blogspot.com.

Franklin and the Finger

We're all familiar with the phrase, "Give 'em the finger."

But down here in the Gutter, it takes on a whole new meaning.

Franklin and the Finger by Michael Pool



Franklin used a handkerchief to hold the pale little lump between his index finger and thumb while he examined it. Only after he caught his own reflection in the mirror, mouth agape and holding the morbid thing, did it occur to him that he should call and let someone official know what he’d found. The problem was, that conversation kept going wrong in his head. He couldn’t get past the ridiculousness of the situation to make the call.

“You found what in a coat?” The operator would say.

“A finger. Someone dropped the coat off in our overnight bin.”

“And this is your coat? Sir, why do you have someone’s finger in your coat?”

“Not my coat, a coat someone put in our night return box. This is Bill’s Haberdashery, down on Fifth Street. We rent out formal wears.”

“Would you like me to send out an ambulance, sir?”

“No. Aren’t you listening? There are no injured people here now, why would you send an ambulance?”

“Sir. Calm down.”

“I’m calm. I just don’t know what to do, and it seems to me someone has committed some sort of crime.”

“Ok, I’ll send out a unit.”  The operator sighed and hung up at the end of the imagined conversation. Her attitude reminded Franklin of his ex-wife Jennifer. Always annoyed.

The finger had no blood on it, and had shriveled since detaching from the unfortunate individual it once belonged to. The suit coat he found it in had no traces of blood on it either. This lack of blood further made Franklin hesitate to call the police, as if the severed finger represented nothing more than some misunderstanding that would clear itself up in time, with or without his intervention.

The bell on the front door chimed, and a teenage girl with braided blonde hair stepped into the shop. She had a dress bag draped over her left arm.

“Hi, I’d like to return this dre-“ she started to say, but her mouth fell open as her eyes met Franklin’s at the finger held up in front of his face.

“Is that a fucking finger?” she blurted out, dropping the dress bag at her feet.

“It’s, I—“

“Why the fuck do you have someone’s finger? Holy shit. You’re some creep murderer or something. I just wanted to return this dress. I didn’t see anything, I swear.”

“I didn’t kill anybody,” Franklin said, realizing how creepy and guilty it sounded only after he’d already said it.

“Then why do you have someone’s finger?”

“I found it in a suit coat from our night depository. I was just about to call the authorities.”

“It didn’t look like you were calling the authorities to me. It looked like you were about to eat it or something. That’s fucked up. Look, I didn’t mean to interrupt whatever it is you’re doing. I just wanted to bring back my prom dress. Please don’t eat my fingers.”

“I’m not gonna … I don’t eat fingers.”

“What, you just eat the toes or something? I watched a show last week about foot obsessions. It’s called podophilia. None of the cases on the show were this bad, though.”

“I don’t eat toes,” Franklin snapped, and immediately wished that he hadn’t, because it made him sound both aggressive and insane. The girl sucked in her breath and drew back as if to make for the door, then relaxed a little, stood still.

“So you really found it in one of the suits?” she asked.

“Yes, really. To be honest, I can’t believe I’m actually touching it.”
“It’s so ... cool,” she said. “Can I touch it too?” She picked the dress up, walked over and dropped it on the counter.

“Can you what? Why would you want to touch it?”

The girl shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s like, something out of a TV show or something.”

She leaned in so that her eye was right next to the severed end of the finger.

“Wow, that thing is totally for realz. Megan will so freak out when she sees this. I gotta Instagram this for sure, no filter.” She produced a cell phone from her pocket and snapped a picture of Franklin holding the finger. “Epic photo,” she mumbled.

“Look, you have to delete that,” Franklin said, no longer caring if he sounded crazy.

“Why?” the girl asked, pulling the phone in close to her chest.

“Because I look like a maniac. People are going to get the wrong idea. It’ll probably turn into one of those internet mimes or something.”

The girl rolled her eyes. “You mean memes? Whatevs. I’m totally not deleting this.”

Franklin was getting ready to beg her to delete the picture when her phone lit up and she smiled.
“Josh and Courtney already favorited my photo. See, I told you this was a good picture.”

“Good for you or good for me?” Franklin asked, starting to panic.

“Who cares about you?” the girl replied. She rolled her eyes, then turned and wandered back out the door, still fidgeting with her phone.

With Franklin’s luck the picture had probably already made it halfway around the world, would be on the cover of every major news website within the hour. The police were probably already looking for him. He could lose his job. Jennifer would keep the girls from him if he got behind on child support again. He set the finger on the counter and dabbed his forehead with the tainted handkerchief, then dry-heaved when he realized what he’d just done. He picked up the shop’s phone and dialed 911.

“I’d like to report a severed finger,” he mumbled to the operator.

“A what?”  A woman’s voice replied.

Franklin dabbed his forehead again, and then tried not to puke, again.  “It’s kind of hard to explain on the phone,” he said in a hoarse, broken tone. “Maybe you could just send over a unit?”  


Michael Pool lives in Seattle, Washington. His debut novella, Debt Crusher, is due out from All Due Respect Books on February 15, 2016. Find him online at www.michaelpool.net.

You Never Know

The grass always looks greener on the other side. Just because something is a cliché doesnt make it any less true.

In the Gutter, the blood on that other side is a little redder too...

You Never Know by Marietta Miles



“I remember seeing her through the window.” Shirley fiddles with her curls. “Every Saturday morning, crack of dawn. She had that little canister vacuum and her bucket, just cleaning and scrubbing. 

“Huh.” Franny sits with her chin in her hands. 

“I swear you could eat off that woman’s floors.” 

“Really?” 

“Oh yeah. It could be hot as blazes outside, all the windows up, letting in air, and there she was, working like a dog. Cleaning.” 

“Huh.” They sit on the stoop enjoying the early morning cool. 

“And she always wore that brown sweater, no matter how hot or how much she worked. Covered up to her neck. She was cute, too. Real tiny waist and all.” 

“Shame.” Franny nods, stubbing out her cigarette on the porch railing. Smoke twirls from her thin lips. 

“He seemed to really love her, too. Always asking where she was, coming home early to be with her. And then she had that sweet little boy.” She chews on a fingernail. 

“I watched him a few times. He was cute but a little skinny. Oh and he cried all the time.” 

“Really?” 

“She said he was sickly. Rashes. Tummy problems. Maybe she was too young to handle a baby.” 

“Right.” 

“I mean, she had just dropped him off. She was going on about her husband coming home, no time to clean. ’Course I’d watch him. You know I love babies.” 

“Yes, you do.” 

“Anyhow, she just never came to pick him up. I couldn’t take care of him anymore.” They nod. 

“Good thing I called the police. I guess. I don’t know how long they would’ve been over there like that.” 

“Did they say how?” 

“No. I did see blood on the blankets they brought out. Who knows? But they came and took the baby.” 

“Gee.” 

“Right?” 

“I guess you just never know?” 

Marietta Miles has published stories with Thrills, Kills and Chaos, Flash Fiction Offensive, Yellow Mama and Revolt Daily. She has been included in anthologies available through Static Movement Publishing and Horrified Press. Please visit www.mariettamiles.blogspot.com or Facebook for more stories and further information. Her first novel will be available in spring 2016 through All Due Respect Books. Born in Alabama, raised in Louisiana, she currently resides in Virginia with her husband and two children.

Brit Grit Alley

Brit Grit Alley features interviews, news and updates on what's happening down British crime fiction's booze and blood soaked alleyways.

By Paul D. Brazill 

Summer is here, and then some, so here are a few Brit Grit recommendations for your holiday reading:

Skewered: And Other London Cruelties by Benedict J Jones.

In Skewered, the first story in this cracking collection, we are introduced to Charlie Bars who is fresh out of prison and unhappily working in his uncle’s kebab shop.

When Charlie is given the chance to make some fast money he jumps at it but things quickly become, well, skewered.

Charlie Bars also appears in the following story ,Real Estate, which is also a belter.

Another favorite story is the marvelous supernaturally tinged Hungry Is The Dark. But everyone is a gem.

Skewered: And Other London Cruelties is tightly written with strong, realistic characters and a great sense of place.

Classic Brit Grit crime fiction.

The White Flamingo by James A Newman

In James A. Newman’s The White Flamingo, Detective Joe Dylan investigates the gruesome murder of one of Fun City’s many call girls and quickly realizes that there is a serial killer on the loose in Fun City.

The White Flamingo – the third ‘Joe Dylan crime noir book ‘ – is hard-boiled pulp fiction pumped up to the max. It’s a lethal cocktail of graphic violence, booze, drugs and sex. It’s bright lights and dark shadows and it’s certainly not for the fainthearted.

Death Can’t Take A Joke by Anya Lipska


When London based Polish private eye Janusz Kiszka’s close friend is violently murdered, he decides to track down those responsible. Meanwhile, Detective Natalie Kershaw is trying to find out the identity of an apparent suicide victim. As in Lipska’s previous novel, Where The Devil Can’t Go, their investigations collide.

The second Kiszka & Kershaw crime thriller is even better than the first. The plotting is as tight as a snare drum, the characters are realistic and likable, the dialogue is sharp. Gripping, gritty but never grim, Death Can’t Take A Joke is also very funny, the humour coming naturally from the well-drawn characters’ interactions.

Great stuff.

Act Of Contrition by Dominic Milne

When a bag of Class A drugs goes missing, bull-headed DI Eddie Kane is immediately under suspicion.

However. this doesn’t stop him from investigation the murders of of two young women and ruffling the feathers of a particularly nasty London gangster.

Dominic Milne’s Act Of Contrition is a blinder. The pacing is tight, the cast of characters is rich, the plotting is labyrinthine, the dialogue is sharp.

Brutal and breathless, Act Of Contrition is the first in what looks to be a cracking new crime fiction series.

I loved it.

The Dying Place by Luca Veste


When the body of a young man is found on the steps of a church, DI Murphy and DS Rossi – returning from Dead Gone, Luca Veste‘s very enjoyable debut crime novel – are called in to investigate.

Veste’s second novel is very impressive indeed. Mature and tightly written, The Dying Place is a truly humanist piece of crime fiction. Veste smoothly moves from the POVs of the victims, perpetrators and cops, creating a gripping, chilling and very moving piece of work.

Highly recommended.

The Corpse Role by Keith Nixon

A body is discovered in a shallow grave and DI Charlotte Granger quickly sees a connection between the corpse and an unsolved security van robbery years before. And so she digs deeper …

Keith Nixon’s The Corpse Role is a smart and engrossing crime thriller that moves backwards and forward in time and from character to character with ease.

A gripping plot, a cracking cast and a brilliant denouement. A belter.

And I have a yarn over at Spinetingler Magazine if you want to check out The Postman Cometh.



  There'll be more carryings on down Brit Grit Alley very soon, sorta kinda thing, like.

Paul D. Brazill is the author of Guns Of Brixton, Cold London Blues, The Neon Boneyard and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime. He has edited a few anthologies, including the best-selling True Brit Grit – with Luca Veste. His blog is here.



Airplane Mode

Whether it's in a crowded restaurant, or on the jumbotron at Yankee Stadium,

The best way to get her to say yes is make sure she can't get away.

Airplane Mode by S.W. Lauden



I bought the engagement ring on my way to the airport. She never told me exactly what she wanted, but had dropped plenty of hints over the years. I couldn't wait to see the look on her face when I showed it to her.

In the end I settled on a simple gold band with a three-carat diamond. It looked like something that Archie might pick out for Betty. Classy and beautiful, just like her. Three months salary is a lot less painful when you're buying on credit. The money she made as a flight attendant would come in handy once we were married.

My carry-on bag was light because I wasn't really going anywhere. Just part of a disguise that included wraparound shades, a trucker hat and three-day stubble. There was a pretty good chance that she'd spot me eventually, but that wouldn't matter once we were up in the air. Thankfully they board planes from the front and back at Burbank Airport. I figured my odds were fifty-fifty.


If nothing else, I knew it would make a funny story one day.

I chose a window seat and immediately slumped into a sleeping posture. The tray table and seatback stayed in their locked and upright positions. The seatbelt was strapped low and tight across my hips. My phone was in 'airplane mode'. There wasn't a single reason that anybody should bother me.

We were cleared for take off and started rumbling down the runway. I listened carefully to the attendants above the familiar blast of the engines. Nothing about the emergency evacuation speech had changed since the last time I gave it myself. I had to resist the urge to stand up and pantomime along with them.

It was a red-eye flight, so the plane was half full. That meant I only had one other passenger in my row, a lanky fifty-something businessman who took the aisle seat. He was a typical road warrior, with a rumpled suit and double scotch that screamed "leave me the fuck alone". I couldn't have asked for a better screen from the rest of the plane. The only time we interacted was when I climbed over him to use the bathroom.

Once inside the cramped space I fished an electric razor from my bag. It wasn't easy to shave with the plane bouncing around, but I still had my sea legs. My loud Hawaiian shirt went into the bag with the rest of my get up. I buttoned the dark blue oxford and tucked it tight into my khakis. The reflection in the mirror was the man she would marry.

Donna was standing in the galley filling a drink tray when I emerged. I pulled the velvety ring box from my pocket and dropped to one knee. Her beautiful blue eyes opened wide in surprise before filling with tears. I was practically shouting to propose above the roar of the turbines.

"I have never loved anybody as much as I love you. I want us to spend the rest of our lives together, whether that's one minute or one hundred years. Will you please do me the honor of marrying me?"


The few nearby passengers who were still awake craned to look. I could feel the warmth of their smiles on my back as we all awaited her answer.

"Oh my god. What the hell are you doing here, Jake? And why are you dressed like a flight attendant?"

I managed to force a smile, but my hands were trembling. It already wasn't going like I'd been planning for twenty-three long months.

"I want things to be like they were between us."

She shook her head, struggling to keep her voice to a professional whisper.

"There was no 'us'. We were just co-workers, until you—"

"Don't go dredging up the past. I'm here now, asking for your hand in marriage."

"But how? I always check the flight registry. Your name wasn't on there."

I dropped my voice to a growl and fixed her with a stare.

"I learned a few tricks while I was away, sweetheart."

"I have a restraining order!"

Donna started shrieking. The other attendants began excusing their way down the aisle from the forward galley. I stood up and shoved her into the corner. Time was running out fast.

"Keep your voice down."

"You're insane, Jake. You need help. "

"All I need is you."

"HELP!"

I wrapped my fingers around her neck to keep her from screaming. The first attendant jumped on my back and yanked at my hair, but I didn't release my clutch. Donna's eyes bulged as I dug my thumbs deeper into her collapsing windpipe.

A second crewmember and a couple of groggy passengers piled in behind us. They clawed at my arms and tore at my clothes, but nobody was getting between us. Donna's body went limp, eyes rolling back in her head. I put my face close to hers until we were almost kissing. She was still wearing the same perfume that I dreamt about every night in prison.

"It's not too late to change your mind."

But it was too late, for both of us.

If only she'd said yes.


S.W. Lauden’s short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published by Rare Bird Books in October 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.