Last spring, I began experimenting with Amazon’s new serial format, Kindle Vella, trying to see how it might work for a young adult novella that I had completed. The work in question wasn’t really publishable in a traditional format because of its short word count, but I wondered how it might do in bite-size formats. So, I published Magecraft and Murder in 32 installments under the pen name of T.A. Rollins.

Did it work? I’m not sure. Because the story wasn’t really written with the serial format in mind, I don’t know that it maintained tension the way an ideal serial story would do. You really need to master the art of the cliff hanger when you’re writing serials, and I don’t think I captured that in this work. Ultimately, I’m not sure that Vella is the right format for me, and I may stick to writing traditional novels in the future.

But, success or failure, the novella is now complete on Kindle Vella, so you can follow the mystery through to its end!


50 Precious Words: Kitten to Owl

It’s officially time for Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words contest, in which kidlit writers try to compose a complete story (beginning, middle, and end) 50 words or less in length. This is, in my opinion, the most challenging of the blog-based writing contests I know, because of the brevity. Here’s my entry! This year, I’ve gone for humor.

Kitten to Owl

“Today I’ll be an owl,” said Kitten. He climbed a tree and perched on a branch.

“Hoo! Hoo!” He hooted. But it sounded more like “Mew! Mew!”

Passersby panicked. “Help! There’s a kitten stuck in a tree!”

The fire department rescued him.

“Tomorrow I’ll be an ostrich instead,” he decided.

an owl perched on a tree stump, depicting what kitten is pretending to be
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

October Wedding

Note: This is my entry for the 2021 Fall Writing Frenzy. Check out the contest page to read other fabulous stories!

The sun set over the little church in the woods. At last, the bridesmaids could begin to decorate. Cobwebs, autumn leaves, and withered daises festooned the walls.

The organ began to play “The Dead March.” The doors to the church flew open, and in floated the bride, her tattered white dress flying behind her in the breeze. A veil covered her from head to toe.

Where was the groom? A groan ran through the congregation. Heads turned. Eyes peered. Would the wedding be canceled? The mother of the groom rattled her bones nervously.

But wait! Col. Hampton’s carriage rattled up to church, surrounded by a cloud of grave dust.

“Sorry we’re late,” the coachman gasped. Col. Hampton tipped his tricorn hat at the congregation and strode towards the altar, as confident in death as he had been in life.

“By the power invested in me,” creaked the clergyman. “I now pronounce you ghost and fright. You may kiss.”

When the groom lifted his bride’s veil, some of the audience fainted at the sight, but the colonel just smiled. “As gruesome as the day we met!” he said, as he beheld his bride. And they all (un)lived happily ever after.

Fall- Credit: Julia Solonina / Unsplash


Experiments in Serialization

This spring, Amazon announced that it would be launching a new service: Kindle Vella. It’s a format that sells stories by episode or chapter rather than selling the whole book. There are advantages to this format: you can start a book and give up on it without having to pay for the whole thing. And there are disadvantages, too: buying each chapter for a few cents often adds up to more than the price of a normal book, especially compared to inexpensive ebooks.

But that’s not the real thrill of Kindle Vella. The thrill of a serialized book is waiting each week for the next installment. It’s like the way watching a television episode worked back before shows became immediately available and bingeable, or like following a comic or manga one episode at a time.

What’s more, the weekly episode is easy to fit into a busy schedule. Even if one can’t spare a couple of hours of solid booktime, one can probably spare ten minutes to catch up on this week’s episode.

I know all about the thrill of serialization, because I’ve been reading serialized webcomics for the last couple of years. I still look forward to Fridays each week, because three of my favorite series drop their new episode on Friday . . . but that’s beside the point. The point is, this format has worked very well for some platforms. Whether Amazon can make their platform work is an open question; the audience for serial fictions may not overlap with the audience for Amazon’s existing self published works.

I admit that I have a vested interest in seeing if Vella can work: I have a young adult novella publishing on Vella for new. But the bigger question for me is not whether my story will work, but whether Vella will succeed in bringing serialized online fiction to a more mainstream audience. Are readers going to discover and populate Vella? Right now, it’s too early to tell, but I’ll be watching to see.

In the meantime, if you’re reading this, go ahead and give Vella a try. The first three episodes of every story are free, and there are lots of genres to pick from!


Love is Stronger

The prompt for Susanna Hill’s 2021 Valentiny contest asked for a story about someone being brave. Mine ended up being . . . a little creepier than your average Valentine’s Day story!

Love is Stronger

“Not scared, are you?” my cousin Dylan asks.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” I say. I still shudder as we pass through the gates.

Inside, trees cast shadows that startle me, but I try to be brave.

Our feet break the crust of the February snow. We seek cover behind a hedge.

“He’ll see the footprints!” I whisper.

“Too late now!” says Dylan. We scurry from the hedge to hide behind a mausoleum.

“It’s cold,” I grumble. And creepy.  

“Shh!” Dylan whispers. “Not so loud.” Silently, we wait. And shiver.

I’m glad the sun is high in the sky. If this place gives me chills now, what would it be like at night?

Dylan gasps. “There he is!” We watch as an elderly man trudges through the gates, his snowboots sinking deep with every step.

Snow covers the names on the graves, but he doesn’t need the name to find the right spot. He lays down his bouquet. “Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart.”

Then he turns his head, as if he hears something. We duck down. But it’s too late. He clomps toward us.

“Come home, kids,” he says, “and get some hot cocoa.”

“Grandpa, why do you still give Grandma flowers, even though she’s dead?” I ask.

“Because love is stronger than death.”

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com