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Mini Sledgehammer June 2019

Congratulations to Anna on her first-time win!

We love to feature new writers’ words, so thanks for coming, Anna. We hope you come back and bring your friends!

Those of you reading at home, our contest is every second Tuesday at Blackbird Wine and Atomic Cheese (4323 NE Fremont St.)in Portland, Oregon, 6:30–8:30 p.m., FREE. Join us!

Character: A lost_____
Action: Leaving town
Setting: A favorite place
Prop: Clip-on sunglasses


Moving

by Anna S. King

Because she was finally leaving town, a wasp finally stung her. Housed between the forever-closed shutter and the wavy glass in her farmhouse bedroom, the wasps hadn’t bothered her in the years she’d lived with her father. But on the morning she was to leave, a lost one emerged, and stung her before she could shoulder the last bag.

She’d also woken up sick. It was another in a long list of circumstances that seemed to want her to suffer through another Michigan winter: the radiator in the old VW hatchback rusted out. “Maybe you should stay a few months to earn the money for a new car,” her dad suggested. “I won’t make it through another winter, Dad,” though she wasn’t able to actually say she’d die.

The moving van cost more than expected. The original friend who said they’d help drive south had backed out. She’d had to leave her apartment sooner than expected, forcing an interim stay at the creaking farmhouse, in her old room. The sore throat. The wasp.

She watched the circle rise up on her arm, and wondered if she could have an allergic reaction, as she did with bee strings. No. No throat closing, no dizziness.

“I’ll be damned if I’ll spend another day here,” she said to the torn wallpapered wall. It’d once been upholstered with her batik Indian bedspreads, a cloud of an old parachute tacked to the ceiling. Now it was just as sagging as the rest of the house.

She decided not to tell Jane, her new traveling companion, who she could hear talking to her stepmother downstairs.

Grimly she toed the body of the wasp that had fallen to the brown-painted floor when she convulsively swatted it to death. Another sign to leave, she thought, not another warning to stay.

The old stairs seemed steeper than five years ago, when she’d last taken a final bag away. She stepped carefully, knowing a fall was just waiting.

Jane and her stepmother were sipping coffee in the hand-made kitchen—Dad always certain he could make anything better, and cheaper, than any store—clutching the uneven ceramic cups, chatting. Jane had that gift of getting people to talk, even the stepmother, who usually kept her passive-aggressiveness housed in sidelong looks and slammed doors.

“I got stung by a wasp,” she announced, despite her best intentions.

“The ones upstairs?” Jane was excited. “Let me see! Oh cool, look at how red it is!”

She shrugged, reached for a cup. “It’s fine. Where’s Dad?”

“He’s checking the van.”

“Oh shit—he’s not repacking it again, is he? We have to get going!”

The van cost $50 a day. After 600 miles, it was ten cents a mile. The clock had started ticking before the wasp had emerged.

The stepmother shrugged.

“I’ll go see. Jane, get ready, ok?”

Jane, a great friend but a second choice for a long trip companion, didn’t actually know how to drive, and thought the trip would be as easy as the lines drawn on the AAA TripTik maps.

She went out the back room, thinking it might be the last time she’d hear the pump for the water well, the one that gave out every winter, forcing them to flush with buckets of water.

The van doors were open; her dad’s flannel-shirt back heaving as he tugged on the ropes that held the mattress in place, the dam keeping everything else in place.

“Dad, come on—we got this last night.”

“I’m just checking, honey,” still faced away.

“Really, it’s fine. Let’s close the doors,” she tugged at his arm.

He didn’t look up as they swung the doors shut, but as he clicked the padlock on, she should see he was struggling.

“Dad. What.”

“Are you sure, honey? Is this the right thing?”

Exasperated, she huffed, “Come on—I’ve spent just about all my money making this happen. You know I can’t stay.”

“I guess so. I hope there are more opportunities for you there.”

“There has to be,” she said.

He scuffed at the dirt, as she’d scuffed at the floor, and looked up into the browning catalpa tree.

“You know, when you were younger, this tree used to be your favorite place.”

It was one of the few good memories she’d take—climbing the low branches, reading under the umbrella-sized leaves, surrounded by the fingers of seed pods.

“Yeah. It’s okay, Dad. I’ll be okay.”

Her dad gave her an awkward side hug as Jane came out, lugging her army duffle bag.

“You ready? Let’s get going. Toss that in the back.”

The stepmother watched from the door, arms over her chest.

“Be careful on the highways,” she called out, and backed away into the house, the screen door slapping behind her.

Jane was in the cab, playing with the radio knobs, pulling down the visors.

“I guess this is it, honey,” her dad murmured, following her around to the driver’s door.

She hauled herself up, settling into the too-tall seat.

“Jane, cut it out, just leave it.”

She leaned down to her dad, gave him a kiss on his unshaven cheek. He closed the door for her, then motioned for her to open the window.

“Here, baby. I got you these. You might need them when you get near the coast. I hear it’s sunny there, ya know,” he chuckled.

He handed her a pair of oversized clip-on sunglasses. They’d never fit her glasses, of course.

“Thanks, Dad,” she said more nicely than she thought she could. “These are great.”

She made a point of putting them carefully on the dash.

“Call me when you get to hotel tonight. Don’t drive at night!” he said.

She cranked up the motor.

“Okay, Dad. I won’t. I love you.”

“I love ya honey.”

“I love you too—we gotta go now—”

© 2019 Anna S. King


 

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Mini Sledgehammer April 2019

We love Chris Smith’s writing style and are glad to see him on the winner’s board again for the April 2019 Mini Sledgehammer Writing Contest. Congrats, Chris!


Character: A life coach
Action: Gambling
Setting: A hood ornament
Prop: A riverboat


Bottom of the RiverChris Smith

By Chris Smith

 

She looks like an angel released from hell. A winged beast bursting through the blood towards my hands as I dangle her over the edge. I want to keep her as a token, but it’s risky to keep evidence on you.

It’s been days and I’ve traveled for miles on foot, by car, and now on this boat down the Mississippi. I’m hundreds of miles away, but the literal blood still stained to my hands brings me back there. I daggle her chrome body over the edge. She hangs there by the chain coming from her neck. But there’ll be a rope around my neck too if I don’t let go. She needs to sleep in the depths of the swamp so I can be free. But I feel for her.

Strange how one…accident can chain you down forever. How one person pushing you so hard to exploit your best, just breaks you. A fracture that can’t be repaired, just replaced while the old one is discarded. I stare at her. She stares back at me smiling. She’s shiny like the trophy she is to me. A cold reminder of what I did for a little bit of freedom. Finally, taking my life back into my own hands by taking his. But she must drown.

She looks like she is soaring as I swing her from my fingers over the murky slime below. I love her for that! One last act of absolute freedom, even for a moment, before she plunges below holding to my hand.

© 2019 Christopher Smith


I’m an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and writer from South Florida. I enjoy crafting stories about the weird yet interesting mundane parts of life, whether it is visually or on the page. When not writing, I can be found taking photos around town or binging on TV show and movies.

Mini Sledgehammer March 2014: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

This month’s winner, A. L. Adams, used the prompts in interesting ways, and we love the twist this second-person story takes.

Character: The person no one expected
Setting: Where everything is topsy-turvy
Prop: Untied shoelaces
Phrase: Watch your step!

***

Watch your step when you go down to the boathouse. In the winter, the stairs are frosty; in the summer the top ones are mossy and the ones at the waterline are often beslimed. If you want me to escort you, Nan, I will.  I’ll hold your and and slip my arm under your elbow to support you as we climb.

The boats are closer now; the tide is higher so they make free with more of the space. The Tollycraft wears a green visor; the tugboat’s got that brick­red stripe, designed to disguise whatever rust. No, Nan; we’re not getting on them. Yes, Nan, they are “quite a sight.” The trees? We could cross the bridge to see those trees, but remember? You didn’t like that last time. Yes, Nan, the rocks are dirty but no, we can’t clean them. Those are barnacles. See how they’re so stuck­-on?

Now let’s go in the boathouse so you won’t get too cold. We’ll open the door so you can still see the boats. This door seems stuck—no, i’m creaking it open…Hey. Everything’s in disarray. The ropes are unlooped and flung like shoelaces. Our little skiff is turned halfway over, gagging on water. The other boat…Another boat? We don’t have one! But there it is, another boat, hull­up on the concrete walkway like a space invader’s pod. Wait…I know that boat. Oh, God! It’s rolling over!

Dad?

Oh, God; how long have you been here? We didn’t know your sentence was up.

What the fuck do you mean, “It’s not?” Pardon my French, Nana, but Dad. What the FUCK.

Nana—no, it’s okay Honey. This is Wallace. Yes you do. Your son.

Dad. Fuck. We never saw you, okay?

We’re just…okay okay. Nana Honey? We saw the boats and now we’re going. That’s it; very good. I’ve got your hand, Dear.

Watch your step now as we go up these stairs.

They can be slippery.

Yes. I know.

©2014 A. L. Adams

 

A. L. Adams daylights as an art spy for the Portland Mercury and Oregon ArtsWatch. She moonlights as many things, and has more than a few stories.

 

Mini Sledgehammer February 2014: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

Congratulations to this month’s winner, Pamela Russell Bejerano!

 

Character: A Good Samaritan

Action: Seeing something that wasn’t meant to be

Setting: The eye of the storm

Phrase: Well, that was unexpected

***

Eye of the Storm

Amber stood on the edge of the park, watching all of the happy people play and sled and run around in the snow. Her plan was to stand here long enough to erase the memory from her mind. She took in the huge Doug Firs, the happy dogs wagging their tails and chasing each other, the father bouncing off his inner tube and grasping at the jacket of his daughter who slid past him, laughing. The snow softly fell amidst the chaos. She closed her eyes and listened. She could almost hear the giant, fluffy flakes that changed the world around her.

Suddenly it was there. The image, again. When you see something that wasn’t meant to be it has a way of imprinting itself so deeply onto the brain that it actually makes a new ridge and settles itself in for life. His face. His deep, brown eyes. The tears welling on the rims, quivering, as if the fall would kill them.

“What are you doing here?”

It was all she could think to say.

“I had to see you.”

The storm had passed. Or so she thought. The weathermen always talk of the eye of the storm, that moment when you believe with false hope that it’s over. That you’ve survived. But then the other half of the storm rips through. This half, the one they always claim was unexpected, is the one that breaks down the fragile barrier that you thought would hold. But it never does. And when it falls, the Good Samaritan is nowhere to be found.

A loud screech pierced her vision, sending his face shattering into a million tiny pieces. She opened her eyes, too late. The toboggan slammed into her shins and sent her knees buckling in a direction that was not human. Another sound filled her ears. She realized it was her own scream.

“Don’t move!” a voice shouted in her ear.

It was the man, the father. His daughter sat by her side, her eyes filled with horror. Moving was not an option, so Amber stayed, the snow soaking through her pants, her jacket. It seemed hours before a medical crew arrived. Faces appeared in her line of vision, then disappeared, only to reappear again. A poke stung her arm. The world went black.

Seven months, three weeks and four days. That’s how long it took her to walk again. In that time she had been confined to a wheelchair, then crutches, and finally a simple cane. It was month eight when she stepped out into the sun and walked to the park. She stopped and turned in a 360 degree circle. It was all there, right where she’d left it. The happy people, the dogs playing, the Doug Firs swaying in the wind. It was the only thing she saw.

 

©2014 Pamela Russell Bejerano

Pamela Russell Bejerano is a writer who works as a school administrator in Portland, Oregon. Pamela has published a poem and was invited to read a short story at the Cannon Beach Historical Society; this is her fourth Mini Sledgehammer win. Pam has lived abroad several times and weaves multicultural issues and the strength of women throughout her writing. She is currently working on her second novel about a young woman living in Nicaragua whose tenderly crafted life and community are shattered by an atrocity that she alone must find the strength to overcome.

Mini Sledgehammer January 2014: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

We missed you, Mini Sledgehammer! In this first contest of 2014, two Sledgehammer veterans and two people new to the contest tackled the four prompts and the clock. Congratulations to this month’s winner, J.B. Kish.

Character: A reformed omnivore

Action: Choosing bananas

Setting: The bottom of the bowl

Phrase: Oh yes, I know the Muffin Man

***

The Difference Between Snow

He reached out, choosing bananas again. He always chose bananas on colder days, when the snow had drifted up against the front of his cabin like the lip of cake frosting. Jerking his massive wooden front door open, he welcomed a sharp, cutting breeze against his cheek and shook it off. Mother winter was kissing him awake. Kisses were always their brightest in the morning. Not like sundown.

Jack Shadowsong stepped out into the high-desert sunlight and carefully peeled one of his bananas from the bottom up. He took an enormous bite, and carefully wedged the rest of his fruit lunch into his parka. The others stuck out from his belly like lumpy tentacles, giving him a queer look. He chewed complacently, staring at the fruit in his pocket. He had a long day ahead of him. Longer now since he’d become a—what did his daughter call him?—a reformed omnivore. 75 years of sugars and elk and hamburgers down at the gas station had made him sluggish and slow.

“You’re an old buffalo,” his daughter Suzy told him. “You’ll die in these mountains an old buffalo, papa. You have to start eating better.”

And so, much to his chagrin, Jack Shadowsong had banana lunches and fruit dinners, and fruit breakfast, and fruit, fruit—

“Fruit,” Jack muttered. “God I hate fruit.” He spit the rest of his banana and it disappeared into the snow at his feet. And then he was off, to the bottom of the bowl, to watch the young skiers get in fistfights with snowboards and drink until they were red in the face.

“That was Justin Jackson new hit single, ‘Oh Yes, I Know the Muffin Man,’ and you heard it first, right here on KRSMACK Radio.”

The radio DJ’s voice blared through the speakers at the base of the ski slope near the ticket booth. The line was down to the parking lot. And the children were already screaming. Jack hadn’t even made it into the lodge for coffee yet before his boss was waving him to the chair lift for a quick relief shift. That’s what he called them. “Relief shifts. The only smoke break that took forty-five minutes, Jack thought to himself. But there he was, standing in line and checking tickets and thinking to himself about the coming night.

Jack could stand for hours at a time. He didn’t mind his job. He didn’t mind standing, and pressing the button when a child fell down onto its face. He liked picking them up, brushing the snow of their noses and helping them onto the lift. He didn’t mind all the money, and the white people, and the radio DJ, or the lack of coffee. What Jack minded was the snow. What Jack minded, was the spirit of the mountains.

“You’ll die in these mountains, papa. An old stubborn buffalo,” his daughter told him. And maybe she was right. There was no fruit for stubbornness. And so maybe he would die in these mountains. Hell, Jack thought to himself. Maybe I’ll die right here in line, taking tickets and listening to radio DJs. Maybe I’ll turn into a Popsicle and they put a flashlight in my hand. But he wouldn’t leave his mountains. He wouldn’t leave mother winter.

What Jack minded was the snow. The white snow. The perfect, white reclaimed snow that they made in machines so the money would come and the music would play and the snowboarders would fight. Jack hated the snow because he couldn’t tell what of it was new and what of it was old. He couldn’t tell what mother winter had brought him and what the lawyers made with their documents and their paper and their signatures.

Jack missed the days when he was a boy, and he didn’t have to think about the people on his mountain. When snow was snow. And winter was winter. And the cold was—

“Hey asshole, are you paying attention?”

Jack’s eye’s fluttered to life and landed on the boy holding out his ticket. Jack narrowed his focus, and then his expression fell. He feigned a smile, scanned the ticket, and the boy got on the lift.

When the sun dropped down, and the temperatures reached their lowest, the mountain emptied, and Jack found himself still standing at the bottom of the bowl. Mother winters kisses were at their darkest, and there was no shaking that kind of cold. Not until he was home and in his bed. But that night, Jack decided to stay a little while longer and stand in line. With no tickets to scan and no little children to help to their feet. Jack stood in the bowl and remembered the time when he was little. When the snow was really snow and there was no reason to think other wise.

“You’ll die in these mountains, papa,” his daughter told him.  “An old stubborn buffalo.” And maybe she was right. Maybe he would.

©2014 J.B. Kish

J.B. Kish

J.B. Kish

Originally from the Southwest, J.B. Kish moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2012. He spends his weekends in a walk-in closet turned office working on his newest novel, A Wall for Teeth and Stingers, and other works. He can be reached at jbkwriting@gmail.com.

 

Mini Sledgehammer December 2013: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

It’s the time of year for thinking about, well, time. This month’s prompts speak to that. Congratulations to this month’s winner, Daniel Granias, who wrote in memory of Elissa Nelson.

Character: Timekeeper

Action: Pencil it in

Setting: Calendar sales rack

Phrase: Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana

***

Untitled

Dedicated to Elissa Nelson, beloved friend and former Mini Sledgehammer facilitator, who first introduced me to the series.

In my dreams, my father rides on the back of a whooping crane. It flies through an amber sunset, its neck undulating in a long S. Together they splash and patter in the high tide while the rhino burrows its great iron horn in the glittering sand searching for nematodes. The crane takes my father’s belt in its long beak and throws him into the dusty lavender thickets, where he rolls across their dense beds under the cattail reeds that tower eight stories high. The king of the nematodes carries an hourglass with three bulbs; one for red sand, one for yellow, and one for green. When he turns the glass, the sky turns grey and my father and I are sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for the nematode secretary to call our name.

“Bastille! Bastille! I’ve been calling you for the past century! Where have you been? You’ve missed your bicentennial treatment again, now we must pencil you in for the next millennium, and we’re booked through Julaugustary!”

The day-by-day calendar on the desk curls its pages into lips that say, “Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana!”

With a flourish, my father throws on a lime green doctor’s coat and lifts me in its folds. He takes me to the bookshop he owned, to the corner where my mother quilted the pillows and blankets in so many shades of violet, plum, and indigo.

It is there I wake, beneath the cherry-cedar rocking chair where he’d take me in his lap and read me tales of places near and far, while I stared at the pictures of birds and mammals on the calendars we sold on the rack by the register. The pillows still smell and feel like my mother’s bosom; it was so long ago I fit in the linen nest of her apron before her cancer took hold for the year that followed, each day feeling like a month, each visitation hour like a second.

Now I’ll sort and stack the pillows, activate the register, and flip the paper clock in the window back and unlock the doors as parents and children visit our rows of pop-ups, pictures, and puppets, and I’ll assume my place in the cherry-cedar rocking chair and read the next tale to this afternoon’s visitors just as my mother and father did.

©2013 Daniel Granias

Mini Sledgehammer: May 2011

Apologies for the delay in posting this month’s winner. The three judges deliberated for a long time the night of the event–at least it was a warm and sunny evening so we could do so outside!–so I guess it only makes sense that the announcement would be the long time in coming.

***
Prompts:
Character: a woman of a certain age
Action: fleeing by bicycle
Setting: between here and there
Phrase: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but . . . ”

Congratulations to Pam Russell Bejerano, who wrote the following in 36 minutes!

***

Pam Russell Bejerano

The Bicycle

Margaret stood looking at the bicycle in the shop. It was the latest invention – the front wheel large with iron spokes, a tiny seat atop made of wood, and one small wheel behind. She had seen many photographs of them, but this was her fist glimpse in person. It was magnificent.

“May I help you, Ma’am?” Margaret turned and looked at the young boy, less than half her age. “Are you looking for a gift for your husband?”

Margaret smiled. She knew women were not allowed to ride such contraptions, but she also knew that this was hogwash. Women of a certain age, in her opinion, were young enough to be able to break such asinine rules, and old enough to enjoy doing so. How little the young knew.

“No,” she said, then quickly corrected herself. “Actually, yes. I am looking for a bicycle for my husband. But truly, you cannot convince me that these contraptions are not highly dangerous.” She shifted her parasol from one shoulder to the other, getting a better look at both the boy and the bicycle.

“No, no,” he said walking to the bicycle and wheeling it towards her. “They are truly safe. Watch,” he said, stationing the bicycle by the mounting stand. He climbed up, swung his leg over the seat, and placed his feet on the pedals. “Watch,” he said, then proceeded ever so slowly to move the bicycle down the road.

She watched him go, then watched as he turned the corner ever so carefully, and rode back to her, dismounting again at the stand. He smiled at her, as if it were the grandest achievement to have ridden such a thing between here and there, when in truth, here was there. Thoughts swimming in Margaret’s mind were of a much grander sort.

“I supposed you’re going to tell me I need to purchase the contraption to mount the thing as well?” she said, goading him.

“Of course not. It is just as easy to mount freestanding. Watch.” He moved the bicycle away from the stand, kicked out a metal rod that held the bicycle upright, and proceeded to climb up the back wheel. “See, just as easy?”

“And this?” she said, pointing to the rod.

“Watch,” he said, beaming at her. As he rode away, the stand flipped itself up.

Again, he rode to the end of the dirt road and turned slowly, then made his way back. How he would dismount was the only piece of information she was lacking. She watched carefully as he slowed the bicycle, removed one hand from the handle bar and placed it on the seat between his legs, then quickly leapt back and down to the ground.

“Simple as pie. Your husband will learn in no time.”

“Indeed,” she said. “And how much does this cost?”

“Well,” he said, gently taking her arm and leading her closer to the bicycle. “This is not your average model. These spokes, see here, how they are connected at the center? That’s the latest fashion, making the model much safer. And the pedals, see how they…”

“How much, I believe, was the question.”

The young lad stopped and looked at her. “The seat, see there? It’s fine Italian leather that…”

“My boy, if I have to ask you again, you shall lose my attentions permanently.” She stared him in the eye, unmoving.

“75 pounds, 10 shillings.”

“75 pounds? And 10 shillings?” she mocked, feigning shock. “For a contraption that will make one sweat to take it simply down the road?” she said, gesturing up the short distance of road she had traveled.

“Oh, but madam, think of all the places one could go!”

“Such as?”

“Well,” he said, rubbing his chin and staring at the giant wheel. “You could ride it as far as, let’s see…”

“Yes, just as I thought. An overpriced bundle of metal to get one no where.” She shifted her parasol off her shoulder and overhead, turned on a heel, and began to walk away, smiling. She knew she had him.

“Ma’am,” he said, running around to block her path. “Please, I assure you, this bicycle s sturdy enough, fast enough, it could take you even off to the next town.”

“And where might that be?” she said, feigning ignorance. “There?” she pointed down the road she was facing that bent some 100 yards down into the overgrowth. A back road, she also knew, that led to Sussex, some 16 miles away.

“Well, of course, though one would have to be highly skilled at the thing to be able to ride down that road.”

“Oh, well, then,” she said, turning the opposite direction to the other road that headed out of town. “This way?”

“Well, this way, certainly. I’ve ridden there myself.”

“Indeed.” She looked at him with wide eyes, as if entirely impressed with his prowess. “I’ll take it. But only if you can guarantee me my husband could reach the next town by that road,” she gestured down the shorter path, “on his first attempt.”

“Ma’am, if I may,” he said, looking at her. “Please, don’t take this wrong, but riding such a machine will take some time. If your husband wishes to go over to the next town, it may take some time to accustom himself to the thing. But once he’s done that, I assure you, he can ride as far as the edge of town if he’d so like.”

Insulted as a woman, and by her age. It was amazing how well the youth managed to do that in one fell swoop. She smiled, thoroughly enjoying herself.

“If you would, please, then. I’d like to buy that one.”

The boy turned to where her extended finger indicated. “That one?” he said, the look of surprise unhidden on his face. “But Maam, that’s our delux model. It might be better if your husband learnt first on this one, then, in time, if he still likes it, he could come back and purchase this one.”

“Are you quite through?” she said simply.

“Ma’am?”

“With your juvenile preaching. Are you quite through?”

“Uh, well, uh, yes Ma’am.”

“Good, because you’re tiring me. I want that one.” Again she pointed to the larger model still in the shop.

“Right. Well, give me a minute, please, I’ll be right back.”

“I’m sure you will.”

Unfortunately for the poor lad, by the time he was right back, she had hoisted up the folds of her skirt, mounted the cycle, and disappeared around the bend. Once out of sight and out of sound, she realized she had done it – she had fled her godforsaken life forever, and had done so in the most unexpected of ways – by bicycle.

She lifted her head to the sun, flew her feet off the pedals and out in front of her, and let out the most joyous, giddy yelp of her life.

© Pam Russell Bejerano

***

Pam Russell Bejerano is a writer who works as an educator in Portland, Oregon. Pam has published a poem and one previous Mini Sledgehammer story, and was invited to read a short story at the Cannon Beach Historical Society. Pam is currently working on a novel to be completed in 2011. You can read more of Pam’s writing on her blog.