Short Story Review: “The Hay Bale” by Priscilla Bettis

“The Hay Bale”
Priscilla Bettis

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Wow, I don’t read much horror, so I didn’t know what to expect in the scary department when I picked up “The Hale Bale” by Priscilla Bettis. Set in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, I was immediately engrossed in this novelette about Professor Claire Davenport, a microbiologist who rents an antebellum manor for the summer. After four miscarriages and a rejection from an adoption agency, Claire has fled the city to regroup. She hopes that her sabbatical in the country will bring her peace and mend her broken marriage.

From the beginning, something isn’t right, but maybe it’s Claire’s imagination. After all, none of the townspeople register alarm when she comments, especially about the strange hay bale near the house. In addition, noises in the wall and a child’s cries put her on edge. Is it possible she’s just grieving her lost babies? After a few encounters with these folks, however, Claire knows she must act, but how? Should she correct the wrongs or just get out of there fast? It could be too late to do either.

This expertly-written story combines horror, history, religion, ghosts and science into a twisted story that reminded me of something I might see on The Twilight Zone. I loved the sensation of something being wrong and enjoyed experiencing the thrill of danger from the safety of my comfy chair. I appreciated the many descriptive details that offered hints about the characters and I laughed out loud at Claire’s choice of a book to read to relax! Bettis also ties past to present in a way that gives readers perspective and explains, in a warped way, the characters’ motives.

Bettis rewards her readers with a wild finish that will make you think hard about Claire and the people in this little town.

I’m so glad I read “The Hay Bale” and recommend it to readers who like all kinds of fiction. This one has just the right amount of scariness and weirdness!

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Short story reviews

Hi Everyone,

I spent some time organizing my short story reviews and converting the old ones to the new block format (whew!). From now on, I’ll add them to the page that I also created, which you can find at the top of my site. I have read some excellent short stories and recommend all them all. I found them in these collections and anthologies. I’ve been carrying around a couple of these books since college!

These short story collections are also excellent:

Do you like reading short stories? What do you recommend?

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Book Review: The Early Stories of Truman Capote

The Early Stories of Truman Capote
Foreword by Hilton Als

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I enjoyed reading this excellent collection of fourteen stories by Truman Capote. Written when he was in his teens and early twenties, these stories show Capote’s impressive ability to create scenes and original characters and evoke compassion at the earliest stage of his writing.

The collection was published in 2015 after a discovery in the archives of the New York Public Library. An equally excellent Foreward by Hilton Als of The New Yorker points out how Capote was already experimenting with different styles and methods. Some of the stories depict the Deep South where Capote was born, and others take place in New York, where he also lived as a boy. In them, he addresses many everyday issues, including family, relationships, small-town dynamics and the more sophisticated urban life in New York. And in his wide range of characters, both young and old, he portrays the more complex elements of poverty, race and fate, as well as selfish and vindictive human behavior. In his Foreward, Al writes about a universal yearning in these stories and I see that clearly.

I haven’t read everything Truman Capote wrote (see my links at the bottom of this post), but I have read the big ones (In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and a couple other short stories. I have always been struck by his descriptive style, which has the unique ability to lift me out of the actual world and right into a lyrical yet raw place. I think this skill is already coming through in these early stories.

There’s a great quote by David Ebershoff of Random House in the book’s Afterward. If you’ve ever watched one of Capote’s talk show appearances (here, here and here) or read about and seen images of his Black and White Ball in 1966 (read about that here), you might have an idea of what Capote was like. But if you put aside his gossipy side, discount his drunken appearances, and you really listen to him when he talks about the writing craft, you’ll see that he was indeed deeply serious about writing. I think this collection gives you a good picture of that intensity before he was sidetracked. Ebershoff writes:

“These early stories offer a counterpoint to that final image: a young writer laboring over his typewriter to maximize his gifts. A Truman Capote not slurring on a television talk show but driven to nail the right word on the page.”

I highly recommend this book. It’s a quick read, but the stories stay with you and give you a good look at an emerging writer who became a legend.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
In Cold Blood
“La Côte Basque”
“House of Flowers”

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On YouTube today: Short Story Share

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick note to tell you I’m over on YouTube today, showing you all the places where I find great short stories and a couple books to help you write them!

Hope to see you there 🙂

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Short story review from: The Best American Short Stories 2004 – “Intervention” by Jill McCorkle

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from The 2004 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore.

Jill McCorkle

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In his excellent story about marriage and adult children, Marilyn and Sid, now retired, have settled into an alarming routine. Every evening, Marilyn watches Sid drink too much. And she’s let it slip to their daughter that she’s concerned. Sally is a take-charge daughter and quickly sets up an intervention, led by her social worker husband. Sally’s brother books a flight and they prepare to confront Sid.

Marilyn is sorry she ever mentioned it, but there is no stopping her children, who mean well, but cannot understand the complex dynamics between Marilyn and Sid. “You have to deal with Dad’s problem,” Sally tells Marilyn. Marilyn is also insulted that their marriage is under scrutiny. Whose business is it?

When the day arrives, despite their children’s careful planning, only Marilyn understands Sid’s reaction. Readers may look back and determine that’s the only thing that could have happened.

What’s great about this story is how the author explores the touchy topic of children taking charge of their parents’ lives. I enjoyed thinking about these dynamics and the opposing points of view. In addition, McCorkle shows the powerful influence of private understandings between husband and wife, which is both invisible to their children and not meant for them to know.

Jill McCorkle is an American author of eight novels and four collections of short stories. Her most recent novel, Hieroglyphics, was published in 2020. She is currently a faculty member of the Bennington College Writing Seminars and is affiliated with the MFA program at North Carolina State University.

I am never disappointed by the stories in this collection. I’m looking forward to working my way through it all.

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New Review of Encounters: Relationships in Conflict by Fred H Rohn

New Review of Encounters: Relationships in Conflict —

Short story review from: The Best American Short Stories 2004 – “The Walk with Elizanne” by John Updike

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from The 2004 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore.

“The Walk with Elizanne”
John Updike

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In this poignant story about getting older, looking back and making sense of lost moments, David Kern returns with his second wife to Oligner, Pennsylvania for his fiftieth high school reunion. His first stop is the hospital where their class organizer, Mamie Kauffman, is dying of cancer. At the reunion, David meets an old girlfriend, Elizanne, and she triggers long-buried memories of a first kiss on a walk home from a date and the charged moments of adolescence.

David considers his small-town upbringing, of knowing his classmates from Kindergarten through high school, and then leaving to start a life somewhere else. As he recalls the heat of this early teenage encounter, he’s jarred by Elizanne’s coarse comment, “It got me started, I must tell you, on a lot of, whatever. Kissing, let’s say.”

For days after the reunion, David thinks of his walk with Elizanne, and wonders what he might ask her now. But he won’t call her and he knows the importance of this memory will fade. “The questions he was burning to ask would receive banal answers. It was an adolescent flirtation that had come to nothing.”

I enjoyed this story and how Updike contrasts the limitless possibilities of youth with the realities that alter his characters’ paths. Mamie, who had stayed in Olinger, and was always the one with the most class spirit, spins her coming death into something positive, telling David, “That I’ll be all right. That when it comes, I’ll still be there. Here. You know what I’m saying?” Elizanne, who has not returned for reunions until this one, will likely refile her walk with David, giving it little meaning other than a quick reminiscence. All three have no choice but to accept the reality of passing time and narrowing paths.

John Updike (1932-2009) was an award-winning American writer of novels, short stories and poetry. He was a regular contributor to The New Yorker and was known for his stories of middle-class Protestant life in small-town Pennsylvania. In addition to many other awards, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1982 and 1991.

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BC Mom’s Author Update: Oskar’s Quest by Annika Perry

Welcome to Book Club Mom’s Author Update. Open to all authors who want to share news with readers. I recently caught up with Annika Perry, who has news about her new children’s book, Oskar’s Quest. Here’s what Annika has to say:

The year has started with a flourish of activity for me as I’ve published my first children’s book, Oskar’s Quest. I am still on an emotional high from the joy of seeing the book in print, reading the wonderful reviews and from the kind opportunities to promote the book.

Originally a story I created for my son, I was overjoyed to release it as a book after a year of rewrites / edits and working with a gifted illustrator. Oskar’s Quest acknowledges the fear that we all feel through the beautiful bird Oskar who is afraid of adventures yet one day finds himself on a mysterious island that needs his help!

As one reviewer writes: “Annika Perry captures the importance of caring for others, overcoming fears and making new friends. Young children are sure to relate as a fearful Oskar steps out of his comfort zone and embarks on a perilous journey in an effort to save a beautiful songbird and return happiness to an island where he’s been stranded during a fierce storm.”

One further exciting development this year has been the translation of Oskar’s Quest into German. As a fluent(ish) speaker I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with the translator and we have now become firm friends.

Oskar’s Abenteuer was released this month, both in print and Kindle format, and it’s amazing to have two language versions out on sale of my children’s book.  A Swedish version will soon be ready for release … and there are requests for one in Spanish. Who knows!?

After a busy two months promoting online I am now looking forward to visiting schools and library events in the area … bringing Oskar and the story of his Quest directly to the intended audience, the children!

Annika Perry is a full-time writer, blogger and book reviewer. She was born in Gothenburg, Sweden and raised near Ilkley, West Yorkshire. The Storyteller Speaks, a collection of short stories, flash fiction and poetry, was her debut book. Oskar’s Quest, a beautifully illustrated and enchanting children’s story, is her second published book. Annika Perry lives with her family in a small village in North Essex, England.

Website and social media links:
WordPress blog:  Annika Perry’s Writing Blog
Author Website:
Twitter: @AnnikaPerry68
Goodreads Author:  Annika Perry
Amazon Author Page: Annika Perry
LinkedIn: Annika Perry Author

For information about Book Club Mom’s Author Update,

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Books to Pen – Book Club Mom’s creative writing blog

Hi Everyone,

I just launched a new blog called Books to Pen, dedicated to my creative writing efforts. I posted my first piece of short fiction which you can find here. I hope you will take a look. Feedback is welcome!

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Who’s That Indie Author? Berthold Gambrel

Author name:  Berthold Gambrel

Genre:  Science-Fiction, Horror, Fantasy

BooksThe Directorate, The House of Teufelvelt, 1NG4, Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival.

What’s your story and how did you become a writer? When I was in college, I read a lot of horror fiction while hanging out between classes, and at some point I started thinking, I could write something better than this. As it turned out, I really couldn’t—looking back, most of my early horror stories were pretty weak—but I got better at writing in other genres, in particular science fiction. More significantly, I discovered I really enjoyed doing it.

How do you balance your work with other demands? It’s a struggle. Sometimes, when I have an idea I really like, I’ll stay up late at night on weeknights writing to get it all down as fast as I can. Other times, I feel like I can’t write a word even when I have the whole day to myself. The main thing is forcing myself to refrain from time-wasting activities and focusing on writing whenever I have the free time.

Name one of the happiest moments in your life: Getting my first job. I was over the moon.

What’s your approach to writing? Are you a pantser” or a planner?  Some combination of both. I usually come up with a general outline of points I want to hit, but I take a very loose approach about getting to them. Sometimes as I’m “filling in” my outline, I’ll come up with a new idea that I want to work in to the story that changes the whole thing.

Could you write in a café with people around?  The people, I could ignore. The food and the coffee could be harder. 🙂

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? If so, how did you do it?  I’ve never written in another language. I have written one (unpublished) novella that features a character who speaks entirely in Shakespearean iambic pentameter. At first, it was brutal and I wondered why I was even doing it. By the end, it felt incredibly natural, and unconsciously / I found my pen did lapse with greatest ease / into that arcane, forbidding style.

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now?  My favorite book! Oh, that’s a hard question. The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers is certainly a contender, but it’s a collection of short stories. A Confederacy of Dunces is a great novel, as are most of Wodehouse’s Jeeves novels. Currently, I’m reading Hyperlink from Hell by Lindy Moone. It’s a very unique book; I can’t wait to write a review.

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader?  eReader every day of the week!

Do you think print books will always be around?  Probably not—come the year 3000 they’ll likely have been replaced by something else.

Would you ever read a book on your phone?  I have a flip-phone, so it would be impractical. That said, if a book somehow could somehow be put on it, and I had nothing else to read, I’d probably try.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, Android or something else?  My ancient iPad 2.

How long could you go without checking your phone?  An hour and a half. I know this because I don’t take my phone when I work out, and that’s how long it takes.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening? I love audiobooks. I listen to them sometimes while playing video games or working on mindless computer tasks.

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform?  I do use it for self-promotion, although I feel dirty whenever I do. More fun is using it to discover and promote other indie authors. I’ve met so many wonderful, talented people this way! Twitter is my favorite platform for discovering other authors, WordPress is my favorite for posting reviews and other writings.

Website and social media links:

Twitter: @BertholdGambrel

Are you an indie or self-published author?  Do you want to build your author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email for a bio template and other details.