short stories

The Cell Phone Lot by Stephanie Elliot

Blow up the balloons! Cue the streamers! Break out that bubbly- stat!  MaNiC MoMMy (a.k.a. Stephanie Elliot) is in 'da house sharing the news about her short story, The Cell Phone Lot (available today!). It's a fabulous, fast-paced and funny story about chance encounters. (We love the premise!) And not only is she here, but she's taking over. We've given her the reins (which y'all know we don't do that often) and told her to run this show. So without further adieu, heeeere's Stephanie!

Just one more thing--because you know we're control freaks--she's giving away 5 copies  of The Cell Phone Lot! Details below... Okay, we're really leaving now. Promise!

Okay, really, we mean it this time, heeeere's Stephanie!

The Cell Phone Lot is a short story I wrote between Christmas and New Year’s when my husband and I were flying from Arizona to Ohio to go to my grandmother’s funeral. Being at the airport just sparks imagination, and while there, I recalled a time I was waiting in a cell phone lot, and the idea snuck into my mind. The story came pouring out then, and I wrote these 65 pages really fast.

This little story is all about chance encounters, fate and taking risks in your life. And I truly do believe that every person we come in contact with has been placed in our “life timeline” for a reason, that nothing is random, and everything has a specific purpose. Whether it is to cheer someone up in line while waiting at the post office, to offer a suggestion to a new mother at the park, or to meet your soul mate, I think every contact we make with another human being is purposeful and with reason. This is what I believe fate to be. When I met my husband, I was 20 and he was 21. We were both attending Northern Illinois University. I was heading out with my roommates to go to the bar we frequented. It was a Friday night, early, like 6 p.m. and we usually didn’t go out that early. We wanted to get there to grab a table, but the bar was packed because of some fraternity event.

So we were waiting around until a table opened up, drinking our dollar drafts (yes, back then they only cost one dollar!). A table opened up and two football players went for the same one we were eyeing. I didn’t care for football at all, wasn’t impressed that the guys were big football jocks, but I wanted to get a table, and one of the guys was kind of cute. We argued with them a bit that we got to the table first, and then the five of us agreed to share it.

The guy at the table bought me a beer, shared his pizza, kissed me at another bar later that night, and became my husband and the father of my three kids. We’ll have been married 19 freaking years in May. That’s still crazy to think about because he and I both still feel like we are those college kids back in 1990.

The fateful thing about our chance encounter on February 2, 1990 (Wow, I just realized I met him on the day The Cell Phone Lot is coming out! How’s THAT for fate – 22 years to the day!)… the neatest thing about our story is that there are so many chances for us to have NOT met that night, and also so many chances for us to have met previously. But it was THAT night that was supposed to be THE night for us.

We discovered that when I was a freshman, we had a math class together. We probably had been to the same parties. I knew some of his closest friends – even typed papers for one of his best friends. Had I met him any other time, there would have been no way we’d ever been together forever. Yeah, we might have hooked up earlier during college – to have our relationship outlast the four years of college? No way. We needed that time to grow and become the people we were when we met that night.

And I could have totally missed him the night we met. Let’s say my roommates weren’t ready to leave when we left for the bar, or we didn’t see the table become available, or one of our fake IDs didn’t work that night? There were so many components that led to us meeting that night, that it was completely meant to be.

This is why I love stories about fate, and love, and risk-taking and chance encounters.

With The Cell Phone Lot, I wanted to create two people who might not otherwise ever meet and have them want to be together so badly but to have some major obstacles get in the way.

Grant is at the cell phone lot to pick up a woman he’s going to meet for the first time that he ‘met’ through an online dating service when he meets Bridge in the cell phone lot. She’s also waiting to pick up someone at the airport. They are attracted to each other instantly, and their attraction is palpable.

Their relationship unfolds in the airport as the flights they’re waiting for are delayed by bad weather. It’s anybody’s guess as to what happens – if this chance encounter has fate arriving for them, or if they’ll have separate departures … never to see one another again.

I’d love to give away five copies here, and for those who don’t win it, it’s only 99 cents on Amazon.

Think about where you are now and who you’re with – what led you to this place in your life? Was it a chance encounter? Fate? Was the timing absolutely perfect that any little glitch in the planning and you would have never met? I’d love to hear your story in the comment section for a chance to win one of the five ebooks we’re giving away here!

And thanks Liz and Lisa for hosting me on Chick Lit is Not Dead!

To find out more about Stephanie Elliot, visit her website.

Thanks, Stephanie! xoxo,


(Fine print: We'll randomly select the winners of The Cell Phone Lot on Monday, February 6 after 6pm PST.)

Ann Packer's 5 Do's and a Do-Over

We love short stories. (Maybe it's our ADD-esque personalities?) There's something about reading a great story and knowing that when it comes to the end, you get more! And when we read Swim Back to Me by Ann Packer, a collection of short stories and a novella, we each felt like a kid at her birthday party, excited about the present we were opening but equally excited about what we'd get to unwrap next. Because once you become absorbed in New York Times best seller Ann Packer's writing, you quickly realize you want more and more and more. But even Swim Back to Me eventually had to come to an end. So we definitely plan to check out Packer's other works including her award-winning and best selling novel, The Dive from Clausen's Pier and another collection of short stories, Mendocino and other Stories. Synopsis of Swim Back to Me: There's the story of the wife struggling to make sense of her husband's sudden disappearance. A mother mourning her teenage son through the music collection he left behind. A woman shepherding her estranged parents through her brother's wedding. A  young man coming to grips with the joy- and vulnerability- of impending fatherhood. And, in the opening novella, two teenagers from different families- one a tightly knit foursome, the other a father and son who share little more than having been abandoned by the same woman- forge a sustaining friendship, only to discover the disruptive and unsettling power of sex.

Swim Back to Me was unlike anything we've read in a while- with unique short story after unique short story, it was an exciting departure from the novels we usually love to read. And we reminded ourselves that it's always good to switch things up from time to time. Don't you agree? Read an excerpt of "Walk for Mankind" from Swim Back to Me here.

And if you leave a comment, you'll be entered to win one of five copies of Swim Back to Me. We'll randomly select the winners after 6pm on Thursday, April 21st.


"This format of 5 Do’s and 1 Do-over struck me as tailor-made for an interview about my new book, since it, too, has a 5 + 1 structure—five short stories and one novella.  So, without further ado, here are my 5 + 1, with a literary twist."- Ann Packer


1. Stay open to beauty. Back in the 90s, when my kids were little, I didn’t listen to much music outside the oeuvre of Raffi, that genius of the children’s song, who wrote such immortal lyrics as

Down by the bay

Where the watermelons grow

Back to my home

I dare not go.

For if I do

My mother will say

“Did you ever see a moose

Kissing a goose?”

Down by the bay

Then one day, when the second baby was old enough to take a bottle and I could be gone for a few hours, I began to teach a writing class.  And one of my students, perhaps sensing a starvation so profound that not even the starved person herself knew about it, began making me mix tapes from his vast collection of rock ‘n’ roll.  Within the space of a few months he’d initiated me into the glories of such eclectic acts as the Velvet Underground and the Violent Femmes, Pavement and the Pixies.  I listened to my tapes constantly, with the volume way loud.  And later, when “Molten,” a story about a grieving mother began to come to me, I knew just what she’d spend her time doing.

2. A fleeting thought may be just that, so write it down. Lately, I find myself going from my kitchen into my study, ready to do something on my computer, whether it’s send an email or Google someone or something else. Then I get there and I have absolutely no idea what I meant to do.  Writing yourself a note on the way from the kitchen to the study may seem extreme, but, hey, whatever works.  I may be in this habit because I sometimes get an idea for a story—something new or something already underway—and I used to play a game of chicken with myself:  something along the lines of, Well, if it’s worthwhile I’ll remember it.  Uh uh.  I take no chances.  And it pays off.  I was the birthday party escort for a group of 14 year-old-boys going out for burgers, and so naturally I sat by myself at a table for one, not at their table. And in one of those rare creative moments, I began to imagine a young woman late at night, in a dark parking lot, her car dead.  And I took out a teeny tiny notebook and, as the boys stuffed French fries into their mouths and debated the Giants’ lineup for the next game, I wrote the first six pages of “Jump.”

3. Explore your surroundings. We’d lived in our house for ten years on the day my son arrived home on his bicycle with a huge grin on his face and told me about the hill at the north edge of town where he and his friend had ridden their bikes that afternoon.  He knew exactly how to describe where they’d been, and the next time we were driving in that area he very carefully pointed out the roads they’d taken, describing which were very steep, which stopped in dead ends.  This was not exactly on my mind when I drove to Auburn, CA, one morning, to explore the town I’d already used as a setting for “Dwell Time.”  But as I went up and down the streets, I thought about how believing you know a place, or can guess what it’s like, will never be the same as knowing it.  The “scouting” trip resulted not only in better descriptions of the places my characters lived; it also delivered me to a river-side spot outside of town that became a key metaphor for the story.

4. Understand that the truth has consequences. When I was pregnant with my first baby, I attended a childbirth class at which the teacher asked everyone to go around the room and describe any previous experience with childbirth—had we been with a woman during labor, had we perhaps even attended a birth?  People gave about the responses you’d expect, until it was the turn of the last woman in the room.  She told us she’d gone through childbirth once herself, when she was married to someone else, and that her baby had died.  The room went silent, and it could have gone either way:  her revelation might have tilted the entire group into a fatal politeness, or it might have begun to dissolve the web of awkwardness inevitable in a dozen couples with nothing in common except their unreadiness for the greatest change life can bring.  Years later, I began to wonder how that same piece of information—intimate, terrifying, immeasurably sad—might play out not within a group, but in a single couple.  I used that question to start writing “Her Firstborn.”

5. Rely on poetry. I spent a long time working on “Things Said or Done,” trying to figure out who the characters were—to each other and also to themselves.  I use a lot of dialogue to create character, because I think it’s in how we talk that we establish who we are.  The middle-aged woman and her elderly father who are at the center of this story are great talkers—they banter and bicker and generally stay engaged with each other through all kinds of emotional fluctuations.  He is a former English professor, so at one point, feeling something was missing, I began looking through a book of poems by WB Yeats, thinking there might be a good line for him to quote to her.  Sure enough, I found some lines that seemed just right.  And as I typed them into my document, knowing they not only fit his character but also reflected some central issues in their relationship, I remembered something I have remembered many times over the decades since I was an English major:  that in poetry there is all of life, expressed in words you’d never have known yourself.


Start over. How often do you get halfway into a project only to realize there is something terribly wrong with it?  This can be as minor as pouring batter into a cake pan you forgot to butter or as momentous as discovering five years into your career in sales that you should have been a teacher.  Occasionally in my work, I have gotten very far along and realized I’ve made an apparently fatal error.  With my first novel, I was using a third-person narrator when in fact the story needed to be told in the first person, by the character herself.  (And believe me, fixing this was not going to be a matter of doing a find and replace on “she” and “I.”)  Writing “Walk for Mankind,” the novella that opens Swim Back to Me, I had an exciting new family moving into the neighborhood of an unhappy thirteen-year-old. That’s what I still have.  But back when I was doing the first draft, the thirteen-year-old was a girl.  And the novella just wasn’t happening.  Then one day I thought, What if it were a boy to whom all of this was happening?  Within days, I’d written forty or more pages, and while I can’t say it was smooth sailing all the way to the end—it never is—making that one major change made all the difference.

To find out more about the lovely and talented Ann Packer, visit her website and follow her on Facebook.

Thanks, Ann! xoxo, L&L