A Smile Through a Tear has been in the making for more than 20 years. These stories came about at different parts of my life. I remember the origins of most of them pretty well, but I’m not sure if I could put them in the order in which they were written. I do recall which is the oldest story in the bunch. It was first written for a fiction class in college. The story has changed a lot since then, but it’s still got the same point.
My confidence in these stories has been reinforced to some degree by the literary universe. “The Message,” “All Hundreds,” and “What Beggars Can Do” have all been published in literary journals. “In the Eyes of a Child” was accepted by a journal, but that journal folded before it could be published. Likewise, “Last Night at Sulva” was accepted by another literary journal that fell upon hard times before the story was published. (This is the state of literature these days: many literary journals get by on the skin of their teeth; some don’t get by at all.)
The thing I love best about A Smile Through a Tear is that it provided me the chance to showcase my humorous and my dramatic writing in one place, which is a rare opportunity.
A Smile Through a Tear is a collection of short stories featuring humorous and dramatic pieces in one volume. The humorous stories include the tales of: a telephone company executive who must figure out how to use his phone before he is exposed as a fraud; a woman who has accidentally introduced a mysterious white powder into the State Capitol building; and a man whose entire job is to sit on a park bench, and who has trouble meeting that obligation.
The dramatic episodes include the stories of: a father trying to protect his kids from a lifestyle that sent him to prison; a group of WWI soldiers facing overwhelming odds; a space traveler who must make a terrible choice; and a man whose best Christmas would be anyone else’s worst.
These tales and many others are brought together in one book to present the reader with A Smile Through a Tear.
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PART I: A Smile
- “The Message” (Originally published in Berkeley Fiction Review)
Wayne is the new, hot-shot VP of a national telephone company. The only problem is that he can’t figure out how to play the very important voice message his boss has just left him on his new office phone. The message is time sensitive, but does the shiny new VP of a telephone company dare ask one of the employees how to work his phone?
- “We’ll Always Have Drivers Ed”
Two high school students are driven to terror and puppy love by the near misses they experience in the back seat of the Drivers Ed car. But can this love blossom once they step outside of the vehicle?
- “I Am a Railroad”
When an old man in a small town becomes convinced that he is a railroad, his fantasy takes its toll on the whole neighborhood. It is up to the mayor to disabuse him of his fancy, or failing that, to find a way to accommodate his delusion that won’t turn the whole town upside down.
- “All Hundreds” (Originally published in Blue Line – Potsdam (NY) State University)
A boy calls his father a bad name and lives to regret it, even as he learns some amazing things about the depth of a father’s love.
- “The Night We Finally Had to Tell Him”
Concerned family members decide that they must intervene to prevent their “dreamer” brother from pissing his life away. Along the way they discover that there may be more to life than practical decision-making.
- “Nanna Helen’s Foul Mouth”
Four-year-old Jeffy has been picking up some bad language. He says he heard it from his grandma. But his grandma is a sweet, little, old lady whose main occupation is baking cookies. Could she have a dark side?
- “Farewell, Gentle Stalker”
A young man is relentlessly pursued by a woman in whom he has no interest. She is a very kind-hearted person, which makes him loathe to hurt her feelings. Instead of saying no thank you, he digs a deeper hole for himself to climb out of by trying to be nice.
- “How Serena Was Selected”
Serena unwittingly introduces a mysterious white powder into the State Capitol building. She cleans up her mess well enough to avoid being labeled a domestic terrorist, but that’s not the end of her troubles.
- “The Park Bench of Our Discontent”
Times are tough in the city. Fortunately, Joel was able to find a minimum wage job sitting on a park bench in order to keep the homeless from using it as a bed. The homeless aren’t too happy about it though, and they’re ready to fight back.
PART II: Through a Tear
- “What Beggars Can Do” (Originally published in Between the Leaves by Barnes & Noble Books)
Two old friends face the prospect of losing each other, and each must come to terms with what life would be like without their last true companion.
- “Just Long Enough”
A man reflects upon his father’s role in his life as he struggles to save his own kids from the lifestyle that sent him to prison. If he can hold off his demons just long enough, he might be able to do one good thing for his children.
- “A Picture of God”
A new priest struggles with his faith in the face of the poverty of his parish and his own earthly desires. Does he have the strength of spirit to live up to his commitment? He will have his answer, after he has seen a picture of God.
- “In the Eyes of a Child” (Originally accepted for publication by Anthology; this magazine ran out of money and folded before the scheduled publication date.)
A space traveler is forced to decide between his own dreams and the lives of a group of strangers. It is a difficult question, but answers come in a flash, especially when they appear in the eyes of a child.
- “Drawing Circles”
A boy is tutored into great academic success by his professor uncle. When tragedy strikes the uncle, the now-grown-up nephew must decide how he will repay the debt he owes to the one who made him the respected man he is today.
- “Last Night at Sulva” (Originally accepted for publication by Talking River Review – Lewis-Clark State College (ID); unfortunately this journal has not published an issue since the story was accepted. When, or if, they will publish a new number, or this story, is unknown.)
A squad of WWI soldiers must extricate themselves from an area controlled by an overwhelming enemy force. Discovery almost certainly means death. If they can save their lives they can begin to think about saving their honor.
- “Long Shots”
A down-on-his-luck man takes his 12-year-old, blind nephew to the horse track, where he hopes to make a big payday on a long shot bet. Events at the track force him to consider how he is affecting his nephew’s odds for a happy life.
- “Mr. Humbolm’s Merriest Christmas”
A hard-working merchant gets one final chance to experience Christmas in way he has only ever dreamed of. Is the experience worth the price he must pay for it?