Flash Fiction: “Faery Dust”

I am going to be writing a series of flash fiction pieces to improve my chops to get ready to submit some for publication. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the shorter the work of fiction, the easier it becomes; because short fiction is hard and flash fiction is some of the hardest of all! Flash fiction is 1,000 words. Here is the first of these stories. It is a work of magic realism.

“Faery Dust”

By Denise Ruttan

Howard curls up inside himself, the cold cement hard on his ass. He has sat here all night. He clutches his backpack. This life is new to him. This staying out in the cold in his threadbare socks. He has not showered in weeks. He has not slept, because the backpack is all he owns and he doesn’t want anyone to steal it. 

It is that time of the morning when all is quiet. In the old days, he would go on walks in this hour before dawn. Most people think it is too quiet. But most people are used to their 9 to 5 and their comfortable office and their Saturday afternoons playing with the kids in the yard with the sun on their face. Howard’s hand is shaking. It does that when he remembers the past. The past is like an alive thing, like a separate thing from his mind, a place in time that he views with a mixture of scrutiny and wonder. 

Howard’s head is still swimming from last night’s booze. He is, in fact, still drunk. His neighbors stir briefly. Howard makes a decision. He stands. 

But Randy grabs his ankle. He feels like calloused sweat. 

“Don’t.” Randy is a schizophrenic. But his eyes meet Howard’s with a piercing clarity. “Don’t go at this hour. Wait. Wait. Wait.” 

“Why should I wait?” Howard humors the raving man. It is all he has left. The attention of others. 

“Not at this hour. The faeries. They like to steal people like us away. They love this hour. They dance on the empty city streets and make their mischief and cast their magic spells.”

“Oh, Randy,” Howard says. “Faeries are not real.” 

Randy’s clear blue eyes now fill with horror. Howard can’t help but be affected by the dread oozing from his body. Randy’s cold hand grips his ankle tighter, desperately. “Faeries. Faeries are real. Faeries are so real you will shit yourself. Don’t do it, man. Stay. Stay. Stay.”

“You must have taken some bad acid this morning, man.” Howard finally kicks Randy away. Randy starts shaking more violently and begins to sob. The sound violently punctures the stillness. 

Howard wraps his blanket around his shoulders in the cold. He leaves this sidewalk with its illusion of safety and its stench of piss and booze and helplessness. 

He heads into the light. It glints off the buildings. The sun is beginning to rise. But there is still too little of it just yet. Howard loves this hour. He thinks of it as the magic hour. He breathes in deeply. This is a downtown shopping mall. He sees Macy’s and other department stores towering above him. His eyes glitter. He misses the days when he could go into these stores and buy whatever he wanted. All he had to worry about was paying down his credit card. He misses material comforts. He doesn’t want to buy anything in those stores now, but he misses them, just the same. 

There is no one out today. That is unusual. This isn’t a large city, but it should not be an empty one, even at this hour. 

Howard can feel the beating of his heart, pounding away in his ears. He tugs the thin blanket closer around his shoulders as a biting wind sweeps crumpled newspaper up from the sidewalk and swirls it around with vigor. 

Howard walks aimlessly. He wanders through the bus station parking area. There are not even any people waiting for early buses. That part compounds the eerie feeling that makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. There are some buses parked along the street. Everything is empty. Everything is dead, like his life now.  

He takes a seat. In the old days, he would have taken out his smart phone. Connecting to people who aren’t real. People in the machine. Instead, he simply takes out his only cigarette, and smells the tobacco. 

The wind continues to rise. He thinks of Marlene, and her cool hands on his son Ned’s face when he was sick. He thinks of Ned’s laughter, his four-year-old laughter, and he wonders what the boy will grow to become. That world is a world that exists outside his head and beyond this one. A world he can never visit again. He must stop thinking about it. He must stop thinking about things that bring him pain. Tears prick his eyes. 

Suddenly, he notices a nearby presence. He thinks it must be a squirrel. But as he looks over, a small person, about two hands high, perches on the edge of the bench. She looks like Tinkerbell. He blinks his tears away. A drunken hallucination. Obviously. 

“Do you want the memories to go away?” He expects her voice to be small and quiet, but it floods his mind with a soothing cascade, like the sounding of Tibetan bowls. 

Without thinking, he says, “Yes.” 

“Done.” She nods.“Pain is gone.” 

Howard blinks. He looks over his shoulder again. For a moment he imagines he sees a cloud of little faery creatures, cavorting in the winds. They shriek with maniacal laughter. His stomach lurches in protest. 

He remembers… something. There was someone… But… no. The cobweb of memory fades, like a dream he forgot upon waking. He puts his hand out into the air and his skin feels clammy. What is he?  

He remembers his name is Howard. The rest? 

He blinks his eyes into the pounding wind, and sobs. 

Later, Randy will approach him as the being called Howard wanders the city, alone. But Howard doesn’t know him. Randy will hug him, the movement so unexpected that it takes Howard’s breath away. 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Randy will say, his voice hot with emotion. “I told you to wait. I told you to wait. I told you to wait.” 

Howard hugs him back, without knowing why. 

Perhaps he should have punched him in the face. 


My work is offered to you free because I believe in the public domain, but if you enjoy my creative efforts, support of $1 donation to my Venmo would be appreciated. http://www.venmo.com/denise-ruttan

A few tips to take better photos from just your phone camera

Many people have more time on their hands now and want to learn new skills. Perhaps this is you and you’d like to improve your photography knowledge. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need an expensive camera to take good photographs; you just need a basic understanding of light and composition. A camera is just a tool, after all; and the best tool is the one you have with you.

Sure, you probably won’t be charging $200 an hour for a professional photo shoot on your iPhone. But these cameras have come a long way in recent years and are miles ahead of the point and shoots of even just a few years ago. I am an experienced photographer with six years shooting portraits and street photography, and time before that as a photojournalist. I thought I’d offer some photography 101 tips for you to shoot better camera phone photos. All these photos on this blog post I shot with my iPhone 6s. In fact, I have been shooting more with that camera than my Nikon D5100 recently. It’s more convenient, and less obtrusive.


First, let’s talk about light. Why do your photos taken outside at noon on a summer’s day always appear hot and full of contrasts? It’s because of the height of the sun in the sky and what that does to light. Let’s talk about something called an exposure triangle. Even on a phone camera, you can practice these principles.

The exposure triangle is a photography term that refers to the aperture (the opening in the lens through which light passes to enter the camera), shutter speed, and ISO (aka the sensitivity of the camera’s image sensor). All these things must work together in order to create a correct exposure – one that is in focus, and not overexposed (the photo has too much light and is too bright) nor underexposed (too little light was recorded and the photo appears dark). Now, “correct” exposure is one of those rules that can be broken for effect, but only until you understand how they work and why they are important.

Now, you can’t manually control the shutter speed, ISO, or the aperture on a phone camera. That is the beauty of a DSLR, or a digital single-lens reflex camera. But a phone camera is a cheaper alternative, and one that you likely already have with you; who doesn’t have a smart phone these days? (I see you, flip phone and landline aficionados!)

On a phone camera, it is more about controlling your external circumstances in order to take a better photo. For example, you can control how much light enters the lens by shooting at different times of day. You can control the shutter speed to a certain extent by waiting until your subject is in focus before snapping the photo. You can understand that certain kinds of action sequences will never capture well with the limitations of a cell phone, no matter how advanced the technology.

Golden Hour

One of the foremost principles in photography is understanding which times of day provide the best photography light. “Golden Hour” is a term that is used to refer to an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset. Daylight is softer at this hour, without the sharp shadows of when the sun is higher in the sky. You can take some truly amazing natural light photographs only by sticking to this magic hour.

Try it with your selfies. Some of the best light in any house or studio is shot through a window. See where the direction of the sun is in comparison to the windows in your house (and I dearly hope you have windows). The window, especially if it has a curtain, often acts as a kind of a softbox for the light outside, softening it still further. Run a light capturing experiment. Take photos from the best-lit part of your house at different times of day. Try golden hour. Try high noon. Take photos of all different angles; pointing away from the window, toward the window, and spin around in a circle. (Just don’t take blurry selfies!) Record what times of day at which each photo was shot at. Even better if your window faces the sun from the south.

If you try this experiment of mine, feel free to share your photos and use the hashtag #spaceshipselfietest. I would love to see your results.


The final principle to talk about is something called “composition.” This word has so many different meanings in art. In music, it is a score of notes that are arranged in such a way as to form a symphony. In photography, composition too is an arrangement of parts.

Composition has different elements. For example: How do you deal with textures, shapes and patterns? We call them “leading lines” — when you capture the symmetry of lines in such a way that the eye naturally follows them in a pleasingly framed way. What’s the subject of the photograph and how do you position it in the frame? Do you have a cluttered background, or a clean background? How does the clutter in the background serve the story of the photograph? Since a photograph is a manufactured story, how we manufacture the elements of the story must make sense.

There’s also depth of field. This is to say, the distance between the nearest and the farthest elements of a scene, that provide context to the setting. Your camera will only be able to focus sharply on one object out of many in the scene, so how do you show distance, texture, depth? That is partly the artist’s choice. Sometimes you will see other elements in the photograph blurry around the focal point to show that depth.

You can draw inspiration from paintings, drawings and illustrations. A lot of people diss on photography because they don’t think it’s artistic. Anyone can do it because it is so accessible. So it is often seen as a “lesser than” art. It doesn’t take much of an eye to take a photograph. Or does it? Your “eye” as they call it in photography is what makes the photograph art.

Thus we come to the principle of the “Rule of Thirds.” This is another one of those “rules” that you must understand well in order to break it well. You can tell a novice because they immediately scoff at this concept and will break this rule poorly. One must master these basics in order to make a more sophisticated rendition of them.

The rule of thirds is a compositional element in which the image is broken up into three parts, both horizontally and vertically. The subject of the image is placed where those “leading lines” connect. This composition is pleasing to the human brain. We want to know where we should focus our attention. Try it. Try placing the subject of your image at the center of the frame, off to the left, off to the right. You can even do this with your selfies. See how differently your perception of the image changes.


So with a little understanding of the limitations of your device, a perception of light, and an idea of how to look in order to compose an image, you too can create better photographs, even with a smart phone. The elegance of this instrument is that you can take 1,000 photographs and delete them all if they suck. But try taking your cell phone photographs with a little more intention behind them, and watch how they will change and improve.

Good luck, and as they say in photography, just go shoot, already!


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Book Review: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

I have not kept up with my goal to blog daily, sadly. The truth is I’m devoting more of my time to writing fiction. I came up with an idea for a contemporary novel that is semi-autobiographical, exploring my manifesto on the arts, and I’ve been spending much of my time ruminating on that. Not truly writing, perhaps, but there you have it. So you’ll see more book reviews on this blog than nonfiction pieces. Another decision I made recently was that I will not be shooting any more portraits in 2020. It’s a hobby for me, and not enough people have hired me yet to make it worth the risk. Things will be different in 2021, though, I hope; I have a few projects in the works with regard to human-centered photography. I will still be shooting other things, though. Yes, with a camera.

Anyhow, without further ado, to my review of “The City of Brass” by S.A. Chakraborty. This is the last of my library books that I have checked out and am borrowing indefinitely for free from my generous local library. Never fear, though, I have three indie books coming up to review. I found this to be an intriguing book, a fitting start to a trilogy, but one that left me with more mystery than I wanted, at times.

This is a tale of magic, djinns, and other worlds just out of reach of the perception of humans. The book is set, at first, in Cairo, Egypt, following the story of Nahri, a scrappy twenty-something street urchin who makes a living as a con artist and a thief. But she also has real healing abilities, which seem like magic, even though she does not believe in such things. Despite being stuck in her ways, which she has used to survive all her life as an orphan on the rough-in-tumble streets of Cairo, she dreams of saving her money to apprentice as a doctor, and of a more respectable living. Above all, what she wants is respect, and to feel as if she belongs, somewhere. She is a child without a family, with no knowledge of her origins.

Then one day, when performing a ritual intended to exorcise a demon from a young girl’s body, but is really just a sham intended to swindle money from the family, she accidentally summons a real-life demon. Her business partner, a Jewish accountant, always told her not to meddle in magic she did not understand, and it seems he was right. It turns out to be a Daeva called Dara, a mystical being that has survived for fourteen hundred years, enslaved to humans and to other beings called ifrits, with a bloody past and a prejudice against shafrit, those of mixed magical heritage.

As the tale unfurls, it turns out that the mysterious Nahri is allegedly the last of her species, a race called the Nahids with powerful healing abilities. The Nahids ruled the world beyond, a place called Daevastana, fourteen hundred years ago. Dara was sworn to protect them, an Afrshrim; now Nahri’s Afshrim. The two race against time and demon enemies to reach Daevastana, where they will be safe from the human world and such demons due to their blood. Or so they think. A lovingly built up romantic subplot entangles the two further.

This is also the story of Ali, a brash, impetuous young prince, the secondborn son of King Ghassan. Ali, nought but a teenager when the story begins, was taken from his mother at a young age and raised with soldiers in a place called the Citadel, trained for war. But it turns out he has a soft spot for lost causes, a penchant which, along with his rash impulsivity, will get him into trouble. His family rules this land with an iron fist, always one step away from rebellion. Ali yearns for reform.

The stories of Ali and Nahri become intertwined, their fates linked, and not in the way you think.

I found this to be a mystical, lush book, full of beautiful descriptions and rich writing. It was a wonderful insight into the mythos of a culture about which I am learning. I’m so used to Western folk tales that it was refreshing to read about magic from the other side of the world.

I did, however, have many questions. I would presume these would be answered in the succeeding trilogy, but the magic system and some inconsistencies in it kept me puzzling. I’m not sure this was in a good way. I felt as if the plot and narrative arc took a back seat to describing the magic system and the culture that accompanied it. While there was plenty of romance, action and character development, I wanted… more. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I guess I’ll have to read the next books in the series to find out. Overall, my feeling about this book was a positive one.

Buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/City-Brass-Novel-Daevabad-Trilogy/dp/0062678108https://www.amazon.com/City-Brass-Novel-Daevabad-Trilogy/dp/0062678108


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Book Review: Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness by David Casarett, MD

I will be the first to admit that it took me some time to get into this book — Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness by David Casarett. Usually by about page 50, I know whether to give up on a book. Even if the first few pages don’t capture my attention immediately, I have a hard time investing in it for the long haul. I am of the opinion that life is too short to waste on books you hate. However, this was not a book I hated, after all. 

Well, gee, that sounds like a ringing endorsement, doesn’t it? Persevere, dear reader, as I have more to say. This is one of those books that builds slowly, perhaps with a touch of clunkiness. But once I got into it, I was thoroughly charmed. 

This is a book about a Thai nurse ethicist named Ladarat Patalung. If that’s not intriguing to you by itself, then, well, you and I won’t get along. She solves ethical problems for her hospital, the only ethicist on staff. She spent a year in Chicago studying for this work, and took a touch of American attitude home with her. She’s a widow who expects to remain a spinster, but she has come to peace with that. She enjoys simple pleasures, like tea by the river. Her cat is named Maewfawbaahn. She relies on a textbook on medical ethics written by a Professor Dalrymple, and this American professor’s witticisms always inform her toughest decisions. See? Charming.

Until one day when a detective comes to see her with an ethical problem. It is not a good day for a detective with an ethical problem; Ladarat is in the midst of preparing for an inspection and trying to please a micromanaging boss. She’s also dealing with the ethical problems of her own job, namely, an American tourist who fell into a coma after an injury on an elephant ride, who was there on a honeymoon; as well as a strange, simple-minded farmer from the country who seems to be living in the stairwell of the waiting room. 

But Ladarat has a natural gift for detection, as she calls it, with a strong work ethic, and a keen eye for observation and the nuances of human behavior. It is also what makes her interested in ethical problems. The detective comes to her with a case that piques her curiosity — men have been showing up to her hospital dead, with the same name, accompanied by the same wife. She agrees to help. It doesn’t hurt that the detective is also attractive. 

This was a colorful book, with excellent character development. I felt like I was Ladarat’s best friend by the end of it, although it took me some time to warm up to her. When I finally did, I found her charming. It’s a fine line between what one considers charming and what one considers annoying, perhaps. 

Also intriguing in this book was the descriptions of Thai culture, personalities, and customs. What I found clunky about it at first was that sometimes it was handled in too much of an expository manner. But my interest in the culture soon took over and I found it a well-researched, convincing book. It turns out that the author is also a doctor who made frequent trips to Thailand, both for business and research. His insight into the medical field was also interesting and full of attention to detail. I admired that he brought out the standard of care exhibited by the Thai health care system and was very respectful toward Thai doctors and nurses, portraying the challenges and showing their humanity and strength of character. 

In short order, this was a fun mystery, a lighthearted read, and a delicious escape into the rich sights, smells and food of Thailand. This book really made me hungry for Thai food by the end of it, besides. If you’re looking for a pleasurable mystery with colorful characters and thoughtful attention to detail, this book is the ticket. 

As a side note, I would like to thank Corvallis Public Library for this book, because I have checked it out past the due date and they have waived fines for it on account of their closure. I will return it as soon as things get back to normal around here, whatever normal can be after all of this. I always find interesting books at my wonderfully stocked local library and I am grateful for them. 

Buy this book: https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Rooster-Happiness-Ethical-Detective/dp/0316270636


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An Eerily Empty Photo Walk in Salem, Oregon

I have no words for today’s blog post; I hope to speak to you instead through pictures. But I will introduce this post first. I live in Corvallis, Oregon, and commute to work in Salem, Oregon. Every week, I indulge my love of street photography. It is a reflective exercise, in a way, as I reach back to my roots and revive my passion for photojournalism and documentary photography. Capturing life as it happens; gritty, real, raw and true.

Every Friday when it’s not raining heavily, I have made it a habit to bring my camera with me to work. I walk around the downtown area to document its comings and goings. Salem’s downtown has a bit more opportunities than the downtown area in Corvallis, which is much smaller. I get bored less often in a new place. Not to say that Corvallis is not photogenic. Far from it.

This Friday, even with everything going on with the COVID-19 pandemic and business most definitely not as usual, I did my usual weekly photo walk. I am clinging in desperation to my routines these days to find order in the chaos. The weather was crisp and fine, approaching a pleasant spring and 60 degrees. I even had time in the morning for golden hour because traffic getting there was so light. It was eerie walking around these empty, ghost-town streets that normally bustled with people from all over the Valley. Out and about were mainly just delivery drivers, a few stalwart state workers like myself, and some teenagers here and there.

(And yes, I have been taking this seriously. I stayed home when I had a cold last week, and I am healthy again. My job is not easily telecommutable and I need to work. I have been socially distancing and washing my hands frequently. When I am home, I don’t go out except when I need food, or for some fresh air in nature, and staying far away from other people.)

Any of these photos are available as a digital or print for purchase; feel free to PM me on Twitter or email me to get copies. You may also donate to my Venmo if you support my artistic and creative efforts. https://venmo.com/denise-ruttan Every little bit helps these days when our budgets are stretched thin.

Without further ado, because I wrote more words than I intended, I present my photo essay. All photos shot by Denise Ruttan, March 20, 2020, Salem, Oregon.

Book Review: Romancing Miss Brontë by Juliet Gael

This next book is rather difficult to review without providing spoilers, but I will try to exercise restraint. The full meaning of title of the book is not immediately apparent until one steps back and takes a full accounting of the story in its entirety.

This is a lovely, sensitive book, a must for Brontë fans. I would describe it as a biopic first and foremost and a romance secondary, although it is most certainly a work of fiction, albeit one that is vested in research. This is the story of Charlotte Brontë and her humble country life in Yorkshire, altered forever by an intellect restrained by the demands of the time and a decision to write — to publish.

The book begins with the less-than-glamorous arrival of a new curate, Arthur Nicholls, and his unceremonious introduction to his new, spartan life helping the stern, hard-to-please father of three young women. As the story unfolds we see that we not only have one protagonist in the form of Charlotte Brontë, but another main character in the form of the steady, yet headstrong figure of Arthur in the remote country parish.

Almost at once the two strong personalities clash. Arthur, described simultaneously as a bigot and charitably as rigid in his views of the traditions of Catholicism and modern society, is dismissed by Charlotte, who does not find in him her intellectual equal, and rather a churlish bore. This is not the love story of her wildest imagination; Arthur is no Mr. Rochester. But regret is not to be the focus of their relationship, either. Spoilers lie in that territory, so I will demur.

This is instead largely a heartfelt, tender tale of Charlotte’s relationship with her sisters and their father, her alcoholic brother and all his wasted potential. Through vivid descriptions of the countryside moors in which the sisters loved to wander, and the apt details of sisterly affection and complexity, these characters are brought to life. Characters that could be seen as one-sided and flat (the ogre of the father, for example) gain complexity and layers as humans with wants, needs and flaws in challenging circumstances trying their best.

I don’t normally seek out romances. (Although I do love myself a good period drama and admit to a deep abiding love of Jane Austen and all Victorian-era glory.) I used to love Harlequin-style romances in my teens, but as I have grown older, I find I have less and less patience for these kinds of books, in which women are not complex characters beyond their role as a love interest for a man; while they may start out as strong personalities, in the end they remain subservient to a domesticated role, and become flat, shallow characters, idealized versions of the wife and the mother. These kinds of romances lose my interest, in the end. I’m just being brutally honest here; I know not all romances are like this, so don’t throw rocks at me.

What I appreciated about this book, on the other hand, was that the romances in it, some often one-sided and full of regret and longing, were subplots to developing the characters of Charlotte and who she was in relationship to her family and the tragedies they endured together. I appreciated that the author did a wonderful job of humanizing this famous, revered, legendary author. Charlotte Brontë was not merely a woman who loved and regretted and loved again. Charlotte Brontë was more than her Mr. Rochester.

Charlotte Brontë was real.

Buy this book: https://www.amazon.com/Romancing-Miss-Bronte-Juliet-Gael/dp/B008SLE2F2

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First publication!

It is my goal this year to write one short story each week and submit them all with the hopes of publication. I fully expected a number of rejections and steeled myself for that possibility.

I simply changed my mindset about rejections. Rejections aren’t a reflection of my character or my self worth. Earning a rejection is, instead, a sign I’m a real writer! It means at the very least I finally finished something.

So I started writing and put aside my novel in progress for a bit. The hardest part has been coming up with enough original ideas to remain so prolific.

I submitted two in December. The publications had a 2-month response time. Then my production slowed because I got stuck trying to make my Ambrosia Brockton story better. It has since turned into a novella or at the very least a lengthy short story. I hope to get to 8,000 words.

So my writing has stalled for the last couple months while I’ve focused on WIPs. It can be hard to keep up the motivation for the submission numbers game.

My first story was rejected, but it was a 2,000 word story and I wasn’t satisfied with the pacing.

My second submission, much to my surprise and delight, was accepted! Only my second ever submission! Talk about a jolt of inspiration java. I feel so jazzed to keep going on my writing journey.

It was published today in Danse Macabre’s Du Jour section.

Here’s the link: The Innocence of Alders.

Also, I am back on Twitter, although I don’t plan to be as active on there as I once was. I find that site far too distracting. My handle is @PassageofSpace.

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