A Wall for Teeth and Stingers Three Month Check-in

It’s hard to believe that my new novel has been on sale for three months already. It feels like a lifetime ago that I was pressing publish on all the things: publish the book, publish the announcements, publish the photos, publish the videos. It’s been a great summer so far, and I can’t thank you all enough for the support.

Here are some highlights I wanted to share with you:

A Wall for Teeth and Stingers Royalty Donation

Last spring, I announced that I would be donating all the royalties earned from the first three months of book sales. Now that it’s August, I’m happy to report that after manufacturing and distribution costs, I’ve earned over $450 in royalties from paperback and Kindle editions, and I have donated that money to The Oregon State Honey Bee Lab and the Xerces Society. Go pollinators!

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews!

My goal by the end of launch week was to have 20 reviews on Amazon. I fell short of that goal by just one review, which aint half bad. Three months later, I’ve got 30 reviews on Amazon, and I have 27 ratings and 17 reviews on Goodreads.

As an indie artist, reviews are one of the most important things for our work. They bring credibility, offer insight, and help new readers find our stories. For everyone who’s reviewed the book, let me buy you a beer sometime. And if you know anyone who’s read it, but hasn’t posted a review, let them know!

The Cover

I really love the cover of this book, and it seems like the internet does too! My book has been featured on a few different sites, including the homepage of Ebook Launch, the company that I partnered with to create the design. It was also nominated for a BookDesigner.com e-Book Cover Design Award!

Ebook Launch Homepage

Publish Drive:
On the importance of hiring a professional.

The Book Designer
e-Book Cover Design Award Nomination: “You can almost hear the buzzing when you look at this cover, it’s a great hook.”

The conversations

I’ve had some amazing conversations with my readers. Listening to people think critically about my work is surreal. All the crazy stuff that’s been in my brain for the past three years is now in yours, and hearing you parse through the details, ask questions, express interest—it’s my absolute favorite thing. Some reoccurring questions:

“WHAT THE HELL IS THE WALL?”

A real jerk. I’ll tell you that much.

“IS THERE A SEQUEL?”

I love this question, and it’s the one I’ve gotten the most. And the answer IS…

no, not at this time.

HOWEVER, if you’re interested in learning more about what was happening in A Wall for Teeth and Stingers, I would encourage you to read my other works. While they might be different stories with different characters, they aren’t necessarily unrelated…

Speaking of which, I’m writing a new novel!

The working title is Little Fires, though it’s likely to change when I go to print. I’m almost finished with the fourth draft, and my goal is to start pitching literary agents by summer 2018.

Thanks everyone! That’s it for now. Be sure to follow me at all the fun places below:

A Wall for Teeth and Stingers Giveaway!

Enter for a chance to win one of three signed copies of my new novel, A Wall for Teeth and Stingers!

When a swarm of bees begins trapping families inside their homes, four men are forced to confront dark secrets of their past. Driven to the brink, each of them begins turning on his loved ones. Unable to help, the world outside must watch and wait.

The news is calling it the lottery of nightmares.

With three families now dead, can retired police negotiator Rupert Loren hold his team together long enough to save the last family before it’s too late?

“A well-written mishmash of King and Crichton.” – Amazon customer review

“Could not put it down. If you like tightly-packed, plot-driven thrillers, you will enjoy this novel.” – Amazon customer review

“Started and finished this book in less than a day.” – Goodreads review

“Attempting to make bees truly horrifying without being too campy was a bold move, and pulled off perfectly.” – Goodreads review

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Wall for Teeth and Stingers by J.B. Kish

A Wall for Teeth and Stingers

by J.B. Kish

Giveaway ends July 02, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

A Wall for Teeth and Stingers is ALIVE!

Here I am, 8:00am, sitting in one of the very coffee shops where I wrote A Wall for Teeth and Stingers, pouring over some of the amazing reviews for my new novel. Is that weird? Probably not. I’m an indie author. This is literally all I have to do with my free time…

Photo: Eva Kosmas Flores

I’m 4 days into launch week, and the support for my new novel has been tremendous. I can’t thank my friends, family, and the strangers who rolled the dice on me enough. You’ve made this week a truly special experience for me.

As most of you know, 100% of the royalties earned for the months of May, June, and July will be donated to groups that support bee conservation. So if you know anyone who likes supernatural thrillers AND helping the environment, this is the deal for them. But don’t take my word for it. Check out some of these great reviews:

“Got sucked in and couldn’t put it down! Really liked the story, fun, fast-moving storyline with interesting, well-developed characters. Very imaginative, put plausible with interesting plot twists along the way.”

“J.B. Kish managed to do something with this book that is near impossible – prove me wrong. I’ll admit I was skeptical when I originally read the description. A wall of bees? I couldn’t fathom how that could work. However, one page in and that was it. The imagery and language were enthralling, the plot-line complex and irresistible, but what really got me was the character development. Every character revealed immense psychological depth that I think few writers could portray with such unapologetic eloquence.”

“As someone who reads a LOT of horror and true crime, it’s not easy to find stories this original and engaging. This book is spooky and refreshingly creative. The plot is interesting and new, with twists that will actually surprise you, and moments that will genuinely make your skin crawl. Themes of innocence, belonging, and connectivity across time and culture resonate with surprising tenderness, against the backdrop of a story-line that will suck you in and creep you out.”

“Truly chilling. I love the use of overlapping timelines and character arcs to underline the present horror. He’s got a great cadence for suspense and paranoid tension.His crafted descriptions and banter serve the rising terror well and offer a deep care for people and place.”

Check it out now for Kindle and Paperback!

Amazon
Goodreads

100% All Proceeds Donated

So I’ve written this supernatural thriller. And—OK—on paper, the antagonist *appears* to be a dangerous, almost cognizant swarm of American honey bees. But that doesn’t reflect my feelings on this amazing insect!

In fact, I’ve spent the past year getting to know some of the inspiring people and companies that drive Portland’s bee scene. I’ve spoken with apiarists, educators, and even attended a couple honey tasting competitions. I’ve been so impressed by everyone’s passion for conservation that it’s motivated me to join the cause in my own small way.

That’s why I’ve decided that for the months of May, June, and July, 100% of my novel’s proceeds will be donated to groups like the Pollinator Partnership, the Xerces Society, and the Portland Fruit Tree Project. So, if you’re a lover of fiction AND you want to support bee conservation, then this is a knockout deal. I’ve poured hundreds of hours into this novel, and this feels like the perfect conversion of my energy.

The book goes on sale May 14th for Kindle and paperback, and the official launch party is June 4th! I’m so excited to get it in your hands. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

A Quick Guide to Hunting View-Masters

Hunting for View-Master merchandise is oddly cathartic. For me at least. Maybe it’s how I unwind and check out, because I’ve spent hundreds of hours wandering through Portland’s antique shops and thrift stores looking for something to add to my collection. Headphones in. Music way, way up. It’s easily one of my favorite pastimes.

Viewers

Over the years, I’ve developed a loose set of rules for both finding and purchasing View-Master reels and viewers.  Unfortunately, this hobby might be pretty specific to Portland, OR, the birthplace of the View-Master. The further out in Oregon you go, the less common your finds will be. Though it’s not impossible. And I still have yet to find anything on the East Coast. That’s not to say View-Master didn’t make it that far. But I’ve found their antique shops value different kinds of collectibles: maritime loot and early Americana.

But, if you’re on the West Coast, and heading out for the day, here’s a couple tips for making the most out of your trip.

  1. Multi-Vendor Thrift Shops Take the Cake

    It’s not that single-vendor shops are a waste of time. It’s just that you can drive all over town only spending five minutes at each location. With multi-vendor shops, you can get lost for hours, and it’s fun to learn the personality types of each seller. If you’re going with a single-vendor, keep an eye out for the HUGE shops. This increases your chances.

  2. The Best Units May Surprise You

    When hunting, you’ll often come across units that live on either end of the spectrum: people who only collect toys, and people who only collect antiques. I’ve found that neither of these units are actually ideal, which may seem strange (especially considering that View-Master is now marketed as a toy). Here’s my logic:

    While toy dealers are great, they often overlook early View-Master reels and viewers because they appeal to such a niche market.  While there are some pretty rare models and variants, View-Master rarely sells on Ebay at jaw-dropping prices. Not like some baseball cards, action figures, or comic books at least. So the units with all the toys are often full of just that: toys.

    On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got our old folks selling their brass and fine china. They don’t seem to care too much for View-Master. I’m guessing that’s because it’s below their pay-grade. I mean, we’re talking about Grandma’s best silver after all! That she carried across the ocean in 1902! So yeah, these people have finer things to worry about.

    Which brings me to this unit:

    Ohhh, man. Isn’t she glorious? Just the perfect amount of junk. This is the kind of unit that you’re looking for: the seller who lives in the center of that spectrum. They deal in some nicer-end items, but they also boast some total crap. And that rack of lunch boxes (center-left) tells you they have some appreciation for pop-culture and collectibles. The more you look, the more you’ll find. And don’t be afraid to dig. It can be easy for reels and viewers to get buried behind books or other large items.

  3.  Know a Model’s Value

    I’ve been collecting View-Masters for a few years now, so I’ve established my own pricing guide based on what I’ve seen in stores and online. I like to evaluate items based on their age, appearance, function, and a couple other categories. But that feels like a blog post for another time. For now, I think the best rule of thumb  is that few items are worth more than $100.

    This Model D is slightly more rare and one of the few exceptions to the $100 rule.

    Don’t assume an item is rare because a vendor says it is. I’ve offered this vendor $20 for the packet. Waiting to hear back…
  4. Know Your History

    Take the time to learn about View-Master’s history and the many models they produced. This will help you make informed purchasing decision. You might also stumble across some of View-Master’s predecessors.

Writing Heat Maps

I have trouble writing from home. I get distracted if I’m too comfortable. So I’ve always gotten my best work done in a public space—somewhere with a lot of white noise. For every city I’ve lived in, there’s been a coffee shop, a library, or a bar where I’d go to focus. Building on my interest in process, I took a look at some of my favorite writing spots across the country and created a series of heat maps to show where I’ve spent the most time. Visually, I think it’s pretty cool to see where my past three novels were born and nurtured. For those of you that celebrate my (incredibly) small catalog of (mostly) unpublished work, The Midnight Club and New London was written in Flagstaff, Austin, and Phoenix. A Wall for Teeth and Stingers (coming late 2016) and my third novel, Little Fires (in progress), were both written right here in Portland, OR.

Process: 30 days of writing [time-lapse video]

As a working writer, I’ve become obsessed with process.

A couple years ago, I saw Dana Haynes speak as a guest author for Willamette Writers. That night he mostly spoke about his Crasher series, in which an ensemble cast investigates plane crashes—not my favorite topic (I’m terrified of flying). When it came time for Q&A, a girl raised her hand, and, on behalf of her friend (also in attendance), asked what Dana thought about ‘process.’ She explained that while she could write every weekend, her friend (the shy one sinking down in her seat) could only manage a few hours every month.

I was interested in hearing Dana’s thoughts on this. I think the girl’s question really spoke to a deeper struggle that every writer must confront at some point: when can you—when are you allowed to—call yourself a writer?

When you publish your first book? When you land an agent? The first time you write a sentence?

A video posted by J.B. Kish (@johnboywrites) on

Dana’s answer was great. He spoke to the embarrassed girl directly, explaining that the art of writing was not unlike baseball. Some people churn out three pages a day. But there’s nothing wrong with holding out for the grand slam. If you can only write for 3 hours a month, then that’s your process, and you shouldn’t consider it any better or worse than [your] friend, who writes every weekend. Recalling it now, the metaphor seems a little muddled, but the point is generally understood.

Since that day, I’ve thought a lot about my own process. When I wrote my first novel, The Midnight Club and New London, I had none. It was the wild west in those pages. I wrote whenever the mood struck me, and I had no procedure or discipline. I attribute my struggle to finish this book to my lack of process.

With my second novel, A Wall for Teeth and Stingers, I finally managed to put a process in place. I wrote three hours a morning every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I was working full-time at a web company, and I remember how frustrated I felt because I wasn’t working quickly enough. I’d been humoring the idea of committing myself to a routine, and finally, one weekend, when I was supposed to leave for a camping trip, I called my friend and told him I had to bail. I needed to be home the next morning to get my three hours in. And I’ve been doing that ever since.

Now I’m working on my third novel, tentatively titled Little Fires. I got a new job and lost my ability to write on Friday mornings, which meant I was down to two days a week. Again, I felt that frustration mounting. I wasn’t working fast enough. I didn’t have enough time. I’d been experimenting with writing before work. But I had to wake up at 5am if I was going to take care of the dog, get ready for my day, and have time to write. I failed time and time again. I was losing sleep. I couldn’t focus at work. And my writing was junk. But I kept at it.

It wasn’t until two months later that something finally clicked into place. I started waking up five minutes before my alarm went off. I’d laid out my clothes the night before. The baristas had my coffee order memorized. I was getting a solid 60 minutes in before I had to catch my bus. And the most shocking part of all: my writing was growing more and more coherent. At times it was even good!

My process has evolved over the past ten years. I’m finally at a place where I can write every day, but it’s been a long, long road. A lot of coffee, and a lot of terribly written sentences. I made the video above as a kind of experiment. Writing is an exercise in isolation. It’s not as flashy or exciting as some other forms of art. And it can be years before you have anything to show for it. But writers, regardless of their process, are some of the hardest working people out there. Anyone who can spend hours reworking a single sentence is OK in my book.

For more updates on my process, check out my daily writing journal or Instagram account.

Untitled Crime Thriller

Untitled Crime ThrillerAfter a grizzly murder tears her life apart, a young girl named Goat must forfeit her childhood in order to take over the family business. Now an adult, Goat’s always anticipated the killer’s return . So every year on the anniversary of her mother’s death, she closes shop early and hunts the man who took everything from her.

Coming Soon.

Foul Hook

Foul Hook“Finding the right person is—arguably—the same as fly fishing the Kenai in July. It’s less about the salmon. Understand? There’s plenty of salmon.”

“It’s all about where you set that hook.”

***

Mary opened and closed her fist. The flesh on the outside of her index finger yawned, splaying open three cuts where fishing line had repeatedly eaten into her knuckle. She examined each wound mindlessly, picking at a few specs of dirt that had become embedded inside the flesh. She squinted and blinked wildly—only half aware of how exhausted she really was. Her eyes were sore, and they burned from all the crying. She was out of tears for now. But that truly was just for now. There were always more tears in this place.

The Central Peninsula Hospital Emergency Room was a sterile, white canvas that had been handed over to a community college art major of an interior decorator. Below was your obligatory checkerboard tile floor. Above were picturesque lake-scape paintings and a small TV that played old episodes of Roseanne. The vending machine—though she couldn’t see one, but was sure existed—was likely filled with junk food and crap microwavable burritos.

Mary—61 years old and peppered grey—was still in her waders when the doctor came out to break the news. They were tan with brown boots and clips that fastened over her shoulders. With these waders, she could walk out up to her tits and fish for salmon until her toes went numb. And she did often.

She remembered thinking that he had a familiar face. But then again, didn’t they all? Soldotna was a small town. His name was Doctor Jimmy…or…Doctor Eddie. Or something of the like. She was fairly certain they’d met on the river once or twice before. This Jimmy or Eddie always wore his backpack in the water. He never set it on the bank. He’d retie his leaders right there in the current because he didn’t want to lose his spot.

Tourists are always trying to steal what isn’t theirs.

When Jimmy or Eddie was speaking, Mary couldn’t quite make out the words. The world was stretching to a sluggish halt around her, and the man’s huge bottom lip was flapping incomprehensibly. His long, pointed face resembled that of a sockeye. And she couldn’t help but think of her leader sliding across his cheeks. She imagined herself whipping back and setting a barbed fishing hook right in ole Jimmy or Eddie’s cheek. A single, graceful maneuver.

A legally set hook.

Anywhere else, and Fish and Game would have your ass and a pretty pink fine too. Not the belly, not the back, and definitely not the tail—that was foul. A salmon had to be hooked right in the mouth for you to keep it.

Before she blacked out completely, she thought she’d heard her husband’s name—Nathan—sputter out from ole Jimmy or Eddie’s throat. She was sure she had. And she was sure it was bad too. Terribly bad. As she crumpled to the floor, all she could make out in the darkness was the phantom of a salmon. A single, beautiful fish breaching the water and trying wildly to shake the foul hook from its back.

Later, when she woke on a stiff hospital bed, Mary felt the unmistakable tickle of a cold coming on.

***

“Nathan, stop screwing around. You’re sick.” Something pricked Mary, and she frowned. The summer rain had brought the mosquitos from the woods. She slapped her neck and wiped the tiny insect onto her blue jeans.

The sky above their cabin that day was overcast and washed out. It threw no shadows, but still it covered the woods with a darkened veil. Everything—the trees, the creek, even her husband—it was all muted.

“It’s July, Mary,” said Nathan. “People don’t get sick in July.” He swung his backpack up onto the truck bed and pushed it back. Then he walked to the shed and returned with his fly rod.

Nathan’s face had always been a charming one. His chin was large and chiseled, like the edge of a cliff, and his hair was golden blonde and gently curled. He was six feet tall and barrel chested. But today his appearance was unfamiliar somehow. He was slouched and slow-moving. His nose was bright red, and that charm in his eyes was missing from his gaze. His eyelids were drooping and he sniffed a lot. Too much for a man about stand in a freezing cold river.

“Nathan—”

“—Six, Mary.” When he spoke, his voice was gravelly and congested. “They just raised the limit to six fish this morning. You know I won’t miss that.” Despite the way he sounded, his words had still come across as intended: curt and final. He turned and slid his pole into the back of the truck.

Mary sighed and crossed her arms. “Then I’ll come with you.”

Nathan stiffened. It was a single, fleeting moment, but Mary was sure she’d seen it happen. His broad shoulders slouched and he turned. “I thought you had book club today?” he asked, his tone noticeably softer.

Mary shrugged. “The book is shit anyways.”

“Won’t the club be upset?”

“Let them,” said Mary. She turned toward the shed and retrieved her pole. “Besides,” she continued, “twelve fish is better than six.”

Nathan didn’t respond. He stared at her incredulously before climbing into the truck and starting the engine.

Their trip down to the river was familiarly quiet. Mary felt like she’d interrupted her husband somehow. She got that feeling a lot lately. He was agitated of late, and typically spoke in grunts or nods. But it was probably just his cold, she told herself, handing him a hanky. She thought, he’ll be right as rain on the other side.

Nathan took the rag and blew his nose, pinching his nostrils and wiggling. He coughed—that deep, chest cough of a man who should be in bed—and rolled his window down, spitting some phlegm into the breeze. Mary smiled shyly, and then she turned to look out her window, her heart skipping a gentle beat.

They were coming up on Redoubt Avenue.

Nathan slowed the truck, stopping just before the tilted sign. The four-way intersection was empty. Straight ahead, the Kenai River awaited, along with a 6 fish limit. But the truck was steadfast and unmoving. Nathan sat with his foot on the break, the engine rumbling, and stared out the windshield. Mary smiled nervously, glancing down Redoubt Avenue. The road stretched half a mile, and there was a large white house at the end. Its enormous French doors smiled back at her. The vaulted roof wiggled like a suggestive eyebrow. There was a greenhouse along the north side next to a well and clothes line. Mary studied the house, and then looked back to her husband, placing a hand on the back of his neck. “Nate?”

Her husband’s upper lip rolled, and he sucked in through his front teeth. He took his foot off the brake and accelerated through the intersection.

***

The funeral home was surely decorated by the same person who’d done the ER. The walls were paneled with dark oak and mahogany. It conjured images of age and refinement. It said to Mary, “Only the best are laid on display here.”

“This is where the head of your family will say his goodbyes.”

Pictures of sunsets and clouds and even a painting or two of Christ lined the halls toward the room where Nathan was lying in a box. She hadn’t walked down to see him yet. She wasn’t ready for all the people and their eyes and the God damned sympathy. She’d had enough of it the past 72 hours. On top of that, her head was splitting. She felt like her brain was ballooning out against her skull. This cold had overtaken her faster than she thought physically possible, and it made thinking all the more difficult. Planning a funeral is devastating enough.

But planning a funeral on three bottles of NyQuil is next to impossible.

“Mrs. Blake, we’re ready for you now.” The funeral director was a short, balding man with a thick beard and soft eyes. He placed a comforting hand on Mary’s shoulder.

Mary feigned a smile and placed her palm on his own. This man was the closest thing she’d had to a best friend since Nathan died. He’d practically planned the entire service for Mary, and still she couldn’t remember his name.

“Try to remember the good times,” the funeral director suggested. “His touch. His smile. Perhaps talk about the first time you met.”

A single cry leapt from Mary’s throat and she cupped her mouth, nodding her head. She started down the hallway, blowing her nose into her handkerchief. She just wanted it to be over with. She wanted to be done with the whole mess. Wanted to be done with this ceremony and this funeral. As she blew her nose—her nostrils aching and raw—she wanted more than anything just to be done with this cold.

She stopped just short of the doorway and took a deep breath. From where she was standing, she could make out the top of the casket and the lectern. Nathan was lying peacefully on display—like a trophy salmon.

Mary’s trophy salmon.

She thought in some ways he was lucky for the heart attack. Some people die terrible gruesome deaths. Some get mangled or eaten. Bear maulings are not all that uncommon in these parts. But at least a heart attack kept you clean. At least it gifted you an open casket and one last chance to say goodbye.

May turned and stepped into the room. The audience of friends and family turned, and all the air was collectively sucked from the room. Mary took a step toward the lectern, nodding politely at a vast number of people that had taken puddle jumpers from Anchorage to attend the funeral. There was Bill, Nathan’s younger brother. His wife and two children. Doctor Brents was there—and old family friend. Shannon O’Riley from the salon. And there was—

Mary tripped over a long orange extension chord, and Doctor Brents leapt up from his chair to catch her. Her heart leapt into her throat, and she struggled to swallow it back down.

She was here.

The woman from Redoubt Avenue. The one from the white house with the French doors. Mary watched her from the corner of her eye, hunched over in Doctor Brents arms. Why? She asked herself. How could she be here?

Mary thanked the good doctor and corrected herself. She flattened her dress and approached the lectern, turning to face the audience. It was a good long while before she found the courage to speak. She thanked everyone for coming but wasn’t exactly sure what to say next.

“Perhaps talk about the first time you met,” the funeral director had suggested.

So Mary took a deep breath and said the first thing that came into her mind. “Finding the right person is—arguably—the same as fly fishing the Kenai in July.”

The audience laughed quietly.

Mary continued. “It’s less about the salmon. Understand? There’s plenty of salmon. It’s all about where you set that hook.”

As Mary spoke, she tried to look around the room. She tried to make eye contact with everyone in the audience. But after a few moments of painful pretending, she simply gave up. Mary was done. She wanted to be free from the weight. Free from 25 years of marriage and fishing. She flashed a short, polite smile. Then she folded her hands over the lectern and turned, looking to the woman from Redoubt Avenue.

“Nathan left another woman for me.”

An unexpected wave of discomfort rolled across the audience. Those in attendance were understandably quiet. Mary wasn’t quite sure what she was trying to say herself. She could feel a chord of snot slipping from her nostril, and she wiped it with the back of her hand. The woman from Redoubt Avenue’s expression was flat. Mary realized that she too had a bright pink nose and flushed cheeks.

“Back in California,” Mary continued. “He was engaged. Not many people know this story actually. His Fiancé’s name was Catherine. She eventually married someone else and lived in Germany for a short while. She was—” Mary took a deep breath. “—killed during a robbery. A gas station or maybe it was a grocery store. I’m afraid I forget which.”

The woman from Redoubt Avenue shifted uncomfortably. She glanced around the room.

“Nathan broke it off with Catherine in a letter. It was one week before she was supposed to return from the Peace Corps.” Mary chuckled, as if unable to believe the words coming from her own mouth. “They were supposed to be getting married, and instead we were running away together. To Alaska.” She paused to blow her nose before looking down at her husband’s face. “It was a particularly cruel thing to do. And I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. A whole lot.”

***

The chain-link fence behind the funeral home rested atop a small ridge that looked down on the Kenai River. Fisherman lined both sides of the water. Every few seconds, someone below shouted out for more room as they walked a salmon down the line. “Fish on!” they called. It was music to one’s ears. The reds were running thick—the limit still holding at six a day.

The woman from Redoubt Avenue leaned against the fence, smoking a cigarette and watching the fishermen. She was a thin, blond creature with pale skin and a mess of freckles. Mary thought her quite beautiful actually, though she wouldn’t have admitted that out loud.

Mary approached her from behind, but her cough gave her away. The woman from Redoubt Avenue turned, and her eyes widened. She bit the cigarette nervously and pulled. Mary paid her little mind and leaned against the fence. She looked down on the fishermen below.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” said the woman. Her eyes were watery. She balled up a few tissues in her palm and stuffed them in her pocket.

“It’s Interesting,” Mary said flatly.

“Excuse me?”

Mary smiled. “Just something Nathan said to me the other day. He said, ‘Mary, people don’t get sick in July.’”

The woman from Redoubt Avenue lifted her eyebrows.

“Anyways,” Mary continued. “Shows you what he knew.” She took out her handkerchief and trumpeted her nose. Then she offered it to the stranger.

The woman from Redoubt Avenue studied her closely. She licked her lips and turned back toward the river. “No, thanks,” she said with a wave of her hand. “I’m on the mend. Another day. Maybe two, and I’ll be fine again.”

Mary nodded and then—much to the woman’s surprise—held her hand out, motioning for the cigarette. The woman from Redoubt Avenue stared at it coldly. For a moment, Mary thought she might be stupid enough to argue with her. “Don’t stop sharing now,” she said bluntly.

The woman from Redoubt Avenue blinked, swallowed nervously, and handed her the cigarette. Mary placed it between her lips and inhaled. She filled her lungs with the smoke. Filled them with harsh tobacco and the taste of this woman’s lipstick and saliva. She took it all.

Below a young boy—maybe twenty or so—shouted “Fish on!” and his pole bent sharply toward the water. But he held his ground. For a second, his line hissed across the water, and Mary thought he’d forgotten to set his drag. But the boy placed his palm on the reel and it came to a halt. The women watched as he slowly began to reel and step back toward the bank.

With a sharp jerk, the line changed direction and headed down river. It was moving fast—too fast. The boy grabbed the reel, and Mary watched skeptically as the sockeye salmon breached the water, flipping marvelously through the air. The boy’s green yarn winked at them from the salmon’s back, and it crashed down into the water.

Mary took another drag. The hook was foul.

The boy’s shrinking posture was sign enough that he’d realized the same. Angrily, he fought the salmon up onto shore. It was a lengthy battle. They always are when you foul them. It’s like trying to ride a bucking bronco instead of walking it by the reins. When he’d finally pulled it up onto shore, the fish thrashed around, and threw river stones like shotgun rock salt. But once suffocation set in, the fish slowed and then all together stopped moving. The boy dropped down, placing a knee on either side of the fish. He pulled a pair of needle nose pliers from his vest and ripped the hook from the fish’s back.

Slipping his finger up into the fish’s gill, he walked it back out into the river and placed it in the water, but the salmon rolled belly up. Carefully, the boy took it with both hands and rolled it back over. Slowly, he pushed and pulled the fish through the water, forcing oxygen back into its gills. He did this five or six times before the fish snapped back to life. With a few quick jerks, it freed itself from his hands and disappeared into the river.

Both women watched. Each taking a drag.

© 2014 J.B. Kish