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I first met Tommie Whitener in Madison Park when he was up from San Francisco visiting family. He told me about a few writing projects that really sparked my interest. But what truly connected us was our conversation about families. Both our kin are from Arkansas, and we both had funny and dreadful stories to tell.

Since that first conversation over a year ago, I’ve been a writing coach for Tommie. Meeting every few months for a ginger ale (Tommie) and a beer (me), we discuss current and future projects and more. We begin by analyzing a manuscript Tommie has shared with me, and then move to pitches for Tommie’s next pieces. We mull these over together, all while chatting about writers and books.

Which is why I’m happy to announce that Tommie has published a collection of short stories titled Wanda and the Watch. This book contains twelve short stories connected by theme and style and also by characters, who interrelate in surprising ways. From love blossoming in the cracks to back-biting lawyers on the courthouse steps. From a magical crow with a bleached-white feather to a man who loses everything to learn where he’s from. The stories themselves are well structured and engaging, and the ways they connect are enlivening.

What’s next for Tommie? During our first meeting, I mentioned the importance of literary community. Being a sharp and eager student, Tommie soon became active in Left Coast Writers and the California Writers Club. He’s the editor for an upcoming a collection of stories, poems, and essays titled Endeavor by the Redwood Writers Club. He’ll also research his family history at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock and the historical society archives at Batesville. The grit and charm of the Ozarks will take sharp focus then in a historical novel about his grandparents. I can’t wait to read it myself.