LeVar Burton’s Podcast and Writing Contest

Photo of a recording studio with a microphone.
by Jonathan Velasquez/Unsplash

If you enjoy listening to stories, I highly/strongly/very muchly recommend LeVar Burton Reads podcast.

First: who is this guy? LeVar Burton is an actor: he was Kunta Kinte in the Roots miniseries and Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation (among many other roles). He hosted Reading Rainbow for more than two decades. Also, he has directed episodes of TV series and movies.

In his podcast, Burton reads short stories. As he says in each episode, “the only thing these stories have in common is that I love them.” Typically, the stories have science fiction or fantasy elements. Burton makes for a really entertaining narrator with a smooth voice. To me, his enthusiasm for the stories comes through in his readings. His warmth and thoughtfulness also come through as he introduces the stories, then talks about how each affected him after the story.

It’s difficult to pick a few examples of the stories I’ve heard on the podcast, but here’s a short list: 

The podcast’s website. You can listen to the stories on SpotifyAppleStitcher.

Now on to his writing contest…

Photo of a woman typing on a laptop computer
by Christin Hume/Unsplash

Here’s the chance for a writer’s short story to be read on season 10 of LeVar Burton Reads! How awesome that would be for him to read an indie writer’s story — or writer published by a small press. The contest’s website is here.

According to the website, “Works must include speculative or fantastical elements.” So stories would fit into speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, or horror. 

The contest’s theme is Origins and Encounters. That centers on the intersection of different civilizations and the results of that intersection: The website says:

“We are interested in stories that examine the magical joys and tragic pitfalls of blended civilizations and cultural exchanges in all their forms. As our worlds change, what precious things do we carry with us and allow to be altered or demand they remain untouched? What is taken from us and what will we do to get it back? What do we allow ourselves to remember of our histories, our roots, and what do we allow ourselves to forget? What do we leave behind and what do we choose to carry into the future?”

Only the first-place winner’s story will be read on the podcast. But there’s more! Their story will be published on Tor.com, and the winner will get $500. The second- and third-place winners will also be published on Tor.com, as well as receive money: $250 (2nd place) and $100 (3rd place).

The contest starts today (August 1) and ends on August 31. Stories need to be between 2,800 and 5,200 words. For the rules and details, click here.

Book Review: Light Bites

Front cover of Light Bites book

Light Bites by Helen Laycock.

The title is fitting for this book, as its short stories are on the light side, serving a delightful selection such as you might get with hors d’oeuvres served at a party.

Twelve stories are included here, ranging from singles looking for love, to a woman jealous of a neighbor, to a fairy who doesn’t feel comfortable in her skin, to a ghost attending her body’s funeral.

Humor runs through the stories, offering zings to the palate here and there. A prank doesn’t work as planned. A woman’s mission to get to the train station to pick up her husband doesn’t go smoothly. A couple on a vacation are surprised when they reach a cozy cabin. And when things don’t proceed as planned, you can laugh and make do with the happy accidents.

Of course, not all events are accidental or happy. Such as when you learn why many homeowners on a street are putting their houses up for sale. And when a women is quite underwhelmed by a man on their first date — and her reaction deepens when the man emails her what has to be the most awkward poem ever sent to someone after a first date. Or any date. The poem includes references to a scab and body hair. Yeah. You read that correctly. But at least the poem has rhyming lines.

That poem and date occur in the last story of the book, “Shaken, and Stirred,” my favorite story of this collection and the most funny to me.

If you desire lighter fare after yet another horrific event in the news or dark fiction, give this book a shot. The delightful assortment of stories just might have you smiling and chuckling.

Book Reviews: Unique and Absurd Books 1 and 2

cover for So Absurd It Must Be True, book 1

So Absurd It Must Be True: funny tales for dirty minds by Victoria Ray

Reading the first story of this collection was a jolt for me, as it was different than a typical narrative of one event logically leading to another. However, I let go of my expectations and went with the flow of the story — and the rest of the book. These stories take you in unexpected directions. “Absurd” is in the title, and the book delivers.

I felt the stories have a similar energy to sketch comedy, like Monty Python, Benny Hill, and Keystone Kops. A lot of oddness, humor, and randy behavior. There’s sex in these stories — but not the kind of long, flowery paragraphs describing romance between characters. This sex is part of the rush from one zany scene to the next. Colorful innuendos are used.

Names of the characters match the quirkiness of the action: Mr. TightPants, Mrs. GrabMyHips, Ms. JawDropping. The stories are short, with some scenes that are quite short and cause the action to hop along. Also, the format of the stories shifts around, as some stories are set up like a play, with all dialogue.

This book is so outside the norm, I give the author props for coming up with such creativity. It takes courage to go in a different direction than most others. If you want to venture into unpredictable stories, sexy shenanigans, and life lessons woven into fiction — this book delivers.

cover for So Absurd It Must Be True, book 2

So Absurd It Must Be True: The collection of surreal humor, mystery, and satire by Victoria Ray

Some of the stories in this book are longer than the quick sketches-type stories of Victoria Ray’s first book of absurd stories. I like the added depth of these stories, for more story to sink your teeth into, compared to the short, quick stories. The author’s creativity remains intact from the variety of story formats, as well as the different kinds of plots: a spy tries to recall his memories, Santa Claus travels to another dimension, owners of a restaurant come up with a wild way to improve business.

As with the first book, the characters still have fun names: Mrs. CatchAGlimpse and Mr. CruelMemories. The characters don’t have as much sex as in the first book. There’s still sex dropped here and there (mostly of the oral variety), but the characters stretch out in actions beyond skin on skin.

Also as with the first book, I’m impressed with the author’s creativity and courage to play in various directions. These stories are far from the usual, and that’s a compliment. They have their own zany jumps from one scene to the next. Absurd, fun, funny, and unpredictable.


Check out Victoria Ray’s blog for updates on her writing, as well as some stories.