Career Goals

Okay.  A quick story.

My daughter, Eliza, announced, at age 8, that she was going to grow up to be a television “show runner." (I didn't know what a show runner was until I was 30, but she has had a different life experience than I did.) 

Hitherto “show runner," Eliza's professional goal had been to open a restaurant called "The Unicorn Cafe." Just for context.

She is now a freshman in high school. (Whatever that means, during quarantine.) Last semester she had a required class - on life skills.  When my mother took it, it was called "home ec." When I took it, it was all about how to balance a checkbook. These days, it's about how to manage social media and get into college. 

Eliza had an assignment. She was supposed to write about her career goals.  The assignment specifically asked students to outline two professional aspirations. Then present them to the class.

Eliza could only come up with the one.

Show runner.

We live in Portland, Oregon. So show runner is not at the front of everybody's minds.  The teacher reminded Eliza of the assignment. Eliza is an A-student; she always does the assignment. So this was a conundrum for her.  Because it seemed entirely unnecessary.  Eliza explained that she didn't need to come up with a second option, because she knew what she wanted to do, for a fact.  

Her teacher, patient as a Buddha, suggested that Eliza might come up with a Plan B, you know, just in case the whole television show runner thing didn't work out, ultimately.

Eliza gave it some thought.  

A Plan B?

A fallback. If all else failed. 

Basically her version of digging ditches?

I guess I could be a "television executive," she said.   


You Reading This, Be Ready

By William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this 
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

Survival poem #17 by Marty McConnell


because this is what you do. get up.

blame the liquor for the heaviness. call in late

to work. go to the couch because the bed

is too empty. watch people scream about love

on Jerry Springer. count the ways

it could be worse. it could be last week

when the missing got so big

you wrote him a letter

and sent it. it could be yesterday, no work

to go to, whole day looming.

it could be last month

or the month before, when you still

thought maybe. still carried plans

around with you like talismans.

you could have kissed him last night.

could have gone home with him, given in,

cried after, softly, face to the wall, his heavy arm

around you, hand on your stomach, rubbing.

shower. remember your body. water

hotter than you can stand. sit

on the shower floor. the word

devastated ringing the tub. buildings

collapsed into themselves. ribs

caving toward the spine. recite

the strongest poem you know. a spell

against the lonely that gets you

in crowds and on three hours’ sleep.

wonder where the gods are now.

get up. because death is not

an alternative. because this is what you do.

air like soup, move. door, hallway, room.

pants, socks, shoes. sweater. coat. cold.

wish you were a bird. remember you

are not you, now. you are you

a year from now. how does that

woman walk? she is not sick or sad.

doesn’t even remember today.

has been to Europe. what song

is she humming? now. right now.

that’s it.


Marty McConell’s website:

ECCC Cancelled

HEADS UP: Emerald City Comic Con has been cancelled. Like, several days ago, actually. I’m just only now getting around to updating my website. And honestly I don’t remember how to edit my events, so updating in the blog area instead.  #OkayBoomer.  Anyway, if, for some reason, you bought tickets to ECCC and are ONLY NOW hearing about this development - well you should really check your SPAM filter, because you should have gotten an email from ECCC.  Also, you can get a refund!  Google that.  The convention is rescheduling (fingers crossed) for this summer.  We’ll be there, if we can.

Oh! And also! Please - PRETTY PLEASE - pre-order a copy of SPY ISLAND from your local comic book store. (First issue comes out April 1, which sounds like a joke, but isn't.)  Guessing our big SPY ISLAND ECCC launch might be complicated by the lack of an actual ECCC. 

I will look into that whole “editing content” thing. 


POSTPONED - How to Murder Someone for Money if You're a Teen

This workshop has been postponed. We will get it back on the calendar as soon as possible. Check back here or on the Corporeal Writing website ( 

This is cool. I'm teaching a thriller writing workshop at Corporeal Writing in Portland, OR, March 21 and 22nd. It's called How to Murder Someone For Money and it costs $400 a person -- you can learn more if you click on events. But, get this, because the folks at Corporeal are amazing and have funded a scholarship endowment, we're able to offer TWO FULL SCHOLARSHIPS. (Much love to you, Lidia Yuknavitch.)  I've decided to offer these scholarships to high school age writers.  Because I think it's really important, as a young writer, to be taken seriously.  Please pass along to any high school writers you know in the area.  
If you want to know more about the workshop, click here:
Anyone interested in a scholarship can send an email to:

Write "Chelsea Cain Scholarship" (or something similar) in the subject line.

Please answer the following questions.

Hi!  What's your name?
How old are you?
Is this email address the best way to reach you, or is there a better way? 
I'd love to see a sample of your writing.  You can attach it to this email.  It can be anything - a school assignment, a journal entry, a poem, a song, a short story, a really epic DM -- it can be fiction, non-fiction, fan-fiction, existential rants, lists - I just want to see something you wrote that you're proud of - or, if I'm being fancy, of which you are proud.  If you can't decide, send me two things! If it's not typed, take a picture of it and send me that.  Promise me that you won't overthink this.
If you want, in the body of this email, you can tell me something else. Just a few sentences - something you think is important to share about yourself.  
You have already impressed me by the very fact that you are here, that you're applying, that you're interested in talking about big writing ideas. Seriously, you're obviously pretty great.
It's nice to meet you.
We will be in touch by March 11.  
Thank you!
~ Chelsea. 



New project: SPY ISLAND


My new comic book, SPY ISLAND, launches April 1.  That sounds like an April Fool's Day joke, but it's not.  It's going to be four issues.  Published by Dark Horse.  Same creative team as MAN-EATERS.  Produced with my co-creator/co-conspirator, Lia Miternique, + Elise McCall, Rachelle Rosenberg, Joe Caramagna, plus a teen special guest or two.   



Nora Freud (no relation) is stationed on an island in the Bermuda Triangle because obviously it's in the interest of humanity to keep an eye on that shit.   

If she can stay one step ahead of the island’s other spies, super villains, dimensional portals, tourists, and killer mermaids, she might just make it back to the mainland. 


You can pre-order a copy at your local comic book store. If you are not sure if you have a local comic book store, Google “[INSERT THE NAME OF YOUR TOWN] local comic book store.”  Comic book store retailers have to pay for the comic books they order, whether people buy them or not.  So they love pre-orders.  It helps them out a lot.  And it helps us out a lot, too.  


We can’t wait to share this project with you. Seriously. 

P.S. We'll be at Emerald City Comic Con this year (March, 2020).  We'll have advance issues of SPY ISLAND #1 (available nearly a month early!) as well as issues of MAN-EATERS #13 (pub date: March 4).  So THAT'S neat. 


If you're in the Seattle area, come say hi.  

Faint of Heart, Chapter Three



The back deck looked out over Pirate Cove and, beyond that, the Pacific Ocean.  When visibility was good, Archie could see whale spouts.  When visibility wasn’t good, he still saw them, or at least he could convince himself that he did.   Each whale expelled water in a unique pattern, almost like a fingerprint.  Gray whales had two blowholes, so they produced a heart-shaped spout.  

The house was on a cliffside, over water that churned over lava beds day and night.  Archie liked that sound.  From the back of the house it was enough to drown out the whale watching traffic on Hwy 101.   The visibility wasn’t good today.  A low mist hung over the ocean, and settled into the crevices of trees.  The air prickled his skin with a pleasant chill.  Archie could taste the ocean salt, the brine.  In the summer the whole town smelled like sunbaked seaweed and saltwater taffy.  A cargo ship, as small as a penny, crawled across the horizon, and then he lost sight of it as it disappeared into the mist.  Gulls fought for space on the rocks.  Sea lions barked.  

Henry was watching him.  Archie could always feel when Henry was watching him - it was like a sixth sense.  Even when he’d been in a hospital bed, in a coma, he’d known, somehow, that Henry was there. 

“You made good time,” Archie said.

Henry’s hulking figure appeared at Archie’s side. He sank into the wooden deck chair next to Archie’s, exhaling as he sat. He scratched the bristles on the back of his head. The chair creaked. Henry sat forward. He squinted out at the view and then glanced up at the sky. “You know it’s raining, right?”

“It’s misting,” Archie said.  “That’s what we call it when it happens in coastal towns.  Misting.”

It was May in the Pacific Northwest, and it was 48 degrees.  Earlier in the day it had been in the low-fifties, and that had seemed nice.

Henry’s glasses had fogged up.  He took them off and cleaned them with his shirt.  “So you’re just sitting here, in the rain?”


He put the glasses back on.  “How long have you been doing that?”

“A little while.”

“To what end?”

“I’m whale watching.”

“Jesus Christ,” Henry said.

Archie pointed at a white spout in the distance.  “There’s one,” he said. 

Henry sighed.  “That’s not a whale,” he said.  His eyebrows were the same thick salt and pepper hair as his mustache.  His glasses had already fogged up again.  He peered over them at Archie.  “That’s spray from a wave.” 

Archie didn’t really care one way or another.  That was the nice thing about whale watching.  The stakes were low.  “I guess we’ll never know,” he said. 

They watched the ocean for a few minutes.  The waves crashed.  The ocean churned.  The gulls squawked.  The container ship appeared again and then disappeared again.  Henry got impatient and stood up.  He leaned forward when he did it, like it took a lot of effort, and made the same sound he’d made when he sat down.  He was wearing a light waterproof jacket and it was unzipped and Archie caught sight of the gun under his arm.  Henry carried his service weapon in a leather shoulder harness.  He said it was easier on his back, but Archie suspected he wore it because it made him look cool, like a TV detective.   Archie had always preferred a belt holster.  He still had the holster, somewhere.  But not the gun.  

Henry patted Archie’s shoulder.  The early evening light made the beaded rain on his jacket look like sequins. “Come on,” Henry said, heading toward the house. “I’ll meet you inside.”


Archie lived in a 487 square feet two bedroom house that had been a motel bungalow at some point, one of those places that people stayed in the Era of the Automobile when they needed to get from the Sea Lion Caves to Cannon Beach and needed to spend the night in between.  The bedrooms were tiny, the kitchen smaller, the electric stove set off the smoke alarm every time it was used, one of the two bathrooms didn’t have heat, and the house was on the shoulder of the highway. But the house had a wood stove, and good view from the kitchen table and the dining room and the cold bathroom, and if you could dodge across the highway it was walking distance from a bank and a liquor store and a dive bar with karaoke.  And then there was the deck. The deck wasn’t actually attached to the house.  It was twenty steps away from the back door, down a grassy mud-slick slope. Archie shared it with the other tiny house that had at some point been part of the motel.  But no one ever stayed there.  At least no one that Archie had ever seen.  

Technically the house wasn’t Archie’s. It was an AirBNB.  But he rented it most of the year, and when he didn’t, the owners rented it to other people, which suited Archie just fine.  

Henry wiped the mud off his cowboy boots on the back stoop and let himself inside.  Archie was wearing slippers.  He went days sometimes without putting on real shoes. The slippers were suede, lined with shearing, darkened by the rain.  So Archie stepped out of them and left them inside the back door.  

The back door opened into what Archie called the dining room, but in truth was just part of the living room, with a dinette table and red vinyl chairs.  The living room part of the living room had a tan sofa and a pressboard end table.  There wasn’t room for a coffee table, or anything else.  Archie could walk from the back door to the front door of the house in eight steps. 

Henry was in the living room.  “You still don’t have any stuff,” he said.

The house was full of stuff.  Vacation house kind of stuff, stuff staged by the owners, or left by renters over the years.  Framed posters of breaching whales, old board games.  A Japanese glass fishing buoy the size of a human head tressed up in netted rope hung in the corner of the kitchen, next to the refrigerator.  But Archie knew what Henry meant.  Personal effects.  You could tell a lot about a person from their personal effects.  You could build a profile.  Archie didn’t have stuff.  Not anymore. 

“The kids have stuff,” Archie said.  “In their room.”  They came to visit every other weekend when he was in town.  But they were getting older, and had activities, and friends, and Archie wanted them to have lives, so sometimes - during soccer season or when school projects were due or when he knew a birthday sleepover was coming - he said he was traveling, even when he wasn’t.  It was easier for them that way.   

Henry hadn’t taken off his jacket.  Archie wasn’t wearing a jacket.  He didn’t mind getting a little wet, and it had been nicer when he’d first sat down.  Now his clothes were damp against his skin.  Even his socks felt spongy.  He had been sitting in the backyard for a long time.   He crossed to the wood stove, opened it, and put another log on the fire.  The house didn’t have forced air.  It had the wood stove and a few electric heaters affixed to the baseboards that Archie didn’t like to use because they made the house smell wrong.

“What do you do all day?” Henry asked, looking around the room.  “Besides whale watch.”

“I read,” Archie said.  “I do puzzles.”  

Flames crackled around the dry wood, emitting a satisfying orange heat as Archie stoked the fire.

Archie had a 5000 piece ocean puzzle half completed on the dinette table right now.  It was a photograph of ocean.  That’s it.  Just water.  There was supposed to be a single seagull flying above the horizon line, but that piece was missing.  So technically it was a 4999 piece puzzle.  That was fine with Archie.  He’d already put the entire puzzle together without it a couple of times. 

Henry was still standing.  He seemed uncertain.  

“Do you want a drink?” Archie asked.  It was 6PM.  Henry didn’t drink anymore.  But it seemed like something people said in situations like these.

Henry reached for a book from a shelf built into the wall. “Read anything good lately?” he asked.  Which was another thing that people said in situations like these.  Henry turned the book over in his hands.  The book was called “Pirates Can Be Polite.” It was a kids’ picture book.  Henry raised a skeptical eyebrow.  “About…pirates?”    Or…” He took another book off the shelf.  “…The best hiking trails along the Oregon coast for families?”  

“Some good hikes in that book,” Archie said.

“You don’t hike,” Henry said.

“I like to read about hikes.”  Archie got a beer out of the fridge. The closest grocery store was twenty minutes away, but there was a liquor store fifty steps south of his house.  The Coast was interesting like that. 

The fire crackled and hissed.  Archie took a pull on the beer.  The fridge didn’t keep anything very cold. 

The books on the shelf had come with the house.  Hiking Trails for Creaky Knees.  Hiking for Beer Lovers.  Night Hiking.  Oregon Hiking.   Zen Hiking.  Hiking with dogs.  The living room shelves were stacked with books like that, vacation books, nautical books, bird watching books, books about local history.

Henry waited.

“Look in the box,” Archie said.   The file box was under the dinette table.  

Henry bent down and peered under the table and then moved the chair and slid the box out and then lifted it with a grunt up onto the seat of the chair.   

Archie had written a warning in big letters with a black sharpie.  “Dad’s Box.”  Sara and Ben knew never to open it.  They had grown up knowing their father had secret places, places they weren’t allowed.

Henry lifted the lid off the box, as Archie stood in the kitchen doorway, watching.  Henry read the titles out loud.  “Psychopathy and the Psychosexual Predator,” “Stages of Sexual Deviancy.  Sexual Sadism.  Psychosocial and Psychosexual Development, a comparative analysis.”  He looked up at Archie.  “So you do have stuff.”

“I have library books.”  There was a library in Lincoln City, which was just a half hour up the coast.  He could check out books online from the central library in Portland and they would ship the books to his local branch.  “I’m working on a paper.” 

“A paper.”

“There’s a conference in Brussels,” Archie said. “They’re flying me out. To present the paper.”

Henry put the lid back on the box.

The conference was on Psychopathy and Sexual Deviance. Archie was a featured presenter.  He could always pack a room.  The great Detective Archie Sheridan.  The man who’d caught the Beauty Killer, Gretchen Lowell.  Never mind that she’d escaped every time he’d locked her up, that she’d kidnapped and tortured him. Gretchen was beautiful.  And beauty was power.  And he was the guy who’d sacrificed everything to chase her.  That was the story.  That was his role.  Archie had come to understand this, years ago. There was no escape from the part he had been cast in. 

“It has nice parks.”


“Brussels,” Henry said. “It has nice parks.”  The orange light from the fire cast shadows on his face.  There was something different about him, something that Archie couldn’t quite put his finger on.  He was still a big man, bigger than Archie by every measure, but there was something less solid about him, as if his center of gravity had shifted.

“Why are you here?” Archie asked. 

Henry had called from the road with some concocted story about having had a fight with Claire, needing to come to the coast to clear his head.  Archie knew it was a lie.  He figured it was pretense to come check in on him. 

Now he wasn’t so sure. 

The fire crackled.  Henry walked over and took the beer from Archie’s hand and took a long drink.  

Archie didn’t say anything.  He just watched.  The house suddenly felt very small.  The rain had picked up, enough that Archie could hear it beating against the windows, like oil popping in a skillet.

Henry handed the bottle back to Archie.  It felt considerably lighter. 

“I need your help,” Henry said. 

The words hung in the air between them.  

Outside, there were whales.  Humpbacks and Blues and Grays. A Gray Whale pod lived in Depoe Bay year-round, feeding a half mile off shore.  Archie had learned to recognize them by name.  

Archie set the beer down on the kitchen table next to the half-assembled puzzle and headed toward his bedroom.

“Where are you going?” Henry asked.

“To put on my shoes,” Archie said.

FAINT OF HEART, Archie/Gretchen book #7 sneak peek

So behind on this sucker, but not for lack of trying! Wanted to share the opening. I love these characters so much.  I'm sure this time nothing bad will happen to them. 



They are happy, and everything is fine.  

The house is on the west side, down one of the many winding sidewalk-less streets that knot through Portland’s west hills.  They have a yard. They have raised garden beds and a back deck and a covered woodpile.  They have a plum tree. They are ten minutes from downtown, but they still have deer in the yard most mornings, and once, a coyote.  They have lived in the house for ten months, but they have not finished unpacking.  

There are boxes in the storage room that Archie plans to never unpack.

He avoids the storage room altogether.

Susan’s mouth tastes like chardonnay and peanut butter.  “You’ve been snacking,” Archie says after he kisses her.

“You cook too slow,” Susan says.

He is making a meal from a subscription box.  The instructions always say it should take less than 30 minutes.  But it always takes him longer.  He takes his time.  He is wearing slippers..  His gun is in a safe in the hall closet. 

He touches Susan’s freckled face.  Her hair is a natural color for the first time since he’s known her - a mix of brown and light brown, though she has fancier words for it.  She wears it parted to the side so that a sheet of it falls over her ear, covering the scar  where her ear had to be surgically reattached, after a psychopath had severed it.    Archie threads the curtain of hair behind her ear, revealing the delicate surgical scar, a faint pink feather of flesh.  

Archie’s scars are much worse.

“You’re beautiful,” he tells her.

She blushes. The doorbell rings.  

They both turn and look at the door. They aren’t expecting anyone. Susan has painted the door aqua, like the bathroom door at a Mexican cantina.  Archie doesn’t know why.  There are things he’ll never understand about Susan; and things Susan will never understand about him.  They accept each other. 

Archie wipes his hands on a dish towel and walks to the security system monitor mounted just inside the door. The screen shows a hulking man with shaved head, a mustache, and a gun.

“It’s Henry,” Archie calls to Susan.

He unlocks the four deadbolts.  Each one has a different sound.  Click.  Clack.  Thunk.  Smack.  He’s aware of the fact that Susan has stopped moving.  She is still standing in the kitchen, watching him.  

Archie tries to come up with an explanations for this unexpected visit--Maybe he has invited Henry to dinner and then forgotten?  Maybe Henry has forgotten something at the house and decided to swing by and pick it up?  ---But a darker explanation is already forming in his mind.

Archie opens the door.

Henry’s eyes are bloodshot, his face grim.  “Are the kids here?” he asks..

This is not a good sign. 

“They’re at Debbie’s,” Archie says. 

Henry nods and scratches his chin. Then he wipes his cowboy boots on the mat and comes inside.  

Archie hears Susan pour herself another glass of wine.  It is a big glass, by the sound of it. Susan is the kind of wine drinker who drinks from Mason jars, a half-bottle of chardonnay at a time. 

“We need to talk,” Henry tells Archie.  No smile.  No eye contact.  

A sense of dread prickles at Archie’s stomach.  “I have a phone,” Archie says.  “For talking.”

“We all need to talk, in person,” Henry said.  He lifted his chin at Susan.  “Susan,” he called. 

Archie can feel her getting closer.  The smell of her chardonnay.  He’s  left mushrooms simmering in olive oil in a skillet.  Sizzle.  Pop.  Susan takes his hand in hers and seals herself to his side.  

Henry still isn’t making eye contact.  His black cowboy boots look freshly shined.  They barely make a sound as he paces.

Archie and Susan have a new couch.  Susan bought it from a website.  It’s emerald green, long enough to nap on.  Now they sit on it,  side by side.  Ginger noses out from under the coffee table and hops up onto the couch and lays her head across Archie’s knee.   Henry paces. 

The back doors are open, and Archie can hear song birds.  A couple of house finches have built a nest in the corner of the downspout.  Archie knows it’s not good for the house, but he doesn’t  have the heart to take it down.

He likes to listen to them sometimes, singing to each other.  

The male finch is red breasted.  The female is plain and gray.  

Henry exhales slowly and threads his hands behind his head. “I need to tell you something. And I’m not sure how you’re going to take it.”

“My… family?” Archie asks.

Henry shakes his head quickly.  “No, no.  Debbie and the kids are fine.” 

What then?

Archie tries to focus on the birds, on the sound they make, on the light coming through the window, on the weight of Ginger’s head on his leg, on the feel of Susan’s hand in his, the sweat of her palm.  

The mushrooms are burning.  They can all smell the smoke.  No one moves.

Susan‘s grip on Archie’s hand is a hard squeeze.  “What is it?” she asks Henry.  Archie is impressed by her voice, her ability to make herself sound unafraid.  “What’s happened?”  

That’s when Archie knows.  He can see it on Henry’s face.  Right there. It’s in his tense eyebrows and the twitch of mouth.   The tug of conflicting emotions.  So much concern,  apprehension, and underneath it, something else - a glint of joy in his eyes.   

It’s the joy.  That’s what gives it away. 

Archie lets go of Susan’s hand. 

“She’s dead,” Archie says.  “Isn’t she?”

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