Behind Each Face


Behind Each Face is a compilation of 25 flash fiction stories dedicated to girls and women, and to those who wish to see them overcome, flourish and thrive. It is available in both eBook and print formats on the following outlets:

Additional eBook outlets:

Barnes &Noble

Thanks for your enthusiastic responses. I’d be pleased if you would share your thoughts with me.

–  Julia

Which Crack?

One in a series of poems about life in, relegated to
and ending up between the cracks.

there is a world
populated by the
smiling, laughing
strutting, lounging
which is less
obscene and sinister
than it is
oblivious and self-absorbed
secluded in exclusive quarters

it would seem there is
no existence beyond
the glitter, the allure
heads held high
lips wrapped in petulant sneers
demanding favor –
the exceptionalism assuming caste
always ready to take
giving no thought to those
from whom they’ve borrowed

the living, breathing
tenacious oppressed
are found in places damned by
debilitating detriment
discarded without deliberation
neglected, negated
throughout decades of
deadening decisions
designed to keep order
in well-nigh invisible cracks

but, there is warmth
laughter and beauty
there are dreams and hopes
fanned into flame through
lyric and rhythm
petition and rhyme
reflecting the soul
of people whose
spirits soar, rumbling
with rugged, redemptive resolve

who defines a crack and
what makes it so?
is a luxurious crevice more enviable
than one of harsh scarcity?
who imprisons the fettered, and
whose predicament is superior –
that of the calloused creating the stratum
or those confined within them?
where does one find comfort
and is this solace or ease?

the human spirit
– mercifully bestowed upon
each sojourner –
will blossom or wither based
not on position, possession or prestige
not on which crack confines or
defines it, but on
its ability to lay down all devious
vertical categorizations
in favor of human embrace

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo Credit: Mother Nature’s Ikebana via Pinterest

In The Cracks

One in a series of poems about life in, relegated to
and ending up between the cracks.

she came
quietly – hidden
no highly anticipated
a mere beginning
of a life concealed
subdued, invisible –
loved on in the cracks

embraced by
strong arms of
a community
which always
lies low
avoids suspicion
keeps little ones close
fearing scrutiny by
the coward, the faceless who flings
crude disrespect at those in the cracks

lithe wisp in blue,
with lightning speed
outdistances, outshines
outperforms them all
yet recognition is denied
with patronizing platitudes –
unattainable for the
neglected and undesirable
relegated to the cracks

noble tenacity, nurturing
without prejudice –
connected in the cracks
where water collects and
organisms grow, ever widening
making room for more
glimpses of expansion, if no-one
treads them down
sprays them down
mows them down

there she lies – wilted,
motionless – in the heart
of what should have been
protected space
arms empty all around
wailing to heaven for
a promising baby girl
now out of reach
still outdistancing them all
soaring beyond the cracks


“there will be miracles”
they say
many cling to hope
some mock, others grow
dark with the bitterness
of it all
in the private place
where blood runs freely
they weep, as no one without
notices those within the cracks.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo Credit: Stacey L. Rhoades
Taken at Magnolia Farms, Waco, Texas

A Longing for Humanity

May I join the dance
of sacredness
the re-creative undulance of
planting, cultivation
patience, harvest,
of weeping, laughing
losing, gaining
grieving, rejoicing
stationary confinement, soaring flight?

May I join the circle of life
new life, seasoned maturity
tender breeze, harsh gale
drought, abundance,
transparency, reservation
alternating quiet with abandon
longing, contentment?

May I join the present space
recognizing this day within
the repetitive sweep of history
clinging not to importance
nor dreading insignificance
beyond detachment or absorption
in holy reverence?

 © Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo Credit: unknown

Not Your Size 6 Hiker

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine, photographer Stacey L. Rhoades, reached out to me with a unique request. She is currently on a 50-state trip throughout the United States to celebrate her 50th year of life.

She is first and foremost a photographer, but she is also a storyteller, albeit one who doesn’t enjoy writing. She asked me whether I would write the stories she shares throughout the trip. Because I love Stacey’s photography, believe in her mission and love to write, I agreed.

Here is one of her recent blog posts:


When I was in Hawaii, I had a number of fantastic hiking days. On one of the days, I found two longer hikes to take – one was six miles; the other just over four. Then, after hiking a total of 10.2 miles, I snorkeled in the ocean for over an hour. It was absolutely amazing!

While I was trekking, I had all kinds of ideas and thoughts. One had to do with the stereotypic, active, outdoorsy woman: she is quite young, size 6 or smaller, hiking, camping and having all kinds of cool adventures.

As I hiked, it struck me: beautiful women come in ALL sizes! I am definitely NOT your average size 6 hiking, outdoorsy woman! I am your WAY above average size woman who loves the outdoors! I may not hike there as fast as “Ms-Size-6” but I am on a mission to make it as far as “6” does!


This is to serve as an encouragement to those who, like me, are well above a size 6! You can do it! Get outside! Start walking! You don’t have to put your life on hold because of your weight! You are stronger than you think you are! Set a fun goal! I did a strenuous exercise regimen for six months prior to this trip of a lifetime just to get in shape. The rewards are huge: now I can hike where I want to hike and walk for miles on the seashore – basically do what I want to do! Life is too short to postpone living! Your weight is just a number!


Stacey has so much more to share. Please continue to read her challenging story here and see her exquisite photography at You can also follower her on Facebook at Rhoades Traveled and on Instagram @rhoades.traveled.

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017




What do you do
on the day you realize
that your decisions
the air you breathe
the choices you make
are linked to the oppression of others –
that who you are robs others of what
you take for granted, supports a caste system
you knew nothing of
because of your ignorance?

How do you sleep
once you recognize that
others cough, wheeze
succumb to deadly disease
because your comfort, instead of theirs
has been prioritized by
those you do not know
at a time you were not present
but you now are complicit
in spite of your ignorance?

Who are you
when you discover that
large swaths of
populations have
been subjected to laws, yet
pleas for justice were ignored,
leaving their infants dead
at much higher rates than your own–
their life expectancy decades lower than yours–
sentenced by your ignorance?

Where do you turn
when every option collapses,
drives you further in
or wedges you firmly
between calamitous odds
while you keep perpetuating
inhumane structures
you’ve come to despise and yet
support, unintentionally – unmistakably
as a result of your ignorance?

Can ignorance be reversed
undone, redeemed,
can it be divorced
from its accompanying warring factions
of despair or complacency,
can it become a catalyst for
resolve, courage
or does it inevitably inflict
paralyzing guilt?

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo Credit: Ivars Krutainis via

Of Seabiscuit and Hands


A foray into vulnerability.

A journey I would rather reserve for an intimate group of people I already know have my back. But, I forge ahead!


Think back – oh say 18 or 24 months. Did anything significant happen to you? As you’re thinking back, things like a professional change, a fantastic trip, a surge in writing acclaim or book sales, a new connection, maybe a dream house may come to mind!

Significant doesn’t always relate to the glowing and exuberant times in our lives, however. It is simply something that is noteworthy. Yes, I know. Many times we’d rather not pay attention to less desirable blocks of time in our lives, as if not everyone experiences them. We have convinced ourselves that the dark times in our lives would set us apart as inferior. Less-than. Indicating a failure of sorts.

img_1612In spite of that, I will venture a stroll through a significant change in my life. Care to join me? If not, I won’t be offended if you sit here on this park bench and we’ll resume our conversation after the significant portion, simply carrying on as if nothing ever happened.

It began as a harmless nodule. Annoying at first, then the focus of a few jokes and flippantly suggested home remedies. But whatever it was, grew. Turns out it was not dangerous – as anyone who does not depend on his / her hands would classify danger. But you know what I mean: this was not a terminal condition. At least that was reassuring. The follow-up questions, however, most certainly included:
What is the prognosis?
…..What treatments are available?
……….How effective are the treatments?

Here’s what was happening: my fingers (one on each hand, at this point) began curling inward towards the palms. At any point, it could affect other fingers. Initially this genetic condition was neither painful nor was deterioration rapid. In time, however, it was very clear that something had to be done. Without obsessing over timeframes, treatments, the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of each, suffice it to say: multiple treatments were only marginally effective and I’m left with pain and some limitation in both hands. And, possibly because I’m a writer (or just because) there have been many sleepless nights of fear, anger, uncertainty and sadness. Deep, dark sadness.

So, here I am, dutifully exercising both hands 2-3 times daily and wearing rigid splints on both hands every night. I’ve moved from dictating everything I write, through numerous phases of inefficient and painful typing, to where I can now write on a computer for a few hours, using 3 fingers and 2 thumbs – with varying degrees of pain. Not bad! I’m functioning and I am most certainly not delving into this tale to solicit sympathy. This story is merely a foundation.

At one point in my journey of recovery I happened upon a brief article about Laura Hillenbrand, author of the two best-selling books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken. What’s remarkable about this woman (she is 49 years old at time of writing) is that since she was 19, she has been chronically ill, in excruciating pain, sometimes housebound for years at a time. Yet she has not allowed this debilitating challenge to keep her down. (On a side note: I had fallen in love with the story of Seabiscuit and was delighted to learn more about this gifted writer.)


While I hesitate to share Hillenbrand’s searing story as a point of reference to mine, her experience of debilitation, courage and perseverance strikes a chord! I cannot allow anything to stand in my way. Not pain. Not uncertainty. Not disappointment. Not delay.

I have a passion for writing. I get to write; I have to write. My mental, emotional and physical wellbeing depend on it.

How about you? What’s your passion? What is it you live to get up for? Have you lost the drive for this passion – for whatever reason – and landed in a place you think you can’t overcome? Sometimes all it takes is one story! One other person, in essence, coming alongside saying: get up, dust yourself off and move. Move forward.

I hit a solid, massive wall recently. This low had been coming for some time, and I know it’s not the last. I am positive there will be more threatening canyons and other dismal nights.

But there’s something I know for a fact: there are those who have blazed the trail for us, just as there are people in our tribes who lift us from our knees. These are the ones who look us in the eye (or whose words leap from a page) and say: What do you think you’re doing? You’re not giving up! You’re moving on. Moving forward. Now get up and we’ll walk together a stretch. I’m here for you! I’m here with you!

So this story is as much for me as it is for anyone who reads it. It’s one of my accountability tools that says: you summoned the courage to put yourself out there, now you can’t quit!

Same for you, my friend! We can’t quit! The world needs each story, each voice, each painting, piece of music, sculpture, photograph, each marathon run – more now than ever. These masterpieces and achievements breathe life into our taxed and battered souls.

Are you with me?

© Julia Penner-Zook, 2017
Photo credits: Wikipedia; Unsplash