A Flame on the Ocean: A Short Story Collection


A Flame on the Ocean is a debut short story collection full of survival and transformation:

A facial scar alters a beautiful woman’s identity. After his wife’s brutal assault, a husband formulates an unconventional plan to protect his daughter. Nature steps in to help defeat a would-be rapist, and a mysterious package arrives from a motel clerk’s estranged sister. A bartender leaves her seaside inheritance in flames, and a lonely heart finds love with a man some believe has sinister motivations.

Some of the players in this visceral, atmospheric collection take the money and run; others tame their demons and own their decisions unapologetically.

From a rundown coal country dog track to a Washington, DC highrise, Butler gives voice to a chorus of passionate, damaged personalities who leave their pasts behind and reinvent themselves until their mistakes no longer define them.


Enthusiastic Praise for A Flame on the Ocean

A Flame On The Ocean introduces readers to an important new voice. TJ Butler’s poignant collection about uneasy lives will be well-remembered long after you close this exquisite volume that hauntingly touches both the heart and mind.

-Pete Earley, Pulitzer Prize finalist author of “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.”

There’s so much to love about these stories, but it’s the characters who’ve been haunting me, vivid and flawed and human and as beautifully written as any I’ve met in life.

-Amber Sparks, author of “And I Do Not Forgive You,” named Best Book of 2020 by The Washington Post, NPR, Bustle, Good Housekeeping, and Tor.com.


Excerpts From the Collection

Dating Silky Maxwell

She sighs with the wonder of it all, considering how a first date and a daring confession on his part, “What do you think of men in drag?” transformed into her sharing Silky Maxwell with a stranger. They closed down the bar that night. The words tumbled out between them, and she told him about the photoshoots and sponsors, the videos, and the fans. 

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The Numbers Man

It was said that those who’d been there and received a ticket with a number, or maybe they selected a ticket from a deep bowl, or perhaps they heard a number read from a ticket and raised their arms with fierce intensity to claim it, received their true number at the event. Those people came away with answered prayers. 

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The Box

The brown paper fell away to reveal a cardboard cigar box and a folded white piece of paper. Primo Fine Cigars encircled an unimpressive red and gold foil seal. Jessie unfolded the paper and read the note in confusion. “Your turn,” was written in Crystal’s plump handwriting. She turned the note over, hoping for an explanation. It was blank.

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