05 May 2016

Research, Research, Research...

by Brian Thornton

So last week I went to New York for the Edgars, and took the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. I was staying at the Grand Hyatt, just four blocks from the New York Public Library's famous central branch, and so I took the opportunity to do some research on a cache of papers the NYPL now owns.


The collection I needed to look at were from the personal papers of John C. Spencer–a career politician from western New York state served in President John Tyler's cabinet, first as War secretary, then as Treasury secretary. The son of a speaker of the New York state assembly, Spencer was more than just the scion of a political dynasty. In fact he was a man of letters, and instrumental in shaping the first American publication of Alexis de Tocqueville's seminal work, Democracy in America.

He was also the father of Midshipman Phillip Spencer–a drunken wastrel drummed out of two different colleges before he turned 16–and the only U.S. naval officer hanged for mutiny.
John Canfield Spencer
 When the U.S.S. Somers, the ship from whose yard arm his son had been hanged at sea a month earlier pulled into New York harbor, Spencer attempted to have the captain, one Alexander Slidell MacKenzie (brother of future Louisiana senator and eventual Confederate peace commissioner John Slidell), put on trial for murder in connection with the death of his son.

MacKenzie requested and got a summary court martial in front of a jury composed entirely of navy captains (who would never convict him). He was acquitted, and double jeopardy attached, thus Spencer's attempts to get MacKenzie arraigned on a murder charge in a New York court ultimately came to nothing.

(On an interesting side note, MacKenzie's first lieutenant was a fellow named Guert Gansevoort. Gansevoort was a native New Yorker, who told his first cousin about the whole affair. That cousin, the writer Herman Melville, later fictionalized the story of the Somers Affair in his novella Billy Budd.)

The man responsible for (reluctantly) granting MacKenzie's request was Spencer's colleague in Tyler's cabinet, Naval secretary Abel P. Upshur. To say that this turn of events made things awkward between the two men was an understatement. They actually came to blows during a cabinet meeting, with Upshur breaking a stool over Spencer's head.

So John C. Spencer, a complex man, with an interesting story. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what I'd already learned about him before getting access to his personal papers last week. Tune in next time to see what I learned about this fascinating man here:

The Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room–Repository of a cache of John C. Spencer's personal papers.






04 May 2016

Spying on Chicago, for a Good Cause

by Robert Lopresti

Take a look at the photograph on the right.  Notice the store I am standing in front of?  Or of which I am standing in front?  Boy, was that awkward.

Okay.  Last month I visited Chicago and wandered, not for the first time, into the Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Company.  You are probably thinking that it is a spy shop, selling listening devices, cameras smaller than a grain of rice, and the like.  You are, of course, wrong.

As the employees confidentially explain to each newcomer: the store is a front.  It is secretly the headquarters for 826CHI, "a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write." So anything you buy in the shop (mostly writing-related material) supports the real work of the organization, which is encouraging kids to write.  Pretty cool, huh?

There are actually seven 826 branches promoting writing in different cities, and each has its own cunning disguise.  For example, in San Francisco 826 Valencia hides behind the Pirate Supply Store.  Clearly these people take kids seriously, but not themselves.

Among the merchandise for sale in the Secret Agent Supply Shop is a small selection of books, including the works of novelist Dave Eggers, which is fair because he is one of the two founders of the organization.  More power to him.

But I was more interested in another book I saw there.  I picked it up and told the enthusiastic salesperson "I have a story coming out in the 2016 edition!"

"Really?  That's great!"

Out of Print Clothing Company
"Yup, and the same story has been selected for the Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror collection."

"Oh, now you're just bragging."

"Damn straight," I said.  "I've been writing for forty years and this is my first best-of appearance.  Of course I'm going to brag about it."  Which, you may notice, I just did.

Of course, I had to buy something and I did.  See the photo.

Next time you are in Chicago I recommend you drop by.  You don't even need a secret password.

03 May 2016

The Joys of Description

Me and my teapot :)
On Saturday night, I won
the Agatha Award for best
short story of 2015, and
I was just a little happy.
Kudos too to Art Taylor,
who won the Agatha for
Best First Novel.


by Barb Goffman

In search of blogging topics, I asked my friends for suggestions. This paraphrased question caught my eye right away:

How much detail should a writer use when describing the setting, what the characters look like, and what the characters are doing?

The amount of detail a writer should use is of course a personal matter. Some authors love expounding on setting and appearance, giving every detail so that a person could--if they had to--draw an exact replica of a room or a picture that would make a sketch artist proud. Other authors take a minimalist approach, preferring to leave setting to the readers' imagination. Readers' taste also varies, with some wanting to know every detail of each place and character's appearance, others not wanting their time wasted on that detail.
 
Given that readers' tastes do vary across the spectrum, an author obviously can't please everyone. I typically suggest something in the middle of the spectrum (though my personal taste is toward the minimalist side). You want to set the scene but you don't want to bore the reader or hold up the action.

When it comes to what characters look like, I suggest telling the reader one or two telling details, something to make the character stand out in the reader's mind. Does the character have a large mole on his cheek? Does she walk with a limp? Does she have extremely big hair? And I wouldn't limit myself to thinking a character's description only applies to what he or she looks like. Saying the woman who came to visit smelled like she worked in a kennel or her voice rumbled like she'd been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for decades will hopefully be more memorable than simply saying she had shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes.
This man's hair color and style are likely all you need to tell.

I suggest getting this type of detail in early, before the reader decides for herself what the character looks like. But don't force the detail in right when we meet the character if it doesn't work there.

If there's something important about the character's appearance, make sure you get it in early too. You wouldn't want your bank robber to be described as someone who sometimes slurs her words, and not show the reader until the end of the book that this character sometimes slurs.

Of course sometimes you need to give a little more detail in order to create a smoke screen. If something about a character's appearance is an important clue (or red herring), try to weave that detail into the narrative, hiding it among other details so it doesn't appear important. For instance, if it's important that Jane has dark green eyes, don't make that the only thing you say about Jane because then that detail will stand out. Instead tell the reader that Jane has ratty brown hair that looks like it hasn't been washed for a week. Her hair is so nasty you can hardly see her dark green eyes or the scar on her forehead she got from a bar fight. The reader will hopefully focus on the scar and Jane's nasty hair, with the eye color fading into the recess of her brain.

These same techniques can be used for setting. You want to create your world, but you don't need to spell out every detail to do it. Are you creating a charming town? Tell me Main Street has an old-fashioned ice cream shop and a Mom and Pop diner that's been there for decades. Let me know that a large green is adjacent to Main Street with some Revolutionary War statues and large shade trees people picnic under in the summertime. That's more than enough for me get the quaint picture you're trying to set. I don't need the name of every store, of every statue, of every street. But if it's an important clue that a certain statue was defaced, don't have that be the only damage done. Bury that clue in a report of the damage supposedly all done by the vandal.

As to detail of what characters are doing, I also advocate for minimalism. If you have two characters driving and discussing the case, I don't need to know each time the driver changes gear or flips on the turn signal. If you tell me that Bob is driving, I can picture what he's doing. I only need to know things that are unusual. If Bob is distracted and keeps looking at his phone or the radio or keeps checking out the rear-view mirror because he thinks they're being followed--things that are important to the plot--I want to know.

There are some actions you don't need to show at all. If your character is beginning a new day, I don't need to see her brushing her teeth unless her toothpaste is poisoned or someone is going to strangle her while she's working on her incisors. I don't even need to know she brushed her teeth. Just show her arriving at her office, finding it in disarray from the burglars who struck overnight. And if your
When brushing teeth, less is more.
character is going up a staircase, and you show the character heading to the staircase, she thinks a bit, and then she's at the top of the stairs, that's just fine. The reader can infer that she just walked up those steps. You don't need to show every step as it's taken unless you're trying to show that she's wobbly or that a stair is creaking or if someone is going to push her over the banister. (Such fun!)

Of course, again, everyone's mileage may vary about the amount of detail preferred. I'd love to know what you think. And please, let us know if you're a reader or a writer. Or both.

02 May 2016

Proud Mother

by Jan Grape and son, Phil Lee

Today I have to succumb to being a rather prejudiced mother. My oldest son, Phil Lee, wrote a rather interesting ad entertaining blog this week and I decided to reprint it here. Think y'all will enjoy it.

In the photo at right, Phil Lee is the dark haired young man on the right. Middle is my daughter, Karla and left is my son, Roger Grape.

Lee Editorial Noise


After over 30 years, I have fallen in love once again with vinyl records. Yes, I know, I am about 5 or 10 years late to this fashionable party, but I am finally back where I started after all these years. I think that LPs started to build up steam about 2007 and have been rising every year, fueled by interest from old geezers to young hipsters.  I know a few of you out there never really left, and still have record collections and nice systems that you have faithfully maintained. But in my lifetime going from LPs and 8-tracks to cassettes, CDs and then totally digital, I never dreamed I would ever own or buy or play or enjoy these artifacts of yesteryear, but here I am once again. Let me back up a bit…

About 2 years ago, I purchased an amp to add to our speakers in the den. My plan was to enhance audio for the TV, and then also have a way to plug in a dedicated ipod for digital music. That worked out great- but I noticed the music quality was not really that impressive with the volume cranked up to a decent level. For years, I have enjoyed the convenience of  itunes on my office computers and in the car, but never really played digital music on a higher end system. The compression of digital files has left us all with an inferior, muddy sound- and certainly not anything most artists and musicians intended us to hear when listening to their creations.

However even with all the shortcomings of digital music, the ability to discover a new band online, and then within seconds purchase a track or an album, (or for some people, steal it) and then instantly hear it- still feels amazing to me. Also the convenience and portability to have access to all your music on a tiny device is something I never dreamed would be possible in my lifetime. Patton Oswalt has a funny bit about how if he could go back in time and confront his younger self and explain how in the future every song in existence will fit on something smaller than a cassette tape. (and his teenage mind would be instantly blown) He then compares how jaded our youth have become with this technology-  it's just something they have grown up with, and holds no magical amazement that greeted us older folks when it was released.

Although with all that being said, it's really an odd acceptance we've all grown accustomed to over the years: this trade-off of convenience and accessibility over audio quality. A lot of that stems from compression, the device and the environment that the end user experiences, limited by computers, phones, tablets, etc. I recently saw a Dan Rather interview with Jack White. When discussing technology, White draws a comparison between streaming movies online and digital music. He admits that it's great to have the convenience of enjoying movies on the little screens of tablets or computers or phones. But then he adds: when you drive past a movie theater, everyone agrees THAT is the real place you go to experience a movie in its intended format and environment. And the equivalent finished product for the music industry is vinyl and a decent sound system.

 A couple of years ago as I continued my quest for better sound, I stumbled on to Neil Young's Kickstarter campaign for his new PONO music player. It looked intriguing at the time- a way to play high resolution music files in the car or on the home system. I asked my son about the concept and he just laughed at me and said: "just get a turntable." I was hearing more and more about the revitalization of the LP market in recent years, so about a month ago I walked in to my local Best Buy. They had  exactly one turntable- very bland, very basic, and its big "feature" was a USB port so that you can transfer all your old records to digital. Ouch- not really what I had in mind!


I did some online researching and found the answer: The Orbit, a really sweet turntable made by a small company called U-Turn, located in a suburb of Boston. Three guys in their 20s set out to design and manufacture a turntable that looked cool and sounded great for only $150, and to somehow make it here in America. They had a successful Kickstarter campaign, and as of Fall of 2015, have shipped over 10,000 units. They did not quite make their original price point- but came close as their base unit sells for $179. They also offer an interactive online customization tool that allows you to select color, platter type, cartridge and a few other options.
  
http://uturnaudio.com/

The ability to support an American company- especially one that manufactures an electronic product, is very rare in this day and age! The majority of the turntable elements are made here at home in various locations across the country- although some of the inside parts are from overseas. Everything is assembled by hand at the U-Turn facility. Customer service is excellent- and if you have any issues, changes or future upgrades, you are dealing with someone in the Boston area, and not from an out sourced overseas imposter.


Reviews looked solid and the photos were great, so I quickly made the plunge. I've had the unit about 2 weeks and continue to be amazed at both the sound and the look. I can turn up the volume and hear a sharpness of detail that's been missing for decades. I've already had 3 or 4 "goose bump" moments hearing specific sections or little nuances that have been hidden within songs from my favorite old bands from the 80s. One of the greatest joys has also been re-listening to newer bands I discovered only in the last 10 years or so.  Up until now, my only point of reference for those bands has been limited to compressed digital songs. But now on LP, the clarity and detail really shines. It's a night and day difference of listening experience.

I know its just stupid nostalgia, but putting  a record on the platter, and hearing that "bump" as you carefully drop the needle down just feels strangely familiar and comfortable.

Holding an album in my hands, looking at the artwork or reading the notes or lyrics is a long forgotten pleasure.

Even playing some of my old stuff that have a bit more crackle and pop during the quiet moments only add to the experience.

I have the turntable in my office, so although a lot of its use so far is typical background music while I edit, I have noticed an entirely different feature that was really unexpected. Playing a record requires more effort- there is something so primitive about the technology, and about the entire process. You can't really pause it, and you have to be there to pick up the arm at the end of a side. (this unit has no auto return)  It almost feels more like an event in and of itself. Sitting and doing nothing except listening to the music and watching that disc spin is all you need. Playing entire album sides have also an added benefit. I am already enjoying several buried "deep" tracks that I long neglected during this age of just downloading  favorite digital songs, and ignoring those other lesser tunes that did not immediately grab my attention.


So if music matters to you- consider going old school and embrace the vinyl once again. My only regret is not taking better care of my collection. I found one box, but another is still MIA, most likely in my attic. Of the records I did find, most are warped- but all in one direction, so at least I still get to enjoy one stable side.

DISCOGS.COM is also a great resource for buying and selling LPs from around the world.


Share your vinyl memories below in the comments section, and thanks for listening!

www.leeeditorial.com

NOTE: from Jan
Phil's turntable is sitting on furniture my Dad made in late 50s early 60s.

01 May 2016

Mayday, Mayday

by Leigh Lundin

TeleType telex TTY
TeleType – early texting
It’s May Day, which got me thinking about mayday and codes. How did ‘mayday’ come to be a distress signal? It’s a mispronunciation of the French m’aider, from venez m’aider, “Come to my aid,” or “Come help me.”

So, parents and writers, it’s been a long time since we posted SMS codes and acronyms in use by kids, counter-culture, and people in technology. Some mnemonics have faded into obscurity like ROFL (rolling on floor laughing) and others have been truncated like WTF.

But OMG, a number remain with us (LOL). Some not only predate texting, but at least two, BRB and GA, date back to the days of that early messaging system, the telex. I wouldn't be surprised if Samuel Morse used such abbreviations.

I confess to liking ILYSM and 'bae' (short for bae-bae). Yet, as kids search for ever-more-circumspect communication, codes change rapidly.

You may see ‘Kik’ floating around. It’s not an acronym but a messaging phone app, popular with the young and bad guys because its messages evaporate after reading.
code meaning…
AF As ƒ, in context with other words, e.g, “That’s cool as ƒ.”
AFAIK As far as I know.
bae Babe, baby.
BMS Broke my scale, i.e, high marks for looks or deeds.
BRB Be right back.
cook Gang-up, dump on someone.
DOC Drug of choice.
FML ƒ my life, chagrin.
GA Go ahead.
HMU Hit me up, request for phone or message contact.
IDK I don't know.
ILYSM I love you so much.
KOTD Kicks of the day, sneakers.
LMAO Laughing my ass off.
LOL Laughing out loud. (still in use)
OMG Oh my God. (still in use)
OOTD Outfit of the day.
RN Right now.
smash Sexy, want sex.
SO Shout out, give recognition.
TBH To be honest.
TBR To be rude.
TF WTF? (What) the ƒ?
6 Sex, often used in combination with other codes, e.g, IW26U.
9, CD9 Parent in the room, or PIR. Formerly, POS meant parent over shoulder.

What codes are your kids sending?

30 April 2016

To Whom It May Concern


by John M. Floyd



Having been a writer for several years now (and a reader for many more), I have accumulated what I suppose is an adequate vocabulary. The funny thing is, I sometimes find myself avoiding the use of perfectly good words when I write my stories, for the simple reason that they aren't often used in real life. Examples? Well, there are the many less-than-well-known-and-rarely-used suspects, words like myriad and plethora and beatific, etc.--but I'm talking mostly about words that are widely known but still not used much, in either fiction or in normal conversation. Here are three that come to mind: periodically, frankly, and whom.

What's wrong with "periodically"? Nothing--except that you seldom hear it or read it. Probably because it's just as easy to say "often" or "occasionally" or "regularly" or "now and then," which mean almost the same thing, minus the raised-eyebrow reactions. And what about "frankly"? Nothing wrong with it either, my dear, except that "honestly" seems to work better and sounds a little less pretentious. (I was once told that if you hear someone say "frankly," watch out, because whatever comes next is probably a lie.) But the one I most avoid--notice that I didn't say eschew--is "whom."

Yes, I know, there are many times when "whom" is correct, or at least grammatically correct, and it even sounds right, from time to time, as in For Whom the Bell Tolls. The problem is, it usually sounds--especially in dialogue--uppity and constipated. Anytime somebody says to me, on the phone, "To whom am I speaking?" I picture the late John Gielgud, or maybe Carson on Downton Abbey.

I don't need no steenking rules

Apparently there are others who (not whom) agree with me. Here are a few quotes and observations on that subject that I've found in my "how to write" books:

"Whom has long been perceived as formal verging on pompous . . . The rules for its proper use are obscure to many speakers, tempting them to drop whom into their speech whenever they want to sound posh."--Steven Pinker, A Sense of Style

"'Whom do you trust?' and 'Whom will it be?' are technically correct but painfully stilted. Go ahead and use Who do you trust? and Who will it be? except in the most formal of writing."--Bill Walsh, The Elephants of Style

"As far as I'm concerned, 'whom' is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler."--author Calvin Trillin

"About half the people you hear spewing the word whom in everyday conversation don't really know how. They're bluffing. They know just enough to get it right sometimes--that's all they need to make themselves feel like big shots."--June Cassagrande, Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies

"In almost all cases, you can use who instead of whom in conversation or in informal writing . . ."--Patricia T. O'Conner, Woe Is I

Going by the book

If you do choose to salute to the Grammar Police and perform your duty, when should "whom" be used?

The rule I like best, although I've forgotten where I first heard it, is simple. (Since any discussion of objects, participles, noun antecedents, subjective cases, etc., makes my head hurt, I prefer simple rules.) Here it is:

If you can substitute he, she, or they in the sentence, use "who," and if you can substitute him, her, or them, use "whom." (For him the bell tolls.)


Sometimes it gets tricky. "I'll date whomever I want to date" is correct, but so is "I'll date whoever wants to go out with me." The second sentence requires the "who" form because it's the subject of another action within the sentence. But my dumb rule always works.

More examples:

Judy invited to the party only those who she thought would behave. (She thought they would behave.)

Judy wouldn't tell me whom she invited to the party. (She invited them to the party.)

I don't know who is going to take me to work. (She is going to take me to work.)

I don't know whom Dad told to take me to work. (Dad told her to take me to work.)

For whom the spell trolls

I still believe, though, that you should minimize using whom if your fiction is, like mine, more informal than formal. Can you imagine one of your characters--unless he or she is an English professor--saying the following?

"Guess with whom I had a date last night."
"It's not what you know, it's whom you know."
"Whom are you going to believe, him or me?"

Maybe you can. I can't.

I listed a quote earlier from A Sense of Style. That book also mentioned the comic strip Mother Goose and Grimm, which showed an owl in a tree calling "Whom!" and a raccoon on the ground replying "Show-off!"

And this excerpt from an old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon:

NATASHA FATALE: Ve need a safecracker!
BORIS BADENOV: Ve already got a safecracker!
NATASHA: Ve do? Whom?
BORIS: Meem, dat's whom!

William Safire, author of the New York Times's "On Language" column, once said, "Let tomorrow's people decide who they want to be president." According to Steven Pinker, if Safire can misuse who/whom in this way, so can he.

Questions? Anyone? Anyone?

What's your opinion, on all this? Do you, like Natasha, use whom at every opportunity? Do you avoid it like Kryptonite? Do you often find, or have you ever found, the need to use whom in a piece of fictional dialogue? Fictional narrative? Have you ever substituted who even though you knew it wasn't grammatically correct? Is your head beginning to hurt too?

Whatever your views, I wish good luck to all of you who write stories, and to all of those for whom they are written.






29 April 2016

Murder Most Conventional: Interviews About The New Malice Domestic Anthology

By Art Taylor

As this post is published, Malice Domestic is already underway in Bethesda, Maryland—three days (plus!) of the best in traditional mystery. There are many highlights of the weekend ahead, including celebrations of this year’s honorees: Katherine Hall Page earning a lifetime achievement award; Victoria Thompson as guest of honor and Linda Smith Rutledge as fan guest of honor; Hank Phillippi Ryan as toastmaster; an Amelia Award for Douglas Greene; a Poirot Award for Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald; and a remembrance of the late, great Sarah Caudwell. Several of our SleuthSayers here are in the running for Agatha Awards, including both Barb Goffman and B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens in the short story category—for “A Year Without Santa Claus?” and “A Joy Forever,” respectively—and Bonnie again for her YA novel Fighting Chance, and I’m honored that my own book, On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, is a contender for Best First Novel honors. (Good luck to us all—and a second dose of best wishes to Bonnie, who recently broke her arm and won't be making the festivities herself!)

Another highlight of this year’s Malice is the return of the Malice anthology—this one with a focus on conventions themselves. Malice Domestic: Murder Most Conventional is presented by Katherine Hall Page and features 22 original stories and one reprint, including stories by Marcia Talley, Neil Plakcy, Victoria Thompson, John Gregory Betancourt, Su Kopil, Kate Flora, Charles Todd, Gigi Pandian, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Frances McNamara, KB Inglee, Kathryn Leigh Scott, KM Rockwood, L.C. Tyler, Nancy Brewka-Clark, M Evonne Dobson, Ruth Moose, Rhys Bowen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons. Our own SleuthSayers are among this batch of honorees too, with B.K. Stevens’ contributing “What Goes Around” and Barb Goffman doing double-duty both as a contributor with “The Best-Laid Plans” (the stories were chosen by blind submission) and as one of the editors, along with Verena Rose and Rita Owen—with Barb focusing on developmental and line editing.

Last year I edited the Bouchercon anthology Murder Under the Oaks, and one of the great joys of that process was working with first-time writers, so to celebrate the new anthology, I’m interviewing Marie Hannan-Mandel, author of “The Perfect Pitch,” and Eleanor Cawood Jones, author of “Killing Kippers”—two authors making their debuts as traditionally published authors—and also talking to Barb about her experiences editing the project and working with these two writers in particular.

Before the interview then, a couple of quick introductions:

  • Raised in Ireland, Marie Hannan-Mandel now lives in Elmira Heights, NY. She is an assistant professor and chair of the Communications department at Corning Community College. She was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger award in 2013, longlisted for the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland short story award in 2014, and received an honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction award competition in 2014. Her short story “Sisters, Sisters” will appear in Adirondack Mysteries 3 in 2016.
  • Eleanor Cawood Jones got her first writing job as a reporter with the Kingsport Tennessee Times-News and now work as a marketing director and freelance copywriter in Northern Virginia. Her independently published short story compilations include A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Tales of Murder and More and Death is Coming to Town: Four Murderous Holiday Tales.
  • In addition to her own success as a short story writer—including the Macavity and Silver Falchion Awards—Barb Goffman also has a distinguished career as an editor, including both the new Malice anthology and the award-winning Chesapeake Crimes series, the newest book of which, Storm Warning, was just released.
And now on to the interviews—with Marie and Eleanor up first!

Tell us a little bit about your stories “The Perfect Pitch” and “Killing Kippers,” and given the anthology’s theme, how did your own experience with conventions—maybe Malice in particular!—inform your characters or your plot?

Marie Hannan-Mandel
MARIE HANNAN-MANDEL: My story is set at an inventors' convention in Maine where the first person narrator from New York City has come to persuade the hot-shot inventor leading her workshop to support her product. When a crime occurs she hopes that if she solves it the inventor will be so grateful he will back her.  I have attended many conferences and there are always representatives of various "types" in attendance--the pushy ones, the painfully shy ones, the beautiful ones whom everyone defers to, the famous, and the stalkers who are hyper-focused on getting to know the presenters. I tried to represent this mixed bag of people in a crime setting.

Eleanor Cawood Jones
ELEANOR CAWOOD JONES: Although not a single character in "Killing Kippers" is real, I did actually get snowed in at a casino-hotel many, many years ago where there was a clown convention going on. I was frankly astonished that clown conventions existed and the whole experience was distinctly surreal. So though the memory of that time is fuzzy, when it came time to come up with a crime-most-foul in a convention setting, that herd of clowns bulldozed their way to the forefront when I sat down to start writing. This is not your father's Stephen King clown story, although there is a clown front and center. I'm only sorry I didn't attend any clown panels while I was there. I think I could have been a great balloon-animal artist.

"Kippers" is written in first-person drunk from the perspective of a narrator who is not normally much of a drinker, which made room for some off-the-wall observations and interactions along the way. If pressed, I'd call it dark humor. And it's not just about murder, it's about life and joy and sadness and unusual friendships found in unexpected places.

Malice Domestic celebrates the traditional mystery and the book cover copy explicitly calls these cozy mysteries. How do you define those terms traditional and cozy for yourself, and how did that determine your approach here? Do you usually write in the traditional/cozy vein?

MARIE HANNAN-MANDEL: To me, cozy or traditional mysteries are those that focus on the gentler side of crime fiction. I'm not interested in gruesome description or detailed forensics. My focus is on the characters and why they do the things they do. I enjoy humor and try to use it where I can.  I almost always write what I consider cozy stories.

ELEANOR CAWOOD JONES: When I think of traditional and cozy I picture Miss Marple and some steaming tea and a paneled drawing room. I like to sit down in the comfort of my own home and go there to figure out with Miss M (or Poirot or any number of others) to enjoy the atmosphere of a whodunit. This applies to any number of settings, of course. Strange, but all the traditional mysteries I have read and no two are alike. They are comfortably familiar yet unique. But there's a certain feeling and mindset that goes along with reading one, and that's what traditional and cozy mean to me. Also, they are less violent and bloody than say, a traditional thriller, and thus considered less disturbing. For that reason, I wanted a milder, more bloodless plot and crime for Kippers, and though not a locked room setting, at least a self-contained area.

With that said, I do write some traditional mysteries, but I like to break rules. Some of my characters might just get away with it and I like to tamper with the definition of a bad guy—not everything is black and white and sometimes I find myself rooting for the villain. I also am extremely interested in motivation and personality of characters, and although plot is king I like to write about interesting people—even if they are only interesting in their own minds. Everybody has a story and everybody has a button just waiting to be pushed. I like to push the buttons of my characters and see what happens. So I stray into the thriller side but cozy is my home.

Finally, how did you celebrate the news when you heard that your stories had been accepted?

MARIE HANNAN-MANDEL: I took a walk on the beach in Ireland and skipped through the sand.

ELEANOR CAWOOD JONES: Best feeling in the world. I sprang up from my couch and walked around the house in circles, making celebratory shouting noises and trying to hold still long enough to text a few people who have been over-the-top amazing in their encouragement and support. Then I ate off that news for a week! All my favorite restaurants. Writing is fattening.

And now to switch perspectives on all this—a quick chat with Barb Goffman from the other side of the desk.


Barb, you’ve served as an editor here and also for several volumes of the Chesapeake Crimes series. Have you seen any differences in working with first-time authors or authors early in their career versus those who are veteran authors?

BARB GOFFMAN: While I'm happy to work with all authors, I love working with new and newer authors. Newer authors' stories often need more work than stories written by more experienced writers, but newer authors often are quite enthusiastic about doing revisions (sometimes several drafts) and taking advice that allows their stories to shine. I love helping them transform their stories from good to great.

More veteran authors can sometimes be less open to editing. Because they're more confident in their skills, if they like what they wrote and think it works, they might be willing to let issues slide. And that is their prerogative. But the best authors, no matter how experienced, are open to at least considering if there's a problem to fix. I've found that if I give a detailed explanation about why I have a concern about something, most authors—be they new or established—will try to address the situation.

Thinking about the anthology on the whole, what was it about Eleanor’s and Marie’s stories in particular that stood out as distinctive or memorable, or what can readers expect from the contributors by these two new voices on the mystery scene?

BARB GOFFMAN: Marie has a great, funny voice and has crafted an interesting puzzle with strong clues. In her early drafts, she had some inconsistencies and logic problems that distracted me when I read the story. When I pointed them out, she enthusiastically dug in and fixed them. The result is a much stronger story. With the logic issues resolved, Marie's voice really gets the chance to stand out. I hope everyone will take the time to read this story. It's a winner.

Eleanor's story is also very funny. (I write funny stories so perhaps that's why this element stood out to me in both stories, but I think it's something everyone will enjoy.) It takes skill to make a story involving death funny, and Eleanor does it. I also loved that she set her story at a clown convention. That's imagination at work. And, like Marie, Eleanor has a strong voice. Her first draft had a bit too much detail, but once that came out, her dialogue and internal monologue was able to really shine, making her story one readers will remember with a smile.

Malice Domestic: Murder Most Conventional is available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle and is also for sale at Malice Domestic this weekend. A special signing by the contributors in attendance will take place at the opening reception, Friday, April 29, 9:15-10 p.m.