Showing posts with label Ed Gorman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ed Gorman. Show all posts

05 December 2017

Ripples

by Michael Bracken

A single event in a writer’s life can create career-long ripples much like a pebble tossed in a pond causes ripples upon the water.
Michael Bracken teaching "Getting Your Short Stories Published,"
SIU-Edwardsville, April 4, 1985.
Photo by Kevin S. Kantola

Five years into my writing career I had a single professional fiction sale, one attributable to an act of literary crime (see “Smooth Criminal”). I was placing other writing in professional, paying markets—poetry in Intimate Romances, Intimate Secrets, and True Secrets; humor in Catholic Digest, Genesis, Hustler, Orben’s Current Comedy, The Saturday Evening Post, and other publications; and I even wrote a few gag lines for a pair of men’s magazine cartoonists. I had a handful of stories published in Shadows Of..., a science fiction/fantasy semi-prozine, but my professional fiction writing career seemed to have peaked with the publication of that single story in Young World.

A PEBBLE STRIKES THE WATER...

Having no luck with traditional SF/F publications, I expanded my submission list to include men’s magazines that published fiction.

During early 1976—less than a year after high school graduation—I wrote a pair of science fiction stories: “On the Blink” received 12 rejections and “Nothing is Ever Easy” received eight before I stopped submitting them in 1981, convinced that neither would ever sell. In 1982 I used pieces of both stories to write “Going Down,” a 4,000-word erotic science fiction story, and on May 11, 1982, submitted it to Gentleman’s Companion.

The manuscript returned two months later, but this rejection was unlike any other I had ever received. Ted Newsom, managing editor of Gentleman’s Companion, had retitled, rewritten, and retyped the entire manuscript. His rejection letter dated July 26, 1982, read:
Enclosed please find the return of your manuscript, GOING DOWN. The ms. was well liked by our editorial staff but after a title change and necessary reworks, it was denied by our Publisher. We feel that the reworks should help it find a home with another publication and we sincerely wish you the best of luck. 
We would like to see other submissions from you and thanks for your interest in GC.
Though I had received several personal rejections prior to this, many with useful suggestions about how to improve my work, no editor had ever torn one of my stories apart and put it back together the way Ted had. I studied each of his changes, determined to understand why he made them and to utilize what I learned when writing my next story.

When telling the story of why I wrote my first mystery, I’ve often said that “The Dregs” (the retitle of “Going Down”) was rejected because the publisher of Gentleman’s Companion didn’t want science fiction. As evidenced by the rejection letter quoted above, this may not true.

Regardless, at the time I received Ted’s revision of “The Dregs,” there was, sitting on the corner of my desk, the first scene of a story I had abandoned because it was neither science fiction nor fantasy. Utilizing everything I learned from reading Ted’s revision of “The Dregs,” I wrote and submitted “City Desk,” a 4,400-word erotic mystery about newspaper reporter Dan Fox.

Ted accepted “City Desk,” paid $300 (the most I had ever received for a single piece of writing to that point), and published the story in the January 1983 issue of Gentleman’s Companion.

...THE RIPPLES BEGAN...

Ted Newsom’s rejection and revision of “The Dregs” led to a decades-long career with ripples expanding in multiple directions.

Mike Shayne
Mystery Magazine

October 1983
I became a mystery writer. Gentleman’s Companion published “Adam’s Rib,” my second mystery, in March 1983, and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine published my third, “Vengeance To Show In The Third,” in October 1983. I’ve since published mysteries in several anthologies and traditional mystery publications such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Crime Square (Vantage Point), Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Espionage Magazine, and Flesh & Blood: Guilty as Sin (Mysterious Press).

I became a science fiction writer when Gentleman’s Companion—with a new publisher and new editor—published “The Dregs” in March 1985 and Oui published “Microchick” in April 1985.

I became a horror writer when Charles L. Grant included “Of Memories Dying” in Midnight (Tor Books), released in February 1985.

I became a men’s magazine writer, placing crime fiction, horror, and science fiction in publications such as Fling, Gent, Hustler Fantasies, Juggs, Max, Penthouse Letters, Score, Voluptuous, and other publications.

I became an erotica writer, with stories in several anthologies and periodicals such as Chic Letters, Playgirl, and Screw.

I became a novelist when Books in Motion released Deadly Campaign in 1994, a mystery featuring Dan Fox, the protagonist of “City Desk.”

I became a series writer, using Dan Fox for two additional short stories, and then writing several stories about St. Louis-based P.I. Nathaniel Rose—collected in Tequila Sunrise (Wildside Press)—and several more about Waco-based P.I. Morris Ronald “Moe Ron” Boyette.

I became a confession writer, with stories published in Black Confessions, True Confessions, True Experience, True Love, True Story, and many other women’s magazines.

In short, I became a writer.

...AND THEY NEVER END

A single story. A single editor. A single rejection.

The ripples from that event continue to impact my writing career, a career I might not have were it not for Ted Newsom’s revision of a single rejected story.

After all, writing about it is just one more ripple.
About a year before his passing, Ed Gorman selected “City Desk” for inclusion in Bad Business, a collection of stories that first appeared in men’s magazines when they published stories with a bit of sex rather than sex with a bit of story. Co-edited by Peter Crowther, the anthology will be released by PS Publishing.

20 January 2017

Ending Before the Ending

by Art Taylor

Earlier this week, Robert Lopresti posted his list of the best short stories of 2016—a fine slate of stories, and it was great to see a couple of my own favorites in there as well, along with some stories I didn't know and now need to track down.

One of those stories—"The Last Blue Glass" by fellow SleuthSayer B.K. Stevens in Alfred Hitchock's Mystery Magazine—has been on my mind recently, as has another story by one of our group—"Stepmonster" by Barb Goffman in the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning—not solely because of how much I enjoyed and admired them (I did, and I do!) but because of a structural approach that each story shares. (Each story is linked so you can enjoy and admire for yourself!)

In several ways, the stories might seem to have little in common. "The Last Blue Glass" is a much longer story, covering nine years; it's presented in the third person, from the perspective of a woman who goes from newlywed wife to troubled widow; and it is fairly traditionally told, summary and scene gliding one into the other to navigate those long years and the moments key to the story. In contrast, "The Stepmonster" is narrated in first-person and takes place over a fairly short amount of time, two short scenes, and with a twist, one scene commenting on the other in ways that I won't divulge so that readers can enjoy the twist themselves.

But while the overall structures and time-frames and points of view are different, each story centers on a moment of revenge—though even as I write that, I recognize that center might well be a misleading word, since the "central" action of each story isn't at the center of its tale; in fact (small spoiler alert?), those moments of revenge never actually occur within the confines of the stories themselves. It's this latter similarity that struck me as I reflected on the stories—how each story draws to its end by looking ahead, past the final word of the story and into the (figurative) blankness beyond, where the next bit of the drama, arguably the most dramatic bit, will actually happen.

The structure of Barb's story is unique because that forecasting of the drama circles back on itself, as you'll see when you read it. What happens in the beginning of the story foreshadows what will likely occur next. And in Bonnie's case, the final scenes sketch out the narrator's intentions and how the plans should play out. But likely and should are key words here, and the authors' decisions in each case not to dramatize these scenes allow the reader's imagination a greater degree of involvement—allowing the story to linger on in that imagination, the events to spool ahead in the reader's mind beyond the so-called "end" of the story proper.

A few years back, I wrote a short essay to help debut the then-new blog "Something Is Going to Happen" from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine—and I took the blog's title as a starting point for my thoughts on open or unfinished endings, where the something that is going to happen next is hinted at but not fully dramatized. In my post, subtitled "Perched on the Edge of What Happens Next" (and linked here), I talk about a couple of Stanley Ellin stories I admire and particularly "The Moment of Decision," certainly one of my all-time favorite stories, which (another small spoiler!) ends dramatically just before the moment in the title, leaving the reader both to wonder what decision is reached and to ponder what decision he or she would make in similar circumstances (a question which has provoked great discussion in my classes when I've taught this story, I should stress).

I won't revisit every point of that post, but reading and studying Bonnie's and Barb's stories reveal to me again of the importance of structuring your storytelling (as much as your plot, not the same thing) and of the power in handing over some of that process to the readers themselves, drawing them in, involving them if not even making them complicit (and I'll stress again that each of these stories is about revenge).

And yet, looking back over that post for EQMM and some of the stories I sampled there, and looking at Barb's and Bonnie's stories, I also realize that there are a couple of different ways that "ending before the ending" might play out—with different ways of involving the reader and different effects on their experience.

One approach, like Ellin's, is to leave something fundamental unanswered and some aspect of the ending more fully unresolved. While I would argue—vigorously—that Ellin's story isn't "unfinished" (a much longer and more detailed post), there are clearly two dramatically different choices that could be made by the narrator, and each choice could then branch out into several different outcomes, depending on other factors in the story. In short, that blank page beyond the final sentence is filled with unanswered questions and possibilities; an enterprising writer could, by my count, pursue at least four distinctly different combinations of events, each with their own stakes, to describe what happens next. (Note to any enterprising writers: Please don't try to write the ending. The story is really fine like it is.)

In a similar vein, Ed Gorman's "Out There in the Darkness" (which I also mentioned in the original EQMM post) ends with a looming sense of dread but little certainty about what's ahead—a character "waiting" but will the thing he's waiting for actually transpire? There's little certainty how the rest of his story will play out, but the sense of doom and dread are palpable—more so because we the reader share it, perched on the edge of the unknown.

The second approach is to wrap up the story more fully, pointing to what's ahead without dramatizing it actually happening. In this case, the reader's imagination still fills in some of the blanks but in a more focused way. At the end of David Dean's fabulous "Ibrahim's Eyes" (available as part of EQMM's podcast series), there's little doubt about what will happen mere seconds after the final words of the story, so the reader doesn't need to wonder or ponder over unanswered questions; instead, what the reader does is conjure up those next moments for him/herself—engaged more fully in that process, I would argue, than if David had simply written the next lines. Pulling back, letting the reader fill in to complete the story, is here too a powerful move—without the uncertainty of the first approach I mentioned above (inviting the reader's intellectual engagement, particularly in the Ellin story) but with perhaps a greater emotional involvement.

Barb's and Bonnie's stories lie closer to this latter approach, I think—sketching out, as I said, the events that will follow, the characters' plans/expectations for what's next. Obviously those plans might not play out exactly as these characters expect but the level of uncertainty there is lesser than in a more open ending and the effect is different, ultimately bringing the reader emotionally closer to the characters, even complicit in their plan.

Speaking of sketching, I feel like I'm still only sketching out some of my thoughts on this topic—even here taking a second try at refining my thoughts on this idea. But in the spirit of leaving endings open, I hope there's room for readers here to do their own thinking on the topic—and again, I hope I've spurred you to read these fine stories themselves. 

05 December 2016

Oh No! You Did..n't























OH NO! YOU DID..N'T
by Jan Grape

Have you ever told a published author what was wrong with their book? Max Allan Collins has told the story of a lady coming up to him at a mystery con and said,"Want me to tell you tell you what's wrong with your book?"

Mr. Collins said, "No." and walked away.

He wasn't being rude. It's just when the book is already published if he made a major mistake, it's just too late. The book is already published. There is just nothing to be done at this point.

I've never said anything like that to an author but I did tell two authors at two different times they had made one small error in their book. I wasn't trying to be a smart-alec but honestly thought they might want to know if they had made an error so that next time they wouldn't make that same error. But this was when I had only published about 12 or 15 short stories and had NOT published a novel. Not sure they appreciated my input.

The first author I said something to was Ed Gorman. I don't remember when it was but I think it was one of his short stories. It was set in the fifties and dealt with a high school girl wearing blue jeans or Levis. He writes about the girl buttoning her jeans in front. I don't know about where you lived in the early to mid-fifties but where I lived in a small town, girls didn't wear front button or zipped jeans. Girls wore jeans that buttoned or zipped on the left side. We called them Girl's Jeans. And Boy's Jeans buttoned and/or zipped in the front. The exception was "loose girls" might wear Boy's Jeans. And everybody knew she was loose. It was just understood that it was easy to get to second or third base with her. I went to school with a girl who wore Boy's Jeans and she had a bad reputation. I'm not sure Mr. Gorman appreciated my insight. He did thank me, but he probably was being polite. The thing is, nice girls in the fifties didn't wear pants very often, even if it was cold.

I don't know whose idea that was. Probably some man because it was many years before women wore pants even way before the fifties. We probably were very lucky to have managed to wear them in those years. When my daughter was in the first or second grade, on a very cold day I sent her to school in a dress and a pair of long pants. The school sent her home, this was in Austin, Texas, in the mid-sixties and told it was against school policy. It was okay if she wore leggings or tights under her dress, but not pants. That was stupid. When it's cold you really need tights and pants when you're little. They changed the dress code after that, I'm sure other mothers complained.

The other author I gave corrective information to was a man who shall remain nameless but he wrote books set in Michigan. He had part of his book set in Texas and he called the highway patrol, THiP. Like they call them in other states, notably in California because of the "CHiPs" television show. In Texas, the highway patrol is named Texas Department of Public Safety. And we do call them DPS for short. This author, did thank me, but in another book he did the same thing so guess he didn't believe me or didn't care.

I know it probably doesn't matter but I have this weird feeling that any little detail that jars a reader out of the fiction or fantasy of the book is just not good. I'm reasonably sure that most of us try very hard to make sure what we write is a true and correct as we can make it.

One thing that bugged my husband no end and he let authors know it every chance he got was when an author uses the word cement as a synonym for concrete. And author after author does it. I guess they feel that it doesn't matter to most people. And to most people it doesn't. But to Elmer Grape who was in commercial construction for thirty years and worked with concrete all those years, it just bothered him. CEMENT is the powder that is mixed with sand, gravel and water to make concrete. The finished product is CONCRETE. Sidewalks, platforms, houses, streets, all are made of concrete.
I actually blame the use of cement as a synonym comes directly from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. They all called their swimming pool the CEMENT POND. That was the beginning and it caught on and became one of those interchangeable words.

This idea grabbed my attention a few days ago when I was reading a book by a famous best selling author. He had a book set in Texas where a girl, maybe around 14-15 years old wearing a strapless sundress to school. I really don't think so. However, maybe I'm behind times now and perhaps it's allowed nowadays.  It only jarred me for a few moments and I went ahead with the intriguing story, but it did stick in my mind.  Anyway, I didn't write and correct him. And I didn't even call the school district to see if I was right.

However, I thought this might be a good time to write this up in my column. It only takes a few minutes to Google something to find out what the proper word is for what you write. Even better if you can talk to a person who is in the profession you are writing about. Find out if you have to or ask them for the proper jargon. It might not seem too important to you but you don't want a reader throwing your book across the room in disgust because you used "Cement" instead of "Concrete."

And maybe even if you really do want to tell an author what's wrong with their book. They might not appreciate it. A little minor correction? Okay, maybe that's not too bad. But don't blame me if someone says to you...Oh, no! You Did..n't.

24 October 2016

In Memoriam

by Jan Grape

Two special mentors of mine have transitioned to another plane of existence, Clark Howard and Ed Gorman.

Years ago, before I was published, I saw a little notice in a Houston newspaper for people interested in forming a Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.  I lived in Houston then and definitely was interested and so I went. It probably was 1982. Not exactly sure about that. I honestly don't remember where this meeting was held, or even who all attended. This was the second meeting for the group and I know I missed the first meeting. I do remember four people who were there besides myself. Joan Lowery Nixon and Mary Blount Christian who both wrote Children's and or young adult mysteries and both women were very involved in MWA. There was a guy named John (don't remember his last name) who actually became our first Vice-President. Back then, that was the title used for MWA chapters. Not President although that's who was really in charge of taking care of business. I do remember one other gentleman who attended and that was Clark Howard. Clark had written a number of True Crime (or fact crime) books and had several short stories published. Mostly in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Somehow before I knew it, I was elected Treasure of the Chapter. I know when I got back home, my husband, Elmer Grape cracked up at the idea, I was never known to have a mathematical mind. In fact, my greatest strength was giving very accurate, very concise and very brief treasurer's reports.

"We had a little money, we spent a little money and we still have a little money." Everyone almost fell off their chairs that first time but, they were quite pleased each month instead of one of those dry reports such as..."we had 10 new members join at $25 each, $15 per person was sent to MWA-NY. I spent $25 on newsletter stamps...blah, blah, blah. Of course, I always gave our VP and the board members a written report with all the dry facts.

Now I must tell you a bit about my friend, Clark Howard (excerpted from EQMM on Facebook). As a boy, Clark grew up without parents and was homeless for a time. He would conceal himself in a bowling alley before they closed at night so he would have someplace to sleep. He told me personally that his mother was a junkie and he found her dead. I'm not sure if his father was ever even in the picture. He joined the Marines when he was 17 and served in Korea. I imagine that coming from such a tough background gave him the grittiness he needed to write such realistic stories. His painful
autobiography, Hard City  was published by Dutton in 1990.

One of the first things I learned about writing from Clark was his opinion about creative writing classes. He was not fond of them for good reason. After he was honorably discharged from the service, he enrolled in classes at Northwestern University in Chicago where he had spent some of those early days. One class he was taking was in Creative Writing. The professor in that class wanted the students to write a story and turn it in. The prof made copies of every one's stories and passed them to the students to critique. Clark said, everyone in the class including the professor tore his story apart saying it was terrible, they didn't like the characters, they didn't like the scenes, etc. Clark said he walked out and never came back. Said he had just sold that story and another on for five hundred dollars. I asked him later if he ever told the professor. He said, "No. I decided it wouldn't do me any good and it wasn't going to get me a good grade in that class. That maybe I knew as much about story writing as he did."  At any rate his advice to me was not to worry about taking creative writing classes. Learn your craft by writing and keep writing and hope you find a good editor who will buy your stories.

I have a feeling Clark Howard was right, he won a Edgar award from MWA for one of his short stories and was nominated for an Edgar five times in that category. He also won EQMM's Reader's Choice Award five times and was the recipient of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement from the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

One other major thing I leaned from Clark was something that is useful perhaps more in life than in writing and it was something he learned in his own terrible upbringing and in interviews with many killers on death row in prisons all around the country. No matter how bad your childhood is or how many bad thing happened to you, at some point as you reach adulthood, you have to be responsible for your own behaviour. You can't continue to blame your parents or your teachers or your sad neglect. There is just you yourself to blame when you do wrong. And when you do wrong as an adult, whether it'd 18 or 19 or 20 years old you have to accept the consequences.

Ed Gorman bought many of my short stories and was very much a part of the publishing of my first novel. I had moved to Austin from Houston in the late eighties, 1987 as I recall. I had been elected Vice-President of the Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. I agreed to continue to serve as VP and would travel to Houston each month for the meetings. It was 150 miles one way but it was an easy drive, less than three hours and I could return back home on the same day. We actually met on Sunday and the traffic was not too bad until you got to Houston.

One day I got a telephone call from a man who identified himself as Ed Gorman. I knew of Ed mostly because I was also a member of the Private Eye Writers of America, a group started by Ed and Robert J. Randisi. Ed asked if I would be willing to write a column for Mystery Scene Magazine. I think I had a subscription and had seen three or four issues. The magazine came out quarterly. He and I talked for a while and I got a sense of what he wanted my column to be about. I was to report the news about writers in the Southwest Area. Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana. He said he'd pay me two cents a word, a carton of cigarettes and a box of condoms. I said I did smoke and could use the cigarettes but since I was married and had taken care of any accidental problems I wouldn't need the condoms.

We decided on the name, "Southwest Scenes" and he wanted a photograph. I enjoyed emailing, faxing or even calling mystery writers in the Southwest area and getting their news. When they had a book or story coming out or when they were appearing at a bookstore for a signing. Or even generally if they were getting married or having a baby or whatever was going on in their life. We had not decided to open a bookstore yet and I was writing a couple of short stories and sending my first novel out to see if I could get a publisher interested. I had sold a non-mystery story to a city magazine and had a couple of stories published in little subscription magazines. My first novel was never published but the two female Private Eye characters, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn had been in both of the short stories that were published.

I discovered Ed didn't like to go to mystery meetings like the Edgars or Bouchercon but he enjoyed talking on the telephone. We talked every week and sometime more. We enjoyed our conversations and my husband Elmer almost always knew when Ed and I were talking because I'd be laughing like crazy as we talked.

We opened the bookstore in 1990 and I was pretty busy but Ed and I still talked often and I was writing some non-fiction articles, one for Writers Digest and reviewing books for the Houston Chronicle. One day, Ed asked if I'd write a story for an anthology he was editing. Invitation To Murder. Of course, I said yes. Along about that same time, Bob Randisi asked me to write a story for a PWA anthology he was editing, called Lethal Ladies. Both books and stories came out about the same time and I actually don't know which came first but I think, INVITATION was first.

The rest as they say is history. A short time later Ed asked if I would co-edit a book called Deadly Women. My co-editor was to be Ellen Nehr. Ellen passed away before we were ready and we asked Dean James to take over in her spot. Dean and Ellen both had deep knowledge of the history of women in mystery. This book is by, about and informs you about women in mystery. We finished it and did a beautiful job, it was nominated for an Edgar, an Agatha and a Mccavity in the non-fiction category. Dean and I won the Mccavity but were so excited to be nominated for the Edgar and the Agatha.

It's been difficult for me to write about both of these mystery friends. Ed Gorman passed away on Oct. 14 and it was only after that I found out about Clark Howard who had passed on October 1st.
I had no idea it was going to be this hard but I can testify that it's not easy to type or even to think when you have tears. I'll have to finish my memories of Ed Gorman for the next time.

I'm one of the few writers who met Ed in person. When Elmer and I started traveling in our RV we made a point to go to Cedar Rapids, IA to meet Ed and had dinner with him. I met his lovely wife Carol a few years before at at mystery con in Nebraska. I loved both men as brothers and as mentors and I miss them both. May they RIP.