08 November 2016

Election Day short stories

by Barb Goffman

I hope you'll excuse me for this short post. As I write this on Monday, the 7th, I'm on day twenty of bronchitis, and while I'm improving, I'm certainly not well.

I hope you'll all celebrate with me, too, because as you read this, it's Election Day, i.e., the end of what feels like the longest election season ever. While we all hope our own candidates will win, in the end, some people will be disappointed, but I hope we can all work to come together in the coming days for the good of ourselves and our nation.

One way to come together is to talk about a common love--short stories. And on this day, it seems perfect to focus on ones involving elections.

I've written one short story involving an election, "Ulterior Motives," which appeared in the anthology Ride 2, published in 2012. (This is an anthology series all about bicycles.) When asked to describe the story back then, I wrote: In "Ulterior Motives" a teenage girl finds herself in danger when she gets involved in a local civic campaign and learns that in politics, everyone has an ulterior motive.

My editor came up with his own description of the story: There's a mystery in this small town, and a secret, and a teenaged girl at the middle of it all who doesn't think the adults around her understand much. Which maybe they don't.

I got the idea for this story from a sad real-life event. Back in 2012, I read about a county in Oregon that was having such money problems, it had to cut back on its policing, with officers on patrol only a few hours each day. And because of the cutbacks, police might not respond to every call, including burglaries, the article said. Well, that got my writer's wheels spinning, and "Ulterior Motives" was born. The story involves a local campaign to get a bond issue on the ballot to fund a sheriff's department in similar straits to the real-life Oregon county. It may sound like a dry topic, but the story is told from the point of view of a teenage girl who cares very much about what happens, and she does her best to make an impact on the campaign. There's humor and danger and, hopefully, everything readers want in a mystery short story. I'm particularly proud of this story because of its local nature. So many political mysteries involve presidential elections. Not too many short stories that I know of involve local campaigns, which can have such a profound impact on day-to-day living. (If I'm wrong on this point, I hope you'll let me know, sharing story information in the comments.)

One other political short story (okay, it's a novella) worth mentioning here is by fellow SleuthSayer B.K. Stevens. The story is "One Shot." This description of the story is from B.K.'s website:

 When rising politician Karen Dodd pushes through the toughest gun-control bill in Ohio’s history, she thinks it’s her ticket to the governor’s office. But soon after she announces her candidacy, on the day she’s slated to receive an award from a gun-control organization, Karen Dodd is found dead in her comfortable suburban home, one bullet through her heart.

Okay, so that's two short stories perfect for Election Day. I hope you'll check them out, and I hope you'll share your favorite Election Day short stories in the comments. In the meanwhile, happy reading. And go vote!


  1. Bronchitis is miserable. Hope you feel much better soon.

  2. HOpe you feel better. By the way, Ride 2 rejected my submission so you are one up on me!

  3. Nice post for election day, and hope you feel better soon!

  4. Enjoyed this, Barb. Hope you get well soon!

    I've done several stories involving elections, one of them in AHMM several years ago, but the one that's earned the most feedback and recognition is a long story called "Driver," which appeared in the Strand--it won a Derringer for Best Novelette this year and recently made the "Distinguished" mysteries list in Best Am. Myst. Stories 2016. It's also one of the stories included (plug, plug) in my new book, Dreamland.

    I once heard that crime stories will always be popular because conflict is automatically built in. The same could be said of stories about elections.

  5. I'm glad you're finally beginning to feel better, Barb--I know this has been a long, frustrating illness.

    Thanks for mentioning "One Shot" (which is, by the way, an e-novella available from Untreed Reads, Amazon, and other vendors, should anyone be interested). I wrote a SleuthSayers post about its remarkably long path to publication--and if I knew how to provide a link to that post from May, 2016, I would. Ironically enough, that was my "emergency post" and went live because I'd just broken my arm and couldn't type. Maybe we could make it a SleuthSayers tradition to mention "One Shot" every time a SleuthSayer gets sick or injured.

    I remember "Ulterior Motives" well. I like all your stories, but this one was definitely one of my favorites. I found your protagonist charming, the plot took some surprising twists and turns, and I thought you used the bike motif exceptionally well. I'd love to see another story about that protagonist some day.

  6. Now why is it that I have never done a story about an election? (Canadian, you say...) Good topic for today, Barb! And I'm sending get well vibes across the border to you. Three weeks is long enough.

  7. Edward D. Hoch had a man stabbed in a voting booth in "The Problem of the Voting Booth" I think it's called!

  8. I hope you get over your bronchitis NOW.
    Both stories sound interesting.
    I just got home from spending the day working at the local polling station. Had a lot of fun, and may have come up with an election-day mystery myself. We'll see!

  9. I'm getting a little better every day. Thanks, everyone, for your hopes I get better sooner than later. (I didn't need a nap today until 3 p.m. Progress!)

    John, I remember your Derringer winner. I think I even voted for it. And yes, built-in conflict is always helpful.

    Bonnie, thanks for your thoughts about "Ulterior Motives." I remember one review of the story lamenting that a bicycle played a very small role in the story, but I think that reviewer didn't get what was happening on those bike rides. And yes, I think posting about "One Shot" every time a SleuthSayer gets sick is a fine tradition that should continue!

    Jeff, murder in a voting booth! Now that's exciting. And makes me wonder how that's possible ...

  10. Thanks, Barb (and Bonnie). I'm stressing, wondering if my candidate can pull it off after so much hard work and unfair/untrue accusations. It's almost a crime!

  11. PS: Velma reported the health ordeal you've been battling. Best wishes and good health to you, brave girl!


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