15 April 2017

So Mysterious: a Q&A With Gerald So

Gerald So is a name that's familiar to most of us who write short mystery fiction. In fact Gerald is a past president (2008-10) and past vice-president (2012-14) of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, as well as an author, editor, and publisher. Since 2008, he has published crime-themed poetry, first in The Lineup chapbook series, co-edited with Patrick Shawn Bagley, Reed Farrel Coleman, Sarah Cortez, Richie Narvaez, and Anthony Rainone, and now at The Five-Two weekly website.

I e-met Gerald long ago, and although we've never crossed paths in person, I feel I know him well through our many emails and his many projects. We also share a love of crime poetry. (I've sold more than 300 poems, believe it or not--many of them in the mystery category--to Writer's Digest, EQMM, Grit, Farm & Ranch Living, etc.). Gerald reminded me recently of one of my poems called "Tinseltown," which appeared in The Five-Two several years ago.  (Here's a link.)

Okay, that's my warm-up act. Here's the main event: a brief interview with the crime-poetry king himself, Gerald So.

JF: Gerald, it's great to have you with us at SleuthSayers. Let's start with a clarification: What would you say is the difference between crime fiction and crime poetry?

GS: Mainly, unlike fiction, poetry isn't necessarily narrative. Poetry doesn't have to stick to procedural aspects of genre conventions. It can, for example, depict the aftermath of crime as an emotional moment, before the tendency toward story sets in. Poets have the freedom to approach crime from angles you might not see in fiction. I need occasional breaks from reading and writing crime fiction while poetry has held my interest all along.

JF: How did you get started writing poetry, and especially crime-themed poetry?

GS: I started writing bad poetry in high school. By college, I'd decided fiction was safer ground, but while teaching at Hofstra University I befriended poet Robert Plath, and handled the technical side of the faculty poetry website he edited. In reading the material to be posted on the website, I began to form opinions about it, and then seriously write my own poetry. I broke into print with poetry, not fiction, and decided I wouldn't give it up.

I think the theme of crime worked its way in naturally because powerful inciting events, such as crimes, are what hook and keep me reading anything.

JF: I agree. As I mentioned earlier, you started out publishing The Lineup crime poetry chapbooks. Now that you've published via a website, would you ever consider adding a Five-Two paper format?

GS: Yes, but I'd need more resources and help to make it happen. The advantage of maintaining a poetry blog and ebooks is I'm the only one who has to work on them to see them published. That said, a longterm goal of the site and ebooks is to keep crime poetry in the public eye, to grow interest in the concept until things like print or audio releases, and anything else you might imagine, are within reach.

JF: Can you tell us more about The Lineup series?

GS: The Lineup was a print-on-demand chapbook published once a year from 2008 to 2011. An acquaintance, author Alex Echevarria Roman, suggested the idea of a crime-themed poetry journal, and I ran with it, recruiting friends as co-editors. The Lineup had four editors per issue, each reading and rating all the poems submitted. It was a unique but complicated process, and as my friends turned to bigger projects, The Lineup couldn't be sustained. All four published volumes are still available here, though, on Lulu.com.

JF: The Five-Two, which I've heard you call a "crime poetry weekly," is a great site. Who are some of the authors you've featured in The Five-Two?

GS: Thriller author J.T. Ellison is one of the volunteer audio performers. There have been poems by your fellow Derringer Award winner Joseph D'Agnese and by novelist Peter Swanson. Other frequently featured poets include Robert Cooperman, Jennifer Lagier, Charles Rammelkamp, and Nancy Scott.

JF: What other kinds of writing do you do?

GS: I've written book, TV, and film reviews for Crimespree Magazine, a regular TV/film column for Mysterical-E, and a handful of short stories in various journals. I'm waiting on the status of two shorts whose titles I'm not allowed to mention.

JF: In closing, what are some other current markets for crime-themed poetry?

GS: I don't know many other markets that seek crime poetry specifically as The Five-Two does, but there are always markets for poetry with powerful inciting events, of which crime is just one. Some are Midnight Lane Boutique, Nerve Cowboy, Red Fez, Silver Birch Press, and Yellow Mama.

JF: Which is my hint to try some of these latest markets, and for our readers (hopefully) to try their hand at crime poetry also. Many thanks, Gerald, for joining us today. Keep up the good work!

And thanks to all of you as well. I'll be back next Saturday with my regular SleuthSayers column, and some observations of my own . .  . but I hope you'll tune in anyway.


  1. Thanks again for the interview, John. Well titled. :)

  2. John,

    I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for telling us more about Gerald, one of the most interesting and giving people in the mystery writing community. And Gerald, thank you for always being there for your colleagues. You are a gem!

  3. Thank you as always, Gail. Send me some poetry already. :)

  4. Great interview, John and Gerald--so much appreciate all of this. Gerald has been such a central figure in the Short Mystery Fiction Society in so many ways, and I admire and appreciate both that work and his work in the world of crime poetry as well. Hats off to you both!

  5. Sounds really interesting. I must look up some of Gerald So's poems.

  6. Nice article. Just bookmarked The Five-Two and will go to it regularly now.

  7. Thank you, Art. I regret missing Bouchercon last year, where I could have met John and O'Neil De Noux in person. Assuming no hurricanes in Canada in October, I'll see everyone then.

  8. Good background and interview. Thanks Gerald and John!

  9. Thanks again, Gerald, for doing this. As Gail and Art said, you have been such a friend and example to those of us in the short-mystery world.

  10. Thanks for your interest in my poetry, Janice. It's strewn across the Web, and not all about crime, of course. Feel free to write me with feedback using the contact form at The Five-Two or my own blog.

    Thanks for commenting, Paul. It would be great to attract prose writers with ideas that don't quite fit into prose. That's the genesis of many of my poems.

    My pleasure again, John. I think anyone who writes short stories can be a champion for the form. The SMFS is at its best when we team up for things like anthologies, the Derringer medals, and the meetup meals.

  11. I think anyone who writes short stories can be a champion for the form.

    Not to leave out anyone who enjoys reading short stories. As a reader, I appreciate the economy of shorts and poetry. So few words, and yet they stay in our memories as well or better than longer works do.

  12. John and Gerald, thanks for a great interview! Gerald, like others, I appreciate all the time and hard work you devote to keeping the Short Mystery Fiction Society going. John, I loved "Tinseltown"--the ending took me completely by surprise.

  13. Thanks, Bonnie. Gerald is indeed tireless, and experienced in so many different kinds of writing.

    As for "Tinseltown," thank you--that was great fun to write. (But I doubt Carl Sandburg would've felt threatened by my talent.)

  14. Hi, Bonnie.

    I've gotten to know the great people behind great stories through Shortmystery (home of the SMFS). That energizes me, but as I told Art recently, the ultimate validation would be to see the Society flourish without me, as a teacher hopes of a student.

  15. Thanks again to everyone who commented today. If you've visited The Five-Two, you may have noticed this interview post marks the midpoint of a month-long blog tour highlighting poetry with crime elements. You're welcome to follow along the rest of the month.


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