07 March 2018

Write in Haste, Publish at Leisure

There were so many killings that year I had to look up his name.  It was Philando Castile.

He was a Black man in Minnesota, killed by a Latino cop moments after telling the man that he had a licensed handgun in the car. The police officer was acquitted.

The shooting happened on Wednesday, July 6, 2016. The next day someone put up a link to this (already existing) video in which a jolly cop and cheerful civilian explain how to safely inform a police officer that you are carrying a weapon.  Someone had added in the comments, approximately: "For best results, be White."

The next day I went to synagogue and the rabbi's sermon was about the killing. As I biked home I remembered that video.  The plot of a story burst into my brain.

I am usually  a slow writer.  Very slow.  It takes me months to write a first draft and then a couple of years to turn it into something publishable.

But I wrote the very short "Nobody Gets Killed" in two hours that Friday night.  I revised it the next day and sent it to a friend for editing.  By Monday it was on its way to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and you can find it in their current, March/April, issue.

I have said before that every piece of fiction involves two sides of the brain, the Miner, and the Jeweler.  Some people talk about conscious/unconscious mind, or left and right brain, but this metaphor is what works for me.  The Miner digs out the raw material and may do some of the work, but eventually he hands it off to the Jeweler who polishes it into something that is hopefully publishable.  Often when the Miner is running the show the writer has little conscious memory of the process.  "It's like I wasn't even there.  The words just flowed out."

A lot of the time my Miner comes up with only the bare idea and leaves the Jeweler to do everything else.  But "Nobody Gets Killed" was 90% Miner.  Doesn't mean it's a better or worse story for that, by the way.  You will have to read it and see what you think.

One more thing...  I have just had stories in three issues of Hitchcock in a row.  "The Chair Thief" was a short comic tale  of office politics, with an unexpected sting in its tail.   "Train Tracks" was a long historic semi-Western story of revenge and redemption.  And now "Nobody Gets Killed" is a brief ripped-from-the-headlines slice-of-life anecdote.  Hitchcock has purchased one more  but it is not yet scheduled; "A Bad Day for Algebra Tests" is a comic crime caper.

It would appear that I am having some difficulty establishing a consistent brand for myself.   But as long as Hitchcock keeps buying (I am up to thirty sales there) I guess I shouldn't complain.

By the way, I wrote another piece about writing "Nobody Gets Killed," and it appears on Trace Evidence, the AHMM blog.


  1. Three issues of AHMM in a row. Wow. Inspirations from headlines can produce excellent fiction. I've done it and I know many others have. Harlan Ellison's Edgar Award winning short story (with one of my favorite titles) "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" was inspired by a real murder. I'm happy for you and for AHMM.

  2. Congratulations on your triple header, Rob. Way to go.

  3. Congratulations, Rob! I'm getting used to seeing your stories in every issue--keep it up.

  4. Congratulations. Three in a row is impressive. And thirty in AHHM is even more so.

    It sounds like our short story process is similar. I struggle with ideas, often for weeks, then when the idea is ready to come out, I can write a first draft in a few days. Then it takes months to polish again.

    Enjoyed your essay on the Trace Evidence blog, too.

    I'll keep looking for the next one.

  5. Congratulations! I will look forward to reading your latest.
    Once in a while, a story just comes as a gift.

  6. Thanks, folks. I believe "Whimper of Whipped Dogs" is one of two stories Ellison won Edgars for. Not bad for a science fiction writer. It's a great one, by the way.

  7. Rob, that's two great blog articles, one on SleuthSayers and one on AHMM's Trace Evidence.

    Thirty short stories in AHMM is a very respectable number, not to mention three in a row. Congrats.

  8. Rob, maybe multiple subgenres and variations *IS* your brand. You keep good company. No two novels by, say, Ira Levin were remotely close to similar. Likewise, Joseph Kessel never repeated himself– Afghanistan adventure drama, white girl coming-of-age in Africa, French erotic psychological tear-jerker. Embrace your singularities!

  9. Congratulations, Rob!
    And it's a great story...

  10. Rob, you are obviously doing a lot right with so many of your stories in AHMM and other places. Congratulations! I love your idea of the Miner and the Jeweler. I see them both (hmm, they're male--oh, well) in my mind. Fascinating post.

  11. Rob,
    Who needs a consistent brand when your stories at this good! Bravo! I can't wait for the next one.
    Bob D.

  12. Alas, I've too many miners and not enough jewelers working for me.


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