30 June 2018

100 and Counting


by John M. Floyd




A few weeks ago I reached a milestone, of sorts: I sold my 100th story to Woman's World magazine. Allow me to mention, here, how grateful I am to both their editors and their readers, for allowing me to keep spinning these tales. I hope they'll want to buy a hundred more.

I'd also like to thank Dan Persinger, Jacqueline Seewald, Teresa Garver, Kevin Tipple, and others whose recent mentions of my WW stories on Facebook and elsewhere prompted me to write this piece. Woman's World is a market that is often overlooked by mystery writers, but if you enjoy--and have a knack for--creating very short stories, it's probably a market you should try.

Background info

As some of you know, Woman's World publishes one mystery story and one romance story in every issue. The magazine has a circulation of around two million readers/subscribers, they operate under the Bauer Media Group, they're based in New Jersey, and they've been around since 1981. I'm told they receive about 4,000 short-story submissions a month.

When I started submitting stories to WW almost twenty years ago, their mysteries were 1000 words in length and paid $500 each and their romance stories were 1500 words and paid $1000 each. Now, mysteries are 700 words max and pay $500 and romances are 800 words max and pay $800.

In January 2016 Patricia Riddle Gaddis replaced Johnene Granger as Fiction Editor of the magazine. I can't say enough about these two ladies: both of them are smart, professional, and talented, and both have been very good to me.

Although WW's mystery stories are often referred to as mini-mysteries, the correct term is now "solve-it-yourself" mysteries. More about that later.

Observations

Almost all the stories I've sold to WW have been mysteries--but two were romances, published years ago. I think those 1500-worders were much easier to write than the current 800-worders, and I have a lot of respect for those who can consistently write those short romance stories. It didn't take me long to figure out which genre was easier for me.

My first WW stories appeared in 1999, in their April 20, July 20, and July 27 issues. Afterward, I sold them one story in 2000, one in 2001, three in 2002, one in 2003, three in 2004, six in 2005, four in 2006, three in 2007, four in 2008, two in 2009, four in 2010, six in 2011, seven in 2012, ten in 2013, six in 2014, eight in 2015, ten in 2016, thirteen in 2017, and (so far) five in 2018. More than you wanted or needed to know, right?

In 2001 I began featuring two recurring characters in my WW stories, which has worked out well. For one thing, since readers are now relatively familiar with the two protagonists and their quirks (my characters have a lot of quirks), I don't have to waste much time "introducing" them in each story. That allows me more words to devote to the plot.

Not that it matters, but 62 of my 100 stories sold to WW involved either a robbery or a burglary. Only 21 involved murders. The rest were a mix of kidnappings, arson, fraud, jailbreaks, assault, blackmail, embezzlement, forgery, etc. I think there's a reason for that, although I doubt I was aware of it at the time: WW has always liked lighthearted tales, and non-lethal crimes like theft and trickery and property damage are a bit less traumatic than homicides.

Still on the subject of statistics, 92 of my 100 sales have been series stories, the rest of them standalones. And only 19 were whodunits. Most were howdunits. I've often heard that to write mysteries for WW you should have three suspects, and the guilty person must be one of those three. That's bad advice. You can do that if you want, but you don't have to. The main goal should merely be to put together a crime puzzle of some kind, not necessarily a whodunit, and make it entertaining.

In 2004 the top brass at WW decided to move to "interactive" mysteries rather than mysteries with traditional storylines. Hence the new name "solve-it-yourself" mysteries, where a question is introduced in the story and the answer is provided in a solution box at the end of the piece. I confess that I lobbied against this idea--I liked the freedom and variety of the traditional storytelling format--but they'd already made up their minds. And, as I think I've said in the past, when the train you want to ride comes blasting through the station, you can either (1) climb onto it, (2) get squashed, or (3) get left behind. I hopped aboard.

As part of WW's transition from regular mysteries to interactive mysteries, I was invited by the fiction editor to write several experimental stories that would help to ease readers into the new format. The first of these ("Customer Service," Dec. 14, 2004, issue) included--get this--six clues that were not only highlighted in the text but were designated as "CLUES." (Did I mention that this was a "trial-and-error" transition?) Anyhow, i happily wrote the story, but I told them I didn't like the "announcement of clues" approach, and WW agreed. Afterward, the solve-it-yourself mystery became just a story and a solution box, and it remains so today.

Here's something crazy: On two different occasions, my stories were published under another writer's byline. (How did this happen? Who knows.) Both times editor Johnene Granger phoned me afterward to apologize, and I think she was relieved to find that the mistake didn't bother me at all. The checks came on time, the bank cashed them with no problem, and my ego survived the ordeal.

At one point, after WW had published eight of my standalone stories and 23 installments of my "series," I decided to try sending them a story with two different main characters. The editor bought and published that story ("The Quilt Caper," May 17, 2010, issue), but then sent me a note saying she preferred I go back to my tried-and-true cast. Since Mama didn't raise no fools, I saluted and obeyed. My other two crimesolving characters, Fran and Lucy Valentine, did survive, though: they've now appeared in 56 stories, most of them in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Flash Bang Mysteries, Mysterical-E, Kings River Life, and several anthologies--but they've never appeared again in WW.

One of the best things about Woman's World is its professionalism. They've always gotten the contracts to me on time and paid me on time. Always. And they've been easy to work with, on proposed changes. They've also twice paid me "kill fees" (twenty percent of the full rate) when they found they were unable to publish stories that they'd previously accepted. (This happened in 2004, during the trial-and-error transition from one mystery format to the other.)

Another good thing is that the editor sometimes asks me to write a story--especially if there's a holiday coming up and they don't have a story in hand that they want to run. Several years ago, for example, the editor contacted me and said she needed a Fourth of July mystery. "And I need it by tomorrow," she added. I came up with an idea that night, wrote the story, sent it to her the following morning, they published it, and everyone was happy. That doesn't happen often, but when the editor asks me for something, I try really hard to deliver it. (I feel the same way about invitations to anthologies: if someone thinks highly enough of me to invite me to contribute a story, I'm not going to say no.)

A final observation, more about me than about WW: I don't write only short-short stories. Most of my stories these days seem to run between 3000 and 8000 words--several of those are upcoming in AHMM, EQMM, Strand Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, etc.--but there's something about the little mini-mysteries that's always been fun for me. Part of it's probably because I actually enjoy the re-writing and self-editing phase, the whittling away of all the extra and unneeded stuff that most of us plug into our stories. As you flash-fiction writers know, stories of less than 1000 words require a lot of this.

A word about editing

I must tell you, WW does like to edit my manuscripts. Usually just a word or two, but sometimes more. Example: In my story "Fun and Games," which was published a few weeks ago in the June 11 issue, my Sheriff Jones character and his amateur-sleuth partner Angela Potts have arrived at the local college library, where Professor Harriet Pinskey informs them that a golden statuette of a regal woman in Roman attire--presented to Pinskey's organization by a European billionaire--has been stolen from a display case. The following is some dialogue between the sheriff, Angela, and the professor:

    "What organization?" the sheriff asked.

    "An all-female academic society," Pinskey said. "MOLTH. It means: Move Over--Ladies Thinking Here."

    The sheriff grinned. "Why not 'Women'? That'd be appropriate: MOWTH."

    "You better shut yours," Angela said. "You're outnumbered."

Yes, I know it's silly, and certainly not necessary to the plot, but I love this kind of idiotic humor. Alas, the editors did not: that exchange didn't appear in the final, printed version.

On one occasion (in my story "The Train to Graceland," June 30, 2014, issue) my robbery victim was a young Chinese lady. For some reason, the Powers That Be at WW didn't like that, and I was asked to change the woman's nationality. I made her British instead, and all was well. I'm still trying to figure that one out.


Sometimes titles get changed, as well. Out of the 100 stories I've done for WW, 49 of my title choices were overruled. A few of their new titles, I must admit, wound up sounding better than my originals--but some didn't. I truly loved one of my titles, to a story involving the robbery and kidnapping of a guy named Ron. My suggested title was "Take the Money and Ron," which in all modesty I thought was pretty clever; their title, the one that made it in to the magazine, was "Candid Camera." Big sigh.

Tips

Here are a few things I would suggest a writer do, if he/she wants to write mystery stories for Woman's World:

- Include a lot of dialogue.

- Don't use strong language or excessive violence.

- Avoid politics, religion, social issues, or anything else that might be controversial.

- Don't put pets in jeopardy. Go ahead and whack Professor Plum on the head with the candlestick in the parlor if you like, but do NOT dognap his poodle. Around that corner lies immediate rejection.

- Inject some humor. Sometimes it gets edited out, sometimes it doesn't--and it usually helps.

- Be fair with the clues.

- Keep the solutions short.

- Lean toward cozy. About six months ago WW decided to focus more on lighter subject matter and less on murder mysteries. As a result, all the stories I've sold them so far this year involved domestic, non-violent crimes. Just saying.

Questions

Have you ever tried sending a story to Woman's World? Have you been published there? (Several of my fellow SleuthSayers have been.) If so, what were some of your experiences? Do you find these very short mysteries easier to write than the typical mystery tales--or harder?

If you've never tried it, give it a go. As I mentioned, most of my stories are longer rather than shorter--I honestly enjoy writing those, and we all know a longer story offers the writer a lot of working-room for the plot. But there's something I also like about trying to tell an entire story in a matter of only two or three pages.

You might find you like it too.








29 June 2018

North to Alaska

by Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck
By the time you read this I will have been eaten by bears.

Or moose. A Møøse once bit my sister.

Remember Monty Python? Ah, those were the days, discovering off-kilter comedy on Public Broadcasting, brought from overseas. Now I scroll through cable and everything looks like a commercial. Maybe I'm just old and cranky, I just turned 47, which is the new 29, but still old. I am frightened for my country. We have a taste for war and little empathy, because we have never been invaded. Well, the South knows war better than we do. They're still bitter over it, even though they started it. War leaves scars. And the last person to get hit always thinks they're the victim.

In a few days I'll be visiting Canada, and after the President's foolish comments, I'm wary of meeting strangers. Usually when I travel, I like finding a pub to meet the locals. When I visited Ireland during the Bush II Presidency, I drank a lot of free pints from people who wanted to ask why we elected that buffoon. Now I'm more concerned that I'll have a beer splashed in my face, or worse.

Yuppie problems. Boo hoo, my country's harmful policies might ruin my vacation.

What does this have to do with writing? Nothing, and everything.

I haven't been writing. Not as much as I'd like, or at all, depending on the day. I have trouble seeing the point.

Then I find some motivation and chunk along a bit, editing the crap I wrote the days before, and adding some more to it.

The dance band kept playing on the Titanic. People need entertainment more than ever.

When I feel this way I am reminded of a wonderful poem by Maggie Smith, called "Good Bones."

Good Bones

BY MAGGIE SMITH
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Or if you'd rather have it in a snappy hardboiled patter, the final lines from the movie Seven, written by Andrew Kevin Walker: "Ernest Hemingway once wrote, 'the world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part." Hemingway's full words are, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it." But he did, when he felt useless. And he left so many cats behind. I can't imagine doing that. The cats survived, as they do. They even survived Hurricane Irma, when cat lovers fretted over the 54 six-toed felines. They weathered the storm in Hemingway's villa with its 18 inch thick limestone walls, as did the curators of the house. He built something with good bones, that outlived his own despair.

And we all do, when we write with our hearts in it.

I'll keep fighting.


28 June 2018

Book Store Event Dos and Don'ts For Authors

by Brian Thornton

(Today I'm interviewing Bainbridge Island's own Jim Thomsen. A former newspaperman and current freelance writer/editor, Jim recently did a stint as a bookseller and assistant events manager at Eagle Harbor Book Company. He came away from the experience with a new understanding of the importance of book store events for authors, and some innovative ideas about ways in which authors can leverage these events to help build brand and leverage sales. Jim is a frequent guest contributor to this blog, including his most piece, celebrating decades of distinctly Seattle-centric crime fiction, which can be found here.)

Let’s talk about your unique experience within the publishing industry first. Can you walk readers not familiar with your work through what kind of work you’ve done so far?

I work as an independent manuscript editor, doing developmental and line-editing work. I've done contract and one-off work with publishing houses before, but I prefer working directly with authors, who generally fall into two camps: 1) self-publishers; and 2) authors under contract who don't trust the quality of the editing they get from their publishing house. I prefer to be a free agent, to give my clients my best advice without constraints, and usually work for publishing houses is defined as much by what you aren't allowed to do as what you are. I've worked with a few hundred clients since starting full-time in 2010, just ahead of the end of my 25-year career as a newspaper editor. 

Most recently, I worked for just shy of seven months as a bookseller and assistant events manager at my hometown bookstore, Eagle Harbor Book Company on Bainbridge Island.


And you’ve attended your fair share of writing events as both a guest speaker and as an audience member over the years. So how did taking on this new role change your outlook on bookstore events?

I had a very one-sided view of what makes for a successful author event at a bookstore, and probably an uniformed view of what the bookstore is obligated to do vs. what the author is obligated to.  Much as naive authors think their publishing houses should arrange all their publicity and promotion, so do they think that bookstores should do all their heavy lifting for an event. Not so! In fact, that mindset is almost certainly a recipe for failure, and that's a knock on the author, not the bookstore. Both have their jobs to do, and they work best when they approach the job of getting butts in the bookstore seats as a teamwork task. Before, I thought bookstores made most of it happen. Now I know better.


Can you walk us through the process of preparing for one of these events on the bookstore/event staff side?

My immediate boss at Eagle Harbor Book Co., Victoria Irwin, is a stone pro at this job, and it was a pleasure to follow how she did her thing. Sometimes an author or an author's publicist approached us; sometimes we looked through upcoming author-tour announcements in online trade publications and thought, "Hey, this author's book has a lot of buzz, and she's going to be in the area during a time when we have some openings on our calendar, and we think our readers will like the subject matter, so let's make our interest known and hope for the best."

Jeff Benedict
And sometimes an event just magically drops in our lap. A recent example: Jeff Benedict, the co-author of the new big-buzz Tiger Woods biography, had centered his last book on the U.S.'s top food-safety lawyers, a guy who lived on Bainbridge Island. The lawyer's wife approached us and said that if we wanted Benedict to speak to our customers, she could arrange it. How awesome was that? That was a "get" way out of our league, and Benedict was wonderful — he flew out from Boston just for us, and gave a terrific talk.

Anyway, once we agree to a calendar date with an author, we really go to work. We decide how many copies of the book to order, and order them, which is a fine art in itself — trying to gauge customer interest in an event. Over-ordering, especially with independently published books outside the Ingram ecosystem, can be risky because returns aren't guaranteed and we have to depend on the good faith of the author in a consignment arrangement. 

Then, we hit all the publicity bases: We put the event in our website calendar and our monthly newsletter. We post about the event on our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook sites. We write press releases and send them to local media — not just news outlets but anybody who has a calendar/newsletter and a vested general-community interest. We enter the event in the local online calendars — in Eagle Harbor's case, the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce and the two newspapers that cover Bainbridge — the hometown Review and the Kitsap Sun. We do a new round of social media posts, with links to interviews the authors have done or reviews of their books on respected sites like Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, etc. Lather, rinse and repeat, all the way up to the afternoon of the event. And of course, we talk the event up with our customers, and do window and front-of-the-store signage and displays. 

But we also check in with the author. Do they have local friends? Are they promoting the event in person or via their online platforms? Are they planning to bring enticements like baked treats? (Memo to authors: Everybody loves baked treats. You cannot go wrong bringing goodies to your event.) 

Through all these factors, we get, hopefully, a ballpark idea of how many people are going to show so we can clear the right amount of event space in the middle of the store in a timely fashion. 

That said, we often guess wrong. Think of the last party you planned. My experience with party planning follows a weird "rule": One-third of the people who say they'll show don't, and a handful of people who gave you no indication they were going to come, did. 

Much depends on weather. If it's too nice out, people will stay home and garden or walk or bicycle or paddleboard or just laze on their porch. If it's stormy out, people would other prefer to stay home and not get wet. 

The sweet spot, for us anyway: The local author with lost of local friends who does their share of the promotional heavy lifting. Whether they're self-published or New York-published doesn't matter as much as the fact that they have a lot of church or work friends or neighbors or relatives who wish them well and want to show their support. The event then takes on a kind of happy-kaffeklatsch feel, which is fine with us. 

There's some genre bias as well. For us, nonfiction books with a niche interest do much better than fiction — we have a number of local rock-star genre novelists whose best-seller statuses don't necessarily translate into big bookstore crowds. The readers tend to bond more with the books than the person who wrote them, is the best I can guess. Though we have one Bainbridge novelist who's such an outsized, hilarious, charismatic presence that we decided to "go big" for the recent launch of his latest novel, and drew some 200 people for a party at a local community center. That's more the exception than the rule, in my experience.

What we call "woo-woo" books draw good crowds. There's a seemingly bottomless appetite in our community for books about spirituality, metaphysics, healing, journeys through loss, etc. Activity-based books draw good crowds, too — hiking, biking, beachcombing, cooking, kid stuff, environmental stewardship, etc. Memoirists do well as well.

Owen Laukkanen
Crime fiction? Sadly, not so much. My last night as a bookstore employee featured a thriller author, Owen Laukkanen, who was doing a self-financed cross-country tour behind his most recent book,which had gotten good reviews. But based on previous experiences with events featuring crime authors, I knew we needed to do more than promote the book. I thought I had the key: Owen kept a blog in which he talked with rare candor about his struggles as an author and as a person, and I thought that humanizing element would add an extra dimension to his potential draw at the event. I posted several blog excerpts in several different social-media venues, trying to whip up interest. It didn't work. We got nine people.

I was discouraged, and though Owen was a good sport about it, I know he was disappointed as well. In his blog the next day, he wrote: "I had a blast at every one of my events, but, man, it’s sure getting old trading excuses and rationale for low numbers with sympathetic booksellers. If it’s a sunny day, it’s too nice out to be in a bookstore. If it’s a rainy day, it’s too miserable out to leave the house. Too hot. Too cold. Wrong time of year. Or maybe I’m just not a very big draw." He concluded with "Is it possible to feel discouraged without feeling the world owes me anything more than it's given me?"

I can't say I blamed him much for feeling that way. I felt the same too. 

(BTW, that's not why I quit! I left to deal with family matters, and put more time into my resurgent editing practice. And I left on great terms with everyone.)

What do you think of the recent trend of authors “teaming up,” and doing double signings?

It's rare that we have precisely those kinds of events. Multi-author events at Eagle Harbor tend to fall into two categories. The first is what I call the big-big events, like Independent Bookstore Day, in which several Bainbridge Island authors served hour-long stints throughout the day as "guest booksellers," chatting with customers and offering their recommendations. Or Summer Bookfest, which we co-hosted with Seattle7Writers. Nineteen Seattle-area authors for two hours of mingling and handselling.

The second kind of multi-author event is the "in conversation with" event, in which we pair an out-of-town author with a local author who writes in a similar genre or vein for an hour or so of Q&A before turning it over to the audience. Those seem to work well, as we draw a deeper pool of prospective attendees who may be fans of one author or the author, and walk away fans of both.



Jim Thomsen is a writer and book-manuscript editor who lives in his hometown of Bainbridge Island, Washington, a 35-minute ferry ride west of downtown Seattle. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 25 years, including stints at The Seattle Times and The Kitsap Sun. A longtime board member of the Mystery Writers of America-Northwest chapter, his crime fiction has been accepted for publication in Shotgun Honey, Pulp Modern, Switchblade and West Coast Crime Wave. He can be reached through his webpage: http://jimthomsencreative.com/




27 June 2018

The Big Sleep

David Edgerley Gates


If not the most celebrated of noir private dick pictures, The Big Sleep is a pretty tall stick on the way there. Right from the get-go, you know what country you're in, the leads in silhouette, Bogart lighting Bacall's cigarette, behind the titles, the foreboding Max Steiner score. The mansion, the butler, Carmen with her up-from-under look, the general in the hothouse full of orchids, "nasty things, ...like the flesh of men." Not a lot of wasted motion.


It was shot in 1945, right after To Have and Have Not, but Warners didn't release it until '46. In the meantime, they did some reshoots - the famous horse-racing exchange, for one - and Hawks re-cut the picture. The first edit actually makes more sense, and there isn't much difference in the run-times, but the finished product is paced so fast you never get a chance to catch your breath.

People complain the story's too hard to follow. Fair enough. Did the Sternwood chauffeur drive himself off the pier or was it staged? It's a dropped stitch, there's more than one, and nobody gets that worked up over it. Some of this is because of the Production Code. There was stuff they were never going to get away with. The biggest for instance is that Carmen can't have killed anybody, at least not and walk away, so they have to blame it on Eddie Mars. (In the book, Eddie lives to fight another day, and Marlowe even respects him on certain levels.) The book dealer, Geiger, sells pornography to a very select client list that he also blackmails, and the Lundgren kid is his boy-toy. That didn't make it into the picture. Big sister Vivian of course wants to help Carmen out of a jam, but she's not an accessory to murder. And so on. The problem being that if you subtract a key piece, the puzzle falls apart.

On the other hand, it mostly doesn't matter. The movie's all misdirection. It's character, and dialogue. How many pictures have so many amazing bits of business? The script is credited to William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman, with an uncredited assist from Philip Epstein. More than a little comes straight out of Chandler. Can you beat it?

The cop, Bernie Ohls, describing Sean Regan: "The ex-legger Sternwood hired to do his drinking for him."

"I don't like your manners."
"I don't like 'em, either. I grieve over them, long winter evenings."

"Is he as cute as you are?"
"Nobody is."

"You know what he'll do when he comes back? [Canino] Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling."

"You're a mess."
"I'm not very tall, either."

Hawks later said the picture proved something he'd already suspected, that with enough foreground razzle-dazzle, you didn't have to worry about narrative logic. "I never figured out what was going on," he told an interviewer, and at the end of the day, nobody else could, either.

Bacall gets the last word, right before the fade-out, after Bogart hangs up on the cops.
"You've forgotten one thing," she says. "Me."
He looks at her. "What's wrong with you?" he asks.
"Nothing you can't fix," she tells him.

26 June 2018

Welcome to my Universe

by Robert Lopresti

I recently read two books of the same subgenre which appeared within a month of each other.  Nothing odd about that, except the only other book I have ever encountered of that type I read decades ago.

Thekind  of book I am referring to a shared universe collection of mystery stories.  The concept of a shared universe is a group of authors writing about the same world with perhaps overlapping plots and characters.

To be clear I am not referring to:
* Authors co-writing a book (e.g. Ellery Queen)
* People merely writing new stories about an existing character (e.g. ten million post-Doyle Sherlock Holmes adventures.
* An author inheriting some earlier writer's franchise (e.g. Anne Hillerman).
* A single author writing a novel in stories, (e.g Art Taylor's On The Road With Del and Louise)
* A serial novel, in which each chapter is written by a different author (e.g Naked Came The Stranger, and several other books with titles starting with those first three words. Or The Floating Admiral, created by the Detection Club in 1931. By the way, Mark Twain hilariously described the writing of one of these in  Chapter 51 of Roughing It.) 

No, I m referring to an author deliberately setting up a playground and inviting other authors to play in it by creating tales of their own.

Shared universes are pretty common in science fiction and in fantasy.  Charles L. Grant even created one in horror.  (Greystone Bay is a lovely New England village, but I wouldn't recommend it to tourists.)

I read a mystery of this type back in the early eighties and if someone can remind me of the title and main author I would be grateful.   In the first story a private eye is hired to find six paintings that have been sold to different cities.  He subcontracts the job to different private eyes, and each story tells of a different hero's adventures in pursuit of the artwork.

And as I said at the beginning, that was the only example of the type I had read until this year, when Culprits appeared.  It was edited and conceived by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips.  It's a caper novel and would appeal to fans of Richard Stark's Parker novels.

The first story, written by the two editors, describes the planning and the heist.  There is a double-cross (surprise!) and the old gang breaks up.  Then the remaining authors (Zoe Sharp, Gar Anthony Haywood, and David Corbett, to name a few) follow various members of the pack on their post-caper adventures.  Some tales are tightly connected to what you might call the main story line (hunting for the traitor) and some float free.

A week after Culprits was released Night of the Flood arrived.  The editors are E.A. Aymar and Sarah M. Chen.  This book takes place in the small fictional town of Everton, Pennsylvania.  A woman named Maggie Wilbourne is executed for murdering the men who raped her.  A group of women calling themselves the Daughters promised that if that happened they would blow up the dam, destroying the town.  The stories take place on the night they carry out their threat.

As in Culprits, some of the stories adhere to the main plot (the Daughters) and others have no connection except that they take place during the flood.  My favorite story in the book is an example of the latter.  In "The Curse," by Mark Edwards, a couple think they have been chased all the way from Britain by a demon who has attacked them with several plagues including, yup, a flood. 

Both books are enjoyable, and bravo to everyone involved for trying something different.

Have you read any similar books?  Whatcha think?

25 June 2018

Editors, Teachers and Writers (a restrained rant)

by Steve Liskow

A few days ago, I took umbrage at the following post on the SMFS site:

Content editors--book doctors, developmental editors, or whatever else practitioners of this trade call themselves nowadays--are an unjustified expenditure for most aspiring writers. They commonly charge well into four figures and won't guarantee to make your book any better at all. They claim to be able to help with ethereal things like plot development, imagery, pace, and other nonquantifiable elements, but they won't guarantee those things will be any better whatsoever once they're done because they can't. The only thing a freelance story editor or a like contractor working with a tiny indie press can guarantee to authors is to separate them from a lot of their money with no provable advantage for them.

Bull.

Before I continue, let me say that the only published work I find for this writer on Amazon is a grammar, punctuation and STYLE guide that looks too expensive for its length. I didn't read it, but whether it's good or bad, the mention of style in the title makes the entire statement above eat its tail.

Many agents and publishers now encourage an "aspiring writer" to get a professional edit before submitting their work. They seem to think that an expert can someone's plot development, character arc, or pace, all of which are both quantifiable and qualifiable elements of writing. They're in a position to know, aren't they?

There's a law in physics that says conditions equalize because something (heat, cold, pressure, etc.) flows from an area of greater concentration to an area of lesser concentration. Education is based on a similar idea: that people with more knowledge or expertise can pass it on to students who have less of those things. That's why schools and colleges exist. We require American students to study English (including writing or composition) for their entire career. Centuries of experience prove the subject matter can be taught and learned. Those are different sides of the coin and there are good and poor teachers, just as there are good or poor students, mechanics, doctors, painters, plumbers, mechanics, cooks, photographers, drivers, critics or anything else you can name.

Since I started teaching and switched over to writing, I have read at least a thousand books about writing or teaching writing. A depressingly high percentage of them are poor, but even those usually taught me something.
 If you don't think you can improve your craft or help others improve theirs, you shouldn't sit at the table. When Stephen King accepted the 2003 National Book Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, he said, "I've tried to improve myself with every book and find the truth inside the lie. Sometimes I have succeeded. I salute the National Book Foundation Board, who took a huge risk in giving this award to a man many people see as a rich hack."

I quote King because, like anyone who stays around, he's a much better writer than he was when he wrote Carrie, and that was a heck of a book. Now he does character backstory and depth as well as anyone out there and he writes much better female characters than he used to. He uses throwaways and irony, too. In other words, he's learned to throw more than a fast ball. I'm about 3/4 of the way through his newest book, The Outsider, probably the best book I have read so far this year.

Writers use critique groups and beta readers, both cheap forms of editing. Some groups and readers are great and some are not, but you can learn a lot from people who do something better than you do, and maybe as much from people who love the work even if they don't do it (Writers need readers, if nobody ever mentioned that before). Feedback is a form of learning and teaching. Schools and colleges offer creative writing classes. Those enterprises are aimed at making writers better at the qualifiable and quantifiable elements mentioned above. Of course those teachers and institutions ask for money. Living isn't free, and nobody who is very good at something should have to do it for free, either. If you don't believe that, try comparison shopping for knee replacements.

At the first writing conference I attended, I signed up for a critique and sent 25 pages of my MS in advance. Kate Flora, an excellent writer and teacher, spent about twenty minutes with me, and I learned more in that conversation than in the last year of struggling through several how-to books. I didn't follow every suggestion Kate offered, but I considered them. Years later, when I sold my first novel (a different one), Kate blurbed it. She also edited my first few short stories. All of those stories were measurably better because of her work on them.

I am a freelance editor now, and I taught English in an urban high school and a community college for thirty-three years. I know or have worked with several other fiction editors--many of whom I met through MWA, SinC, or both, and they include Barb Goffman (also here on Sleuthsayers), Jill Fletcher, Chris Roerden, Lynne Heitman, Leslie Wainger and Ramona DeFelice Long.

Every one of them will make a manuscript better. They can all explain how and why it's better, too. But only a fool would guarantee that editing will result in a sale. Taste is a personal thing; connecting it to quality is like juxtaposing apples and snow tires.

As I write this, I'm also reading reports that Koko, a 46-year-old gorilla, has passed away. Koko revealed aspects of primates we'd never suspected before, showing maternal love for kittens and other small animals, and telling her handlers she wanted to be a mother. She told her handlers through the more than one thousand words she learned in sign language. People taught a gorilla a larger vocabulary than the average politician.

Think what she could have done with a word processor and a good agent...to go along with those teachers.

24 June 2018

Putting Up E-books

by R.T. Lawton


1st e-book, 2011
For those of you wondering about putting up e-books, it's easier now than it was a few years ago, but there's still a few things you might want to know if you're starting from scratch.  Roughly, there's two systems you can work in. (NOTE: The following is not intended to be an everything step-by-step guide.)

When you format for Kindle, your e-books are sold only on Amazon. When you format for Smashwords, they distribute your e-books in six different platforms to their respective sellers for the other e-readers out there. For instance, if a buyer desiring to purchase your story has a Nook, then that buyer acquires your e-book through Barnes & Noble. For an Apple, Kobo, etc., they have their own stores to carry your e-book which is distributed through the Smashwords' catalog. Fortunately for you, both formats can now use a Word document to turn your manuscript into an e-book.

2nd e-book, 2011
In 2011, when I put up my first four e-collections of short stories, it was best to do a nuclear option system of formatting, in which case the simple way was to use two computers. One computer used Word as you normally would. The other computer was used to strip out most of Word's formatting commands to put your manuscript in submission format. The problem being if you ever opened the submission manuscript on the normal computer, then the Word formatting commands automatically came back in again. Yeah, you could do it all on one computer, but it could be a headache. Nowadays, the process is easier.

3rd e-book, 2011
To publish for Kindle, go to https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200635650  and print out their 19 page how-to-do-it manual. Follow their steps and it's fairly easy. When your manuscript is ready, the manual will direct you to the proper place for uploading it into their system. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions during the uploading process. For instance, have a long and a short description of your book ready. Also have an idea of the keywords and categories you want to plug in for any search engine. Mystery and Fiction are givens, but is your book humorous, hard-boiled, cozy, young adult, etc.? Have a price in mind. More on price later. Have a cover. More on that later. And, have a lot of patience. It may take more than one attempt to get all the way through the process.

One decision you will have to make with Kindle is whether or not you want your e-book to be exclusive to Amazon/Kindle. If so, they offer some special programs and incentives to do so. However, that also means that your e-book cannot be distributed to other e-readers.

4th e-book, 2011
This brings us to Smashwords, which distributes to the other e-readers. They have somehow developed a software program that takes your Word manuscript in and turns it into several different formatted platforms. The original software was aptly named "The Meatgrinder."

Go to: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52 and download their 62 page style guide for directions on formatting your manuscript and entering their publishing process. Be sure to set up the best formatted manuscript you can in order to get your e-book into their Premium Catalog for wider distribution. And again, be prepared to answer pretty much the same questions as required by Kindle during the process.

5th e-book, 2018
E-book Formatting: You can do your own formatting according to the respective guideline manuals, or you can hire out the work. If you hire out the formatting, consider it as fronting the money and hoping for enough return in sales to cover your financial investment. I'm not computer savvy, but I do have a retired Huey pilot friend who made the mistake of saying, "I think I can figure out how to do that (in those days nuclear option) formatting thing." So, I let him. And now, he gets a percentage of my percentage.

Price: Once you enter a price for your e-book, the program usually tells you how much the author gets. Ninety-nine cents is usually the lowest price acceptable, although I have seen other prices listed as choices during the process. At ninety-nine cents, the author usually gets about 35% of the sale amount, whereas at $2.99 and up, the author usually gets about 70%. There is some small variation when your e-book is sold in foreign countries, although you are still paid in U.S. dollars. Which brings us to method of payment. Amazon/Kindle pays via EFT (electronic funds transfer), while Smaeshwords pays via PayPal. You will probably want to set up one method or the other or both (assuming you decide to publish with both companies).

6th e-book, 2018
Cover: If you are artistically inclined, you can make your own cover. If not, then you can find someone who is or hire someone to make you a book cover. Look at other authors' e-book covers to decide what you like and what you don't. Then, if you are hiring someone else to do the cover, decide how much you are willing to spend, in which case you are guessing whether or not your e-book sales will at least pay for the cost of the cover. In my case, my Huey pilot friend also has artistic ability, so he created the first six covers you see in this blog article. The first four were done in 2011 for those e-books. For the 5th and 6th covers, I wanted a different look, so we used personal photographs as artwork to make those covers.

Brian's cover

Two very professional covers I've been impressed with were commissioned by our own SleuthSayer author Brian Thornton for his "Suicide Blonde" and "Paper Son." Both stories originally appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine as short stories, however, "Suicide Blonde" is now in the process of becoming a novella for an e-book and also as a print book. A contract has already been inked for future publication.

Brian's other cover
For any questions on how Brian had his covers made, contact him directly and he'll be glad to explain the process and who he went through to get those covers.


If you plan on putting up your own e-books or e-collections, let us know what you have in mind. Or, if you have already put them up, please share your experiences and any tips you might have to make the process go easy.


Thanks.

23 June 2018

CANADA DAY - Pass the Hootch

By Melodie Campbell  (Digressing from crime, for this post only.  Bad Girl gets paid for writing humour, which come to think of it, may be a crime.)


July 1 is Canada Day.  This is the holiday in which we celebrate the birth of Canada by getting stuck in cottage traffic for hours and hours and throwing firecrackers at each other.  Canadians are a hardy lot.

I want to be serious for a moment and give some thought as to how this country was born (definitely a breech birth with lots of screaming.)

Canada became a country in 1867.  I wasn't at the original Fathers of Confederation gig in PEI.  But I suspect it went something like this.

Father 1 of Confederation:  "So.  Do we all want to band together as one country and get ourselves universal healthcare?  Pass the hootch."

Father 2 of Confederation:  "Yeah, okay, eh.  Sounds good.  Pass the hootch."

Father 3 of Confederation:  "Snore..."

Meanwhile, the Mothers of Confederation were busy doing useful things like making bannock and throwing venison on the barbie.  And when they found out...well, let me just say there was hell to pay.

"You bozos didn't include a Caribbean Island??  Come on Mildred...Abigail.  We're buying a trailer in Florida."

Because you see: Canada is cold.  It is particularly cold during the months of winter, which can fiendishly usurp months from autumn and spring and hold them ransom until summer.

And then, just to be contrary, the guys with the hootch made Ottawa the capital of Canada.

Why did they choose Ottawa?  Apparently they were afraid you Yanks might capture the capital if they put it in some desirable place like Toronto.  (Too close to the border, with great shopping and restaurants.)

I'm told that Ottawa and Moscow are considered the worst places to be posted if you are an ambassador.  This is because they are the two most northern capitals in the world...well, capitals of any country to which humans might actually want to go.

Personally, I think this is a great exaggeration.  No one wants to go to Ottawa and Moscow.

Okay, okay.  Ottawa can be a pretty place in summer.  Thing is, it is held hostage by Jack Frost most of the rest of the year.  Look at a map.  Ottawa is dangerously close to the Arctic Circle.  (In actual fact, so are Aurora and Newmarket.  If you're wondering why that commute into Toronto takes so long...)

In hindsight, I figure the Fathers of Confederation did a pretty good job.  We have universal healthcare and the best beer in the world.  We get rid of our politicians by sending them to Ottawa every year.  Talk about punishment.

And since 1867, Canada has never been invaded by Americans.  Of course, that may change this fall, after the midterms...

Two things, if you like this sort of humour:
Check out Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN for my guest blog this Wednesday https://somethingisgoingtohappen.net/
and
Check out the Derringer and Arthur Ellis award-winning crime series, The Goddaughter.  Sold at all
the usual suspects. 


22 June 2018

The Mysterious Women of Dell Magazines: Linda Landrigan


Linda Landrigan
Linda Landrigan
We complete our hat trick of interviews with the editorial staff of Dell's mystery magazines. Today we introduce editor Linda Landrigan.
— Robert Lopresti

Linda Landrigan is the editor-in-chief of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. She edited the commemorative anthology Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Presents Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense (2006), and the e-anthology Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Presents Thirteen Tales of New American Gothic (2012). Before assuming the role of editor of AHMM, Linda served as the associate editor of the magazine under Cathleen Jordan for five years.



What are you reading right now?

I’ve been reading the Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle, but I am taking a break right now to read The World of Yesterday, Stefan Zweig’s autobiography of growing up in Vienna.


What do you do in your free time?

I really enjoy weaving, knitting, and sewing, but I’m not very good at any one thing. I enjoy exploring my environs on my bike on nice days, too.


Do you have any pets?

Just a cat, Libby.


What’s the last movie you watched?

Black Panther.


What TV shows do you enjoy?

I love Vera and Shetland (Thank you, David Edgerley Gates, for turning me onto Shetland). I recently watched (and liked very much) an Icelandic series called Trapped.


What great short story or collection have you read recently?

I love rediscoveries. Though at this point not all that recent, Sarah Weinman’s anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives is a terrific book. It’s always fun to see what Crippen & Landru are bringing out. I’m enjoying working my way through Martin Edward’s anthology Capital Crimes: London Mysteries right now.


Do you read any other periodicals?

I love the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly, and I always read the daily newspaper. I get my ideas for what to read next from Mystery Scene (If only I read faster!).


Have you always been a fan of mysteries?

My mother and grandfather were big fans (and AHMM subscribers) and always trading books, and when I was eight or nine and wanted to be part of their club, my mother handed me the 87th Precinct books. Later, after college, I rediscovered mysteries starting with P.D. James’s Inspector Dalgliesh series. Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine books were also early favorites.


What is your personal editorial philosophy?

I read for the melody of the prose, and am hooked by a well-drawn character. I confess a good plot is the last thing I look for when I read manuscripts. Though, if the plot is thin or poorly paced or relies on obvious tricks, I become frustrated and bored with the story.

What I like to find in a story are characters with honesty and integrity (whether or not they are good or bad at heart), who are touched in some way by the events of the story. I am turned off by affected language—straining to sound like Chandler or Hammett, for instance.


Thank you, Linda. We look forward to a never-ending supply of top grade stories. Thank you also, Janet and Jackie. Look for the women of mystery in Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines.

21 June 2018

The Mysterious Women of Dell Magazines: Janet Hutchings

Janet Hutchings
Janet Hutchings
photo by Laurie Pachter
Yesterday we began a series of interviews with the editors of the Dell mystery magazines. We began with Jackie Sherbow, we finish tomorrow with Linda Landrigan. But today we welcome Janet Hutchings.

— Robert Lopresti

Janet Hutchings has been the editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine since 1991. She is a co-winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Ellery Queen Award and the Malice Domestic Convention’s Poirot Award, and in 2003 she was honored by the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention for contributions to the field. Under her editorship, EQMM was named Best Magazine/Review Publication by Bouchercon 27 and in 2017 was celebrated by Bouchercon 48 for Distinguished Contribution to the Genre.



Relate a piece of history about your magazine.

EQMM made history with its very first issue. When founding editor Fred Dannay released the magazine to the world in the fall of 1941 he was offering readers an entirely new type of publication. He’d decided to bring together between the covers of a single magazine stories of such widely different sorts that the combination would create a new type of audience for the mystery short story. Everything from what he called realistic stories of the hardboiled school to classical whodunits in the style of England’s Golden Age of mystery to stories no one would even remotely have considered mysteries before, by mainstream and even literary writers, were to be included. It was all, he said, “frankly experimental.”

Previously there had been the pulps, focused on hardboiled action-based stories, and the slicks, which published about one mystery per issue of a more traditional kind, but there was no single publication for readers who liked both forms—or for those who liked an even wider mix of stories. EQMM’s first issue sold more than 90,000 copies and the magazine soon began to exert an influence not only upon mystery fiction—helping to define the boundaries of the genre as we know it today—but upon the wider culture. At least one recent contemporary scholar has argued that EQMM was one of the many forces that influenced the postmodernist movement in the arts and literature. Modernism had made a clear distinction between art (or what we might call “high art”) and popular culture. Postmodernism rejected that distinction. But rejecting that divide was exactly what Dannay was doing in the early days of EQMM, mixing the high brow and the popular—the “literary” and the genre story.


What is one thing you wish everyone would know about your publication?

One thing I wish everyone would know not just about EQMM but about short-story magazines in general is that they are not just agglomerations of stories. In recent years various e-publishers and websites have been making individual stories available for sale or for free reading. But what the reader gets by subscribing to a short-story magazine is not simply a collection of individual stories, it is—or should be—a more complex reading experience.

The magazine should be designed to take the reader on a journey, via the juxtaposition of the stories, sometimes also by thematic convergences, and sometimes by means of commentary that may accompany a given story (the most famous example of the latter being Fred Dannay’s lengthy introductory essays for so many of the stories in early EQMMs). A short-story magazine should also seek to broaden readers’ tastes by offering, occasionally, something the readership would not necessarily be expected to like. I hope short-story magazines are never replaced entirely by short stories sold individually, because if that happens, a place in which discovery can occur will be lost. It’s an editor’s job to stretch readers’ horizons.


What does a typical workday for you look like?

There’s no typical day. I’m a little obsessive about keeping up with reading. When I hold a story for more than two or three weeks it’s usually either because something special is going on or because I like the story and hope eventually to find a space for it. Whenever possible, I devote one day a week entirely to reading. In recent months, social media has also been taking up a lot of my time: we now blog, podcast, and post on Twitter and Instagram—in between our primary duties, which are curating, editing, and finalizing each issue for the printer.


Have you always been a fan of mysteries?

I always read and enjoyed mysteries, from childhood on, but I was not a really dedicated fan until I got a job at the Mystery Guild in the 1980s. We got to read virtually every mystery novel that was published in a given year there, and it was so much fun! Still publishing some of the authors I first read there—such as Simon Brett.


Aside from short mystery fiction, what other parts of the genre do you enjoy?

I’ve had very little opportunity in recent years (with eyes always tired from reading submissions) to keep up with what’s going on at novel length in the field; nevertheless, I don’t feel out of touch with the genre as a whole. I once wrote that from our small outpost as editors of short-story magazines, we get to see the whole of the broad, fascinating universe of mystery and crime fiction.

I don’t consider the mystery short story to be a single form. It is, it seems to me, a multiplicity of forms in terms of length, and also a multiplicity in terms of structure. There’s everything from the miniature novels that Ed Hoch wrote for EQMM for so many years to the circularly structured twist-in-the-tail story (and much in between). I call the twist story “circular” because when you get to that final twist you see that it is what the whole story had to be leading up to. Flash fiction is another separate form, and in its compression it often has to convey whatever is necessary to the story through imagery; it says a lot in a very few words and in this it can sometimes have a lot in common with poetry. There’s so much more that falls under the mystery short story umbrella than I can mention here.


What great short story or collection have you read recently?

I am currently reading Joyce Carol Oates’s new collection Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense. I’ve been a fan of Joyce’s work for decades—long before I came to EQMM!


What is your personal editorial philosophy?

This isn’t easy to characterize succinctly. First, although I sometimes offer thoughts about how I think a story might be improved, I see my job as editor as fundamentally different from that of a critic or a teacher. My first responsibility as editor is to our readers. I read as a sort of proxy for them. And reading for them means I have to try to read in the way that they will read the finished magazine—for enjoyment, in other words, and not critically. When I sit down to read submissions, what I’m hoping for, no matter what the subgenre of the story, is to be taken out of my own life and all that surrounds me and be pulled entirely into the world of the story. I like all types of mysteries—indeed, all types of stories. Genre is not very important to me. A story will generally succeed or fail for me depending on how deeply the author is able to immerse me in it. And it isn’t always the best-crafted story that succeeds in doing this. It’s often the inexperienced Department of First Stories author who holds me captive from first page to last. I think this has something to do with passion (perhaps before writing becomes a job) or with the fact that first efforts often draw deeply from experience that has profoundly affected the author.

When I do attempt to give advice, I try to approach each short story as an organic whole. I know a lot of writers and also teachers of creative writing put a lot of emphasis on the importance of the separate parts of a story. The opening line is something that seems to be given a lot of weight. I often hear writers advised that they need an “attention grabbing” opening line. I think too much emphasis is put on this. A great opening line may be vital to a writer in getting the creative juices flowing. Some writers have told me they have to have an attention-getting opening line as the seed for the story. That’s fine. But from a reader/editor’s perspective what makes the opening line good or bad is how it serves everything that follows it in the story. Endings, it seems to me, are harder. I think an ending should have a sense of inevitability that derives from all that goes before it. But again, it’s the story as a whole—the particular story—that is my focus, not any rules I could formulate.


What do you love about short stories?

The tightness of the structure, and the fact that they can be read in one sitting. As Edgar Allan Poe pointed out, what you can read in a single sitting has the potential to have a profound impact. Life does not intervene.


What’s a place you’ve traveled to that has stuck with you, and why?

I lived in England for most of my twenties, and since those are formative years, I’m sure the affinity I have for most things British will never leave me. It’s wonderful having so many British writers contributing to EQMM, though that was none of my doing; it must be credited to my predecessor, Eleanor Sullivan. In geographical terms, EQMM’s reach has always been wide. From the earliest days, the magazine has looked for the best in mystery and crime stories from all over the world. There were 13 international contests run in the early years of the magazine and they received submissions from nearly two dozen countries.

One of my favorite departments is Passport to Crime, which we launched in 2003 with a crime story per month in translation. I’m not much of a traveler these days, but two trips I’ll never forget were the Soviet Union in the 1970s—it was like waking up in a war movie from the 1940s, with rationing and not much color and no advertising— and Costa Rica a couple of decades later, where I spent a night in a rain forest in a storm, with the animals seeming to generate as much noise as a NYC street. These days, I let our Passport authors take me where I want to go.


Where did you grow up?

The Chicago area, “flyover country.” Which is funny because I was once accused by an author whose work wasn’t accepted to the magazine of being an insular New Yorker with no understanding of the Midwest. I love my adopted city and state, but the Midwest will always be a part of me.

Thanks, SleuthSayers, for hosting the Dell Mystery Magazines editors! Tomorrow, Linda Landrigan.

20 June 2018

The Mysterious Women of Dell Magazines: Jackie Sherbow

Jackie Sherbow
photo by Ché Ryback

Leigh Lundin had the wonderful idea of inviting some of our favorite editors to sit for interviews. As the guiding hands at the mystery side of Dell Magazines (EQMM and AHMM) they have a huge influence on our field by bringing new readers and writers into it. Tomorrow we will feature Janet Hutchings, and Friday will star Linda Landrigan. But today we have the delightful Jackie Sherbow.
— Robert Lopresti

Jackie Sherbow is the Associate Editor of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. She is also the editor of Newtown Literary Journal and her poetry has appeared in places like Day One, Moonchild Magazine, and Luna Luna Magazine. She lives in Queens, New York.



What is one thing you wish everyone would know about your publications?

First and foremost, that they (still) exist. This of course seems like child’s play to anyone reading SleuthSayers, but you don’t know how many people come up to us at events and say the words “I didn’t know you were still around,” or otherwise think we’re publishing reprints of older issues. It’s wonderful to speak with readers who have a long-time, nostalgic connection to the magazines (and/or have unearthed their parents’ or grandparents’ collections, which they remember from childhood), but I think there’s no reason why short mystery fiction shouldn’t have a wide and growing audience—especially since so many different modes of contemporary and traditional fiction fall under that umbrella and can be found in the magazines.


What are you reading right now?

I’m reading the short-story collection Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti, and Eye Level, poems by Jenny Xie. I am usually reading two or three books concurrently, and trying to catch up on magazine or journal subscriptions too—I try to balance my reading between short stories, novels, poetry, and nonfiction at all times. Looks like I need to pick up some nonfiction.


What other hobbies or jobs do you have?

I’m the editor of a community-based literary journal in Queens called Newtown Literary, and I’m involved with the nonprofit organization that publishes it. I am also a writer (of poetry) and a runner (albeit a very slow one).


Dottie
Do you have any pets?

I’ve somewhat recently adopted a small asthmatic cat named Dottie (after Miss Fisher’s companion in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). And now I’m the kind of person who has attached a photo of the cat to this e-mail.


What great short story or collection have you read recently?

I loved Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, which came out last year from Graywolf Press and has received a handful of awards and nominations since then. A story that really unnerved me recently was “The Midnight Zone” by Lauren Groff, originally published in the New Yorker and reprinted in The Best American Short Stories of 2017. I had to put it down and give it a break before finishing it. I read a lot of short horror as well as—naturally—crime and thriller, but I can’t remember the last time I had such a visceral reaction to a story. Very uncomfortable, but very memorable.


What do you love about short stories?

As a poet, I’m always impressed by fiction in general: what an author can pull off in terms of plot while also concentrating on theme and form—and as we know this is accentuated in a short story, where there’s less wordly “real estate.” As an editor and reader of short fiction, I particularly find intriguing the plot and character arcs in a short story (especially when there’s a mystery—which there almost always is!). I find that in a short story, imaginative leaps, experimental form, and other playful or innovative methods can be pulled off more successfully. And I really love how reading a short story on its own and then among others (whether in a single-author collection or a periodical or anthology) can bring out something new in the work. In terms of practicality, I’m a fairly slow reader, so short stories tend to strike me more in this way than a series of novels do.


Who is your favorite author?

Gabriel García Marquéz.


If you knew you’d be deserted on an island, what book would you bring?

One Hundred Years of Solitude.


What is your personal editorial philosophy?

In general I edit for clarity, consistency, and then refinement in service of the author’s voice and the entirety of the piece. I think that everything in a piece of writing matters, down to the smallest element of punctuation, but that it’s important as an editor to examine the power structures underlying the use of different types of language. I think it’s irresponsible not to do this. In everyday life, I think it can be pernicious to promote unsolicited, moralized adherence to traditional correctness without thinking about it. Language is a gift and powerful tool, and I think the words, style, and usages we choose to employ (or choose not to) have a cumulative effect on our communities.


Aside from short mystery fiction, what other parts of the genre do you enjoy?

I am a fan of mystery novels, television shows, and movies, and I am fascinated by true crime, but I would have to say the community of writers, readers, and fans. I think mysteries bring people together. Speaking of which, thank you, SleuthSayers, for inviting me, Janet, and Linda to participate.

Thank you, Jackie. Tomorrow, Janet Hutchings.