30 June 2019

My Writing World as I See It

by R.T. Lawton

A few weeks ago, Michael Bracken wrote a blog piece, "With Malice Aforethought," which discussed writer motivation, motivation in general, short stories versus novels, not shooting the horse you rode in on, dopamine rush, and risky behavior. Love it. At the end of his article, Michael expressed an interest in the how's and why's of writer motivation and the hope that research will come up with some of the answers. Several of our fellow Sleuth Sayer bloggers then responded with their own personal experiences.

So, here's another view on those topics. Naturally, one subject's story is an anecdote, and it takes lots of data or anecdotes from several subject's to put together a research project. Towards that end, here's some more anecdotes, plus a few thoughts on the topic.

From Kindergarten to Senior year in high school, I went to eleven different schools. Yeah, we moved a lot. Other than immediate family, the main constant in my life was taking refuge in books. Oddly enough, a parallel existed there, because the world in the book being read changed with every new book I started, just like my world changed with every move to a new place. All that starting over may have resulted in my short attention span when it came to writing, thus my leaning towards a short story career. Hey, it could happen that way.

Massive reading eventually led to the inclination to write my own stories. Especially when I would read a not-so-good-story, and then tell myself that I could do a better job. Sad to say, the latter part of that declaration did not happen right away, else I'd have better stats now.

This issue of AHMM contains "The Horse,"
8th in my Armenian series set in Chechnya.
People make plans and yet life has a habit of getting in the way. Sure enough, Uncle Sam decided he couldn't quite pull it off alone, so he sent me a nice letter requesting my assistance with his SE Asian program. I gave him two years, nine months and twenty-nine days, to include my one year in-country working on his program. In return, he graciously paid the rest of my college fees and tuition.

Guess now we get to the dopamine and risky behavior part that Michael mentioned. As Ernest Hemingway once said, "In order to write about life first you must live it." Since dopamine and adrenaline are first cousins, I ventured out to live life after finishing college. Twenty-five years on the street working risky people made good fodder for stories. All I had to do was learn how to write these stories down. I'd already tried a creative writing course in college. Couldn't relate to it. Seems I wasn't cut out to be a literary author. Time to reboot.

At the end of most working days, vice cops and federal agents, in the 70's through the 90's, had the habit of stopping at some neighborhood bar to wind down, let off the tension. Inevitably, stories would be told around the table about that night's happenings, or even favorite stories from past raids, arrests, surveillance or undercover incidents. The best stories got the most laughs. That's when I found I was a  storyteller. Time to think commercial market. Just needed to learn how to put words on paper in the proper format. Seems that, for me, is an ongoing process with occasional speed bumps.

I finally found my niche in the mystery genre, writing short stories about the criminals, cons and scams I'd run into on the streets. In my writing world, achieving the big-time market, after small press magazines and ten-dollar payments, started when Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine's writer's guidelines on their web page said they were looking for stories set in an exotic location. Conveniently, I had one set in the Golden Triangle of SE Asia. Cathleen Jordan, the editor of AHMM at that time, bought my story and I got one foot in the door. After that, it was put everything I could think of into a story and don't hold back on material. So far, it's been a good run.

my spurs
To date, I've sold 44 short stories to AHMM, with an acceptance rate of 72.13%. On the other hand, my acceptance rate at their sister magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, can never get any lower than it is right now. HUH ! But, if I had a third hand, so I could once again say "on the other hand,"  I'd say that anthologies have become a sometimes lucrative market.

Since my numbers for published novels is zero, I, much like Michael, am not going to shoot the short story horse I rode in on. Me  and that particular horse are currently on very good terms. I've even taken off my spurs after all those years in the saddle and retired them to my writing desk. The horse knows they're off my boots, but he can see them still there in case they become necessary again.

I know I won't live long enough to catch up with Ed Hoch's record of 450-some short stories in EQMM, and his 60+ short stories in AHMM, but I will hopefully continue to plug along, until my vision fails.

In the meantime, fare thee well and keep on writing.

R.T. out.


7 comments:

janice law said...

Congratulations on 44 stories in AHMM- keep on writing!

John Floyd said...

RT -- Great post. Congrats on all those AHMM stories--I got my start with Cathleen Jordan as well. Keep up the good work!

Michael Bracken said...

I wonder how many of us moved frequently as children and, thus, found companionship in books that would we could not, or did not, find among our ever-changing peers. I attended at least nine schools (I don't remember where I went for 1st and 2nd grades) before graduating high school. (I didn't fare much better post-high school, attending classes at three community colleges and two universities before earning my BA.)

Lawrence Maddox said...

An inspiring read, R.T.! I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in a ‘70s bar where cops and various agents discussed their day. Is that something that doesn’t happen anymore?

O'Neil De Noux said...

This (and Michael Bracken's blog) motivated me to write a SleuthSayers blog about my motivations. Both of your stories are cool.

Eve Fisher said...

Love your stories, R.T. And congratulations on so many stories with AHMM. Your latest, "The Horse" is great.

R.T. Lawton said...

We just got back from an Inland waterway cruise of Alaska, else I would have answered sooner. It's always a pleasure to have a story in one of the AHMM issues with you people.

Michael, when I started college, it was called the University of Wichita. By the time I got out of the army and got my Bachelor of Business Administration it was called Wichita State University. My Master of Criminal Justice came from the University of South Dakota. There was one other Kansas College involved in my BA, but it didn't count for much.

Lawrence, the gatherings still happen, but the department riles are stricter now, so gatherers have to be careful about how much drinking they do. Also, rules about use of agency vehicles after hours has changed a lot. Get in a wreck with alcohol on your breath and you are toast.

O'Neil, read your post. Liked it.