15 July 2020

Worse Than Janice?

Sometimes a wrong turn can take you to a wonderful address.

SeuthSayer Janice Law is one of my favorite living short story writers.  She has made my Best-Story-of-the-week six times and my best-of-the-year four.

Back in 2012 Janice had a story in Mystery Writers of America Present Vengeance.  The title was "The General" and it concerned a Latin American dictator, living in exile in the United States, who becomes convinced that his wise and elderly gardener is stealing away his son's love and respect.

When I read the story I was pretty sure I knew where it was going.  To my delight I was completely wrong. Janice fooled me completely.

But, I realized, just because Janice didn't choose the direction that occurred to me doesn't mean it is a dead end.  I could drive that way on my own.

And so I wrote "Worse Than Death," which is now available in the sixth issue of Black Cat Mystery MagazineIn my story, a dictator named Hidalgo is still very much in power.  His son, Teo, is kidnapped by a gang led by a wise old teacher.

They don't want money.  They don't even ask Hidalgo to resign.  What they demand is that he send them a confession of all his crimes.  Well, not all.

"I am only interested in wrongful deaths.  Not torture, not robbery, not false imprisonment.  Or graft, of course!  My God, if we tried to cover all your sins poor Teo would die of old age, wouldn't he?'

The viewpoint character is Hidalgo's head of security. He knows if the boy is harmed he will died for it.  But if Hidalgo writes the confession the whole government is likely to wind up on trial at the World Court.  So you might say he is highly motivated...

Clearly this is not one of my laugh-a-minute romps.

 It is also my third (and I sincerely hope, last) story about a child kidnapping.  (See this one and that one.)  When I told a friend about this he said he wasn't going to let me anywhere near his kids.

Some people are so suspicious. 


  1. Inspirations to write a story. Literary feed off. Running off left tackle after a teammate ran off right tackle. Pretty cool stuff. I like this story. Good for the both of you and good for the readers.

  2. Rob, congrats on the story--I love that magazine. I also always enjoy hearing about the origins of stories and story ideas. Janice, I'll make sure to pick up that Vengeance anthology. Somehow I completely missed it.

    As O'Neil said, good for both of you!

  3. I enjoyed "Worse Than Death." It was one of my favorites from that issue, with an ending I didn't quite anticipate. I'll have to track down the Janice Law story.

  4. Thanks for the kind words about my stories. I will have to acquire the BCMM issue as I have gotten far behind in all my reading lately.

    I hope it did not a take you as long to sell Worse than Death as it did me to sell The General which was literally turned down by everyone before Lee Child took it for the anthology- go figure!

  5. I'll have to get the latest BCMM issue - after all, I have to find out what the General decides. (But I keep thinking about J. Paul Getty, who declined at first to ransom his grandson on the grounds he didn't have the money...)

  6. The story sounds clever. As to what inspires us to write, I have often found ideas in nonfiction. Real events can inspire a fictional variation--the what if?

  7. Interesting post, Rob. And I think all stories are related to each other somehow. It's like there's a huge unconscious pool or pipeline we all hook into.

    I have fond memories of that Vengeance anthology. One of my early stories was in it, so I went to the launch/signing. I got to meet Lee Child, Alafair Burke, Michael Connelly, and Otto Penzler, among others. Karin Slaughter and I both had our stories named Edgar finalists the following year, and she won.

    My story was the first one that sold on the first submission. I think that has only happened on other time.

    And congratulations on your story in BCMM. I'll have to pick that up, too.

  8. This is a great post, Rob. I've rarely riffed off of someone else's short story, but lately I've been thinking about taking one or two I really like and somehow using the plot, make up my own characters, and have a completely different ending. Thanks for posting this--good inspiration.

  9. THanks for the kind words, all. Jan, you might find this piece interesting: https://criminalbrief.com/?p=14063 It's all about using someone else's story legitimately.

    Janice, I submitted "Worse Than Death" for the first time in 2013. So it' been a long time coming, as they say.


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