Showing posts with label Bouchercon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bouchercon. Show all posts

27 September 2022

The Gift of Writing—and Reading—Fiction


Families come in all shapes and sizes. Ideally, what keeps them glued together is love. With love comes understanding and acceptance and an inclination to give your family members the benefit of the doubt.

At least, that's how it should work. But life isn't ideal, at least not always. Sometimes people are selfish. Or immature. They could be rigid and stubborn and damaged. When such people clash, conflicteven crimecan be inevitable. 

In real life, it's sad. But in fiction, examining such people can give readers not only an opportunity to feelmaybe satisfaction or anger, sadness or joybut it can prompt them to examine their own inclinations, to think about what they'd be willing to do for others, especially when what's wrong seems right. Maybe they'll even find a better way to live. The prompting of such self-examination might be a lofty goal, but I think it's what many authors want. To entertain, yes. But also to make a difference with our words. To affect people. To make them feel and think.

It's what I hope to do with my newest story, "The Gift." It appears in Land of 10,000 Thrills, this year's Bouchercon anthology, which was published earlier this month by Down & Out Books. In "The Gift," Debbie has always believed in setting a good example for her grandson and the kids at her high school, where she toils as principal. But sometimes the line between right and wrong blursespecially when family is involved.

I can't say more about the story without saying too much. So instead I'll tell you a little more about the book. It's edited by the wonderful Greg Herren, and the call for stories required they be set in Minnesota (where this year's Bouchercon was held) or an adjacent state or Canadian province. My story is set in Iowa.

Knowing the quality of the writing of many of the other authors in the book, I expect I'm in for a treat with all of them. You too. These other authors are: Eric Beckstrom, Eric Beetner, Mark Bergin, Susanna Calkins and Erica Ruth Neubauer (co-writers), L.A. Chandlar, Meredith Doench, Mary Dutta, John M. Floyd (a fellow SleuthSayer; yay, John!), Jim Fusilli, R. Franklin James, Jessica Laine, BV Lawson, Edith Maxwell, Mindy Mejia, Richie Narvaez, Bryon Quertermous, Marcie R. Rendon, Raquel V. Reyes, Bev Vincent, Tessa Wegert, Michael Wiley, and Sandra SG Wong.

Here's an abridged version of the anthology's back-cover copy:

For years, the Midwest has been used as a stand-in for "average America." The sweeping Great Plains, the heavy snows of winter, ice fishing and mighty rivers and frozen lakes. Midwesterners have a reputation for being the salt of the earth, friendly and kind and helpful and nice. But is "Midwestern nice" merely a cover for what really goes on in this part of the country? John Wayne Gacy, the bloody Benders, and Jeffrey Dahmer were all Midwesternersbut that doesn't mean every Midwesterner has bodies buried in their basement ... or does it? 

Editor Greg Herren is proud to present a series of tales that will shock and surprise youand maybe make you think twice about that ice-fishing trip or before taking a snowmobile out after the sun goes down. Featuring authors from all over the Midwest who know just how dark and lonesome it can get out there in the country at night, these crime stories will entertain you with their trip down the dark side of the "real America"where the twilight's last gleaming has an entirely different meaning and feel.

You can buy the anthology in trade paperback and ebook from all the usual sources. To get it right from the publisher, click here. For Amazon, click here. For Barnes and Noble, click here. To get it from an indie bookstore near you, click here.

Happy reading!

06 September 2022

Road Trip


     As this blog posts, my traveling companion and I are pulling out of our driveway. This morning, we embark on our trip to Bouchercon 2022 in Minneapolis. Traveling through America's heartland, we will be preparing ourselves to cannonball into the deep waters of mystery fiction. Today, I'm wading slowly into that mystery pool. I'd like to consider the contributions to the mystery genre of some places we'll pass by as we motor up I-35. 

    Unless we stop for a fried pie in the Arbuckle Mountains, we should arrive in Oklahoma City in a smidge over three hours. I don't come to "The City" without remembering The Long and Faraway Gone. Lou Berney's book, set around a pair of crimes in Oklahoma City, explores memory and the continuing consequences of crimes. As I think about my writing, I try to remember what Berney taught me about damaged characters. If you've not read it, pick it up. Bring it to Bouchercon. He'll be on a panel moderated by Michael Bracken. 

   Another four-hour jump north will bring us near Topeka, Kansas. This selection, I'll acknowledge, is a total cheat. Perhaps I should go with The Late Man by James Girard or In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Rex Stout, however, was raised in Topeka before attending the University of Kansas. He created Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin, in Fer-de-Lance in 1934. Although there are books and authors more closely associated with Kansas, Mr. Wolfe's devoted fans, the Wolfe Pack, have been kind to me. Their Black Orchid Novella Award recognized my first published short story. I'll think about Rex Stout on our drive across Kansas. We might even pass the time listening to Too Many Cooks. In that book, Nero Wolfe left his New York brownstone and took a road trip. It seems fitting. 

    BTW: The Man Who Went Down Under by Alexis Stefanovich-Thomson, this year's Black Orchid Novella Award-winning story, was in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine's July/August issue. 

    Four hours later, we'll be solidly in Iowa. I just finished reading The Fields by Erin Young. This 2022 mystery is a procedural set in Black Hawk County, Iowa. The setting is a smidge east of I-35, the road we'll take through the state. But it couldn't be helped; I don't have a good Des Moines mystery at the ready. 

    The Fields is dark with an engaging female protagonist, Sergeant Riley Fisher. It opens with a murder on a family farm. Combining small-town life with the threats of corporate farming, the book moves at a quick pace. It may be located east of here, but it is not hard to imagine the setting as we slice through the corn belt. 

    Journeying northward, we'll cross the Minnesota state line. The first town we come to on that side of the border is Albert Lea. To the east, the next town is Austin, Minnesota. On this small sample space, the state appears organized alphabetically. If that's true, then Aurora County must be nearby.

    Aurora County, Minnesota, is the setting for the Cork O'Connor mysteries written by William Kent Krueger. And we won't find O'Connor here in the corn belt. The books are set in the state's north woods. Krueger, however, will be one of the guests of honor at Bouchercon. To commemorate this fact, I'll put forward Iron Lake, the first of the Cork books, as my state representative. I don't think I need to say much about him. Nineteen books in the series sort of speak for themselves. 

    Bonus: We will likely decide to return through South Dakota, the land of my youth. I reached out to fellow Sleuth, Eve Fisher for a recommendation on a Sioux Falls mystery. She didn't have one to offer. Instead, she suggested I try Kathleen Taylor's books set in Delphi, South Dakota. I read the first one, Funeral Food. I liked the small-town tropes. They felt authentic. When I picked it up, I expected to read a cozy. The protagonist is a waitress at the town's caféBut not all the sex occurred off camera. The plot felt a little forced in spots, but the humor was genuine. I laughed. 

    The westerly swing into South Dakota means we will return home through Nebraska. (You can check the map.) The state claims the hard-boiled crime fiction writer Jim Thompson on a Nebraska librarian website. He attended the University of Nebraska for a time. Oklahoma, however, also considers Thompson one of theirs since he was born in the Oklahoma Territory. His family subsequently moved to Fort Worth. The Lone Star State also takes credit for shaping him. Thompson was praised by Anthony Boucher. He was hailed as a Dimestore Dostoevsky. That label alone, I think, is worth a mention. With his tie to Boucher and nearly every state on our return, Thomson seems the ideal writer to recognize for the trip south. (Apparently, he never paused long enough to write a postcard from Kansas.) I'm pushing The Killer Inside Me

    If Bouchercon has left you too tired to read, you can catch The Killer Inside Me on video. Stacy Keach starred in 1976, and Casey Affleck reprised the lead role in a 2010 film version. 

    If you have other recommendations from these midwestern states, I'd love to hear about them. I can't promise, however, that I'll read them anytime soon. My traveling companion and I will likely return from Bouchercon with a tall new stack for our TBR piles. 

    Until next time. 

07 October 2020

The Inspiration Panel


Next week was supposed to be the Bouchercon in Sacramento.  Alas, it had to had to move to virtual  due to you-know-what. Some of you are no doubt mourning for all the panels you won't get to attend in person, the bars you won't get to close, etc.

I can't help you with the bars, but maybe I can cause you to miss the panels a little less. Last year I wrote a play inspired by many panels I attended at mystery, science fiction, and library conferences.    I present it here for your amusement.  (And by the way, if anyone wants to perform it... contact me.)

Jewish Noir panel, Raleigh Bouchercon*

THE INSPIRATION PANEL

The stage is set for a typical conference panel: two tables together lengthwise, covered with black tablecloths.  Water pitchers and five glasses.  Three microphones.  Five chairs behind.

EVE walks onto the stage, with a great sense of purpose. She is forty, dressed flashily, but not expensively.  She carries five name tents which she carefully places on the tables.  From left to right they read: EVE BROCKHURST, CHARLES LEMMON, DEBORAH DRAKE, BILL FONTANA, AMY KITE. 

As EVE is going around the table to her seat DEBORAH arrives. She is in her thirties, dressed in business attire.  She reads the tents, stiffens, and then switches her tent with CHARLES’.  As she comes around to her seat the others arrive, read the tents, and take their places.

After a beat EVE looks down the line, nods at the panelists and then smiles at the audience.

EVE
Welcome, everyone!  Have you been enjoying our annual writer’s conference?  Good, good!  This is the Inspiration Panel, just in case you boarded the wrong flight.  (She laughs at her own joke.)  My name is Eve Brockhurst and I am the author of six books of poetry, including The Falling of the Dew, which our local newspaper called “remarkably sincere.”  The fact is, I was surprised to be asked to moderate a panel, even one as distinguished as this.  I figured the committee would need me to speak on the Poetry Panel, or the Nature Panel.  Or even the Marketing Panel.  (Brightening by sheer will power.)  But Fraser, our dear director, told me that what he needed most was a strong personality who could keep these ferocious characters in line!
Readers Recommends panel, Toronto Bouchercon

She gestures at her panel.

DEBORAH looks irritated. 

CHARLES is slumped in his seat. He is sixty years old and wears a sports coat with no tie. 

BILL is all coiled energy. He is in his thirties, dressed in business casual. 

AMY is glowingly happy.  She is in her late twenties and dressed younger.

EVE
But that’s more than enough about me.  It’s time to introduce our wonderful panelists who will inform and, dare I say it, inspire you today.  First on my left is Charles Lemmon.  He is-

She looks left and realizes for the first time that DEBORAH is sitting next to her.  She does a quick check down the line to see that everyone else is there.

EVE 
Whoops!   My mistake. Someone did a little shuffle on me.  (She sorts her notes.)  First in line is Deborah Drake, the author of the new romance novel—

DEBORAH
Women’s fiction.

EVE
Excuse me?

DEBORAH 
Women’s fiction.  It’s about real-life problems.  Not the kind you can solve by going to bed with a man whose chest size is higher than his IQ.

EVE
O-kay.  I can see you have a lot on your mind today.  Deborah’s woman’s fiction -- Woman’s?

Short story panel, Bouchercon 2017
DEBORAH
Women’s.

EVE
Thanks. It’s about a woman suffering from Reynaud’s Syndrome and it’s called The Girl With Cold Fingers.  The first time I met Deborah was at a conference just like this three or four years ago.  She came up after a panel to tell me how much she had enjoyed my book The Dancing of the Leaves, and I complimented her on her taste.   It’s so wonderful to see a person one has mentored becoming a success.  Deborah, our subject is inspiration.  In general, what inspires you?

DEBORAH
Great question, Eve.  I find that there are sparks all around if you know how to look for them.  I’m thinking right now that my next book might be about a woman with a stalker, maybe a former lover who is too self-centered and frankly too thick to take no for an answer.

BILL is getting more and more agitated.

EVE
Well, that is certainly the sort of real-life problem many of us women have had to face.  Is this based your personal experience or something you’ve heard about or…

DEBORAH
As you said we all face this sort of thing from time to time.  Men who think they have a right to your attention, who don’t understand when they are not wanted—

BILL
What about the men who have been led on?

DEBORAH
Sometimes a man simply refuses to—

EVE
Just a moment, dear.  Bill – this is Bill Fontana, everyone – You had something to add?

BILL
I just think a writer needs to look at all sides.  Modern readers don’t want set pieces with cardboard characters where one person is all right and the other is all wrong.  If you’re writing for grown-ups characters need to be nuanced.

DEBORAH
In your latest book the villain tried to strangle a kitten. How nuanced is that?

EVE
Bill, you’ll have your chance.  Deborah, do you want to finish your thought?

DEBORAH
That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

EVE
I’m sure.  Our next panelist (DEBORAH does a doubletake.) is my dear friend, one of our most distinguished, most senior, a veritable elder statesman-

CHARLES
Please!  I’m not dead yet.

EVE
Of course not.  I just wanted to point out that you have written so many books.  Even more than my six volumes of poetry.  Charles Lemmon, your most recent book is historical fiction, The Battle of Sattleford Creek.  What’s it about?

CHARLES
(Pause.) It’s about the Battle of Sattleford Creek.

EVE
I might have guessed that, I suppose.  So many titles are ironic these days, don’t you think?  My book The Fire Sonnets contains no sonnets, and never mentions fire!  I suppose that’s why the critics found it so surprising.  One of them said “Eve Brockhurst has-”

CHARLES
Eve?

EVE
Yes?

CHARLES
How are we doing on time?

EVE
Good point.  Charles, at this place in your long career, how do you still manage to find inspiration?  What moves you to keep writing?

CHARLES
The credit card companies.  Something moves them to send me bills.

EVE
Oh, come now.  Do you really mean you are only writing for the money?

CHARLES
I’d better not be, because there’s precious little of it.  And security, don’t make me laugh.  You teach English at the college, don’t you?

EVE
I do.  I have the honor of opening up the minds and hearts of—

CHARLES
You can get tenure.  Then you have work for the rest of your life if you want it. What I wouldn’t give for that.  A publisher can kick you out in the snow after you give them the best years of your life.

BILL
Wow, that is one bad cliché.

CHARLES
Shut up, Bill. 

DEBORAH
I’m glad I’m not the only one he interrupts.

EVE 
Actually. I’m an adjunct professor.  No tenure, I’m afraid.

CHARLES
Then you’re in the same boat as us professional writers.  I don’t know how a publisher can sleep at night, when they fire an editor you’ve been working with for – well, a long time, and suddenly you’re an orphan and no one wants to promote your book because the last guy picked it.

EVE
So do you find that—

CHARLES
No ads.  No tours.  No publicity.  And you know damn well that when the book doesn’t sell, they’ll say it’s the fault of the writing.  Never the publisher’s, oh no.  I might as well give up on quality and start self-publishing crap.

EVE
Now, come on, Charles!  That attitude is very old-fashioned.

CHARLES
Don’t call me that!

EVE
Some of the best, most original work coming out today is self-published.  My fourth book--

BILL
And a lot of the worst stinkers, too. 

DEBORAH
You’d know about that.

BILL
Oh, I’d forgotten.  Men aren’t allowed to talk at this panel.  Go right ahead.

EVE
Come on, Bill.  We value everyone’s opinion.

BILL
Hell of a way of showing it.

DEBORAH
Bill isn’t very good at taking cues, I’m afraid.  At understanding what people are trying to tell him.

EVE 
All right, Bill.  Since you’re so eager to talk, tell us.  How do you find inspiration?

BILL
That’s a stupid question, Eve.  Isn’t it really just the old cliché: how do you find your ideas?
Short stories panel at Left Coast Crime, Vancouver

DEBORAH
See?  He doesn’t listen.

BILL
Not so, Deborah!  A good writer, a great writer, is always listening.  That’s how he comes up with dialog that sounds true. 

EVE
So you get your inspiration from the people around you…

BILL
That’s right.  And I get so much more.  Like insight into personality.  How a person will say one thing and mean something completely different.  For example, maybe they’ll claim for months that they want to leave their husband and start a new life, but when their lover offers to take them up on it, it turns out they were just teasing him along—

DEBORAH
And this is your idea of honest observation?  No wonder Kirkus hated your last book.

CHARLES
Kirkus hated everybody’s last book.

EVE
You know, I think we’ve been neglecting one of our panelists.  Amy Kite is a fresh new face on our city’s literary scene.  She is the author of The Dragons of Zanzanook

AMY
(Correcting the pronunciation) Zanzanook.

EVE
Sorry!  Her book is a fantasy novel which has attracted major support from the publisher.  There’s an ad in the Times.

CHARLES
Oh my God.

EVE
An author’s tour.

CHARLES moans.

EVE
And I believe you are booked on one of the morning shows next week.  Is that right?

AMY
Two, actually.

CHARLES
Jesus.

EVE
Sorry.  I must have missed one.  Let’s talk about what inspires you…

AMY
Thank you so much, Eve.  I just want to say how inspired I feel simply by being here with all of you today.  What an honor!  This is my first time at a writer’s conference, you know, and here I am with Charles Lemmon!  I’ve been reading his books since I was a little girl.

CHARLES
Well, that’s wonderful.  You young whippersnapper.

AMY
And Deborah, what was the name of your novel about the girl with Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

DEBORAH
Twists and Turns.

AMY
Yes!  My mother loved that one!

BILL
Oh, I can hardly wait.

AMY
Mr. Fontana.

CHARLES
Here it comes.

AMY
When I needed a break from writing my book I would read your novel in which the psychotherapist turns out to be the serial killer.

BILL
Which one?  I wrote two of those.

AMY
Three actually.

BILL
I didn’t…  Oh yeah.

CHARLES
And there it is.

Setting as Character Panel, Left Coast Crime, Vancouver, 2019
Setting as Character panel, Left Coast Crime, Vancouver
AMY
I’m afraid I don’t remember which one I read most recently.

CHARLES
Boom.

BILL
Let’s not forget our moderator, Amy.  What do you think of Eve’s poetry?

AMY
I’m afraid I haven’t read it yet.

EVE
You probably don’t read poetry.  So few young people do these days.

AMY
Oh, but I do!  I must get around to yours.

BILL
Yes.  Do get around to it.

EVE
Well, that’s very sweet, Amy.  Let’s start another round.  Deborah, what is the inspiration for the book you’re working on now?

DEBORAH
We covered that, remember?  Stalker?

EVE
Oh.  Right.  (Checking her notes.)  Well, what inspired you to start writing in the first place?

DEBORAH
I’d say it was Greg.  My darling husband.

BILL
Oh, brother.

DEBORAH
He is my biggest cheerleader.  He knew from the moment we first met that I was a creative soul and he has always encouraged me to—

BILL
Point of order.

CHARLES
Point of order?  Is this a congressional hearing?

EVE
What is it, Bill?

BILL
I’m just wondering if this is the same husband you told me hasn’t opened a book since he got his MBA.

DEBORAH
I never said any such thing.  And frankly, I resent you constantly interrupting me.

EVE
Well, Fraser was certainly right about this group needing a strong hand, wasn’t he?  Deborah, I think it’s wonderful that you have such a supportive husband.

Ecology Panel Audience, Left Coast Crime, Toronto, 2019
Ecology Panel, Left Coast Crime, Vancouver
DEBORAH
 I can’t imagine how I could go on without him.  We truly are soulmates.

BILL
I thought you didn’t write romance fiction.

DEBORAH
You know, Bill, I think I know why you model all your villains on your psychotherapists.

EVE
I think we’re running out of time, so we had better move along.  Charles, can you tell us a little about what inspires your current work in progress?

CHARLES
I’m not sure I have one, Eve.  I write historical fiction and that means two or three years of research for each book.  By the time my next one is ready my publisher will probably have burned through five or six editors, and all that any of them care about are the latest trends.  The new expert, straight out of some Ivy League day care center, wants me to write a Civil War novel with zombies.

BILL
You’re kidding.  Zombies are like five years past their sell-by date.

EVE 
And Bill, you already talked about your plans, so any other thoughts about inspiration?

BILL
Great question!  As a thriller writer I’m concerned with revealing the truth of the human heart.  By which I mean that people are totally and remorselessly evil. 

CHARLES
Jesus.  I thought zombies were depressing.

BILL
That goes doubly so for the female heart, of course.

CHARLES
And publishers.

EVE
Moving right along.  Amy.

AMY
Yes, Eve?

EVE
Let’s get back to your debut novel, The Dragons of Zanzanook-

AMY
Zanzanook.

EVE 
Thank you so much, dear.  Would you say you were more inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin?

AMY
(Laughing.)   Neither one, Eve.  My starting point was my doctoral dissertation on late medieval monasticism in a military context.  I just threw in dragons to make it commercial.

CHARLES
(Inspired.) Damn it, girl, we have to talk!

Short Story Panel, Left Coast Crime, 2015
Short Story panel, Left Coast Crime 2015
AMY
I’d love that!

EVE
Now we have time for a few questions from the-- Oh, I’m told we don’t.

BILL stalks off in disgust.

EVE
Please join us in the vendors’ room, where all the authors will be happy to sign their books for you, and I will be happy to take pre-publication orders for my seventh book of poetry, Life, Be Not—

The microphone is shut off.  She frowns at it.

*Photo by Peter Rozovsky

09 June 2020

Some thoughts on the short-story-related Anthony Award nominations


While we talk about many things that are writing related here at SleuthSayers (and many things that aren't), our primary focus is crime short fiction. So it's wonderful timing that today, a few hours before I sat down to write this column, the Anthony Award nominations were announced, including for best short story and best anthology/collection published last year.

I'm not going to write long today because I'd rather you take some time to read one of the nominated anthologies or short stories. But I do want to say a few things:

First, thank you to all of the authors who heard about my crazy idea to do a cross-genre anthology, mashing crime with time travel, and submitted stories for Crime Travel back in 2018. (Crime Travel was among the nominated anthologies.) I could only accept fourteen stories (plus one of my own). I wish I could have taken more.

Thank you to everyone who has congratulated me today. I love the camaraderie of our industry. This nomination belongs to the authors in Crime Travel as much as it does to me, and I applaud them.

Congratulations to my fellow SleuthSayers Michael Bracken (whose The Eyes of Texas: Private Investigators from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods was nominated for best anthology) and Art Taylor, who is up twice (!) in the short-story category, once for "Better Days," which appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and once for "Hard Return," which I was proud to include in Crime Travel. I'm so proud of you both!

I'd edited anthologies before Crime Travel, but this was the first time I chose the stories. It was a daunting task. One thing I learned from doing it is that while stories about a theme can be wide-ranging, in different sub-genres with varying approaches to storytelling, the best stories--at least to me--are the ones that touch you. The ones that have heart. And I hope that the nomination for Crime Travel today means that the stories in this book touched a lot of readers just as they did me. Thank you to everyone who read it and nominated it.

So, without further ado, here are this year's nominees for the Anthony Award in the best short-story category and the best anthology category. I hope you'll pick up one of them (or all of them).

BEST SHORT STORY
“Turistas,” by Hector Acosta (appearing in ¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico)
“Unforgiven,” by Hilary Davidson (appearing in Murder a-Go-Gos: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Gos)
“The Red Zone,” by Alex Segura (appearing in ¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico)
“Better Days,” by Art Taylor (appearing in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2019)
“Hard Return,” by Art Taylor (appearing in Crime Travel)

BEST ANTHOLOGY OR COLLECTION
The Eyes of Texas: Private Investigators from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods, edited by Michael Bracken (Down & Out Books)
¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico, edited by Angel Luis Colón (Down & Out Books)
Crime Travel, edited by Barb Goffman (Wildside Press)
Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons (Wildside Press)
Murder a-Go-Go’s: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Go’s, edited by Holly West (Down & Out Books)

Happy reading!

29 October 2019

Bouchercon Bound!


Though I am writing this more than a week before it posts, the day after it posts Temple and I will head to Dallas for Bouchercon 2019, our fourth consecutive Bouchercon, which, as a point of reference, occurs less than a month before our fourth anniversary.

Michael with Rebecca Swope at the 2002 Shamus Awards Banquet.
(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Swope.)
I’ve attended science fiction conventions off-and-on since the first Archon in St. Louis, Mo., forty-three years ago, but the 2002 Bouchercon in Austin, Texas, was my first mystery convention. I was lucky to be a panelist (discussing my private eye novel All White Girls), I met and spent time with several writers I had only known online or via snail mail prior to the convention, and I attended my first Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards Banquet that year. Unfortunately, financial constraints prevented me from fully experiencing the convention. I commuted each day from Waco because I could not afford a hotel room, my food budget was negligible, and I had no money to spend in the dealer’s room.

My second mystery convention was the 2011 Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe, N.M., where I participated in a short story panel, met more writers I had only known online, and met one editor to whom I’ve since sold several short stories. Unfortunately, I spent much of my time in Santa Fe suffering from altitude sickness, and I thought my head was going to explode the entire time I was there.

My experience with mystery conventions took a positive turn in 2016, with Bouchercon in New Orleans. Less than a year earlier I had the good fortune to marry a mystery fan born in New Orleans, so I had no difficulty convincing Temple that we could combine a mystery convention with sight-seeing. Receiving a lifetime achievement award at the convention was a bonus.

In addition to meeting many of my writing friends during the convention, Temple had a book signed by Michael Connelly (she claims Connelly’s her second-favorite mystery writer named Michael, but I’ve seen the gleam in her eye every time a new Connelly novel is released or a new season of Bosch airs), and she had a close encounter with Sara Paretsky at the Shamus Awards Banquet. Before the convention ended, Temple was making plans to attend Bouchercon the following year in Toronto.

We added Malice Domestic in North Bethesda, Md., to our convention schedule in 2018 and had hoped to attend Left Coast Crime in Vancouver earlier this year. (Unfortunately, the unexpected need to replace my car saw us using our travel savings for a down payment on a new vehicle, causing us to cancel our trip.)

But Temple fangirling over her favorite mystery writers and us spending time with friends both old and new are only a few of the many benefits of attending mystery conventions together. I’ve walked away from each of the last three Bouchercons and two Malice Domestics with writing or editing opportunities I likely would never have had had I not attended.

At Bouchercon this week, I’ll be participating in “Short and Sweet but Sometimes Dark,” a short story panel at 4:00 p.m. Thursday, moderated by Barb Goffman and featuring panelists Mysti Berry, John M. Floyd, R. T. Lawton, and James Lincoln Warren.

I will also be presenting a brief introduction to Texas private eyes at the Shamus Awards Banquet Friday evening.

And, though there’s no formal event scheduled, Murder By The Book will have copies of The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books) available for sale and many of the contributors and I will be wandering around the convention ready and willing to sign copies.

I can’t predict what else may come from this week’s convention or from future mystery conventions, but even before this year’s Bouchercon has begun, Temple and I are already making plans to attend both Bouchercon and Malice Domestic next year.

My story “A Cling of Koalas” appears in A Murder of Crows (Darkhouse Books).

My story “Sex Toys” appears in Knucklehead Noir (Coffin Hop Press).

My essay “Lifecycle of a Fanzine Fan,” about how I now do professionally all the things I did as a teenaged fanzine editor, appears in Portable Storage Two.

22 October 2019

Meet the Finalists for the 2019 Anthony Award - Short Story Category


We have only nine days until the fiftieth annual Bouchercon—the world's largest mystery convention—begins in Dallas, Texas. I know some of my friends started (and finished!) packing weeks ago. Others are taking a more leisurely approach, thinking about what they'll take and planning to pack a couple days before they embark. And then there will be some like me, who with the best of intentions will end up packing the day I leave. But no matter if you're a planner or pantser—oops, wrong column. Take two. But no matter if you're a planner or procrastinator (much better), you likely will need something to read on your travels. That's where today's column comes in.

At Bouchercon, all attendees will be able to vote for the Anthony Award in several categories, including one dear to our hearts here at SleuthSayers: the short story category. Five stories published in 2018 are up for the award. And since short stories can be read quickly, you Bouchercon attendees hopefully will have time to read them all between now and the voting deadline on Saturday, November 2nd, whether it be right now or this upcoming weekend or while you are at the airport. So what are the nominated stories and where can you find them? Follow me …

I'm delighted to host here my four fellow nominees. I've asked them each to answer two questions. First, what is your story about—what's your thirty-second elevator pitch? Second, what do you like best about your story? After each author's answers you'll find a link through which you can read that story online for free. Enjoy! Then those of you at the convention can come hear us talk about the stories at our panel at 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 2nd, in the Pegasus room. The panel will be moderated by Angela Crider. The Anthony Awards presentation will begin that evening at 6 p.m. May the best story win!
—Barb Goffman

"The Grass Beneath My Feet" by S.A. Cosby (published in Tough on 8/20/18)

"The Grass Beneath My Feet" is about an incarcerated man who gets a day pass to pay his respects at a funeral home to the mother who betrayed him.

I think my favorite aspect of the story is the sense of freedom it evoked amid so much loss.

You can read "The Grass Beneath My Feet" by clicking here.


"Bug Appétit" by Barb Goffman (published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine)

"Bug Appétit" is about a con man who flatters his way into Thanksgiving dinner at a rich girl's home, planning on getting away with his stomach full of good food and his pockets full of expensive jewelry. But he's not the only one with secrets—as he learns the hard way.

My favorite part of this story is the humor. I love making people laugh, and I was able to do it in "Bug Appétit" by combining a con man who doesn't pay attention to what he thinks are unimportant details, a grandmother who's not afraid to share her thoughts, and a mother who loves to experiment in the kitchen. Put them all together and you have quite an interesting Thanksgiving dinner.

You can read "Bug Appétit" by clicking here.


"Cold Beer No Flies" by Greg Herren (published in Florida Happens)

"Cold Beer No Flies" is about vengeance, really. My main character is a poor, struggling young gay man trapped in a small Florida panhandle town, who gets an opportunity to not only punish someone who treated him badly but also to get out of town and start a new life.

I think one of the greatest frustrations in life for me is injustice. And while my main character was denied justice originally, he made his own justice. And even though he had to commit a crime of his own to get that justice, I like the idea of him getting away with it. Maybe that's not legitimate, legal justice, but it kind of balanced the scales for me.

You can read "Cold Beer No Flies" by clicking here.



"English 398: Fiction Workshop" by Art Taylor (published in the July/August 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine)

"English 398: Fiction Workshop" charts the secret romantic relationship between a college student and her creative writing professor—a battle of wits and wills unfolding within the student's short story draft for a writing workshop, in the professor's office hours, and then against the backdrop of the larger university.

With "English 398: Fiction Workshop," I really enjoyed experimenting with structure—piecing together a patchwork mosaic with a lot of different elements and even different voices: the draft of the student's story (within the larger story), punctuated by snippets from the professor's lessons about crafting short fiction; the feedback from students within that writing workshop, critiquing both the story and the student herself; and then, later, the voice of another student, writing a column for the school paper about… well, that would be giving away too much. Writing the story, I kept fighting concerns (fears (dread)) that readers might find the whole structure messy and hard to follow, but I’ve felt very relieved with the reception that it’s received—readers putting all those pieces together into a coherent whole, hopefully a satisfying one!

You can read "English 398: Fiction Workshop" by clicking here.


"The Best Laid Plans" by Holly West (published in Florida Happens)

Set in 1948, "The Best Laid Plans" is about Bev Marshall, the driver in a criminal gang run by her boyfriend, Joe Scullion. The crew makes a good living burglarizing affluent neighborhoods on the eastern seaboard, but when Bev learns of Joe's recent infidelity, she decides this job will be her last. The story opens with Bev's foot on the gas pedal, ready to leave the crew high-and-dry after they load the car with stolen treasures. But when she arrives at a run-down Miami motel, ready to fence the goods, things don't work out quite the way she planned.

I really love the story's atmosphere. I worked hard to create the mood, adding small details here and there to add authenticity, and I'm delighted with the result. I actually wrote the bulk of "The Best Laid Plans" many years ago as part of a novel set primarily in 1948 Philadelphia, with action in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Miami, Florida. As sometimes happens, the book never got finished, but after a thorough revision of the first chapters, it ended up making a terrific short story—one that holds a special place in my heart.

You can read "The Best Laid Plans" by clicking here.

08 October 2019

Open Your Heart and Bleed


What are your stories about?

I’m not interested in elevator pitches—“My stories are about a plucky private eye who searches for missing labradoodles with the aid of her grandfather’s long-dead schnauzer.”—but rather about the underlying themes in one’s work.

I’m pondering this question, as I have many times before, because Barb Goffman, moderator of “Short and Sweet but Sometimes Dark,” a short story panel at this month’s Bouchercon, asked participants to send her two recently published or about-to-be published stories to aid in her preparation.

As I looked through mine, I was reminded of how often I write about the lingering impact of expired relationships. Whether relationships end by choice or not, former lovers (survivors, in the case of death) carry emotional weight all the rest of their days, and this weight, in one form or another, informs much of my fiction.

I NEVER SAID GOODBYE

Michael Bracken, Heartache-bound
I had known Vickie since sixth grade, and she sat behind me in homeroom when I was a fourteen-year-old ninth grader at Mason Junior High School in Tacoma, Washington. I visited her home, where we played games, watched television, and dined with her family. Our first date—an unchaperoned date, no less—would be the first dance of the school year, held in a multi-purpose room with a stage at one end, theater seating at the other end, and a hardwood gymnasium floor between the two. Because Tacoma had public transportation, I would take the bus from home—a mere block from the junior high school—to hers a mile or so away, return with her, and attend the dance.

Between the time I asked Vickie to the dance and the day of our date, I learned that my parents and I would be moving to Fort Bragg, California, and we were leaving the morning after the dance. I told no one.

As planned, I picked Vickie up at her home and we traveled by city bus to the junior high school. We sat in the theater seats, listening to the music and watching some of our classmates on the dance floor. Vickie repeatedly asked me to dance, but I wouldn’t. I wanted to tell her I was moving, but I couldn’t.

After a while, she grew frustrated and left. Alone.

The next day I climbed in the back seat of my parents’ car, and we moved to California.

I never saw or talked to Vickie again.

I never told her I was leaving, I never said goodbye, and I have carried that weight for nearly fifty years.

MAYBE I DID THIS TIME

I did not have another girlfriend until I was a seventeen-year-old high school senior. Yvonne, a junior, served on the school’s newspaper staff with me, and we dated during the last semester of my senior year, the same semester my mother died during heart surgery. More than a girlfriend, she was one of the few people (along with my best friend Joe and my English teacher Mrs. Richmond) who helped me cope with the loss of my mother.

Even so, I struggled with my mother’s passing, and my stepfather and I did not get along. So, my grandmother traveled to Fort Bragg to take me home with her.

I think I told Yvonne I was leaving—I hope I did—but once again a budding relationship was truncated by events beyond my control, and at least two years passed before I again opened my heart.

AND THEN MY HEARTACHES BLED INTO MY STORIES

Over the years, I have survived many additional heartaches—the deaths of loved ones, the slow disintegration of relationships that began with such promise, relationships truncated for reasons beyond my control—and those heartaches bled into, and continue to bleed into, my fiction.

So, when I selected two stories for Barb, I found myself unable to find two in which the end of a relationship didn’t play at least some small part in the tale. I chose “Who Done It,” coming next month in Seascape: The Best New England Crime Stories 2019 (Level Best Books), and “Woodstock,” forthcoming in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. (I didn’t select “Love, Or Something Like It,” forthcoming in Crime Travel [Wildside Press], which Barb edited, because the theme is much too obvious.)

I could have selected any of several other stories because dealing with the emotional weight of expired relationships has long been an underlying theme in my work, just as it has in my life.

Still, if you prefer the elevator pitches, catch me when I’m feeling less confessional.


My story “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” published last year in Tough, has been named one of the “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories” in this year’s The Best American Mystery Stories. This is the second time one of my stories has made the list (the first, “Dreams Unborn,” made the 2005 list); last year my story “Smoked” actually made it into the anthology.

Join us at the launch party for The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down and Out Books) at Murder By The Book in Houston on October 21. Seven of the contributors—Chuck Brownman, James A. Hearn, Scott Montgomery, Graham Powell, William Dylan Powell, Mark Troy, and Bev Vincent—will join me to discuss the anthology and their stories, and to sign copies. If you can’t get to the signing, contact Murder By The Book. I suspect they’ll let you preorder a copy that we can sign for you and that they can ship after the event.

28 May 2019

Things You Learn from Editing


As the old saying goes, it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. (As a dog owner, I can attest that this is true!) The saying also applies to writers. No matter how much writing experience you have, you still can learn more.
I was reminded of this point recently, as I've been editing a lot of short stories for two upcoming anthologies, one coming out in December, and another coming out next spring. Some of the stories have been written by authors I consider to be short-story experts. Other stories have been written by authors who have had several stories published but who haven't broken out yet, and others still have been penned by authors who are just starting out. And I have learned something from all of them--sometimes simply from reading the stories (even the newest writer can come up with a twist or a turn of phrase that turns my head) and other times from editing them.

It's the editing finds that can lead to especially interesting conversations.

Did you know that SOB is in the dictionary? All caps. No periods. The acronym for son of a bitch is a word all its own, at least according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Even more surprising (to me at least), mansplain has made the dictionary too. I won't bother to tell you what that words means. I'm sure you know.

Turning to homophones, two-word terms often become single words when slang enters the picture. For instance, a woman might go to the drug store to buy a douche bag, but if her boyfriend is being a jerk, she'd call him a douchebag (one word, no space). And descriptions of animal excrement are usually spelled as two words: horse shit, bull shit, chicken shit. But when you mean "no way" or "a load of not-actual crap" you spell it horseshit and bullshit (again, one word, no space). And when you mean that someone is a coward, you call him a chickenshit--also one word. (Thanks to Michael Bracken for helping me see the horse shit/horseshit distinction recently.) It's interesting that horses, bulls, and chickens have had their excrement turned into slang words, yet dog shit is just that. Two words meaning excrement. As I told a friend, I might start saying "dogshit," when I want to say "no way!" just to see if it catches on.

Keeping with the one-word or two-words questions, do you go into a room or in to a room? This may be an obvious thing for you, but it's one of those little things I find myself double-checking over and over. Same for on to/onto, some time/sometime, and so many more. Each of these words has their proper place, so I like to make sure I use them properly.

Yep, that's a bear on a trampoline.
To answer these questions: you go into a room. Into is the correct word if you are showing motion. The onto/on to question also turns on whether you are showing movement. I jump onto the trampoline. I catch on to my boyfriend's lies. As to sometime or some time, this question turns on whether you are talking about a period of time (writing this blog is taking some time) or if you mean an indefinite date (I'll get back to you sometime next month). Thank goodness for Google, without which I would have to memorize these distinctions. Instead I just get to look them up again and again and again.

Well, I hate to cut this column short, but I'm short on time. (Ha ha!) (And that's two words for ha ha, per our friend Mr. Webster.)

Do you have any interesting word usage issues/spelling knowledge you'd like to share? Please do. I'm always eager to learn something new.

******

Oh, and before I go, two bits of BSP: My story "Bug Appétit" has been nominated for the Anthony Award for best short story! This story was published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and was a finalist earlier this year for the Agatha Award. I'm honored to be an Anthony finalist along with fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor as well as authors S.A. Cosby, Greg Herren, and Holly West. The winner will be voted on and announced at Bouchercon in November. In the meanwhile, you can read my story here, if you are interested.


And if you're anywhere near Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday, June 8th, I hope you'll come to the launch party for Deadly Southern Charm. This anthology from the Central Virginia chapter of Sisters in Crime includes my newest short story, "The Power Behind the Throne."

The launch party will run from 3 - 5 p.m. at the Libbie Mill - Henrico County Public Library, 2011 Libbie Lake E. St., Richmond, VA. In addition to the usual book launch activities such as book selling and book signing and snack eating, there will be a panel discussion about the pros and cons of writing different lengths of fiction. I'll be on the panel with fellow Deadly Southern Charm author Lynn Cahoon and anthology editor Mary Burton. We hope to see you there!

01 January 2019

The Power of Tenacity


I planned to title this column the Power of Persistence and to write about writing goals. It seemed perfect for January 1st, when so many people make resolutions for the new year. And I do love alliteration. But then I thought, maybe "tenacity" would be a better word than "persistence." The Power of Tenacity might not have the same cadence as the Power of Persuasion, but is it more on point? I had always treated the words as synonyms, but maybe they aren't, I began to think. Maybe I should check. So I did, and it turns out there's an important difference between the two words.
Persistence means trying repeatedly to reach a goal through the same method, figuring eventually you'll succeed. Tenacity means trying to reach a goal through varying methods, learning from each failure and trying different approaches. For anyone with goals for 2019, tenacity seems the better approach.

How does this apply to writing? First, let's talk about getting writing done. Everyone has their own method. Some people write every morning before daybreak. Others write at night. Some people say they will write for a set number of hours each day. Others say they'll write as long as it takes to meet a daily quota. Some people plot out what they're going to write. Others write by the seat of their pants. It doesn't matter what your approach is, as long as it works for you. So with the new year here, perhaps this is a good time to take stock of your approach. Is your approach working for you? Are you getting enough writing done? Enough revision done? Are you making the best use of your time?

I have a friend (and editing client) who used to be a pantser. But she found that after finishing every draft, she had so many loose ends to address and problems to fix, it took her much longer to revise than she'd like. So she started forcing herself to plot before she began writing each book. Not detailed outlines, but she figures out who kills whom, how, and why, what her subplot will be (again, just the basics), and what her theme is. These changes in her approach have enabled her to be so much more productive. She writes faster now, and she needs less time for revision. That's tenacity in action.

Moving on to a finished product, how do you react to rejection? If you have a rejected short story, for instance, after you finish cursing the universe, do you find another venue and send that story out immediately? Or do you re-read it and look for ways to improve it? And if a story has been rejected several times (there's no shame here; we've all been there), do you keep sending it out anyway or put it in a drawer to let it cool off for a few months or years until perhaps the market has changed or your skills have improved?

If sending a story out a few times without revising after each rejection usually results in a sale for you, great. Then your persistence works, and it means you have more time for other projects. But if it doesn't, if you find yourself sending a story out a dozen times without success, then perhaps you should consider a new approach. After a story is rejected, say, three times, maybe you should give it a hard look and see how it can be changed. Maybe you should let it sit in a drawer for a while first, so when you review it, you'll have a fresh take.

And if you're getting a lot of rejections, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your markets or what you write. I know some writers who started their careers writing science fiction, but it turned out that they were much better suited to writing mysteries. Once they let their true selves out on the page, they started making sales. I know a writer who's been working on a novel for years, but she can't seem to finish it. Yet she's had a lot of success with short stories. If she were to decide to only write short stories and let the novel lie fallow, that wouldn't be a failure; it would be tenacity in action: finding what works for her.

I was about to write that the one thing you shouldn't do is give up, but there might be value in letting go. If your goal is to write a novel or short story, but you never seem to finish your project, and the mere thought of working on it feels like drudgery instead of joy, then maybe being a professional writer isn't for you. There's no shame in that. Not every person is suited to every task. When I was a kid I loved swimming, but I was never going to make a swim team. I wasn't fast enough. Maybe with a lot of practice and other changes I could have gotten there, but I didn't want to take those steps. And that's okay. I enjoyed swimming for the fun of it, and that was enough for me. Maybe writing for yourself, without the pressure of getting to write "The End," is what gives you joy. If so, more power to you. And maybe it turns out you don't want to finish that book or story you started writing. That's okay too, even if you did tell everyone that you were writing it. You're allowed to try things and stop if it turns out they aren't the right fit for you.

But if you believe writing is the right fit, yet your writing isn't as productive as you want it to be, or your sales aren't as good as you want them to be, then be tenacious. Evaluate your approaches to getting writing done, to editing your work, to seeking publication. Maybe you need to revise how you're doing things. Are you writing in the morning but are more alert in the evening? Change when you write. Is your work typically ready to be sent out into the world as soon as you finish? If you get a lot of rejections, maybe it's not. Maybe you need to force yourself to let your work sit for a while after you finish, so you can review it again with fresh eyes before you start submitting. Do you have a contract, but your books aren't selling as well as you'd like? Perhaps you should find someone you trust who can try to help you improve. No matter how successful you are, there's always something new to learn. The key is to figure out what works for you and keep doing it, and also figure out what isn't working for you and change it.

That, my fellow writers, is my advice for 2019. Be tenacious. Evaluate what you want, and evaluate your methods for getting there. If your methods aren't working, change them. And if in six months your new methods aren't working, change them again. Work hard. Work smart. And be sure to enjoy yourself along the way, because if you're not enjoying writing, why bother doing it?

***

And now for a little BSP: I usually have one or two of my short stories up on my website so folks can get a feel for my fiction writing style. I just changed those stories. Now you can read "Bug Appétit" (which was published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine) and "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" (from the 2018 Bouchercon Anthology, Florida Happens). For "Bug Appétit"click here, and for "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" click here. Happy reading. And I hope you have a wonderful new year.