Showing posts with label Derringer Award. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Derringer Award. Show all posts

16 March 2019

And the Winner Is . . .


by Herschel Cozine


NOTE: I'm pleased today to welcome my friend Herschel Cozine as a guest blogger. Herschel has published extensively in the children's field, and his stories and poems have appeared in many of the national children's magazines. His work has also appeared in AHMM, EQMM, Woman's World, Flash Bang Mysteries, Over My Dead Body, Orchard Press Mysteries, Mouth Full of Bullets, Great Mystery and Suspense, Mysterical-EWolfmont Press's Toys for Tots anthologies, and many other publications. His story "A Private Hanging" was a finalist for the Derringer Award, and his flash story "The Phone Call" won a Derringer in 2017. Herschel, it's great to have you here at SleuthSayers again! -- John Floyd


It's that time again to take a break from the meaningful and helpful blogs and just relax. I promise that there is nothing in this blog that will help you in any way. But if you have a few minutes to spare and don't care how you spend them, I encourage you to read on.

Winning the Derringer Award is indeed an honor and I am unashamedly proud of it. In the writing community such an accomplishment is one which we all struggle to achieve. But it is not a bed of roses. The experience, at least MY experience, was fraught with angst and tension that at times defied description.

Let's start at the beginning. One writes a story, finds a publisher, sits back and considers its future. Is it good enough for an award? The only way to find out is to submit if for consideration.

So I did. In January of 2017 I sent it in to SMFS (Short Mystery Fiction Society) for consideration in the Flash category. Then I waited. Two months. An eternity.

I woke up one morning and found an announcement that my story had been chosen as one of the finalists for the Derringer. My euphoria was tempered by doubt. I quickly looked at the source of the announcement. I have a cousin who is fond of practical jokes. He once entered my picture in the Ugly Dog Contest. It was a rotten thing to do. (I finished right behind a snaggle-toothed Pomeranian with one eye.) This, I thought, was his doing. But further research proved that this was genuine. Still, I was a little dubious. I had learned of this honor on April 1, another reason for being uncertain of its authenticity. Was this on the up and up?

I finally accepted the news and shared it joyfully with my wife. My excitement was tempered by another sodden thought. Perhaps there had only been five stories submitted. That would explain it. I checked the entry list and saw that some thirty-odd stories had been entered. Encouraging. I had beaten at least thirty (one, by the way, of my own among them). So far so good.

Then I saw my competition. I was familiar with three: O'Neil. Craig. R. T. Lawton. I was also familiar with their writing. As far as I was concerned, the game was over.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. The judges had spoken. Now it was up to the members: fellow writers, some of whom were already upset that their entries had not made it. Was that good or bad? I wasn't sure. They would judge with a critical--and professional--eye.

I read the stories carefully, putting aside personal prejudice and desire. It was depressing. All of the stories were worthy of the award. I cast my vote and went to bed. My entry now had at least one vote. It was a start.

I steeled myself for a month-long wait. April has only thirty days. As you can see, I always look for a silver lining. Still, it was going to be a tension-filled month. I worked in the yard until it was the showpiece of the neighborhood. I cleaned out the garage. One could now eat off the floor. (My wife asked me to get the names of the judges so she could send them a thank-you note.)


May first finally arrived. I hurried to the computer and navigated to the SMFS website.

There it was!!! "Winner in the flash category . . ." I rubbed my eyes and looked again. It was surreal.

A thought immediately came to mind. Fake news! The polls had been rigged. There must have been millions of illegal voters. I was certain there would be a call for a recount. The Russians must have had something to do with this.

Congratulatory messages started appearing on the SMFS site and in my personal email. I finally--and happily--accepted the good news. I had won!


Now this sobering thought: I had to wait six months to claim my award. Not only that, but it would be given in Canada. If I wanted to accept the award in person, I would have to endure a cross-country plane trip (I live in California), hoping I would not be dragged from the plane in mid-flight (I would be flying United). In order to enter the country one must provide valid identification, such as a passport or birth certificate*, and a notarized statement that you did not vote for Donald Trump. My passport expired in 1973 and my birth certificate is so old it is illegible. Back in those days they only recorded "live" births, and it wasn't clear that I was eligible. It would be my luck that Canada would build a wall (which the U.S. would pay for), and keep the "undesirables" out of the country. Thankfully, there wasn't enough time for that.

(*I learned that birth certificates are no longer accepted. Fortunately, I updated my passport.)

When I made my reservations, in May, I hoped that nothing would come up to prevent my attending. Sure enough, two days before I was to leave, the city of Santa Rosa started to burn and I lived in an area that was dangerously close to the fires. My first inclination, of course, was to cancel the trip. But cooler heads prevailed (i.e., my wife's). "Sitting around here without electricity or gas is not going to help," she said. "I will be well taken care of by the kids."

"But what about our house?"

"What will you do about it? Wave your arms and make the fire go away? Leave it to the pros."

It was her way of saying I would only be in the way. I got the message.

I went.

The ceremony itself was impressive. However, I almost missed my big moment due to the fact that I didn't hear Melodie call my name. I am eternally grateful to Rob for getting me to the podium on time.

I was, and still am, honored and humbled by this award. My heartfelt thanks to all who voted, regardless of their choice. A big turnout made the award that much more meaningful.

NOTE: I have a flash story published this year that I plan to enter in next year's contest. With any luck I won't win. (Just kidding.)






02 March 2016

Taxonomy Lesson


by Robert Lopresti

Hey folks...  the Short Mystery Fiction Society announced the finalists for the 2016 Derringer Awards yesterday and fully 25% of the stories are by SleuthSayers!  John Floyd scored in two categories.  Barb Goffman, Elizabeth Zelvin, and I settled for one each.  Congratulations to all the finalists!

Back in November I had the chance to speak at the university where I work about my novel Greenfellas. The good folks there have put a video of my talk on the web, which reminded me of something I wanted to discuss about it.

I guessed correctly that a lot of people in the audience would not be mystery fans and since this is an educational institution, I figured I should educate them a little on the field.  When you ask someone not familiar with the genre to think about mysteries they tend to conjure up Agatha-Christie style whodunits so I explained that there are also hardboiled, police procedurals, inverted detective stories, noir, caper, and so on.

All of which is fine and dandy.  But in the Q&A someone asked me what types of mysteries I particularly enjoyed.  I happened to mention Elmore Leonard - and then I was stumped as the thought ran through my head:  What type of mystery did Elmore Leonard write?

Well, you could say, he wrote Elmore Leonard novels.  That's not as silly as it sounds.  He wrote a novel called Touch, about a man who acquired the ability to heal people by touching them.  At first publishers didn't want it because it was not a crime novel, but by 1987 they were willing to take a chance on it because it was an Elmore Leonard novel, and readers knew what that meant.

The subject was also on my mind because I had recently read Ace Atkins novel The Redeemers, which struck me as being very much in Leonard's territory.  (That's a compliment to Atkins, by the way.) And I can't exactly say he is writing Elmore Leonard novels.

So, what am I talking about?  A third person narration story from multiple points of view, and most of those characters are criminals, each of whom has a nefarious scheme going.  The main character might be a good guy or just a slightly-less-bad guy.

You know I love quotations, so here is one from Mr. Leonard: "I don’t think of my bad guys as bad guys. I just think of them as, for the most part, normal people who get up in the morning and they wonder what they’re going to have for breakfast, and they sneeze, and they wonder if they should call their mother, and then they rob a bank."

Is there a name for this category of book?  Crime novel is useless.  Suspense doesn't really cut it.

You could argue that my book Greenfellas falls into that category, but I don't think it does.  First of all, it's a comic crime novel.  It's an organized crime novel, about the Mafia.  (Leonard's characters tend to be disorganized crime.)  And - I have harder time explaining this one - to me it's a criminal's Pilgrim's Progress, concentrating on one bad guy as he goes through a life-changing crisis.

So that's three category names for my novel.  But I'm still thinking about Leonard's.



09 January 2016

Of Lords and Eggs


by B.K. Stevens

Mystery short stories offer us many pleasures, including the opportunity to enjoy, briefly, the company of protagonists who might drive us crazy if we tried to stick with them through an entire novel. I was reminded of this truth recently when I reread a Dorothy L. Sayers story featuring Montague Egg, a traveling salesman who deals in wines and spirits. Most Sayers mysteries, of course, center on another protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey. As almost all mystery readers know, Lord Peter is highly intelligent, unusually observant, and adept at figuring out how scattered scraps of information come together to point to a conclusion. Montague Egg fits that description, too. Both characters are engaging and articulate, both have exemplary manners, and both sprinkle their statements with lively quotations. More important, both Lord Peter and Montague Egg abide by codes of honor, and both are devoted to the cause of justice, to identifying the guilty and exonerating the innocent. And Sayers evidently found both protagonists charming: She kept returning to them for years, writing twenty-one short stories about Lord Peter, eleven about Montague Egg.




Dorothy L. Sayers: The Complete Stories
But while Sayers also wrote eleven novels about Lord Peter, she didn't write a single one about Montague Egg. I don't know if she ever explained why she wrote only short stories about him--I checked two biographies and didn't find anything, but there might be an explanation somewhere. In any case, it's tempting to speculate about what her reasons might have been.She might have thought Egg lacks the depth of character needed in the protagonist of a novel. That's true enough, but she could always have developed his character further, given him more backstory. She did that with Lord Peter, who's a far more complex, tormented soul in Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon than he is in Whose Body? Or perhaps she thought all the little quirks that make Montague Egg such an amusing, distinctive short story protagonist would make him hard to take if his adventures were stretched out into a novel. Yes, Lord Peter has his little quirks, too, but I think his are qualitatively different. For example, while Lord peter tends to quote works of English literature in delightfully surprising contexts, Montague Egg sticks to quoting maxims from the fictional Salesman's Handbook, such as "Whether you're wrong or whether you're right, it's always better to be polite." Three or four of these common-sense rhymes add humor to a quick short story. Dozens of them might leave readers wincing long before a novel ends.



I did plenty of wincing when I decided, not long ago, to read Anita Loos' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (not a mystery, but protagonist Lorelei Lee does go on trial for shooting Mr. Jennings, so I figure I can sneak it in as an example). For the first thirty pages or so, I relished it, laughing out loud at Lorelei's uninhibited voice, at the absurd situations, at the appalling but flat-out funny inversions of anything resembling real values. Before long, however, I was flipping to the back of this short book to see how many more pages I had to read before I could declare myself done. Lorelei's voice, which had been so entertaining at first, had started to get on my nerves, and her delusions and her shallowness were becoming hard to take. I couldn't understand why this book had been so wildly popular until I found out it had originally been a series of short stories in Harper's Bazaar. Well, sure. A small dose of Lorelei once in a while can be enjoyable, but spending hours with her is like getting stuck talking to the most self-centered, superficial guest at a party. If you ever decide to read Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I recommend reading it one chapter at a time, and taking at least a week off in between.
There could be all sorts of reasons that a protagonist might be right for short stories but wrong for novels. I wrote a series of stories (for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine) about dim-witted Lieutenant Walt Johnson and overly modest Sergeant Gordon Bolt. Everyone--including Bolt--sees Walt as a genius who cracks case after difficult case. In fact, Walt consistently misunderstands all the evidence, and it's Bolt who solves the cases by reading deep meanings into Walt's clueless remarks. A number of readers urged me to write a novel about this detective team. (And yes, you're right--most of these readers are members of my immediate family. They still count as readers.)

Despite my fondness for Walt and Bolt, though, I never even considered writing a novel about them. I think they're two of the most likable, amusing characters I've ever created. But Walt is too dense, too anxious, and too cowardly to sustain a novel. How long can readers be expected to put up with a detective who's always confused but never scrapes up the courage to admit it, no matter how guilty he feels about taking credit for Bolt's deductions? And while I find Bolt's self-effacing admiration for Walt sweet and endearing, I think readers would get fed up with his blindness before reaching the end of Chapter Two.

I think these two are amusing short-story characters precisely because they're locked into patterns of foolish behavior. As Henri Bergson says in Laughter, repetition is often a fundamental element in comedy. But this sort of comedy would, I think, get frustrating in a novel. Readers expect the protagonists in novels to learn, to change, to grow. Walt and Bolt can't learn, change, or grow without betraying the premise for the series. So I confined them to twelve short stories, spread out between 1988 and 2014. In the story that completed the dozen, I brought the series to an end, doing my best to orchestrate a finale that would leave both characters and readers happy--a promotion to an administrative job for Walt, so he can stop pretending he's capable of detecting anything, and a long-awaited wedding and an adventure-filled retirement for Bolt. I truly love these characters. But I'd never trust them with a novel.


Other short-story protagonists, though, do have what it takes to be protagonists in novels, too. Lord Peter Wimsey is one example--in fact, most readers would probably agree that, delightful as most of the stories about him are, the novels are even better. Sherlock Holmes is another example--four novels, fifty-six short stories, and I think it's fair to say he shines in both genres. I considered one of my own short-story protagonists so promising that I decided to build a novel around her. Before I could do that, though, I had to make some major changes in her character.

American Sign Language interpreter Jane Ciardi first appeared in a December, 2010 Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine story, now republished as a Kindle story called "Silent Witness." Positive responses to the story--including a Derringer from the Short Mystery Fiction Society--encouraged me to think I might be able to do more with the character. It also helped that one of my daughters is an ASL interpreter who can scrutinize drafts and provide insights into deaf culture and the ethical dilemmas interpreters face. And I like Jane. She's smart, she's observant, she has acute insights into human nature, and she has a strong sense of right and wrong. In "Silent Witness," when she interprets at the trial of a deaf man accused of murdering his employer, she wants the truth to come out. She definitely doesn't want to see an innocent man go to prison.

Image result for b k stevens silent witnessBut the Jane Ciardi of "Silent Witness" is mostly passive. She's sharp enough to figure out the truth and to realize what she should do, but she lacks the courage to follow through. Her final action in the story is to fail to act, to sit when she should stand, to convince herself justice will probably be done even if she remains silent. I think all that makes Jane an interesting, believable protagonist in a short story that raises questions it doesn't quite answer.

I don't think it's enough to make her a fully satisfying protagonist in a novel--at least, not in a traditional mystery novel. In what's often called a literary novel, the Jane of "Silent Witness" might do fine--another protagonist paralyzed by doubt, agonizing endlessly about right and wrong but never taking decisive action. The protagonists of traditional mysteries should be made of sterner stuff. So in Interpretation of Murder, I made Jane regret and learn from the mistakes she'd made in "Silent Witness." We find out she did her best to correct them, even though it hurt her professionally. And when she's drawn into another murder case, she works actively to uncover the truth, she comes up with inventive ways of gathering evidence, and she speaks out about what she's discovered even when situations get dangerous. I can't be objective about Jane--others will have to decide if these changes were enough to make her an effective protagonist for Interpretation of Murder. But I'm pretty sure mystery readers would find the Jane of "Silent Witness" a disappointing companion if they had to read an entire novel about her.

  
Have you encountered mystery characters who are effective protagonists in short stories but not in novels--or, perhaps, in novels but not in short stories? If you're a writer, have you decided some of your protagonists work well in one genre but not in the other? If you've used the same protagonist in both stories and novels, have you had to make adjustments? I'd love to hear your comments.

30 August 2014

Why Writers Drink


By Melodie Campbell

“Recent studies show that approximately 40% of writers are manic depressive. The rest of us just drink.” (I sold this to a comedian during my comedy writing years.)

THE ARTFUL GODDAUGHTER launches this Monday on Amazon, Kobo and in bookstores.
This is the third book in the Derringer and Arthur Ellis Award-winning comedy series about a reluctant mob Goddaughter who can’t seem to leave the family business.

As it happens, I also finished writing the 4th book of the trilogy <sic> this week.  I am now in that stage of euphoria mixed with abject fear.  Here’s why:

Below are the 8 stages of birthing a novel, and why fiction writers drink.

THE STAGE OF:
1.  JOY – You are finished your manuscript.  Damn, it’s good!  The best thing you’ve written, and it’s ALL DONE and on deadline!  Time to open the Glenlivet.

2.  ANGST -  You submit manuscript to your publisher.  Yes, even though they’ve already published 5 of your novels, you still don’t know if they will publish this one.  Will they like it?  Is it as funny as you think it is?  Is it garbage?  Glenlivet is required to get through the next few days/weeks.

3.  RELIEF - They send you a contract – YAY!  You are not a has-been!  Your baby, which was a year in the making (not merely 9 months) will have a life!
Glenlivet is required to celebrate.

4.  ASTONISHMENT – The first round of edits come back.  What do they mean you have substantive changes to make?  That story was PERFECT, dammit!  They got the 15th draft, not the 1st.  Commiserate with other writers over Glenlivet in the bar at The Drake. 

5.  CRIPPLING SELF-DOUBT – The changes they require are impossible.  You’ll never be able to keep it funny/full of high tension, by taking out or changing that scene.  What about the integrity?  Motivation? And what’s so darn bad about being ‘too slapstick,’ anyway?  This is comedy! 
Can’t sleep.  Look for Glenlivet.

6.  ACCEPTANCE – Okay, you’re rewriting, and somehow it’s working.  Figured out how to write around their concerns.  New scene is not bad.  Not as good as the original, of course (why couldn’t they see that) but still a good scene.  Phew.  You’re still a professional. 
Professionals drink Glenlivet, right?

7.  JOY – They accept all your changes!  YAY!  All systems go. This baby will have a life. 
Celebrate the pending birth with a wee dram of Glenlivet.

8.  ANGST -  Are they kidding?  THAT’S the cover? 

Melodie Campbell drinks Glenlivet just south of Toronto, and lurks at www.melodiecampbell.com.  To be clear, she loves the cover of The Artful Goddaughter (Orca Books).