Showing posts with label Edgar Awards. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edgar Awards. Show all posts

22 July 2019

When to Enter


Many moons ago, I discussed why I enter so few writing contests. If there is a hefty entry fee, I stay away. If I don't know the judges or feel comfortable with the criteria, ditto.
But sometimes, dumb luck gives you an advantage, and it's true of both contests and submissions to anthologies. If you're in the right place at the right time, there are ways to get an inside track.

Several years ago, I learned about the Black Orchid Novella Award. I had a short story that never sold, and I expanded it into a novella and won. Yes, writing a good story helps, but the Black Orchid Novella Award pays tribute to Rex Stout and his detectives Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. My parents liked Stout, so I read many of his novels and novellas when I was young. We were both raised in the Midwest, so his voice and rhythm and characters influenced my own writing. In other words, writing a story that fit the contest's requirements was definitely in my skill set.

I've entered two stories in that contest, and won both times. Since it's an annual event, the submission dates are standard, which means I know when to have a story ready and have a whole year to come up with an idea (or not) and rewrite until it's worth sending. That means no rushing, important because I can't rush. I've written on demand, but it always takes me several revisions, which means lots of time.

My titles should tell you I like blues and rock and roll. Several years ago, I wrote a blog about plagiarism in rock music. Among other performers, I mentioned Led Zeppelin and their frequent "borrowing" from blues artists. That idea was fresh in my mind when the Mystery Writers of America posted a submission call for an anthology with the theme of "Vengeance," to be edited by Lee Child.

Well, Child's first novel is Killing Floor, a title taken from an old Howlin' Wolf blues classic. Led Zeppelin milked it dry for a song they called "The Lemon Song" on their second LP. Child has another novel called Bad Luck and Trouble, a line that appears in both "Born Under a Bad Sign" by William Bell and Albert King and "Double Trouble" by Otis Rush.

I figured Child was a fan of American Blues. What if I could write a story about a blues songwriter who stole a song and the results caught up with him? I called it "Hot Sugar Blues" and hoped the title would help the story get through the gatekeepers to Child himself. It appeared in the anthology and was later named a finalist for the Edgar Award.

Yes, I think it was a good story, but it still needed the right audience. You can help that happen.

Several years ago, I joined four other writers judging submissions for the Al Blanchard Story Award, sponsored by the New England Chapter of MWA. Let me share what that five-month stint taught me.

The submission time was three months, and we received 142 stories of 5000 words or less. Only a dozen came in during the first several weeks, and only 41 through the sixth week, so I read them all, Because I was used to reading lots of papers, I read EVERY story (even though I only had to read every fourth one) and took notes. (Some people have lives. I'm not one of them). I graded them all from 1 to 10 and made a spread sheet of my comments.

I didn't award any story a 9 or 10, but I gave NINETY-ONE stories a 1 or 2. That's right, nearly 2/3 of the entries earned that score, and for the same reason(s). They started with turgid--often unnecessary--backstory and most of them wallowed in description. They tended to tell rather than show, had little or poor dialogue, and a few had endings that came out of nowhere.

Don't do those things.

A whopping 41 stories came in the last day of the contest. Don't do that, either. By then, judges are in a hurry. They're looking for a reason to dump you and move on, so a typo, a badly-chosen name, or a cliche may be enough to knock you out on page one.

If a contest takes submissions for three months, I like to wait about six weeks. That gives readers time to go through enough entries to establish a personal standard of their own. They still have enough time to be flexible, though, so they'll give leeway to something a little different. When the time crush kicks in (the last two weeks), they may already have their personal favorites locked in and it's hard to dislodge them. Hit them when they're still comfortable.

Keep in mind that judging is ALWAYS subjective, no matter how specific the criteria, and no matter whether it's for a contest, an anthology, or a standard submission. Three of the five stories I rated the highest in the contest I judged didn't make anyone else's short list, but seventeen of the stories I rated a 1 or a 2 DID.

Not long ago, an editor turned down my submission because he liked the story but didn't like the golf that was essential to the plot. He never explained why. I sold the story elsewhere in two weeks. Maybe if I'd used tennis or Jai alai, it would have sold the first time out.

You never know. But some guesses are better than others.

08 July 2019

Why I Write


Today, I'm following a trend started by Michael Bracken, R.T., and O'Neil.
Writing is something I've done for so long that I can't imagine not doing it. Restructuring my life without it would be like a dancer having to reinvent himself after losing both legs.

The previous generation of my family included several teachers and two journalists, then called "reporters." My sister and I are the two youngest of eleven first cousins, seven of whom taught at one time or another (One was a principal and another was a superintendent), three of whom were involved in theater, and two of whom became attorneys.

Adults read to us constantly from the time we could sit upright in their laps. My sister and I both read at a fourth-or-fifth-grade level when we entered kindergarten, and I assume our cousins did, too.

When I was ten, the Mickey Mouse Club presented their first serialization of The Hardy Boys, and over the next year, I read every existing book in the series. Naturally, I tried to copy them myself, both sides of a wide-ruled notebook page per chapter, ending with the hero getting hit over the head or a flaming car soaring over the cliff. My mother, who worked as a secretary for the Red Cross during World War II, typed a couple of my stories out, and seeing my word in print gave me a thrill that never went away.

I slowed down in high school and college, but I never really stopped writing. In grad school, I took an American short story class that brought back the urge. Between 1972 and 1981, I taught high school English, earned my Masters and C.A.S (sixth-year) from Wesleyan, worked part-time as a photographer...and wrote five unpublished novels. Then I drifted into theater, where I acted, directed, produced, designed lights and/or sound and helped build sets for over 100 productions between 1982 and 2010. My third grad degree is in theater.
Upper Right, me as the crazy father

 I retired from teaching in 2003, and the theater where I did most of my work lost its performance space a week later. I wanted to revise one of the books I'd never been able to sell, and now I had time to learn to do it right. I read books on craft, attended workshops, and asked questions. Three years and 350 rejections later, I sold my first short story. Four more years and 250 more rejections, and I sold my first novel. Since then five short stories (including that first one) have short-listed for the Al Blanchard Award. I've won Honorable Mention three times, but never won. Two other stories won the Black Orchid Novella Award (Rob Lopresti has also won), and one story, the ONLY story that was accepted the first place I sent it, was nominated for an Edgar.

Linda Landrigan on the left, Jane Cleland on the right. Second Black Orchid

As I write this, most of the other bloggers on this site sell more short stories in a slow year than I have even written in my life. My acceptance rate hovers around seven percent and I have eight stories still floating from market to market looking for a home. My fifteen novel (All self-published since the first one became a terrible experience) will appear late this year or early next year.

Since 2007, when my first story appeared in print, my writing enterprises have been in the black three times, and the largest amount was about a hundred dollars. If I stopped writing today, it wouldn't affect my income or my standard of living.

My quality of life, though, well, that's a different issue.

I was a shy kid. Even though I could play baseball and football and basketball fairly well and had a bike like the other kids, I always felt a little bit outside the group. The writing gave me a retreat that was safe. So did music. I studied violin in firth grade (I really wanted to play piano) and picked up a guitar when the Beatles invaded. I played bass in a fortunately forgotten band in college. I recently started teaching myself piano all these years later, and music appears in many of my stories. Theater shows up occasionally.
One of my last directing gigs

The book I finally got right. 
I don't write for the money or for the recognition. I write because I still like the furniture in my little interior retreat. I love how it feels to send out a story when I know it's the best I can make it. That doesn't mean it will sell. A story I think is one of my very best has 19 rejections and no other appropriate market on the horizon. Another one I love has 15.

So what?

Would I like to make more money writing? Sure. I'd also like to play piano and guitar better, be twenty years younger knowing what I know now, and lose 15 pounds.

But I'll settle for this.

06 June 2017

New York, New York


by Paul D. Marks

First up, let me congratulate O’Neil De Noux on his Shamus nom. Good luck!

***

New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town. The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down. Or is it the other way around? Amy (the wife) and I recently spent a week in New York City and I’m still not sure.  (Well, I am, but it plays better the other way.) And now the legally required disclaimer: I wrote about this trip for another blog a few weeks ago as my last slot for SleuthSayers was the family blog post that Amy did. So I didn’t have a chance to talk about our trip here. But it was writing-related and so great and so much fun I wanted to share a slightly revised version with SleuthSayers too.

Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building
The trip came up very unexpectedly when I got an e-mail from Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, telling me that my story Ghosts of Bunker Hill had won the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll and inviting us to come to the Ellery Queen cocktail party and awards ceremony, as well as to be their guests at the Edgar Awards. I think I was in disbelief for several days, so we made no plans to head to New York…until the wonderful reality actually sunk in and we headed off to The Big Apple from The Big Sour, I mean, Big Orange.

We booked out on Jet Blue because we heard about their great on-time record. We got lucky—they were late both coming and going. I guess someone has to be the exception to the rule.

The week was a whirlwind of adventures and some sightseeing, much of it filled up with literary events. We arrived Monday night and since the hotel is next door to Grand Central Terminal we decided to check it out and have dinner at the famous Oyster Bar. Talk about a cool place. Then we walked around the neighborhood near the hotel late into the night.

On Tuesday we went to the Ellery Queen offices for tea with Janet and Linda Landrigan of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Jackie Sherbow, senior assistant editor for both EQMM and AHMM. Also there were Doug Allyn and his wife, Eve. Doug’s stories came in #2 and 3 in this year’s poll. But he’s been #1 11 times. I think it will be a long time before anyone can top that!

From L to R: Jackie Sherbow, Doug Allyn, Linda Landrigan,
Janet Hutchings, Me
Everyone was very gracious. And it was good to talk with Janet again and Linda, who I’d met briefly before. And to meet Jackie for the first time in person, but who I’ve had a lot of correspondence with.
Me and Jackie Sherbow.
After the afternoon tea, Jackie very graciously offered to be our guide on the subway, something I really wanted to do. So we subwayed to Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop for a gathering of Edgar nominees, authors, publishers and more (I think we fell into the “more” category, though now that I think about it I guess I’m an author too). It was crowded, it was fun. It was great to see the famous bookstore. And to meet Otto Penzler himself. And to see some people I know, including Edgar nominee Jim Ziskin and many others. And Doug Allyn was kind enough to introduce me to several people.


In the subway: L to R: me, Eve Allyn,
Doug Allyn and Amy
After the party at the Mysterious Bookshop, Jackie was once again our subway guide, taking us to a real New York pizza place that she likes. So she, Doug and Eve, and Amy and I, braved the rain to get to the subway and then the pizza place. And in a scene that could have been out of a Woody Allen movie, we stepped just inside a local market to get out of the rain for a few minutes. I was waiting for the “nasty” New Yorkers to kick us out, but nobody was nasty and nobody kicked us out. Eve grabbed some plastic bags from the produce section to cover our heads and we ventured back out into the rain. We still got soaked by the time we made it to the pizza place. But the pizza was good and it was all worth it. After dinner, Jackie headed home. Doug and Eve, Amy and I took a cab back to the hotel. And this was the one loquacious cabby we had the whole time we were in New York and he was a riot. When we were just about at the hotel he nudged through a crosswalk and some guy in the walk started yelling at him, challenging him to a fight. Now we felt like we were in New York.

Jackie guiding us through the subway.
Wednesday we had a free day, so we played tourists (which we were). Lots of other tourists all around us. We did a tour of Grand Central Terminal, which was right next to the Grand Hyatt Hotel where we were staying and where the Edgars would be held the following evening. (On the other side of the hotel was the Chrysler Building, which we had a view of from our window. Now that’s pretty cool to be sandwiched between the Chrysler Building and Grand Central. During our tour we had another “New York” experience when some jerk called the tour guide a “dirty scumbag” and neither she nor any of us on the tour could figure out why or what she’d done. But despite that, most everyone was really friendly and nice and we had no problems with anyone.

Grand Central Terminal
After our tour of Grand Central we followed Clint Eastwood’s “Speed Zoo” example from the movie True Crime, where he jams his kid through the zoo at the speed of sound, and did “Speed New York.” We bought tickets for the hop on-hop off buses—buses where you can get on at one location and off at the next, hang out, then get back on and go to the next location. This way we saw a lot of the city in one day. Everything from the Empire State Building to the Flat Iron and various neighborhoods. We also hopped onto the Staten Island Ferry. From there we could see the Statue of Liberty. We ended the day in Rockefeller Center and then Times Square and dinner in a pretty good Italian restaurant off Times Square. Our meal was served family style—and being only 2 people we ended up with enough left over to feed everyone in Times Square.

The next day was the Ellery Queen cocktail party and awards, held at a specialized library not too far from the hotel. And it was a truly terrific experience. But the best part (besides picking up the award of course 😉) was being able to meet people in person that I know online but hadn’t met for one reason or another. Fellow SleuthSayer David Dean. Tom Savage. Dave Zeltserman, who published some of my stories early on in his HardLuck Stories magazine, and whose Small Crimes was just made into a movie on Netflix that released recently, so check it out. Besides hanging with Janet, Linda and Jackie, we also got to hang with Doug and Eve Allyn again, both of whom were great to hang with.
Me and Doug Allyn at the Ellery Queen Cocktail Party

And, of course, it was more than a thrill to win the award!
Me receiving the Award

And then it was off to the Edgars that evening. Very exciting. And all was going well, I even liked the food (and who likes the food at these things?), until the Master of Ceremonies, Jeffrey Deaver, stumbled and then fainted on the stage while doing some introductions. That was scary. Luckily he was okay, though whisked off to the hospital to make sure it was nothing serious. I believe tests showed that it wasn’t—hope so.

That’s the litany, now for the real deal: While we loved New York and all of the events, the best part of anything like this, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, etc., is the people. The community of mystery writers is a very warm, very supportive group. And, as I’ve mentioned, it was great to see old friends and also meet new people. We saw Jim Ziskin and Catriona McPherson, and had a nice chat with both of them. Met Otto Penzler. And it was good to meet Sam Reaves, Dave Zeltserman and too many others to name here. And great to spend time with Janet, Linda and Jackie.
Amy and Jackie at the Edgars.

New York has a bad rep in some ways and people who know me thought I’d hate it (as I haven’t been there in years…decades). I loved it. I loved the crowds. I loved the energy. I loved the writing community. I loved this whole unexpected trip. And I’m more than appreciative to Janet Hutchings for publishing Ghosts of Bunker Hill and taking a chance on my first story for Ellery Queen, Howling at the Moon (which, by the way, made it to #7 in the Ellery Queen Readers Poll). And to Linda Landrigan for publishing my story Twelve Angry Days in the current (May/June 2017) issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. And to Jackie for everything she does to keep the wheels turning. And last but certainly not least to the people who voted for Ghosts of Bunker Hill and made it #1.

***

Something else that hit me while in NYC was the use of location.  Setting plays a major role in most of what I write. Author S.W. Lauden has said about my work, “I just read your next novel Vortex. I loved how the action bounced around Southern California, almost as if the region was one of the main characters.”

To me, location can sometimes be a driving force for the characters. Of course, they have inner motivations, but where they live, the zeitgeist, ambience and flavor of the city or desert or whatever locations the stories take place in adds to their motivations. And being in New York really made me notice the different energies and vibe of different cities. They really do have personalities of their own and those personalities influence and affect the characters. There are some stories that could only take place in New York and some that could only take place in LA, and not just by mentioning a street name or a location, it’s more than that. It’s the spirit of the place that comes through.  For me that location is often, though not always (see my story Deserted Cities of the Heart in Akashic’s St. Louis Noir and set there, of course) Los Angeles. And even though LA’s been done to death you might say…you haven’t seen my LA.

For more on my relationship with the City of Angels, please check out this link to my very first SleuthSayers post:
http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/02/adventures-in-la-la-land.html 

***

And now for the usual BSP:

My story Twelve Angry Days is in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, on sale at newsstands. Or click here to buy online. If you like food and you like mysteries, I think you might like this story.



***

I'll be at the California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City, June 10th and 11th. I'm on a panel called "The Long and Short of It: Short Stories and Novellas vs. Novels" with William Kent Krueger, Kate Thornton and Travis Richardson, moderated by S.W. Lauden. Hope to see you there!
http://www.ccwconference.org/


26 June 2016

April in Manhattan


AHMM editor Linda Landrigan
 at Notaro's Ristorante
The plane lands at La Guardia and passengers proceed through the walkway. Now, it's down the stairs to claim luggage and find ground transportation. Out on the sidewalk, drivers for black Town Cars hawk $63 rides to Manhattan, but a taxi, even for two passengers, is a less expensive fare to the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central Terminal. Check into the hotel, up to the room, unpack and we're ready for a little relaxation. Start with a draft beer at $9 each in the hotel lounge. The price alone lets you know you are no longer in one of the fly-over states.

3 SleuthSayers at DELL reception
R.T., Liz Zelvin & David Dean
Wednesday morning is breakfast at Pershing Square Restaurant across the street from the Hyatt and nestled under an overhead street. Nice atmosphere, short waiting line, good service. Eggs Benedict are fine and the final bill is fairly reasonable for breakfast in mid-Manhattan.

Supper that evening is with AHMM editor Linda Landrigan at Notaro's Ristorante, 635 2nd Avenue. This is a family owned business, the atmosphere is homey, the food is superb, the waiters are friendly and the prices are good. Try their Rigatoni alla Vodka with a glass of Pinot Noir. You'll come back to dine again. Even though we were all full, I got into a several minute discussion with our waiter about the Italian dessert Tiramisu and learned a few things. The waiter promptly returned with a plate of Tiramisu (on the house) and three forks. Best I've ever had, to include the one I ate in northern Italy where this dessert originated. Turns out our waiter is part of the family who owns the restaurant. It's not a large place, so I would recommend reservations. We will definitely eat there again.

Some of the fancy dessert
at Edgars Banquet.
Edgar is white chocolate.
Thursday afternoon is the DELL Publishing (AHMM & EQMM) Cocktail Reception. Editors Linda Landrigan (AHMM) and Janet Hutchings (EQMM), Senior Assistant Editor Jackie Sherbow, Carol Dumont (the nice lady who sends contracts and paychecks to writers whose stories are accepted) and other names on the masthead are there to greet attendees. Nicely, three other SleuthSayers (David Dean, Liz Zelvin and Brian Thornton) plus a gentleman from our predecessor Criminal Brief (James Lincoln Warren), all short story authors,  also showed up. This event is always a good time, where one gets to meet other short story mystery authors and discuss all sorts of topics.

Then, it's back to the Grand Hyatt for the Edgar Awards Banquet. The wife and I start with the Edgar Nominees Champagne Reception in a large room on the Ballroom level. As chief judge for the Best Novel category (509 hardcovers in ten months) it's interesting to meet and be able to chat with some of the Nominees. Best Novel Judges Brian Thornton and James Lincoln Warren are also in attendance.
R.T. presenting to Edgars Best Novel Winner - Lori Roy
Next comes the general cocktail reception, followed by the banquet itself. Supper is served, speakers talk and awards are presented. Winners (and their publishers) are elated, while the rest of the Nominees get to look forward to the possibility of their next work earning them the status of Nominee and maybe Winner at the next Edgar Awards Banquet. Still, it's a good time and you get to meet and network with lots of fascinating people. Meanwhile, outside the banquet room, publishers have set up lines of tables with free books of their Nominee authors. I'm still waiting for one of my stories to make me a Nominee in the Best Short Story category. For now, it looks like a long wait.

The Pond in Central Park
Reflections in Central Park
Friday is free time and an enjoyable walk north to Central Park. On the south end of the park where the horse and carriage drivers hawk their rides, we see two people sitting in the back of a carriage within an area that's been blocked off. The driver, wearing a top hat, is perched on his seat, but there is no horse in the harness. A closer look reveals two movie cameras, a boom mike and some guys holding huge light reflector panels. Someone says "action" and a man steps into the horse harness. He has a plume on top of his head like the horses wear and as he pulls the carriage  forward about fifty feet, he bobs his head like a horse would do so that the plume has a horse's rhythm to its movement. The driver even flicks his reins as if a horse is in harness. The camera is shooting over what would be the horse's head and into the carriage. The carriage stops, three men back it up to its original starting position and they do another take. Must be easier for men to move the carriage in both directions than to back up a horse. Wonder what the horse thought about all this process as he stood off to the side doing nothing.

Baltika #3 in the Russian Vodka Room
SleuthSayer Brian Thornton & wife Robyn
at Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal
Ate Nathan's hot dogs from a vendor's cart. Not bad. Don't know if this is what native New Yorkers do or if it's just tourists. Then, it's a walk south to the Russian Vodka Room where large bottles of Baltika #3 and Baltika #7 are only $4 a bottle. Beats the much higher prices at other lounges and bars, and it is a great tasting beer. Right next door, The Jersey Boys is playing at the same off-Broadway theater that it has for the last several years. Supper is in a nice Irish restaurant near Times Square and dessert is at The Oyster Bar in the depths of Grand Central Terminal.

It was a great trip. If you haven't yet been to the Edgars, you should try it one of these Aprils. Just plan on spending some money.

Saturday is an early taxi ride back to La Guardia and a flight home.

Catch ya later.

04 February 2016

Max Bialystock is Dead


The six finalists for the Edgar Awards have been announced, and each and every one of them is fantastic.  Go read them.


The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam's Sons)
The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr (Penguin Random House – A Marian Wood Book)
Life or Death by Michael Robotham (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy (Penguin Random House - Dutton)
Canary by Duane Swierczynski (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
Night Life by David C. Taylor (Forge Books)

But, while these six are basking in hope and glory, I'd also like to bring to your attention some other damn good books that came out in 2015.  

First of all, Phantom Angel by David Handler (Minotaur Books).  I love a good mystery, and I love it even better when it's funny.  Really funny.  This one is.  PI Benji Golden is hired by Morrie Frankel, who's putting on a $65 million musical adaptation of "Wuthering Heights" (yes, Emily's cheerful little romance).  If you're thinking Max Bialystock and "Springtime for Hitler", so was I.  And I was not disappointed!  Max, I mean, Morrie is killed, money vanishes, and Golden's real problem is sifting through Broadway gossip as high as a NY skyscraper to find the killer.  This was a truly FUN read.  It's also the second in this new series by David Handler - the first was Runaway Man.

For those of you who love the long slow burn...

A Pleasure and A Calling by Phil Hogan ((Picador) is classic British creep show.  You know.  The kind of story where everything is normal, perfectly normal.  Until one day, you notice that the ivy is twining the wrong way, and the next, the garbage can shifted, and later, who turned on that light, and why are you in the attic...  Well, in this one, we have Mr. Heming, real estate agent.  Wonderful man.  Friendly, helpful.  First to call.  And has keys to every house he has ever sold. Who likes to drop in, when nobody's there. Who likes to see how people live.  Who is very, very particular.  Who has motives that no one has ever dreamed of.  Who may have fallen in love.  Or not.  Who finds himself in a situation.  And knows that there is always, always, always a way out...  He's done it before...  Seriously, check it out.  You'll stay up for a while.

And now for something completely different:

The Lost Treasures of R&B by Nelson George (Akashic Books).  Nelson George's professional bodyguard D Hunter is on the job protecting rapper Asya Roc at an underground fight club in Brooklyn.  But the rapper has arranged to buy some illegal guns; an old acquaintance named Ice is the courier; a robbery is attempted, a shoot-out follows.  Who were the gunmen?  Why did they want those guns?  And who was being set up - the rapper or the Ice?  D tries to figure all of this out and, at the same time, to track down the rarest soul music single ever recorded.  The voice of this book is very real, and the whole mood of the book is an R&B rapper High Fidelity noir thriller, and I loved it. Nelson George, knows his music:  a former editor for Billboard Magazine, columnist for the Village Voice, R&B, currently co-executive producer of VH1's Hip Hop Honors and executive producer of BET's American Gangster.  He also knows Brooklyn.  The Lost Treasures of R&B is the third in the D Hunter series:  the other two are The Accidental Hunter and The Plot Against Hip-Hop: A Novel.


A brand new series to keep an eye on:

The Magician's Daughter by Judith Janeway (Poisoned Pen Press).  Magician Valentine Hill always introduces her act by announcing “Reality is an illusion. Illusion is reality, and nothing is what it seems.”  She learned that, and many other things, from her grifter mother, who is still on the loose, and her magician father. From both she learned a whole lot of tricks that will come in handy as she struggles to deal with wealthy socialites, car mechanics, cab drivers, and FBI agents.  Most of whom are also ruthless criminals, psycho killers, and seductive gangsters.  And, of course, her amoral, abusive, never-retired mother who is still on the con, and still very, very, very dangerous...

And everyone needs a good spy thriller:

Nobody Walks by Mick Herron (Soho Crime).  Tom Bettany is working at a meat processing plant in France when he gets a voicemail from an Englishwoman he doesn’t know telling him that his estranged 26-year-old son is dead.  Liam Bettany fell from his London balcony, where he was smoking pot.  Bettany goes back to London to find out the truth about his son’s death.  Because Liam might have been a druggie, but Bettany isn't just the quiet butcher he's been for the last few years.  He's been around, he knows a lot, perhaps too much, and a lot of people are afraid of his return, from incarcerated mob bosses to high powered bosses of MI5.  None of them appreciate his return.  Or did someone arrange to get him back, literally in the worst way possible?   Stylish, noirish, a don't trust anyone read that will definitely surprise you.

Under the why didn't anyone tell me? classification of series:

Down Among the Dead Men by Peter Lovesey (Soho Crime).  Miss Gibbon, the most disliked teacher (of art) in a posh private girls' school vanishes in a Sussex town on the south coast of England. She is not missed, especially since her replacement is a gorgeous male teacher with a fancy car and some boundary issues. Meanwhile, detective Peter Diamond finds himself in Sussex, with the person he hates the most:  his supervisor, Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore.  She's been called to lead a Home Office internal investigation into a Sussex detective who failed to link DNA evidence of a relative to a seven-year-old murder case.  And she takes Diamond with her.  What she doesn't know is that Diamond knows the suspended officer.  And over time, he notices unsettling connections between the cold case and the missing art teacher. And there's also the mystery of why C.C. Dallymore was really called on the case in the first place.  I loved the plot, I loved the characters, but most of all, I loved the wit.  Why didn't someone tell me about Peter Diamond before?

Well, that's all for this week.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some catching up to do....




04 January 2016

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times


I claim it was 1998, but it really all started in 1997.  I was lucky.  I'd been around for quite a few years by then, and still had an intact family.  Two parents, still married to each other, a big brother, his wife and two sons, and a little brother and his wife.  I was most fortunate to have a husband to whom I'd been happily  married since 1972 and a beautiful teenaged daughter. As a family we were blessed.
My big brother's name was Frank Rogers.  He was three years my senior and had been my hero as long as I could remember.  He had two webbed toes and eventually grew to be six foot, fix inches.  He saved me from death (or a slight concussion) when I almost fell off the porch into a pile of bricks our dad was saving for a patio he might (or might not) build.  He benignly blackmailed me for multiple decades for an indiscretion when I was seven years old.  He missed me so much when our family went on vacation without him that, upon my return, he took me to downtown Dallas to see a Troy Donahue movie -- and he didn't even like Troy Donahue.  He introduced me to the Kingston Trio, the Smothers Brothers, and Alan Sherman.  He made fun of me for a week when I cried while watching an episode of "Wagon Train."

As adults we became scattered as jobs took us to different parts of the country, but we seemed to manage to all get together at least once a year, and quite often on Thanksgiving.  As the years progressed we started a Thanksgiving tradition:  tequila shots before dinner.  Our parents didn't partake, but the three siblings and our spouses certainly did (and even some of the kids when we weren't watching closely enough).  It was silly, but, hey, it was tradition!

Then in 1997, Frank got sick.  He was in the hospital and I called him as I had been doing on a daily basis since he'd been in there.  But something was wrong.  My big brother was crying.  And I could hear my sister-in-law sobbing in the background.  Never, in all those years, had I ever known my big brother to cry.  The doctor was in his room.  The doctor just told him he had terminal cancer.  The doctor just told him he had a year to live.  To my knowledge, Frank never cried again.  He yelled, got drunk, and laughed a lot, but never cried.

The whole family was staggered by this.  We were blessed.  Things like this didn't happen to us.  Our family members only died when they were in their eighties or nineties.  Not like this.  He was only fifty-four.  One child left in college.  Things like this didn't happen in our family.  We were blessed.

We learned that what Frank had was cancer of the common bile duct -- a very rare cancer that no one was studying.  He could try chemo and radiation, but the results wouldn't amount to much, if anything at all.  He opted not to bother.  He and Rosella, his wife, took leaves of absence from their respective jobs and decided to spend the year he had left doing whatever they wanted and, as he told me, he had no intention "of suffering fools gladly."

In those last months of 1997, my sister-in-law and I conspired to save him.  It was a real reach, but one does what one can.  There was a Mexican bodega my husband and I frequented when we wanted ingredients we were unable to find in the regular grocery store.  But this bodega had more than mere spices and strange fruits; it had talismans and cancer cures.  Frank and Rosella lived in Baltimore, and I lived in Austin, but I found a way to send a talisman and cancer-curing tea to my sister-in-law.  Both of us knowing Frank would laugh at such an attempt, she hid the talisman deep in his wallet (the lady at the bodega said he must always have it on him for it to work - duh), and slipped the tea into Frank's morning coffee.  And then Rosella prayed and I kept my fingers crossed.  One does what one can.

That last Thanksgiving, 1997, before our tequila shots, we had a meeting at my younger brother's house in Dallas and decided we were going to take a vacation together -- something we hadn't done since we were kids.  So we made plans.  It was to be eight days at a rental house on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and I started saving for the trip we'd take in March.  But in February of 1998, I got a call from my agent in New York.  I'd been nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Paperback Novel of 1997.  After telling my husband, who was in the room at the time, the first person I called was Frank.  He was elated, I was elated, everybody was elated.  And I wanted to win it for him.

In March of 1998 we left for St. John.  It was a wonderful eight days of conch fritters, rum, and too much Jimmy Buffett on the CD player.  We saw giant turtles, beautiful white beaches, and pigs walking along the roads.  We learned to drive on the wrong side of the street and found that a pint of Ben and Jerry's cost over eight dollars.  And we discovered my daughter and Frank's youngest son had "found" a bottle of champagne and had taken that and a bottle of orange juice out to the pool late one night and were making "mouth mimosas."  And it was all over way too soon.

In April I left for New York and the Edgar banquet.  My friend Jan Grape had also been nominated that year for Best Non-Fiction and we were able to rent a small apartment on the east side and spent a wonderful week up there.  I had strict orders to call Frank the minute I won.  He never said anything about my not winning.  Needless to say, I didn't win, and it was the hardest phone call of my life.  I called my husband first and he was stoic about it, but then I had to call Frank.  Somehow in my mind I'd confused my winning that Edgar with my brother living.  I'm sure my winning would have worked as well as the talisman in his wallet and the tea in his coffee; i.e., not at all.

In early October I went to Bouchercon in Philadelphia, just a train ride from Baltimore.  Frank was once again a guest at Johns-Hopkins, and I took the train down to see him.  He was excited.  He and his doctor had just seen Carl Ripkin, Jr., in the halls of the oncology ward.  The two of them, on seeing Mr. Ripkin, Jr., going down the stairs, followed him, my brother carrying his IV pole and clutching the back of his hospital gown.  Frank's doctor told me the son was there to see his father, Carl Ripkin, Sr.  I found the mental picture of my brother chasing the baseball star down the stairs amusing and shared this later that evening, back in Philadelphia, with my dinner companions.  I forgot that one of them was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun.  The headline in the next day's paper?  Carl Ripkin, Sr., hospitalized in cancer ward at Johns-Hopkins.  For a short while, my family referred to me as "deep throat."

It was only a few short weeks later that I got a call from Frank.  "I need to tell you something," he said.  His voice was ragged.  "Anything," I said.  "I'm sorry I blackmailed you," he said.  "That's okay," I said.  "It's what brothers do."  And he told me he loved me and I told him I loved him.  Two days later he died.

We buried my brother's ashes on Halloween on a beautiful hill in the Maryland countryside.  My sister-in-law stuck one of Frank's favorite cigars in the hole with his ashes, then we went to her home, got drunk, and all smoked the rest of his cigars.

And our family was no longer blessed.  I lost both my parents in 2001 -- Dad in January, Mom in April.  Five years later my beloved husband, Don Cooper, had his fourth heart attack and was unable to come back from that one.  He was sixty-one.

To this day, my sister-in-law, my daughter and nephews all call each other on Thanksgiving and give a tequila toast to Frank.  After a few years, we added Don's name to the toast.

But I'll always remember the year 1998 as the best and the worst.  An Edgar nomination, a trip to St. John, a week in New York -- and the death of my hero.  My big brother.

16 May 2015

Dinner With the Poe Folks



by John M. Floyd


A couple of weeks ago, on Wednesday, April 29, Mystery Writers of America held its annual Edgar Awards ceremony in New York City to honor this year's nominees and to announce the winners. I should begin by stating two facts: (1) I was nominated, and (2) I didn't win.

But I attended, and I had a great time. As many of you know firsthand, the awards banquet is accompanied by several days of other events, parties, and receptions that encompass what has come to be known as Edgar Week. My wife Carolyn and I flew up that Monday morning and returned home Thursday night, and while we weren't able to attend every single function, we did show up for most of them. It was a unique opportunity for me to see some old writer friends and meet new ones. And to thank some magazine editors who have been extremely kind to me these past few years.

My only official duty all week was to participate in a panel of nominees Tuesday morning, the first event of an all-day Edgar (short for Edgar Allan Poe) "Symposium." The topic of our panel was "Crossing Genres," but it morphed quickly into a discussion of mystery subgenres, which was of course appropriate for a group of crime writers. Our moderator was Greg Herren, and my fellow panelists were Adam Sternbergh (nominated for Best First Novel), Kate Milford (up for Best Juvenile), and William Lashner (up for Best Paperback Original), all of whom did a great job. Kate, a delightful lady, turned out to be the only one of us four who would take home an Edgar this year, for Greenglass House (Clarion Books).

Later in the day more panels were featured, on settings, research, and the art of juggling a writing career and a day job. The sessions that I visited were well done, but I confess that I wandered in and out of them--like any other gathering of writers, most of the fun came from roaming around the hotel to chat with the other attendees--and my wife and I took advantage of the great weather to explore the city for a few hours. The afternoon ended with an interview of 2015 Grand Master Lois Duncan by Laura Lippman and an interview of co-Grand Master James Ellroy by Otto Penzler. I especially enjoyed listening to Ellroy--an interesting guy, to say the least. One of the most surprising things I learned about him was that he didn't like the film adaptation of his novel L.A. Confidential. (Personally--what do I know?--I thought it was one of the best crime movies ever.)

That night I attended an "Agents and Editors" party, where Mary Higgins Clark announced the winner of the annual award given in her name and where I finally met Otto Penzler--he and I had been corresponding via e-mail lately regarding one of my stories he's selected for an upcoming anthology. This was the only event, I believe, to which spouses/guests were not invited. I also got a chance to catch up a bit with editors Linda Landrigan and Janet Hutchings and former SleuthSayer Elizabeth Zelvin. On several occasions I heard Liz trying to explain to others that what I was speaking wasn't a foreign language, it was just Southern.


I was able to spend even more time with Linda, Janet, and Liz the following afternoon, at a cocktail party sponsored by Dell Magazines. Also in attendance at the Dell party were fellow SleuthSayers David Dean and Dale Andrews, as well as old friends Terrie Moran, Barry Zeman, Bill McCormick, and others. (In the lopsided photo above, I'm the guy in the green tie, talking with Barry.) It was a thrill for me to put faces to some of the names that I'd seen so often in the pages of AHMM and EQMM, to meet many of Linda's and Janet's colleagues at the magazines (Peter Kanter, Jackie Sherbow, Carol Demont, etc.), and to introduce everyone to my far better half.

After a cab ride back to the hotel and a change of clothes, Carolyn and I went downstairs to the Edgar pre-ceremony reception. Much of our time there was spent getting photos taken and visiting with my competitor-in-the-Best-Short-Story-category Doug Allyn and his wife Eve. Doug has long been one of my favorite writers, and since my wife's maiden name is Allyn the two of them fell into a deep discussion about their family history while his wife and I discussed people who like to discuss their family history. I also had an opportunity to meet and visit awhile with my hero Stephen King, who was nominated for Best Novel this year. I'm sure SK was overjoyed to meet me, although he somehow forgot to ask me for my autograph. (The photo here is of Doug and me, with the Kingster in the background.)

The banquet itself was great. Carolyn and I were seated at the table with Strand Magazine editors Andrew and Lamia Gulli, who were kind enough to have published the story that got me there, and I spent much of the meal listening to another tablemate, Mike (Francis M.) Nevins, tell fascinating tales about the old days of writing, publishing, and copyright law. When the steaks and desserts were finished and the award presentations rolled around, Doug and I lost out to Gillian Flynn, who in true Gone Girl fashion did not make an appearance that night. King won for Best Novel (Mr. Mercedes), which I thought was well deserved. A newfound friend, J. W. Ocker, won for Best Critical/Biographical, and later wrote a great piece about this year's awards ceremony. I think the most memorable quote I heard that evening came from R. L. Stine. He told the group that a lady in the lobby had said to him, "You look like R. L. Stine--no offense."

The next day we flew home--in my case older, poorer, and Edgarless but truly grateful to have been allowed to come to the festivities at all. It was my first time in NYC in years and the very first time Carolyn and I had been there together, and we'd had a wonderful stay in the company of talented and interesting people. I owe heartfelt thanks to the good folks at the Strand; to any of you who might've read and enjoyed my nominated story; and certainly to anyone who might've been involved in choosing my story, out of so many worthy contenders, to be one of the finalists.

Maybe next year . . .





11 May 2015

Shameless Self Promotion


Just a quick note on this Mother's Day to clue everyone in on what a fantastic and versatile group of writers who keep this site going each day. I knew there are award nominees and winners here and I thought it might be high time we tooted our own horns. So in no particular order, check out these your daily SleuthSayers.

Eve Fisher:
Her short story, "A Time to Mourn" was shortlisted for Otto Penzler's 2011 Best American Short Stories.

John Floyd:
Won a 2007 Derringer Award for short Story"Four for Dinner."
Nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize "Creativity" 1999 for Short Story
"The Messenger 2001 for Short Story and for a poem "Literary vs Genre" 2005
Shortlisted three times for Otto Penzler's Best American Mystery Stories, "The Proposal," (2000), "The Powder Room," (2010), "Turnabout" (2012), and "Molly's Plan" was published in 2015 Best American Short Stories.
Nominated for an EDGAR AWARD for the short story "200 Feet" 2015.

Janice Trecker:
Nominated for an EDGAR AWARD for Best First Novel years ago, a Lambda award for Best Gay Mystery Novel for one of the Bacon Books a year ago and a nomination for Best Local Mystery book on the History of Hampton, CT, now her home town.

Dale Andrews:
His first Ellery Queen Pastiche, "The Book Case," won second place in the EQMM 2007 Reader's Choice and was also nominated for the Barry Award for Best Short Story that year.

Leigh Lundin:
Won the Ellery Queen 2007 Reader's Choice award for his story “Swamped”.

Rob Lopresti:
Fnalist for the Derringer three times, winning twice. Won the Black Orchid Novella Award. I was nominated for the Anthony Award.

Paul D. Marks:
Won the SHAMUS AWARD for White Heat. Nominated this year for an ANTHONY AWARD for Best Short Story for "Howling at the Moon."

David Dean:
His short stories have appeared regularly in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, as well as a number of Anthologies since 1990. His stories have been nominated for SHAMUS, Barry, and Derringer Awards and "Ibraham's Eyes" was the Reader's Choice Award for 2007. His story "Tomorrow's Dead" was a finalist for the EDGAR AWARD for Best Short Story of 2011.

David Edgerley Gates:
Nominated for the SHAMUS, the EDGAR (twice) and the International Thriller Writers Award.

Melissa Yuan-Innes:
Derringer Award Finalist 2015 for "Because" Best Mystery Short Fiction in the English Language, Roswell Award for Short Fiction Finalist 2015 for "Cardiopulmonary Arrest."
Won the Aurora Award 2011 Best English related Work and her story " Dancers With Red Shoes" is featured in Dragons and Stars edited by Derwin Mak and Edwin Choi. Her story "Indian Time was named one of the best short mysteries of 2010 by criminalbrief.com
Year's Best Science Fiction, Honorable Mentions for "Iron Mask," "Growing up Sam," and "Waiting for Jenny Rex."
CBS Radio Noon Romance Writing Contest- Runner-up. Melissa has also won Creative Writing contests and Best First Chapter of a Novel in 2008 and second place for Writers of the Future and won McMaster University "Unearthly Love Affair" writing contest.

Melodie Campbell:
Winner of nine awards: 2014 ARTHUR ELLIS award for (novella) The Goddaughter's Revenge. which also won the 2014 Derringer.
Finalist for 2014 ARTHUR ELLIS award for "Hook, Line and Sinker" and this story also won the Northwest Journal short story.
Finalist for 2013 ARTHUR ELLIS award for "Life Without George." which took second prize in Arts Hamilton national short fiction.
Finalist 2012 ARTHUR ELLIS award for "The Perfect Mark" which also won the Derringer award.
Winner 2011 Holiday Short Story Contest for "Blue Satin and Love."
Finalist for 2008 Arts Hamilton award for national short fiction for "Santa Baby."
Third Prize 2006 Bony Pete Short Story contest "School for Burgulars"
Winner 1991 Murder and Mayhem and the Macabre, "City of Mississauga, 2 categories
Third Prize 1989 Canadian Living Magazine, Romance Story "Jive Talk."
Finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for best short story for 2015 which will be announced on May 28th.

Robert 'RT' Lawton:
Nominated for the Derringer Award for "The Right Track" in 2010.
Nominated for the Derringer Award for "The Little Nogai Boy" in 2011.

Jan Grape:
Nominated along with co-editor, Dr. Dean James, for an Edgar and an Agatha Award for Deadly Women for Best Biographical/Critical Non-Fiction. 1998.
Won McCavity award along with co-editor Dr. Dean James for Deadly Women for Best Non-fiction.
Won Anthony Award for Best Short Story, 1998 for "A Front-Row Seat" in Vengeance is Hers anthology.
Nominated for Anthony for Best First Novel, 2001 for Austin City Blue.
Jan will receive the Sage Award from the Barbara Burnet Smith Aspiring Writers Foundation on May 17. This award is for mentoring aspiring writers.
We all have to admit, our SleuthSayers authors are a multi-talented group.

On this Mother's Day, one little personal note, my mother, PeeWee Pierce and my bonus mom, Ann T. Barrow, both taught me to be a strong, independent, caring woman and I was blessed to have them in my life and I still miss them. Both were able to read some of my published work and I'm glad they were.

Happy Mother's Day, everyone.

18 August 2014

Troubled Minds


Jan Grape This has been an awful week for me personally. After hearing about the death of always creative and funny icon Robin Williams and all that sadness entailed, we hear about the death of the beautiful Lauren Bacall. Of course, there was a big difference.  Age for one thing, Betty Bacall was eighty-nine years old and had lived a full and I imagine a reasonably happy life. Her great love was Humphrey Bogart and by all accounts their marriage was happy and fulfilling. Although it was cut short by his early death.

Robin Williams was only sixty-six, and I say only because I have long since past my sixties and that seems reason enough to say "only." But we discover that he was a man who has fought depression for a number of years. But he had given up his addictive drugs and seemed to be on a fairly good path. Problem is, we just never know. Little things can send a troubled mind off into the abyss and into that awful land of suicide. His television show had been cancelled and he recently had been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease according to his wife. Those two things are enough to slam even the hardiest of us right into the gut, but to someone who deals with clinical depression and someone who perhaps is bi-polar it can be devastating. No one except a person who has dealt with such depression can begin to understand.

Jeremiah Healy
Jerry Healy
On Friday, I learned along with many others in the writing game, Jeremiah Francis Healy the lll had also died.  He had completed suicide on Thursday evening. Jerry Healy aka Terry Devane was only sixty-eight years old. This was the hardest blow for me to take as I've known Jerry for years and years and been around him, bar-hopping, playing poker, eating meals, laughing and talking about writing for hour upon hour. There was a time when I went to at least two mystery conferences a year, the main one being Bouchercon. And it was at these fan and writer outings that I spent time with Jerry, along with a cadre of mystery writers. Jerry was a graduate of Rutgers College and Harvard Law School and was a Professor at the New England School of Law for eighteen years. We always teased him about his preppy look. But he could carry it off if anyone could. Probably that big smile of his made us forgive him.

He was a member of Private Eye Writers, a Shamus Award winner and nominee and was the President of PWA. For several years I was the editor of their newsletter, Reflections in a Private Eye and because of that Jerry and I spoke on the phone occasionally but, more often we e-mailed back and forth. Jerry wrote over thirteen novels featuring John Francis Cuddy, Private Eye Series and two short story collections with Cuddy. Fifteen have been either nominated or won the Shamus award given by the Private Eye Writers of America. In 2001, began the legal thrillers featuring Mariead O'Clare, written under the name of Terry Devane. The third, A Stain Upon The Rose was optioned for a feature film. He was also a President of the International Association of Crime Writers and traveled extensively in Europe.

I personally never would have guessed that Jerry suffered chronic depression, however, I do know that it seems to be a regular visitor to creative people. I imagine all the times I was around Jerry, he was in his element, being with fans and writers and discussing writing projects and the writing biz. At those times the depression was at bay.

Since Friday, I have learned one thing that I did already know but learned much more about, was how many upcoming writers that Jerry helped. He shared stories and ideas and encouraged them especially new writers coming up. He helped me quite a lot and blurbed my first book. And I do have a bit of insight into why Jerry was always helping.

One early morning after an all night poker game at Bob Randisi's headquarters (our usual game room) Jerry insisted in walking me back to my hotel room. It was only across the street as I recall but being the gentleman he was, he didn't want me out on the street alone at four in the morning. We were strolling along, in no particular hurry, talking about receiving help from other more advanced writers. I remember saying something like, I can never repay the writers who have helped me along the way. Jerry said, something like, you can't even begin to repay them.  But let me tell you what Mary Higgins Clark told me.

Right after Jerry's first book was published, he attended the Edgars meeting in NYC. Since he lived in Boston, this was not a big deal for him. However, a few people knew he had recently published his first book. Somehow, Ms Clark found him and invited him to a party at her apartment.  Seems everyone who was everyone was going. Jerry went still not knowing how Mary Higgins Clark knew who he was and during the evening he found himself talking to Ms Clark and two or three others and he said to her. I've been lucky in that I've had so many other mystery writers who have helped and encouraged me along the way. I'll never be able to pay them back for all they've done. Without missing a beat, Mary said, "Don't even try it. You'll never be able to make up. But what you can do is pay it forward. You can help others who are coming along and in that way you are giving back to all the ones who helped you."

Jerry took that to heart and I read over and over from a large number of FB people how Jerry had helped and encouraged them in their writing. He also helped when he learned they might be having a personal crises. Jerry would pull them aside and give them encouragement. And each person said what a genuine, warm and kind person he was.

If I thought for a while I could come up with story after story of Jerry and some of the funny things he did. Or the gentlemanly things he did. But thinking too hard about those stories are a bit to difficult to think of right now. My heart is too full of our loss. But two stories did come to mind.

Once a group of us had a joint signing at a mystery bookstore, maybe in Bethesda. After the signing, everyone was trying to get a taxi to go back to the hotel. I got back with a group of writers and I saw three or four older ladies getting out of a taxi with Jerry Healy. The ladies had huge smiles on their faces and I thought to myself, Jerry just made the day for those fans. They will never forget his taking the time to visit with them and what a gentleman he was.

The other story is one that I hope will give you a smile.  A number of private eye writers play poker in Randisi's room. The game is by invitation only and I had the honor of being the first female who was asked to play. For several times, I was on the "B" team, meaning I could only play after one of the "A" gave up or was wiped out for the evening. One Saturday night at Bouchercon, after the banquet a group of us met up in the hotel lobby to head for the poker game. There were four or five of us and we walk in the hotel room to find Jeremiah Healy, all alone in the room, sitting alone at one of the tables reading a book. We were taken aback. What in the world was he reading? How To Win At Poker. Needlessly to say, we all fell out laughing.

Goodbye, my friend, I love you and miss you. Much love to Sandy. the family and all the many, many friends who also loved and will miss Jeremiah Healy III. RIP

At the Healy's cabin in Maine in 2003. I stayed there while attending an author day event at Five Star Publishing. Jerry demonstrating an electric bug zapper which looks like a tennis racket, the stuffed animal is the victim. Note the evil grin on Healy's face.

22 April 2013

Reading To Learn


Jan GrapeLike most writers I love reading. I guess I could be perfectly happy reading all day every day. I loved reading so much that my late husband, Elmer and I opened a bookstore in Austin in 1990. We titled it Mysteries and More. The "more" part was because we also had science-fiction, western, and general fiction. But all of those genre were used books. The new books were all mysteries and we had a huge number of used mysteries. I used to say we had 75% used and 25% new books. That was probably accurate. M & M was only the second mystery bookstore in Texas. Murder by the Book was the first and I think it's the only one currently still in business.

It wasn't too long that I realized that we had more books than I could ever read even if I live to be a hundred. That was a sad realization. When we liquidated the store in 1999 we had had nine years of great fun and great adventures, met a large number of mystery authors and had read a great number of books. However, we had decided to realize our dream of traveling the USA and my husband was ready to retire. We took a lot of books with us to read in the late evenings when we couldn't go sight seeing. Both of us loved to read.

I learned a lot about writing by reading. I read books about how-to-write and books about how to market and how to find an agent. I had reference books galore when I still had my house. But after three summers of RV traveling we decided to live full-time in our fifth-wheel, RV. That meant I had to give up about three thousand books I had kept from the store. It was sad to leave "good" friends and I do mean friends because books have always been my friend.

Books took me to far-away places that I'd never be able to travel to and I learned how to do so many neat things from my friends. Besides how to write, I learned how to collect depression glass, old mason fruit jars, stamps and coins. I learned how to make quilts, make cookies & candies, how to make jelly and jam and how to make a Better Than Sex Cake. I learned how to identify wildflowers, how to look for constellations in the stars and the capitols of every state in the union. As Elmer used to always say, "You can learn how to do almost anything, if you can read."

The intriguing thing to me is how you can learn many things about writing from reading other writer's books. I often stop and marvel at a well-turned sentence that somehow seems to say so much. It might be a character description or the way a place looks that immediately puts you there. I don't copy them down but I know they park themselves in the file cabinet in my mind. Not to plagiarize but to remember that there are way to construct a sentence or to construct the character who always lies or the construction of the faded dress worn by the mother of your suspect.

To remember "good" writing especially when you think yours is lacking. I remember a writer friend who wrote children's mysteries telling me once that you must engage the senses on every page. Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste because that will capture a child's imagination. It will also capture the imagination of anyone, no matter their age.

When I first saw the Mississippi River, I was in my thirties and my mind went back to reading Huckleberry Finn. That mighty old river had been so strong in my mind, the sound, the sight, the smell that Mark Twain brought to the pages of his book made me catch my breath. That old river was familiar because I had read so much about it.

Another way to learn from reading is to volunteer to read for awards or contests. The Edgars and the Shamus nominees and winners are books read by writers who themselves have been published. By a jury of peers as it were. There are contests given by the Private Eye Writers, by the Agatha writers, by the Thriller writers and probably even by the Romance writers. Those contests often offer a prize of publication. If you belong to one of these organizations, volunteer to read for the awards or contest. You might be surprised at how much you learn.

Another opportunity might offer a chance for a writer to help an aspiring writer. Our local Sisters-in-Crime chapter has a mentoring program for aspiring writers. This program is to honor Barbara Burnett Smith, who was tragically killed in 2005. She often mentored aspiring writers and each year aspiring writers can turn in a couple of chapters and a synopsis. These partial manuscripts are read by published authors from our chapter and critiqued. Then after our May Mystery Month meeting the author and aspiring writer have a chance to talk and sometimes the mentor will continue to help the aspiring writer complete their work. No prizes are given but just having your work critiqued by a published author is priceless.

Through the years I've read for awards, contest and for our mentoring program. You read the opening of a book and realize how a writer has "hooked you." Right from the first paragraph. Suddenly you realize what's wrong with your own work in progress. You haven't hooked anyone in the first paragraph or even the first page. Wow. I've always known this, but somehow forgot it when I started this manuscript, you tell yourself.

More likely you'll read a character description that blows you away. Maybe it's short but, so pointed, so precise that you can actually see that character walking down the street. And you see what you need to do to a character who moves the plot along. Maybe a fight scene comes to life and helps you understand your own scene.

There is so much to learn from reading. In fact, I'm going to sign off and get back to the book I'm currently reading, one that I'm sure will help me with my own. I suggest y'all go and do likewise.

10 September 2012

Short Stories or Novels?


Sometimes people ask me why it took so long for me to write a novel? I was writing and selling short stories. Well, the honest answer is, I was writing novels they just weren't selling. I wrote two or three novels that didn't sell. One came really close about three times to being published but the editor left or the publishing house went out of business or the novel buyer at the publishing house who was supposed to recommend my book got sick and died. Yep, that all happened. All with one novel. I think it's called being snake bit.

But in stead of giving up, I kept plodding along and because I was selling short stories, I found a editor who liked my work. That person was Ed Gorman and at that time he and the late Marty Greenberg were selling anthologies right and left and actually both of them liked my short stories, interviews, articles, reviews, etc. I was writing a regular column for Mystery Scene magazine.

In 1998 one of my short stories, "A Front Row Seat," published in the Vengeance is Hers anthology edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins was nominated and won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story.

A project came along that Ed and Marty had working. It was to be a coffee table style book about women mystery writers. There were to be interviews, articles and articles, by, about, and written by women mystery authors. They asked me to co-edit with Ellen Nehr and the book was titled Deadly Women. Unfortunately, Ellen got sick and passed away when we were about half-way into the project. Dean James took over in Ellen's slot and we continued the project. We were fortunate enough to be nominated for an Edgar for Best-Non Fiction and at Bouchercon we won a mccavity Award.

About then is when Ed and Marty formed a company, Tekno, and began working out a package deal with Five Star Mysteries. They would find the book for Five Star to buy, and once Five Star editor read and liked the book, Tekno would get the contract and get it signed, get the book copy-edited, get a cover, the blurbs, jacket copy,and whatever else was needed to get the book ready to be published.

Eventually, I had a chance to send my book, Austin City Blue, featuring my Austin policewoman, Zoe Barrow to Mr. Gorman and he recommended to Five Star they buy it. Five Star liked it and as they say, the rest is history. Soon I also had a contract for Five Star to publish a collection of my short stories, Found Dead In Texas. And soon after a contract for the second novel, Dark Blue Death, in my Zoe Barrow series.

In the meantime, I kept writing short stories and getting those published. Yet shortly after my husband passed away, and I began having health problems. I had a really rough four years. I had one novel I had written earlier which had never been published, I dusted it off, did some rewrite and in 2010 Five Star published, What Doesn't Kill You, a non-series or stand alone as some people call them. I certainly didn't do much other writing. My creative muse was trying to reassert itself I guess.

About four years ago, the American Crime Writers League, of which I was President, decided we needed to help get our name out a bit more and also wanted to earn a little money to go into our treasury. We came up with the idea of an anthology of original stories, all written by our ACWL members. I volunteered to co-edit and my co-editor was R. Barri Flowers. Barri was the one who had suggested the anthology. His agent sold the project to Twilight Times and our title was ACWL Presents: Murder Past, Murder Present. It was published in 2009. I wrote a short story for it, titled, "The Crimes of Miss Abigail Armstrong."

In May of this year, ACWLs second anthology, Murder Here, Murder There was published by Twilight Times. Again the anthology was co-edited by R. Barri Flowers and myself. My short story this time was, "The Confession." The story featured my long-time female Private-Eye characters from several short stories, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn. It was a lot of fun to visit with the PIs from G & G Investigations once again.

So most of my writing career has been both short stories and novels. In some ways I like short stories better because you can usually write one in a very short time. I've had ideas and written a story in a day and the longest only took about a week. However, because you do only have a short frame work to write in you have to be more precise, more determined to have characters who seem real and you have to be ready to work and rework until the story is finally finished. It helps to have a great or even a twisted, you never saw that coming ending.

With a novel you have more room to develop your plot and sub-plots as well as develop your characters. There are many more characters and more scenes and it definitely takes much more time to write a novel. It takes me a year or so. But it's so satisfying when you get that book complete and polished and you send it out. There are more chances to make better money (at least that's what I've heard.) More chances for people to believe you are a "real" writer if you have a novel published.

I actually enjoy doing both and since my writing career first began with short stories I love doing them. But I also love that feeling you get when you go into a book store and see your novel on the shelf. Your own...the book your wrote.

I guess it's all how you feel about it. I remember an author telling me years ago, that he didn't write short stories because he only had one idea a year and didn't want to waste that idea. He felt he needed to spend his time on a novel. I can understand but I'd hate to give up either one.

How do you feel? Writers? Bloggers?