Showing posts with label Floyd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Floyd. Show all posts

07 May 2022

Funny Business


A recent "topic of the week" at the message board of the Short Mystery Fiction Society was one that I found especially interesting. It was "Humor in Crime Fiction." I didn't participate in the discussion, or at least haven't yet, but I've been enjoying reading the views of others on the subject, and the consensus seems to be that a little humor is almost always a plus, even in the more serious novels and short stories. 

I agree. Many of my favorite authors--among them Joe R. Lansdale, Nelson DeMille, the late Donald Westlake, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, Lawrence Block, Carl Hiaasen--include humor in most (in some cases, all) of their writing, to the point that I and others have come to expect it. And I believe that if Thomas Harris can manage to inject a degree of humor into ultra-violent books like Hannibal and The Silence of the Lambs, most authors could do the same, if they wanted to.

Humor is serious business

I do realize, of course, that some topics don't lend themselves to lighthearted writing--I don't recall anything funny in Schindler's List or Sophie's Choice or Leaving Las Vegas. But in the kind of mystery/crime stories I'm thinking of, the humor doesn't have to be Laugh Out Loud hilarity. It can be something as small as banter between partners, witty observations, weird incidents, or just characters not taking themselves too seriously. Anything that can occasionally bring a smile to the reader's face. Moviewise, the Cohen Brothers seem to be especially good at that ("He's fleeing the interview!").

I also realize that humor can backfire if you're not careful. I saw the following quote in an article called "Why Humor Is So Essential in Fiction" (Joel Sippie, The Wrtier): "The first thing to remember is not to overdo it. Overcooked humor is just as bad as overcooked turkey. No one needs more of either in their lives." But if it is done correctly, it's a great advantage.

In my own writing world

It has occurred to me that part of the reason some of my short-story series have worked at certain markets is that humor plays a big part in those stories. My country-bumpkin sheriff who often enlists the assistance of his former schoolteacher in his Woman's World investigations is usually more irritated by her bossy manner and grammar instruction than grateful for her help, and in dozens of stories in other magazines my amateur crimefighter Fran Valentine is just as interested in trying to find a husband for her sheriff daughter Lucy as she is in solving the cases. That kind of thing seems to also work in some of my longer and more intense crime stories. But--again--I try to be careful not to overplay it. 

Here are a few more personal examples. Two fairly recent Derringer Awards came from (1) my flash story "Tourist Trap" about two people plotting a murder/robbery in ancient Italy and (2) a longer story called "On the Road with Mary Jo" about a pair of dimwitted bank robbers who steal what turns out to be an experimental self-driving car. I made sure both those plots, and the character relationships that go with them, relied entirely on humor. And just last week an old friend from IBM asked me about one of my early stories called "Saving Mrs. Hapwell," which involved a cowboy who finds himself in an awkward confrontation with the husband of an old girlfriend. What my buddy said he remembered most about the story was that it was funny, which I took as high praise. (That story has now been reprinted in nine different markets, including here, two years ago.)

In my own reading (and viewing) world

Not that it matters, but here are a few of my favorite pieces of humorous fiction:

Short Stories:

"The Kugelmaas Episode," Woody Allen

"The Green Heart," Jack Ritchie

"Voodoo," Fredric Brown

"The Catbird Seat," James Thurber

"The Absence of Emily," Jack Ritchie


No Way to Treat a First Lady, Christopher Buckley

Four to Score, Janet Evanovich

What's the Worst that Could Happen?, Donald Westlake

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

Lucky You, Carl Hiaasen


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)

Blazing Saddles (1974)

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Airplane! (1980)

Raising Arizona (1987)

Note: It's not fiction, but my favorite funny memoir is Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin.

Questions and conclusions

How much humor do you put into your stories or novels? Do you find humor enjoyable to write? Hard to write? Do you ever seek out funny books or stories or movies to read or watch? What are some of the best you've found?

In closing--and despite what many literary authors and readers seem to think--I believe meaningful fiction doesn't have to be a deep and bleak journey into the misery of the human condition. And with that in mind . . .

Keep writing, and keep smiling.

30 April 2022

Building a Dollhouse


As writers, we all have ups and downs, and so far this year I've been fortunate at Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine: they've published two of my stories--one in their Jan/Feb issue and one in their current (May/June) issue. Not since 1999, when I had stories in AHMM's March, May, and June issues, have I had stories appear there so close together. (I once went 3 1/2 years between publications at AH--unlike some of my superhero friends who seem to have a story in almost every issue.)

The funny thing is, my two recent Hitchcock stories, "Mayhem at the Mini-Mart" two months ago and "The Dollhouse" now, are quite a bit different from each other. "MatMM," which was originally titled "MacGuffins," was fairly short, was made up almost entirely of dialogue, and included no real mystery except for some deception in the way the two protagonists overcame the villain. "The Dollhouse" was longer and contained not one but two mysteries, real mysteries that the hero had to solve and that (if I did my job) the reader could figure out as well. There were a few similarities, too, in that both were set near where I live and neither had a lot of on-screen violence--but otherwise they were worlds apart, especially in that the first was a standalone story and the second was a series installment.

A series situation

The series/standalone difference is a big one. "The Dollhouse" was the eighth story I've sold featuring Mississippi sheriff Raymond Kirk Douglas and his ex-lawyer girlfriend Jennifer Parker--five have appeared in AHMM and one in Down & Out: The Magazine, and two more have been accepted at AH but haven't yet been published--and all those stories were written in a certain way. (More about that later.) Also, the stories in the series always have a sideline about the two main characters and their crazy on-again/off-again relationship. My standalone stories at AHMM are a whole 'nother ballgame. Those might be Westerns or science fiction or fantasy or humor or YA or anything else as long as they contain a crime, and they might be any length from flash to novella. During the writing process, the series stories provide more structure, the standalones more freedom. Both are fun to write, though, and I really can't say which I prefer. I think the series stories are probably easier to write, because in those the only thing I have to worry about is the plot. The main characters have already been created and can usually be depended on to act the way they're supposed to.

As I've mentioned, "The Dollhouse" features two puzzles in the same story. Investigating one of them is done as a favor to a high-school principal who's an old friend of the sheriff's, and involves nothing earthshaking or life-threatening. The other mystery is serious: the death of a local lawyer who left behind a vague clue to the identity of his killer. As usual the sheriff''s lady friend takes an active though unofficial role in the murder investigation, and (as is often true in real life) she provides most of the brainpower.

NOTE 1: My choice to include two mysteries instead of one in the same story is typical of the series, and I hope that adds a little extra oomph. Of my eight Ray Douglas mysteries so far, three of them--#1, #3, and #5--contained only one traditional mystery each, but #4, #6, and #7 contained two separate mysteries each and #2 and #8 featured three each. Making those multiple storylines interconnect was challenging but fun.

Building blocks

In "The Dollhouse," the less-important, school-related crime is introduced in the opening scenes and resolved in the final scenes, with the homicide investigation taking up the entire middle section of the story. My obvious reason for that is that I wanted the law-enforcement folks to spend most of their time on the more serious of the two matters. I did figure it was reasonable, though, to include the less-urgent mystery in order to offset and "bookend" what would've otherwise been a more intense story. Who knows if that was the correct decision--but  it felt right to me, during the planning and writing and re-writing.

I also wanted the story title to tie into both of the plotlines. I did that by having one of the players in the more minor crime have a background as a dollmaker and letting that be meaningful to the solution of that part of the story, and also by giving the murder victim's law firm the name Dahl, Hauss, Stanley, Wells, and Yates--Dahl Hauss for short, so it's known as the Dollhouse to everybody in the county. This kind of thing is part of the fun of writing, and, as my wife can tell you, I'm easily amused anyway.

Also, like all the other stories in this series, it used an inside-joke Tuckerism in that it featured a sheriff's deputy named Cheryl Grubbs, which is also the name of one of my childhood schoolmates. I think I've mentioned before at this blog that I ran into Cheryl a few years ago at a booksigning after having not seen her since high school, and she told me she'd been a longtime fan and had always wanted to be in one of my stories. Well, be careful what you wish for; I told her I was about to start a new series and promised her I'd put her in it. (Truth is, Deputy Grubbs is now such a big part of these stories the sheriff can't fire her, so the real-life C. G. might've gotten more than she bargained for.)

NOTE 2: Since a lot of writer friends seem to be interested in these kinds of statistics, I submitted "The Dollhouse" to AHMM on 11/20/19, it was accepted on 8/25/20, and it was published on or around 4/15/22. This one took a little less time than usual from submission to acceptance and a little longer from acceptance to publication, but otherwise it was a pretty typical timeline, for my stories there.

Wrapping this up

A few quick questions. If you write "series" short stories, have you found them to be either easier or more enjoyable to write than standalones? Why? Or is it the other way around--and, again, why? (Nosy SleuthSayers want to know . . .)

In closing, sincere congratulations to my friend R.T. Lawton for his Edgar win this past Thursday night. What a huge honor. Well done, R.T.! 

See you next Saturday.

16 April 2022

This Little Story Went to Market


A few days ago I finished writing my latest short story, a 5000-word mystery that I began a week earlier, and although I'll probably do a little more polishing on it before I send it out into the world, I'm satisfied that it's almost ready. And one thing I don't have to worry about is where to submit it. I knew that before I started writing it.

For years now, I usually have a market in mind as soon as I get an idea for a story. That wasn't the way I worked in the mid-'90s, when I first started writing shorts for publication. Back then I would almost always write the story first and only when it was complete did I start thinking about where I might send it. This is a conversation I've had often with Michael Bracken; both he and I started out thinking "story first, market later" and wound up changing at some point to "market first, story later."

I think that's what happens with most fiction writers. At first, just write the best story you can, no matter what the genre or theme is, and then when it's finished see where you think it might fit. Trying to tailor a story to a particular publication isn't something I think beginning writers should worry about. Eventually, after you get some publications under your belt and you get a good feel for what certain editors want (and build relationships with them), it's natural to start writing stories earmarked for those editors and those places.

I mentioned earlier that when I started out I "almost" always wrote the story first and then looked for place to sell it. The exception in my case was Woman's World, a magazine that has always wanted its stories to be a certain length and written a certain way. Even before they migrated in 2004 to their current "interactive" format, WW stories were different from others, so I always wrote those stories specifically for that market. Other exceptions, of course, are stories for anthologies, which are sometimes written to a certain theme or subject.

Another reason for choosing a target market first and then writing the story is payment. At some point you begin wanting to be paid well for your work. So yes, I like to write stories with places like WW, AHMM, EQMM, Strand, BCMM, Mystery Magazine, etc., in mind, and it's not just because I like their editors (which I do). NOTE: I'm still not sure what kind of payment is considered in the industry to be a fair rate, but I've heard some say it should be at least three cents a word. And if it's a flat-rate, one-time payment instead, it should be reasonable. Even if writing is more of a hobby for you than a business, writers should still be paid for what they produce.

BUT . . . I do occasionally send stories--reprints and originals--to publications that don't pay well, or pay at all. There are two reasons for that: either (1) it's for the benefit of a charity, or (2) I know and like the editor, who is often someone who's been kind to me over the years. It's for that second reason that I still submit stories now and then to Mysterical-E, Kings River Life, and other non-paying venues, and I plan to continue. 

Which brings up some questions. Do you, if you write short stories, usually create them with a market already in mind? If not, how do you choose that market? Do you submit work only to those publications that pay? Do you use a top-down approach, and try the most prestigious or well-paying publication first? Do you ever submit stories to non-paying, online-only "e-zines"? Are those stories reprints, or do you send some original work? Is a magazine's or anthology's editor ever a factor in choosing a market? What do you consider fair payment? Have you submitted stories to anthologies that pay only in royalties? Just curious.

Meanwhile, I'm about to start a new story tomorrow--a "howdunit" mystery of about 3000 words (I think). Do I know now where I plan to send it? I sure do.

Whether they'll like it is another story . . .

02 April 2022

Coming Attractions


Those of us who write short fiction know we have to keep records of what happens to our stories--facts about submissions, rejections, acceptances, withdrawals, publications, etc. In my case, these notes about what, where, and when are sometimes written on paper and sometimes on the computer, but eventually they wind up consolidated into a huge file that I can access and update. I use it in several ways, one of which is to know when to send an inquiry about the status of a submission. Another is to have previous-publication info to pass along to editors when I submit to markets that consider reprints. 

My point is, accurate records are a must--and since I send out a lot of stories, I wind up adding to my submission/rejection/acceptance/publication lists pretty often. One thing I don't look at often, though, is my list of stories that are forthcoming. By that I mean stories that have already been accepted but have not yet been published. I know I should check it regularly, because that's the fun list, and gives you a feeling sort of like the one you get when you're a kid looking forward to Christmas morning. But the truth is, when a story's sold I tend to forget about it until I see it appear in the publication.

A recent example: A few weeks ago I found out that one of my stories--a mystery called "Crockett's Pond" that had been accepted long ago by Mystery Tribune---had been published last fall in their August/September 2021 issue. I never knew a thing about it. I found out about its publication only by emailing the magazine last month and asking when my story'd be out. They told me it had already been published, and even though they were kind about my asking, I still felt a little like Rodney Dangerfield. I kept picturing them as the goodhearted policeman who locates the wandering mental patient and helps him shuffle back to the ward. In my defense, though, the magazine never notified me about it and didn't send me an author's copy. How was I to know it'd been published? Anyhow, I later found some information about that issue at Amazon, and moved that story from my "forthcoming" file to my "published" file, and order was restored to the universe. Such is life. (I still haven't seen the issue itself.)

Having said all that, this incident made me take a careful and overdue look at that file of my forthcoming stories, and since I had a SleuthSayers column coming due and didn't have a subject in mind for it . . .. well, here's my list. On the offchance that you might be interested in this kind of thing, the following are the magazines and anthologies (and one collection; more about that later) that are scheduled to include my stories in the foreseeable future:

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine -- "The Deacon's Game"

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine -- "Going the Distance," "The POD Squad," "The Donovan Gang," "The Zeller Files," "The Dollhouse" 

Black Cat Mystery Magazine -- "From the Hill to the Park," "A Cold Day in Helena"

Woman's World -- "Gert and Ernie"

Mystery Magazine --  "Pocket Change," "In-Laws and Outlaws," "Quick Stop," "The Magnolia Thief," "A Bad Hare Day" 

Mysterical-E -- "Gas Pains"

Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine -- "The Three Little Biggs," "Fishing for Clues"

Fiction on the Web -- "Survival"

Full Metal Horror, Vol. IV -- "Jennifer's Magic"

The Fantastical -- "The Messenger"

Professor Feiff's Compleat Pocket Guide to Xenobiology -- "Under the Monument"

MysteryRat's Maze podcast -- "Santa's Helper"

Mickey Finn, Vol. 3 -- "Burying Oliver"

More Groovy Gumshoes (1960s PIs) -- "Summer in the City"

Get Up Offa That Thing (songs by James Brown) -- "Shadygrove"

Shamus winners anthology -- "Mustang Sally"

(I Just) Died in Your Arms (inspired by One-Hit Wonders) -- "Dancing in the Moonlight"

Prohibition Peepers (1920s/30s PIs) -- "River Road"

Selected Stories (collection by VKN Publishing, Moscow) -- "The Outside World," "Saving Grace," "Business Class," "The Music of Angels," "Calculus 1" 

SleuthSayers crime anthology -- "Bourbon and Water"

Edgar and Shamus Go Golden (Golden-Age PIs) -- "Old Money"

Mickey Finn, Vol. 4 -- "A Surprise for Digger Wade"

NOTE 1: Not included are several acceptances to places that I suspect are now defunct. (If you happen to see a publication in my list that's no longer around and I just haven't heard about it, please let me know.) 

NOTE 2: Because of recent Russia/Ukraine events, I'm now doubtful that the Selected Stories book will ever be published. I do not, however, plan to refund the advance.

How about you? Do you have stories of yours that have been accepted and are anxiously awaiting the light of day? Do you keep a close eye on those?

By the way, a word of thanks to Michael Bracken for his great post at SleuthSayers this past Tuesday, part of which inspired me to write this one. Specifically, he said in that column that those who have stories in the AHMM submission queue will live forever. I imagine that applies also to those in their "accepted but not yet published" queue, because in both cases there's a considerable wait for the final result. 

In closing . . . sincere congratulations to my fellow writers (some of whom are SleuthSayers) whose stories have recently been selected for best-of anthologies or have won or been nominated for major awards. 

To those and to everyone else also, keep writing! 

19 March 2022

News of the World


Lately I've tried to limit the number of posts I do on the subject of non-mystery movies, because (1) they're a departure from our SleuthSayers crime/writing theme and (2) I realize too many movie columns can be a little tiresome. BUT . . . I happened to watch a film the other night that, as soon as I saw it, I wanted to mention it at this blog. It does involve a few crimes and a lot of suspense, so maybe it's not such a big departure after all.

It's called News of the World, and believe it or not, it's a Western starring Tom Hanks. There aren't many of those--in fact this is the only one I can remember. But it hit all the buttons you look for in a great movie: the plot, the characters, the cinematography, everything was well done. It was even authentic and educational, and maybe best of all, truly entertaining. It's the kind of film that, like a few other "serious" Westerns--Unforgiven, Lonesome Dove, The Homesman, Dances with Wolves--makes you want to watch it again for things you might've missed. And I plan to. 

Be aware, this was not a star-studded, action-packed blockbuster, but it was an emotional and believable story featuring some of the best acting I've seen in awhile. Hanks's co-star was to me an unknown, a young German girl named Helena Zengel, and I was familiar with only a couple of actors in the supporting cast: Mare Winningham and Ray McKinnon (some of you might remember him as the preacher from the HBO series Deadwood a few years ago). But everyone in NoTW was wonderful, and so was the storyline.

Speaking of story, here's a quick summary:

The fictional Captain Jefferson Kidd, a Civil War veteran, travels the countryside alone with either a wagon or a packhorse bearing a stack of newspapers, and reads the printed news to any gathering of those who'll listen. (I think it was mentioned that he charges a dime a head.) And he's a bit of a showman in that he shares these news pieces in a way that's both informative and fun. He's not getting rich doing this, but he's at least found a way to survive during the hard times of 1870 Texas.

While on his travels, Kidd meets a young girl wandering in the wilderness who's lived with the Kiowa Indians for the past several years, and he takes her under his wing long enough to try to deliver her safely to her only living relatives, an aunt and uncle in south Texas. On the way there, these two homeless travelers face a number of deadly challenges together, and form a strong and lasting bond. If the ending doesn't bring tears to your eyes, you're made of stone.

NOTE: One hint that this was going to be a powerful movie was that it was directed by Paul Greengrass, who made the fine 2013 film Captain Phillips, also starring Tom Hanks. 

As I've said, I thought News of the World was outstanding on many levels, but one of its biggest pluses to me was that it's about the beauty of storytelling. The movie holds its audience in much the same way that Hanks's character does when he stands up and reads the headlines of the day to a rapt and news-hungry group of frontier townsfolk. It's interesting, heartwarming, and different. If you've not seen it already, I hope you will.

Next time, I'll get back to something writing- or mystery-related, or both. I promise.

Have a good two weeks.

05 March 2022

What's a Western Doing in My Mystery Magazine?


Those of you who know me know I like Westerns. I like the time period, the geography, the characters, and the often well-defined line between right and wrong. An extra attraction for me as a writer is that when I write a Western I don't have to worry about whether to mention Covid. Small pleasures . . .

The fact is, Western mysteries have been good to me--I've recently sold Westerns to AHMM, Pulp Modern, Crimeucopia, and The Saturday Evening Post, and two of my latest three stories to appear in Mystery Magazine have been of the horse-opera persuasion. My very latest, called "Lily's Story," is featured in MM's current (March 2022) issue.

"Lily's Story" is really two stories in one. The first involves a pair of newspaper reporters from back East who arrive in a California town on an assignment and then discover that a legendary outlaw is also in town and planning a bank heist. The story-within-the-story is told by another of the characters--the owner of a local restaurant--and involves travelers on a wagon train to Oregon some thirty years earlier--a group that has a fateful encounter with a band of Indians. What I'm saying is, "Lily's Story" is one of those "framed" double-story narratives that I sometimes like and sometimes don't, because they sometimes work and sometimes don't. If you read this one, I hope you'll enjoy it. 

My second most-recent Western was "Bad Times at Big Rock," in the January 2022 issue of Mystery Magazine. If that title sounds familiar, it came from my fondness for an old Spencer Tracy movie called Bad Day at Black Rock. The story and the movie are nothing alike except for the title, though--my story's set many years later and farther east, and features weirder characters and more violence and even a paranormal element, which is unusual, to say the least, for a mystery/Western. Plotwise, it's about a brand-new settlement in the middle of the desert that gets taken over by two killers, and the townsfolks' struggle to reclaim their lives and property. It's also a far different kind of tale from "Lily's Story." For one thing, "Bad Times" is told from the POV of the good guys; in "Lily" there aren't many good guys. (But both stories were great fun to write.)

What's your opinion, about setting mystery/crime stories in the past--whether it's the Old West or another historical period? Have you written and sold any? How about (specifically) Westerns? Personally, I've found that some of the best recent mysteries I've read were period pieces. In one sense, they're harder to write well because of all the details that must ring true, but there's a certain fascination in reading (and sometimes learning) about the way things were done--and the way justice was served--in the distant past. Again, it all boils down to whether the plot and characters are interesting, and when they are I think historical fiction can be spellbinding.

Whatever you're writing/publishing, whether it's literary, genre, or mixed-genre, I wish you the best.

Now . .  to those kind friends who have expressed concern about me: I'm doing fine, just been laid up for a bit. Thank God for wives who are nurses and offspring who are physicians. They not only know what they're doing, they're willing (to a point at least) to put up with husbands and fathers who are difficult patients. Many thanks also to those who've sent me well-wishes--I hope to be back up to speed shortly. Meanwhile, I'll see you back here in two weeks.

19 February 2022

Deja Vu All Over Again . . . One Last Time

Today I'm doing something different: I'm posting a column that was previously featured almost ten years ago at this blog. I wrote and ran "Deja Vu All Over Again" in April 2012, less than a year after several of us former Criminal Briefers established SleuthSayers, and although the subject of this post is not original, I think it still applies to the fiction we write. Anyhow, since I've run into some unexpected health problems at the moment, I'm falling back on this reprint, and I hope to be up and functioning again shortly. If you remember reading this post I hope you'll indulge me in my repetition, especially since this is a column about repetition, and if you don't remember reading it I hope you'll find it informative. -- JF

Driving home from the post office the other day, I heard a newsman on National Public Radio say someone "shared something in common" with someone else. That bothered me. Not enough to make me switch to a rap or gospel music station, but it did bother me. I've forgotten exactly who he said was sharing something in common with whomever, but to use an example based on a Grisham book I'm currently reading, if you and your father are both baseball fans, you either share a love of baseball or you and your father have that in common. You don't share it in common, and if you say you do you've created a redundancy

This kind of error can be forgiven more easily in speech than in writing. Writers are supposed to know better, and to pay attention to things like that. (So are NPR newscasters, actually.) Not that I am guiltless. Right here at this blog, I recently used the term added bonus. That's a bit silly. If it's a bonus, it is by definition added, and to use both words is redundant. And in real life I'm always talking about something happening the exact same way it happened earlier. Other phrases I use a lot are final outcome, free gift, and plan ahead. Imagine how much time I would save and how much smarter I would sound if I cut out the words exact, final, free, and ahead

Alternative choices

I know what you're thinking. Sometimes phrases containing redundancies are used intentionally, to add emphasis. Examples might be completely surrounded, truly sincere, each and every, definite decision, cease and desist, direct confrontation, forever and ever, etc. Redundancies also come into play when using certain abbreviations, like UPC code, HIV virus, please RSVP, DOS operating system, and AC current. My favorite is PIN number. But I still use the term. The technically correct PI number just wouldn't roll off the tongue well. 

A working awareness of this kind of thing can be handy to writers, because cutting out redundancies provides us with yet another way to "write tight." An argument can even be made that such common and inoffensive phrases as sit down, stand up, nod your head, and shrug your shoulders are literary overkill as well, and do nothing except add extra words. Why not just say (or write) sit, stand, nod, and shrug? Where else would you stand but up? What else would you shrug except your shoulders?

Unintentional mistakes

Even if you're not a writer, here are a few more redundancies that come to mind:

  • twelve noon
  • sum total
  • commute back and forth
  • mental telepathy
  • advance reservations
  • drowned to death
  • merge together
  • observe by watching
  • armed gunman
  • visible to the eye
  • for all intents and purposes
  • hot-water heater
  • overexaggerate
  • false pretense
  • hollow tube
  • fictional novel
  • disappear from sight
  • myself personally
  • a prediction about the future
  • safe haven
  • during the course of
  • regular routine
  • a variety of different items
  • filled to capacity
  • pre-recorded
  • a pair of twins
  • unexpected surprise
  • the reason is because
  • originally created
  • red in color
  • few in number
  • poisonous venom

could also mean a pair of twins

Do you ever find yourself using these, or similar, phrases when you speak? More importantly, do you embarrass yourself by using them when you write? I try to watch out for--and correct--them in my own manuscripts, but I'm sure some of them manage to make it through intact. Can you think of others that I neglected to mention? Are there any that you find particularly irritating?

The end result

Time for a confession, here. I will probably (and happily) continue to use many of these redundancies in everyday conversation, and even in writing if they're a part of dialogue. Sometimes they simply "sound right." But I wouldn't want to use them in a column like this one. 

In point of fact, lest any of you protest against forward progress, past history reveals the unconfirmed rumor that a knowledge of repetitious redundancy is an absolute essential and that the issue might possibly grow in size to be a difficult dilemma. If there are any questions to be asked about the basic fundamentals, I'll be glad to revert back and spell it out in detail. And even repeat it again. 

Or maybe postpone it until later. 

Hoping to be back with you in two weeks.

05 February 2022

Why Tock-Tick Doesn't Sound Right

For today's post, I'm using something my wife told me she saw on Facebook the other day. As you know, some FB posts aren't exactly worthwhile and/or entertaining. (I'm sure some of mine aren't.) I thought this one was both.

I saw no byline on the following, but it was posted at the For Reading Addicts site, and they said it came from an unnamed BBC article. Some of the piece sounds correct and some sounds a little iffy, but I found it interesting. I love this kind of thing anyway.

Here it is:


Ever wondered why we say tick-tock, not tock-tick, or ding-dong, not dong-ding; King Kong, not Kong King? Turns out it is one of the unwritten rules of English that native speakers know without knowing. 

The rule, explains a BBC article, is: "If there are three words then the order has to go I, A, O. If there are two words then the first is I and the second is either A or O. Mish-mash, chit-chat, dilly-dally, shilly-shally, tip-top, hip-hop, flip-flop, tic tac, sing song, ding dong, King Kong, ping pong.

There's another unwritten rule at work in the name Little Red Riding Hood, says the article. 

"Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you'll sound like a maniac.

That explains why we say "little green men," not "green little men," but "Big Bad Wolf" sounds like a gross violation of the "opinion (bad)-size (big)- noun (wolf)" order. It won't, though, if you recall the first rule about the I-A-O order.

That rule seems inviolable: "All four of a horse's feet make exactly the same sound. But we always, always say clip-clop, never clop-clip."

This rule even has a technical name, if you care to know it--the rule of ablaut reduplication--but then life is simpler knowing that we know the rule without knowing it.

One thing I'm not sure about is the part about the order of multiple adjectives. Maybe opinion-size-age-etc. is the preferred order, but saying the adjectives have to be in that order sounds a little tock-tick to my ears. And the supposed rule that the order has to go I, A, O for three-worders sounds funky also. Big Bad Wolf indeed fits the bill, but Little Orphan Annie, sweet Mother Mary, big fat liar, Jolly Green Giant, little old lady, etc., don't. Maybe the I, A, O sequence just sounds more pleasing to the ear.

I should add the fact that I did locate the article from which the FB post appears to have been taken--"Ablaut Reduplication," written two years ago by Romit Limbu, at ALM Translations--and, to be fair, the original article does say there are exceptions to the adjective-order rule.

What do you think about all this? Comments welcome!

P. S. Maybe you would say Kong King in a roll call. ("Present," he roared . . .)

29 January 2022



MacGuffin, according to Wikipedia, is "an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrevelant in itself."

I like that definition, and I like MacGuffins. I like them so much I used them as the basis for my story "Mayhem at the Mini-Mart," which appears in the current (January/February 2022) issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. The original name for this story, in fact, was "MacGuffins." And by the way, this is the only story, of the two dozen I've sold to AHMM, that involved a title change. Editor Linda Landrigan sent me an email in October asking if I'd mind changing it from "MacGuffins" to "Mayhem at the Mini-Mart" because they wanted to use it for the cover of the Jan/Feb issue and the other title could be more easily used in the cover art. I of course said that'd be fine with me, and it was--but MacGuffins are still the heart of the tale.

Here's a quick summary of the story. Two brothers in the deep south who run a web-design business and love movies are taking a one-day break from work to go fishing together. On their way to the lake they amuse themselves in the car with a game in which one of the two describes a MacGuffin and the other tries to name the movie that features it. When they stop at a filling-station/convenience-store to gas up and grab some snacks, they interrupt a robbery-in-progress by a man who, according to what they heard earlier on their car radio, has already robbed and murdered an attendant at another mini-mart nor far away. And, as it turns out, the movie guessing-game they've been playing is the way they save themselves, and save the day.

At 2300 words, it's a fairly short story--a lot shorter than most of those I've sold to AHMM--and the first half is almost entirely dialogue between the two brothers. That, and the movie theme, made it great fun to write. As for its sale to AH, I suspect it didn't hurt that the term "MacGuffins," although it originated with a film guy named Angus McPhail, was adopted by Alfred Hitchcock and became a common plot device in storytelling. 

With regard to the definition, Wikipedia also describes a MacGuffin as something that is revealed in the first act, then declines in importance, and might reappear at the end of the story. One of the things I like most about the technique is that a MacGuffin serves as a way to link the entire story together, and is sometimes so important to the characters that it drives the plot. Examples: the One Ring in Tolkien's trilogy, the magical suitcase in Fantastic Beasts, the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders.

Anyhow . . . to steal from the text of my story and to include a few other movies I also remember fondly, here's a list of some MacGuffins and the films that used them.

Letters of transit -- Casablanca

The body of a boy hit by a train -- Stand By Me

A giant emerald -- Romancing the Stone

Microfilm of secret government documents -- North by Northwest

A glowing briefcase -- Pulp Fiction

A tattooed map to Dry Land -- Waterworld

A clause from a secret peace treaty -- Foreign Correspondent

Rosebud -- Citizen Kane

A Persian rug -- The Big Lebowski

A WWII soldier whose brothers have all been killed in action -- Saving Private Ryan

A rabbit's foot -- Mission Impossible III

Secret plans for the Death Star -- Star Wars

A black statuette -- The Maltese Falcon

A harmonica -- Once Upon a Time in the West

A coded message in a piece of music -- The Lady Vanishes

Walley World -- National Lampoon's Vacation

An audiotape of a summit-meeting speech -- Escape from New York

A silver necklace with a blue heart -- Titanic

A necklace with a gold-and-red heart -- Vertigo

Radioactive uranium in wine bottles -- Notorious

A red stapler -- Office Space

A consignment of diamonds from a jewelry shop -- Reservoir Dogs

An empty Coke bottle -- The Gods Must Be Crazy

A boy who'll save the world in the far-distant future -- Terminator 2

A baseball bat carved from the wood of a tree -- The Natural

Plans for an aircraft engine -- The 39 Steps

The Holy Grail -- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (among others)

Project Genesis -- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

A pocket watch that plays chimes -- For a Few Dollars More

A child's doll stuffed with heroin -- Wait Until Dark

Do you agree with these? (MacGuffins can sometimes be vague.) Can you think of others? Have you ever used MacGuffins in your own fiction? There's a chance you probably have and didn't realize it--I know I've done that.

One last point: I've heard that the key part of the word MacGuffin is "guff," which means utter nonsense. And maybe that's true.

But it works.

15 January 2022

A Hundred a Day, and Expenses

A funny thing happened to me three years ago: I wrote my first contemporary private-eye story. At that point I'd been writing short stories for 25 years, mostly mystery/crime/suspense, but during that time I'd written and published only two PI stories--both of them about an investigator with an office in San Francisco in the 1880s. In other words, Westerns. I'm not sure why I had avoided 20th- and 21st-century PIs; I love puzzles of every kind, and I'd certainly read and seen a lot of fictional private detectives in novels, stories, movies, and TV--Holmes, Poirot, McGee, Spade, Hammer, Spenser, Robicheaux, Mannix, Magnum, Rockford, Millhone, Scudder, Marlowe, etc. Looking back on it now, I wonder if I was afraid of falling into the trap of using too many old and tired PI cliches. I didn't want to only create dark and moody stories with cheap offices, trenchcoats, cigarettes, AA meetings, whacks on the noggin from behind, helpful buddies on the police force, and grieving-widow clients. That's the only reason I can come up with, for not attempting stories closer to the present day.

What finally forced me further into the subgenre was an invitation from writer/editor/friend Michael Bracken in early 2019, or thereabouts, to write a story for a PI anthology called The Eyes of Texas (one of the best double-meaning titles I'd ever heard). As I recall, the only firm requirement, except for some length guidelines, was that the story's protagonist had to be a private investigator in the Lone Star State. I figured I should be able to handle that. 

The whole process turned out to be fun. I quickly came up with a plot I liked, and made sure my hero--although he did have a pretty crappy office--wasn't a drunk, didn't run around in an overcoat and a bad mood, didn't smoke, wasn't a womanizer, had no ex-partners to fall back on in the PD, and had a client who was neither widowed nor grieving. He wasn't a wimp, though; he did have a moral code, and carried a gun that he used a few times in the plot. The story was called "Triangles," which sort of had a triple meaning, and the anthology was published in September 2019, just in time for the Dallas Bouchercon. 

Since then, I've written and sold PI short stories to several magazines and anthologies. Two contemporary stories in the same "series" were published in Black Cat Mystery Magazine (two years ago) and in Strand Magazine (last month), and two more in that series are finished and yet to be submitted. Also, a standalone story featuring a 1940s PI in New Orleans has been accepted and is upcoming in a themed anthology later this year, another with a '60s Detroit PI is scheduled for a second anthology, and I'm now working on a Prohibition PI story set in the early '30s for an antho with a May deadline. And I've found that all of these have been great fun to put together, in a way that's somehow different from my usual mystery/crime writing.

What's your history with PI stories/novels? Have you written or published any? Are any planned or in the works? If you do write them, are they usually installments in a series? If short stories, are they targeted for magazines or for anthologies? Were you, like me, hesitant at first to try that subgenre? Have you had any luck with them at the top mystery markets?

As a writer with dim but enjoyable memories of private-eye TV shows like Peter Gunn and Richard Diamond and 77 Sunset Strip (I'm humming that theme music now), I can't leave this subject without mentioning favorite PI movies. My top six are, in order: Chinatown (1974), Knives Out (2019), Harper (1966), Night Moves (1975), The Long Goodbye (1973), and Twilight (1998). 

How can you not love PIs? Sure, the daily fees have gone up, over the years, and the expenses too, but their strange adventures remain fun to read, and watch. And write about.

In closing, here's a silly poem of mine that was published in the Spring/Summer 1997 issue of Mystery Time, a magazine some of you might remember. It's called "A Public Look at Private Eyes":

Most fictional private detectives are men

(And are always unmarried, of course); 

They have rugged last names and a grumpy old friend

Who's a homicide cop on the force.

They're hit on the head every chapter or two

But they suffer no lasting effects,

And survive gunshot wounds that would kill me or you

While they spellbind the Opposite Sex.

Though they never earn much, PIs always have cash

To persuade some informant to leak

More strange and enlightening clues in a flash

Than the cops could obtain in a week.

Knowing that, our detective will often proceed

To the villain's mysterious lair,

Where he's captured, along with his romantic lead

(Don't ask me what she's doing there).

But all's well--the old pal in the local PD

Will at last come to help save the day;

For the heroes aren't killed off in fiction, you see--

Like the cops, sequels aren't far away.

And neither am I. See you in two weeks.

01 January 2022

2021 in Review


Another strange year behind us. Maybe not as challenging as 2020 was, but we all know we're not yet "back to normal." I'll resist the temptation to discuss Covid politics here, and will just say Happy New Year to everyone. I hope 2022 turns out great for all of us.

Since it's always easier to look back at what's been done than to look ahead at what might be, I can tell you it's been a fairly good year for me, writingwise. My wife and I stayed close to home and continued to avoid trips and most public gatherings, which gave me a lot of time to dream up new stories. I usually did that via (1) long walks and (2) long sessions of staring blankly out the window. Number two was harder to justify ("No, I'm not asleep--just working out plots"), but both were effective. I came up with a boatload of ideas, turned most of them into stories, and sent the stories off to editors, though not always with the hoped-for result.

Good or bad, I keep a count of what I write and sell and publish, and once a year I look back and see if I can learn something from it. I probably don't, but digging out the numbers makes me feel like I'm trying. So, here's what I came up with. (BTW, I know sentences aren't supposed to begin with numerals, and in my stories they don't, but here it makes the reporting easier. Apologies to the Grammar Police.)

2021 statistics

This past year I had 61 short stories published, I wrote 38 new stories, I submitted 73 stories, I received 54 acceptances and 32 rejections, and I withdrew 6 stories from consideration. The reason the math doesn't work is that some of those stories that were accepted, rejected, withdrawn, and published in 2021 were submitted in 2020. And some of my 2021 submissions haven't yet received a response.

12 of my published stories this year were less than 1000 words in length, 31 stories were between 1000 and 4000, and 18 were longer than 4000. The shortest was 100 words, the longest was 11,000. That 11K story also had the most scenes--10--although one of my 4K stories had 9.

Genrewise, 39 of the 61 published stories were undiluted mystery/crime, another 11 were cross-genre (5 mystery/western and 6 mystery/fantasy), and 11 were other genres: 2 straight westerns, 6 fantasy/science fiction, 1 humor piece, and 2 romances.

22 of my published mystery stories (plain and mixed-genre) involved robberies of some kind, 17 involved murder, 6 involved both. The remaining 5 were about other kinds of crimes. As I've said, none of the 11 so-called non-mystery stories involved a crime at all.

26 of my published stories this year appeared in magazines and 35 in anthologies. 

6 of my stories published in anthologies were the result of invitations to contribute, 9 were selected by editors afterward for best-of's and other books (like Bauer Publishing's 2-Minute Mini-Mysteries) without my knowledge, and 20 were via open-call submissions. If it matters, 19 of my anthology publications and 21 of my magazine publications involved editors I've worked with before.

14 of my published stories were written in first-person POV and 47 were third-person. Of the third-person stories, 37 were third-person singular and 10 were third-person multiple. As if any of that matters.

All 61 were written in past tense, none in present.

12 included paranormal or other-worldly elements of some kind and 7 were set in the Old West. 

17 had a female protagonist, 30 had a male protagonist, 14 had a mixed team of equal protags. In 9 of those stories, the bad guys (depending on how you define "bad") win.

13 were published in markets outside the U.S.

50 were published in paying markets.

23 of the 61 were reprints.

18 of my 73 submissions were sent via online submission systems, the rest via email. As usual, none were snailmailed. 8 of my 32 rejections were stories for which I never received a response, yea or nay.

55 of my published stories appeared in print publications and 6 were online.

21 appeared in new (to me) markets, the rest in places where I've been published before.

Things I've learned, from all this

Six of the stories I wrote in 2020 and 2021 contained references to the pandemic. Of those, one was accepted and the other five were rejected--promptly. Worth noting: I changed all but one of those stories (the one that was accepted, which was written and submitted in 2020) to remove all references to Covid, and those five were then submitted elsewhere and accepted. I recently wrote a SleuthSayers post about that, here.

Several things have remained the same: there are still plenty of markets for reprints, I'm continuing to write more third-person-singular stories than anything else, I still haven't written any present-tense stories (although I'd said I would try), and most of my mysteries involve a robbery or burglary.

As for differences, I wrote fewer flash stories this year than before (half of my published under-1000-word stories were reprints). I'm not sure what the reason was, for that; my new stories just seem to be running longer than before. I also published more stories in anthologies this past year than in magazines, which is unusual for me. Last year it was the other way around. Oddly enough, though, most of my accepted-but-not-yet-published stories are upcoming in magazines, not anthologies.

Speaking of which . . . 

Coming in 2022/2023

Looking ahead, 38 of my short stories have been accepted but not yet published, and 20 have been submitted but have not yet received a response. Already-accepted stories are in the queue at AHMM (5 stories), Black Cat Mystery Magazine (2), Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine (1), Mystery Tribune (1), Woman's World (2), Mystery Magazine (6), etc., and several anthologies.

As for genres, all my accepted-but-not-yet-published stories are mysteries, either solely or cross-genre, and--as mentioned--most of those will be in magazines.

I've been invited this year to submit stories to seven anthologies due out in 2022 and 2023, four of which have been written and three of which are unwritten or in progress.

No review of this kind would be complete without my (1) thanking the editors and publishers who gave me an opportunity to get the crazy things I create out into the world, (2) thanking my writer friends for their ongoing advice and encouragement, and (3) thanking the readers who make all this possible. I'm also sincerely grateful to the Private Eye Writers of America for my Shamus Award this past year and to editors Lee Child and Otto Penzler for my inclusion in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021.

How about you?

Was 2021 a good year for your writing? Better than 2020? Let me know about your high points. Were most of those successes with magazines? Anthologies? Any awards or nominations or best-of appearances? Were most of your stories mystery/crime? What's forthcoming for 2022?

Whatever good fortune you've had and whatever stories or novels you have in the queue, congratulations on sitting down and writing those and sending them off. That alone is an accomplishment. Congrats also on any of those stories that are marinating in your brain now and not yet written. That's future money in the bank. 

Once again, I hope you all had a great holiday--and I wish everyone a healthy and prosperous new year.

Keep writing!

18 December 2021

Peeves and Preferences


Today's column is about the written word, but hang on: the first part is about pronunciation

One of my quirks is, I don't watch network TV except for the news. What I do watch are movies on DVD and Netflix and Amazon Prime. That's probably because of my age; I wish I could say it's because I'm too intelligent to get into these current reality shows and sitcoms, etc.--but that's not true, because you should see some of the movies I watch. My wife just rolls her eyes.

My point is, I do watch the nightly news and during those broadcasts I've found myself thinking about the way anchors and reporters pronounce certain words. My favorite is data. There are two different ways to say it: dayta and datta. As an IBM retiree, I pronounce it dayta--and while I realize either way is right, datta remains one of my pet peeves. Another funny word is short-lived. Almost every weatherman says short-livved, with a short i as in give. I prefer a long i, because it's describing something that has a short life. But I've given up on that one, since no one else in this solar system seems to agree with me. Other words that mean the same thing but can be pronounced two different ways: gala, vase, electoral, either, neither, caramel, etc. And while we're on this, how do you pronounce omicron? Oh or ah? I'm leaning toward oh.

Enough pronunciation. Something all of us can relate to is the way we spell certain words, in our writing. Most spelling is either correct or incorrect, period, but some words can have more than one acceptable spelling. I'm talking about variant spellings here, not regional spellings like neighbor/neighbour or archaic spellings like jail/gaol.

So . . . I've come up with some of those, as follows. Again, all of them can be spelled either way, usually without incurring an editor's wrath, but what I'd like you to do is consider which way you would choose to spell them in a story or novel. I've even included a few variant phrases, at the end.

NOTE 1: Some of these do involve regional spellings, usually American vs. British, but I've tried to avoid the truly obvious ones like center/centre, color/colour, etc. Also, not that it matters, for each one I've put my preference first.

Here goes:




mike/mic (as in microphone)




racket/racquet (as in tennis)









wrack/rack (as in your brain)










flier/flyer (as in pilot)






disc/disk -- At IBM, storage devices were disks; things frisbeelike or slipped were discs.






collectible/collectable -- I think of this as deserves to be collected vs. is able to be collected 






speak English/speak in English

can not/cannot

I couldn't care less/I could care less

for example/for instance

NOTE 2: I believe there's a rule about traveling/travelling, cancel/cancelling, controling/controlling, etc.: If the accent is on the second syllable, double the final consonant; if the accent is on the first syllable, don't double the final consonant. So traveling, canceling, and controlling would be correct. I think.

Some of these spellings are up in the air (fliers/flyers?), and I often change my mind about them. I can remember several times when I used duffel bags in one story and duffle bags in another. Same goes for adrenaline/adrenalin, barbecue/barbeque, queasy/queasey, theater/theatre, dialogue/dialog, installment/instalment, mustache/moustache, hurray/hooray, and a few others. I seem to go back and forth.

What's your opinion? Do you think some of these that I've called variant really aren't? What are your preferences--or peeves, if you feel strongly enough about them? Can you supply other variant words or phrases I've missed?

Now . . . I think I need a donut.

04 December 2021

The Z-Files


We've seen a lot of recent posts at this blog about mystery short-story markets--their editors, content, guidelines, response times, pay rates, preferences, etc.

Today I'd like to talk about preferences again, and specifically about a story of mine that was accepted by Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine earlier this week. It's a 6000-word story called "The Zeller Files," one I wrote and submitted to them just over a year ago. It includes a crime that's essential to the plot--all mystery submissions should have that--but it's not your usual mystery/crime/suspense story. In fact it's as much science fiction as mystery, which as the months passed led me to suspect it might not stand much of a chance. But it also features something else that I thought made it an even bigger longshot, for publication: It's set during the pandemic.

I don't just mean it was written during the pandemic, although it was. I mean it includes references to the wearing of masks, social distancing, and other things most of us never even thought about until early last year. Some of that ties into the crime itself, which in this story is a bank robbery and its aftermath.

The plot

Here's what happens: Software engineer Eddie Zeller and his wife Lisa find out from their local newspaper's gossip-column that a couple named Fairmont from another part of the country are moving to their small town. The problem is, Andrew Fairmont and his wife were once famous because of their highly publicized report of being kidnapped and observed by aliens many years ago--and so was Eddie Zeller. (Lisa jokingly refers to Eddie's story as The Z-Files.) He and Lisa also know that the number of self-professed alien-abduction-survivors in the U.S. is tiny, and Eddie suspects that the federal government keeps a file and a close eye on all these victims and their activities. So, what are the odds that not one but two of these people would wind up in the same town as a third who already lives there? Could the Feds--or even the victims' otherworldly kidnappers--somehow be trying to gather all of them together for some reason? If so, why? 

Eventually the Zellers, who are unemployed and struggling because of the impact of Covid on their careers, resort to extreme and criminal measures to try to get the funds they'd need to get out of town, possibly even out of the country, to avoid whatever disaster Eddie is now convinced is being planned for them. During all that, they of course run into the Fairmont family, who have their own mysterious agenda, and Eddie soon comes to understand that it's not only the government who's been tracking them, all these years. 

Concerns and conclusions

My point is, this story has two liabilities. It is (1) mixed-genre and (2) set during the pandemic. The first oddity, since what I mixed in was science fiction, would automatically make the story unsuitable for mystery markets like EQMM, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, the Strand, and others, and I was afraid the woo-woo element would make acceptance doubtful even for places like AHMM, which is a little more receptive to the occasional western, humor, fantasy, or SF story. Mostly, though, I was worried that the second odd thing--the Covid angle--might prevent it from being accepted anywhere.

Let me explain that. Since the pandemic began, I've written several mystery stories featuring the virus and the restrictions and requirements it presents. (After all, that's been the reality of our world for the past two years--and besides, how could a crime writer resist using a situation where everybody's already running around with masks covering their faces?) But alas, no matter how much I liked those stories and how much fun I had writing them, all were rejected soon after I'd submitted them. Some of them were rejected immediately, and some more than once. 

Since Mama didn't raise no fools, I finally got the message and started changing those stories by removing any and all references to the pandemic (enter Dr. Watson, exit Dr. Fauci)--and when I did that and submitted them again, every one of those stories sold. All, that is, except one. I had submitted "The Zeller Files" to AHMM almost fourteen months ago, on 10/6/20, so that particular story had not yet been changed. It had also not yet been rejected, since the jury was still out--and then, lo and behold, it was accepted by AH this past week. Say Hallelujah.

Here's what I learned from this: Never say never, with regard to questionable or controversial story content. If you believe it works, and if the guidelines for the market(s) you're targeting don't specifically say no, give it a try. The odds of success might be less, but--and I truly believe this--if a story seems to the writer to be good enough, it probably is good enough, and will eventually find a respectable home. As for "The Zeller Files," if you happen to see it when it comes out, I hope you'll have half as much fun reading it as I had writing it.

Questions for the class

Now . . . what's your opinion on writing pandemic-based or pandemic-setting stories or novels? Have any of you tried it? Have you even wanted to try? I've heard some writers say it would be too depressing, for both the reader and the writer. And if you have written those stories, have you seen any success at placing them in a magazine or anthology? If you've created a novel containing pandemic references, have you been able to find a publisher for it? 

How about mixed-genre short stories? I feel sure you've written those, but have you submitted any of them to mystery markets? Any successes, there? What about stories that include both a different genre AND a dose of the virus?

In summary, I can certainly understand if the only masked characters you choose to put into your fiction are either committing a crime, skiing in Aspen, trick-or-treating, or riding a white stallion to the tune of "The William Tell Overture." But I'm here to tell you, you might want to try writing a Covid story now and then, and see what happens.

Sometimes it works.

20 November 2021

Who Chose the Prose for Those Anthos?


I think I've mentioned, here at SleuthSayers, the fact that I've been submitting almost as many short stories to anthologies as I have to magazines these past couple of years. (Reminder: a collection is a group of stories written by the same author; an anthology is a group of stories written be different authors.) And the more stories I've sent to anthologies, the more I have come to appreciate the knowledge and professionalism of the folks who edit those books. I've done it myself only once, fifteen years ago. I had a great time with it, met some fine writers, made long-lasting friends in the process, and--I hope--produced a good anthology. But I haven't done it since. It's hard work, a lot harder than writing. 

As sort of a nod and vote of thanks to those editors, here's a list I put together of some of the recent anthologies I've been published in and the people who steered those ships.

NOTE 1: All these are within the past couple of years, except for those edited by folks with whom I've worked several times--in those cases I've listed multiple projects from the past.

NOTE 2: I've shortened some of the anthology titles, when possible (apologies to those editors). But the list is long enough as it is.

Editor                                                          Anthology

Josh Pachter          Only the Good Die Young (Untreed Reads, 2021)

                               The Great Filling Station Holdup (Down & Out Books, 2021)

                               The Beat of Black Wings (Untreed Reads, 2020)

Cameron Trost        The Black Beacon Book of Mystery (Black Beacon Books, 2020)

Abigail Linhardt       Winter's Vindication (SummerStorm Press, 2021)

Eric Guignard          Professor Charlatan Bardot's Travel Anthology (Dark Moon Books, 2021)

                                Pop the Clutch (Dark Moon Books, 2019)

                                Horror Library, Vol. 6 (Farolight Publishing, 2017)

                                After Death (Dark Moon Books, 2013)

Donna Carrick         A Grave Diagnosis (Carrick Publishing, 2020)

Lyn Worthen            Cozy Villages of Death (Independently published, 2020)

Michael Bracken      Jukes and Tonks (with Gary Phillips, Down & Out Books, 2020)

                                 The Eyes of Texas (Down & Out Books, 2019)

Otto Penzler             Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021 (with Lee Child, Mysterious Press, 2021)

                                 Best American Mystery Stories 2020 (with C. J. Box, HMH, 2020)

                                 Best American Mystery Stories 2018 (with Louise Penny, HMH, 2018)

                                 Best American Mystery Stories 2015 (with James Patterson, HMH, 2015) 

Verena Rose/Harriette Sackler/Shawn Reilly Simmons              Masthead (Level Best Books, 2020)

                                                                                                     Landfall (Level Best Books, 2018)

Greg Herren            Florida Happens (Bouchercon anthology, Three Rooms Press, 2018)

                                Blood on the Bayou (Boucheron anthology, Down & Out Books, 2016)

Rick Ollerman         Denim, Diamonds, and Death (Bouchercon anthology, Down & Out Books, 2019)

J. K. Larkin             Pets on the Prowl (Red Penguin Books, 2021)

                               Stand Out II: Best of the Red Penguin Collection (Red Penguin Books, 2021)

                               Behind Closed Doors (Red Penguin Books, 2021)

                               Heart Full of Love (Red Penguin Books, 2021)

                               What Lies Beyond (Red Penguin Books, 2020)

                               'Tis the Season (Red Penguin Books, 2020)

                               A Trip for the Books (Red Penguin Books, 2020)

Judy Tucker/Lottie Boggan        Mad Dogs and Moonshine (Queen's Hill Press, 2008)

                                                   Fireflies in Fruit Jars (Queen's Hill Press, 2007)

Sandra Murphy          Peace, Love, & Crime (Untreed Reads, 2020)

                                   A Murder of Crows (Darkhouse Books, 2019)

Philip Levin               Rocking Chairs and Afternoon Tales (Doctor's Dream Publishing, 2012)

                                  Magnolia Blossoms and Afternoon Tales (AWOC Publishing, 2010)

                                  Sweet Tea and Afternoon Tales (AWOC Publishing, 2009)

Barb Goffman           Crime Travel (Wildside Press, 2019)

Andrew MacRae       Mid-Century Murder (Darkhouse Books, 2020)

                                  Sancuary (Darkhouse Books, 2018)

                                  We've Been Trumped (Darkhouse Books, 2016)

Johnny Lowe            What Would Elvis Think? (Clinton Ink-Slingers, 2019)

Theresa Halverson/Sarah Faxon             Released (No Bad Books Press, 2021)

Judy Penz Sheluk       Moonlight & Misadventure (Superior Shores Press, 2021)

                                    Heartbreaks & Half-Truths (Superior Shores Press, 2020)

Jake Devlin                 BOULD Awards Anthology (Independently published, 2021)

                                    BOULD Awards Anthology (Independently published, 2020)

Patricia Gaddis/Alexandra Pollock        Mini-Mysteries Digest (Heinrich-Bauer, 2021)

John Connor                Crimeucopia: The Cosy Nostra (Murderous Ink Press, 2021)

                                     Crimeucopia: Dead Man's Hand (Murderous Ink Press, 2021)

                                     Crimeucopia: As in Funny Ha-Ha (Murderous Ink Press, 2021)

                                     Crimeucopia: The I's Have It (Murderous Ink Press, 2021)

Tony Burton                Ten for Ten (Wolfmont Publishing, 2008)

                                    Crime and Suspense I (Wolfmont Publishing, 2007)

                                    The Seven Deadly Sins (Wolfmont Publishing, 2007)

Owen Litwin                The Odds Are Against Us (Liberty Island Media, 2019)

Sarah E. Glen             Mardi Gras Mysteries (Mystery and Horror LLC, 2021)

Some of the above editors (Barb, Michael, Rick, Lyn, Judy Tucker, etc.) have also edited magazines and other projects that contained my creations, and I've found these folks to be just as able and helpful at that as they were with the anthologies. A good editor is a godsend in this crazy business, and I thank them all sincerely.

Questions: Have any of you worked with the editors I've mentioned? Do you have stories in any of their upcoming anthologies? How about other editors, and if so, what were your experiences? Have you edited anthologies yourself? Also, what are some of the more "different" anthologies, themewise, to have featured your work? Please let me know in the comments section below. (If you're interested, here's an earlier SleuthSayers post that discusses themed anthos.)

Meanwhile, keep writing those stories--for anthologies, magazines, collections, and whatever other markets you might find. Good luck with them all!