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

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!


06 November 2021

Hooked on Crime(ucopia)


It's not often that a publisher produces crime anthologies one after the other in a very short period of time. One did, though, this year: John Connor, at the England-based Murderous Ink Press. I found out about them this spring via a routine Google search for mystery anthology calls, and wound up submitting a story for the third in their series of Crimeucopia editions--The Cosy Nostra. They responded with an acceptance, and the publication of the atho was as prompt as the acceptance had been. Since then, they have published five more books, and there'll probably be another one upcoming before the editor, who's had some health problems, suspends publication for six months.

As it turns out, I have partners in Crimeucopia: the work of some of my fellow SleuthSayers has appeared in the pages of these anthologies. Stories written by Eve Fisher and Michael Bracken were featured in We're All Animals Under the Sun; stories by Eve and me appeared in The Cosy Nostra, and stories by me have been published in three more since then: Dead Man's Hand, As in Funny Ha-Ha or Just Peculiar, and The I's Have It. If I've left any SSers out, please let me know in the comments section below and I'll update this post to include your names.

Here's a complete list of (I think) all the Crimeucopia anthologies this year:

The Lady Thrillers, Feb 2021 -- 16 crime stories by women authors

We're All Animals Under the Sun, March 2021 -- 18 stories of motivations, actions, and reactions

The Cosy Nostra, June 2021 -- 17 mostly-cozy crime stories

Dead Man's Hand, July 2021 -- five western novellas

As in Funny Ha-Ha, or Just Peculiar, July 2021 -- 21 humorous or odd (or both) stories

Careless Love, Sep 2021 -- 15 affairs of the heart

The I's Have It, Oct 2021 -- 12 detective/private-eye tales (and a mucho-cool bookcover)

It's Always Raining in Noir City, Nov 2021 -- 16 noir stories

Tales from the Back Porch, coming in Dec 2021 or Jan 2022  

Have any of you read these? If so, please let me know what you think. By the way, many of my writer friends besides Eve and Michael have been published there as well (or soon will be), including Jim Doherty, Adam Meyer, Joan Leotta, Judy Penz Sheluk, Robert Petyo, Bern Sy Moss, M. C. Tuggle, Jan Christensen, Brandon Barrows, and Wil A. Emerson.

I must mention here that John Connor has been great to work with, and I've also been pleased with all the stories I've read in the three paperback Crimeucopias that I have on my shelf (I've not yet received my author copy of The I's Have It). I think Eve and Michael would agree with me there, and I'm sure I can speak for all of us in wishing John a speedy recovery. I hope there'll be more Murderous Ink crime anthologies to come.

I'm also hoping we'll continue to see more books of this kind by other publishers as well. If so, good luck to all of us in getting our stories into them. Keep writing!

Back again in two weeks . . .

30 October 2021

Movie Firsts

I am, and have always been, fascinated by movies. Al kinds of movies, although I mostly like mystery/crime and westerns--a result, probably, of growing up in the fifties and sixties, when you couldn't turn on a TV without seeing a detective or a cowboy. But I'll watch almost anything. The other night when one of our sons and his son were visiting, we ordered pizzas and watched an old DVD of Aliens (possibly the best sequel in movie history, along with Godfather II)--and I loved it as much as the first time I saw it, in a theater in Atlanta 35 years ago. And over the past month I've re-watched The Big Lebowski, Jaws, The Birds, Rudy, The Guns of Navarone, and The Princess Bride, all of which are in a galaxy far, far away from mysteries and westerns.

I also love facts about movies, some of them pretty obscure. We got to talking, during our kid-and-grandkid movie night last week, about which movies were the first to do this or the first to feature that, and I of course felt compelled to sit down later and try to put together a list. I mean, somebody has to, right? You can't just pass up a topic like that.

So . . . here are some cinematic "firsts."

NOTE: These are only those firsts that I found particularly interesting. For example, I don't much care what movie was the first to open in Saudi Arabia or to use IMAX 12-channel sound, but I do care what movie was the first to show a killer shark or time travel or a flushing toilet. Call this a low-tech, unsophisticated list.

First movie -- Roundhay Garden Scene, director Louis Le Prince, 1888

First U.S. movie -- Monkeyshines, William Kennedy Dickson and William Heise, 1889

First comedy -- The Waterer Watered, 1895

First horror movie -- House of the Devil, 1896 (a short silent film)

First Shakespeare adaptation -- King John, 1899

First Sherlock Holmes movie -- Sherlock Holmes Baffled, 1900 (produced to be viewed on coin-operated machines)

First science fiction movie -- A Trip to the Moon, 1902

First western -- The Great Train Robbery, 1903

First feature film -- The Story of the Kelly Gang, 1906

First Hollywood movie -- In Old California, director D.W. Griffith, 1910

First big-budget Hollywood epic -- Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith, 1915

First sequel -- Fall of a Nation, Thomas Dixon, Jr., 1916

First remake -- The Squaw Man, Cecil B. DeMille, 1918 (the original was in 1914)

First movie with a twist ending -- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920

First time-travel movie -- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, 1921

First movie to cost $ 1 million -- Foolish Wives, 1922

First Hitchcock movie -- Always Tell Your Wife, 1923

First "talkie" -- The Jazz Singer, 1927

First movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture -- Wings, William A. Wellman, 1927

First musical -- The Broadway Melody, 1929

First movie to show a television set -- Elstree Calling, Alfred Hitchcock, 1930

First western to win Best Picture -- Cimarron, 1930

First movie shown on TV -- The Crooked Circle, 1933

First romantic comedy to win Best Picture -- It Happened One Night, 1934 (also the first movie to show a bride leaving her fiancé at the altar)

First Disney movie -- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937

First movie to use the Wilhelm scream -- Distant Drums, 1941 (I'm thinking this might be a SleuthSayers post in the near future)

First 3-D feature film -- Robinson Crusoe, 1947

First movie to offer profit-sharing for its star -- Winchester '73, 1950 (James Stewart)

First to mention the word "pizza" -- The Band Wagon, 1953

First to use a rock song in a soundtrack -- Blackboard Jungle, 1955 ("Rock Around the Clock")

First to feature a man-eating shark -- The Sharkfighters, 1956

First to show an interracial kiss -- Island in the Sun, 1957

First to show a flushing toilet -- Psycho, 1960

First to use the fake phone prefix "555" -- Panic in the Year Zero, 1962

First to show a GPS device -- Goldfinger, 1964

First to show a karate fight scene -- The Manchurian Candidate, 1964

First to show a post-credit scene -- The Silencers. 1966

First to drop the F-bomb -- I'll Never Forget What's 'Is Name, 1967 (second bombing: M*A*S*H, 1970)

First G-rated movie to win Best Picture -- Oliver!, 1969

First (and only) X-rated movie to win Best Picture -- Midnight Cowboy, 1970 (this was of course an early rating system; MC would currently be a mild R)

First R-rated movie to win Best Picture -- The French Connection, 1971

First movie to show a condom -- Carnal Knowledge, 1971

First sequel to win Best Picture -- The Godfather Part II, 1974

First movie to make $ 100 million -- Jaws, 1975

First movie shot entirely by natural candlelight -- Barry Lyndon, 1975

First to be released on VHS -- The Young Teacher, 1976

First to list the entire crew in the closing credits -- Star Wars, 1977 (also the first to make $ 400 million) 

First big-budget superhero film -- Superman, 1978

First movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch -- The Blues Brothers, 1980

First movie made for a cable network -- The Terry Fox Story, 1983 (HBO)

First PG-13 movie -- Red Dawn, 1984

First movie to show a cell phone -- Lethal Weapon, 1987

First to sell a million copies on home video -- Dirty Dancing, 1887

First NC-17 movie -- Henry and June, 1990

First (and only) horror movie to win Best Picture -- The Silence of the Lambs, 1991 (this is what the record books say, but I don't agree that it's a horror movie)

First movie to show virtual reality -- The Lawnmower Man, 1992

First to cost $ 100 million -- True Lies, 1994

First feature film to be made entirely using CGI -- Toy Story, 1995

First movie to cost $ 200 million (and to make $ 1 billion) -- Titanic, 1997

First movie released on DVD -- Twister, 1997

First to make $ 100 million in its opening weekend -- Spider-Man, 2002

First to use motion capture for all actors -- The Polar Express, 2004

First to show on-screen texting -- Sex Drive, 2008

First to make $ 2 billion -- Avatar, 2009

First (and only) science fiction movie to win Best Picture -- The Shape of Water, 2017

First non-English-language movie to win Best Picture -- Parasite, 2019 (South Korean)

First movie to open nationwide since the start of the pandemic -- Unhinged, 2020

First to make $ 100 million since start of the pandemic -- A Quiet Place Part II, 2021


I learned a few things in coming up with this list, and found I was badly mistaken about a few. Can you think of some firsts that I missed? First Chuck Norris Shakespeare adaptation? First Whoopi Goldberg western? Seriously, let me know in the comments section.

Next time, back to mystery writing--thanks for indulging me.

See you in a week!

16 October 2021

Mystery Magazine


Some of you are probably thinking, You left out part of the title. Did you mean Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, or Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, or Black Cat MM, or Sherlock Holmes MM, etc.? Nope, the title's right. Mystery Magazine is the former Mystery Weekly Magazine, which--as most of you know by now--recently renamed itself and thus clarified things a bit, since it's published once a month.

Let me begin by saying that Mystery Magazine (new name or not) is an excellent publication, based in Canada and published by Chuck Carter, and in my opinion it has become one of the half-dozen leading short-fiction mystery markets. It usually features from eight to ten short stories and one interactive "solve-it-yourself" mystery in every monthly issue, it recently raised its pay rates, it pays on acceptance, it responds quickly to submissions, its covers and layouts always look good, and editor Kerry Carter is kind and competent and professional in every way. Another thing that might be interesting to writers is that after submission MM provides a monitoring link that allows you to see how many stories are ahead of yours in their to-be-read queue. The magazine's only drawback is that they don't provide a free author's copy of the issue your story appears in, but to me that's overridden by the fact that they pay so promptly, often on the same day the acceptance email appears.

Another thing to like about Mystery Magazine is that they are receptive to cross-genre stories. By that I mean writers can include the occasional fantasy, science fiction, horror, or Western ingredient along with the mystery/crime element. To give you an idea of how much that open-minded policy has helped me, here are some quick summaries of my stories at MM/MW so far: 

A gambling addict is pursued by murderous loan sharks. A mystery, but mostly a chase story. ("Merrill's Run," Jan 2017) 

A mix of crime and fantasy involving a missing teenager, a thunderstorm, and travel between dimensions. ("Lightning," Sep 2018) 

A lonely blind woman is targeted by a killer. Just a crime/suspense story with nothing cross-genre going on. ("Rachel's Place," Dec 2019)    

Two brothers in the depression-era south--one of whom has visions of future events--try to protect their alcoholic father from old enemies. ("The Barlow Boys," Nov 2020) 

A former combat soldier stumbles upon a bank robbery and is aided by a woman with paranormal powers. ("Charlie's War," Dec 2020) 

A combination Western/mystery/coming-of-age tale with a minor woo-woo element. ("Wanted," Feb 2021)  

A straight crime story set in the cottonfields of northwest Mississippi. ("The Delta Princess," Sep 2021)  

An offbeat mystery/fantasy featuring occasional small crimes. ("The King's Island," Oct 2021)   

A Western about a small town terrorized by a pair of killers. Obvious genre-mixing here, including a tiny bit of otherworldliness. ("Bad Times at Big Rock," upcoming)  

My point is, only a third of these stories were strictly mystery/crime/suspense. The others all had various shades of paint mixed into the genre can--and those stories probably wouldn't even have been considered at some of the other respected mystery markets. I still write mostly straight and undiluted mystery/crime plots and I will continue doing that, but when I do feel the urge to create a cross-genre story, Mystery Magazine is always on my mind as a possible home for it.

One last thing. I'm not alone in my fondness for this magazine. Many of my fellow SleuthSayers have had stories published in MM as well, before and after its name change: R.T. Lawton, Michael Bracken, Eve Fisher, Robert Lopresti, Steve Liskow, Robert Mangeot, Joseph D'Agnese, Elizabeth Zelvin, Melodie Campbell, the late Paul D. Marks and B.K. Stevens, and probably others I'm leaving out.

What are your thoughts, writers and readers, about Mystery Magazine? Have you read it? Enjoyed it? Written for it?

Here's hoping they stay around for a long time.

02 October 2021

Guest Post: Lines That Won't Let Go


My longtime friend Judy Penz Sheluk wears and has worn many literary hats: novelist, short-story author, former journalist, former magazine editor, and--especially appropriate for today's column--anthology publisher and editor. Her three Superior Shores Press mystery athologies are all excellent and have been well received, in spite of my connection to each one: I contributed a cover blurb to the first and short stories to the second and third. The most recent of the three books--Moonlight & Misadventure--is the subject of today's guest post.

So . . . please join me in welcoming Judy to SleuthSayers!

--John Floyd

                                                            Lines That Won't Let Go

                                                                by Judy Penz Sheluk

Much has been written about first and last lines, and both are certainly of the utmost importance. But as the publisher and editor of the Superior Shores Anthologies, they aren't necessarily the ones that "seal the deal" for me when I move a submission into the "Yes" pile. Rather, it's those "lines that won't let go," the ones that catch me off-guard or break the tension with a touch of humor. 

While time and space don't permit me to list them all, each of the 20 stories in Moonlight & Misadventure have at least one such magical moment. Here are a few of my favorites:

"Crown Jewel," Joseph S. Walker

Two years ago, Keenan brought a woman he'd seen a few times home and took her to a spare bedroom converted into an audiophile's dream, the walls lined with racks of records, the turntable hooked up to an exquisitely balanced sound system. He showed her the three bins filled with copies of the White Album, each lovingly sheathed in its protective plastic sleeve. She pulled one out at random, turned it over in her hands, and looked at him in utter confusion.

"Don't they have this on CD?" she'd asked. "It would save a lot of room."

That was the last time he saw her.

"Cereus Thinking," Tracy Falenwolfe

No one ever spent time behind the bathhouse because it smelled awful. My grandparents had started telling the campers the sulfur smell came from decaying grasses along the beach, but I knew it was because the septic system was failing, the same way I knew dryer number four would never be fixed, grass would never get planted, and no one who stayed at Manatee Playground would ever see a manatee.

"The Promotion," Billy Houston

Pete looked around in the drawers of Gavin's desk until he found what he wanted. A half-empty pack of cigarettes. There were some matches in the same drawer, and he took those, too. For a moment, he considered going outside, but then lit a cigarette anyway. He'd just killed a man; smoking indoors didn't seem like a big deal anymore.

"My Night with the Duke of Edinburgh," Susan Daly

I took refuge in my glass of Northern Spirit Rye. Granted, I was two months short of twenty-one, but our little group had no use for such arbitrary, state-imposed nonsense. A person could either hold their liquor, or they couldn't.

"Not a Cruel Man," Buzz Dixon

The agent represented a sparkling young singer who'd just landed a starring role in a Disney movie. The producer's modus operandi was to find young, struggling talent, seduce them, dig them deeper and deeper into his own peculiar kinks, document that progression with Polaroids, then leech off their careers. A lot of what the producer liked would result in serious jail time for all involved. In the case of the agent's client, she'd never again be regarded as sweet and wholesome, much less virginal.

"Reunions," John M. Floyd

Larry's previous misgivings felt silly to him. He suddenly said, without thinking, "I hope things work out. With your friend and his wife, I mean."

Roger nodded, looking sad. "I hope so too. If it doesn't--and if I ever found out for sure she's cheating on him . . ."

The man's tone sent another little ripple up Larry's spine. He cleared his throat and said, "What would you do?"

"I don't know." Roger reached down to pat the bulge of the gun under his jacket. "If I met the guy, and if I had this at the time . . . I'm just not sure."

And sometimes it's just a single sentence:

"Scavenger Hunt," Michael A. Clark

It was a good night to hunt for a lost atomic bomb.

About the book: Whether it's vintage Hollywood, the Florida everglades, the Atlantic City boardwalk, or a farmhouse in Western Canada, the twenty authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of "moonlight and misadventure" in their own inimitable style where only one thing is assured: Waxing, waning, gibbous, or full, the moon is always there, illuminating things better left in the dark.

Featuring stories by K.L. Abrahamson, Sharon Hart Addy, C.W. Blackwell, Clark Boyd, M.H. Callway, Michael A. Clark, Susan Daly, Buzz Dixon, Jeanne DuBois, Elizabeth Elwood, Tracy Falenwolfe, Kate Fellowes, John M. Floyd, Billy Houston, Bethany Maines, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Joseph S. Walker, Robert Weibezahl, and Susan Jane Wright.

About the editor: A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including The Best Laid Plans, Heartbreaks & Half-truths, and Moonlight & Misadventure, which she also edited.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the South Simcoe Arts Council, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Chair on the Board of Directors.

Find the book here.

18 September 2021

Ten Years at SS


As you know from my friend Brian Thornton's post yesterday, we Sayers of Sleuth have been at it for ten years now. None of us who started the blog, way back then, knew if it would work or not, and if it would be even half as successful and as enjoyable (to us) as its predecessor, Criminal Brief, had been. All we knew for sure is that we had a good group and we all loved mystery fiction. (By the way, Brian, thanks for the kind words.)

Since I was chosen by my SleuthSayers co-conspirators to "kick off" our new blog with the first column on September 17, 2011, I've been asked to write today about what the blog has meant to me over this past decade (plus one day). The request caught me by surprise, because the anniversary caught me by surprise. Until then, I'd never thought much about how long we've been doing this. Most of the thinking I've done about the blog was probably along the lines of How in the world will I come up with something to write about for my next post?

There have been a lot of them. FYI for those of you who don't read us: I post a SleuthSayers column every first, third, and fifth Saturday, whether I have anything meaningful to say or not--and when I totaled them up the other day (not counting "guest posts" done by my writer friends), it came to 258 columns. Most of those have been on the subject of short mystery stories because that's what I write most. Others were about novels, some were about movies, and some were my random thoughts about the mystery genre or the writing life or the writing process. Looking back over the posts, I found that a surprising number were about style--punctuation, grammar, spelling, capitalization, abbreviation, sentence construction, paragraph construction, word choice, word usage, etc. The kinds of things that I hated during high school English classes but that I now realize are vitally important. At least if you want to get published regularly.

Some of the columns I most enjoyed writing: "Deja Vu All Over Again," about "writing tight"; "The Washed and the Unwashed," about literary fiction vs. genre fiction; Crime (and Other) Scenes," about favorite movies; and "Candy Is Dandy," about the late Ogden Nash.

As for what the blog has meant to me as a writer, here are a few things (besides our fantastic salary) that come to mind:

I've made friends who are now dear to me. Some only online, but many face-to-face as well. At every Bouchercon I've attended I've run into fellow SleuthSayers and "commenters," and when we meet in person it's as if we've known each other for years. Which we have, in a way, because of many, many blog posts, emails, and Facebook messages. I won't name names here because I would certainly miss someone, but you know who you are--and I will always treasure your friendship.

I've learned a lot about the craft of writing. The folks who post and guest-post at SleuthSayers read and write all kinds of fiction, not just mysteries, and many of them have great tips about how to create effective short stories and novels. Some of this stuff you can't find in the style manuals and the how-to books.

I've found out about new markets to target for my stories, as well as helpful facts about publications I was already familiar with. Some of these markets are not well known, and even if they are, the insider information is sometimes the kind they don't include in their submission guidelines.

I've discovered stories, books, and movies I would otherwise never have read or watched. All of us like to pass along recommendations based on what we've enjoyed or learned from, and when you hear these suggestions from those whose opinions you've come to trust, it makes a difference.

I've been forced to write to a deadline. When you know you have to produce an article of around 1000 words at least once every couple weeks, it keeps the writing muscles working. It's nothing like the pressure of a daily-newspaper deadline, but it's still something you're expected to create and deliver on time, and it means you can't just take long breaks from writing. I think that kind of discipline also helps in producing fiction, and is one of the reasons I've been able to turn out so many short stories.

In addition to all these things, I've had a chance to tell others about my own writing. Often that means giving them a behind-the-scenes view of my stories, and sharing whatever information I've picked up about the writing and marketing of those stories. That usually leads to a discussion, and I usually wind up learning more than I'm trying to teach. The bottom line: To be able to reach and swap views with a large number of readers and fellow writers on a regular basis is a rare opportunity, and as a member of SleuthSayers I have that.

In closing, I'd like to thank a few folks. One is James Lincoln Warren, who was the Head Fred at our Criminal Brief blog (without CB there would've been no SleuthSayers) and who was kind enough to recruit me to write the Saturday columns there, back in 2007. JLW, you might not be running the factory anymore, but you're still my hero. Special thanks also to my old friends and SS colleagues Leigh Lundin and Robert Lopresti for putting up with my foolishness and my stupid questions for ten years (fourteen, actually) and to all the other SleuthSayers as well, present and former. If you look at that list, you'll see that it includes some of the best mystery writers anywhere.

I can sense that Velma, our longtime and bossy assistant/receptionist/first-sergeant, is rolling her eyes and signaling me to wind this up, so I will. My final and most important thank-you is to our faithful readers. Your friendship and loyalty is much appreciated by us all.

I hope you'll stay with us for ten more years.

04 September 2021

Two September Stories


No, they're not set in September. One takes place in August and the other in a month that I suppose could've been September, but a time of year was never stated (just that it was hurricane season). What both stories have in common with September is that they were both published on the first day of this month, in two different magazines.

One of the stories is "Friends," in the Sep/Oct issue of The Saturday Evening Post. It isn't a mystery story, although crime is included in the plot. "Friends" is mostly a leisurely conversation between two longtime buddies, one of them a fisherman and one an ex-con, sitting together on the beach of a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico following a tropical storm that wasn't quite a hurricane. The idea for the story came from no more than the fact that I once did a lot of that when I was stationed for six months on the Gulf Coast, in the Air Force. Just sitting on the sand and staring out at the water. I have great memories of that. And how can a few ideas NOT roll into shore when you do that, even if the waves are imaginary?

I think the most different thing about this story, for me, is that it probably comes closer to that vague term "literary" than most stories I write. I wanted to focus more on the complicated relationship between these two friends--and on some details of the setting--rather than on the plot. It's also a pretty short story, around 2500 words. That's not only short for the Post, it's shorter than most of the stories I write these days. It contains only those two characters and only one scene, though there are some things that happen off-screen. The supporting cast is made up of a woman they both know, who's only mentioned in their dialogue, and a truckload of guys who stop and talk with them for a minute about post-disaster cleanup work.

The other story, "The Delta Princess," is in the September issue of Mystery Weekly. As you might suspect with a market like that, it is a mystery, and is firmly centered around a crime--in this case a multi-step, Mission Impossible-like theft of money from the safe of a wealthy landowner. It's long, around 7000 words, and includes a lot of scenes and characters and locations, although the main setting is the cottonfields of the Mississippi Delta. (Write what you know, right?)

The thing I'll always remember most about this story is the idea that triggered it. I've often mentioned, at this blog and elsewhere, that I usually start first with a plot idea and only then create my characters. It was the same with this story, except that the plot began with something my wife said to me, about her sewing.

A little background, here. My wife Carolyn loves to sew. Always has. Not quilting or embroidery or tatting, but sewing. One room of our house is even called The Sewing Room, a mysterious place I usually avoid because I understand absolutely nothing about what goes on in there. Some of what comes out of there, though, are things I can relate to, like dress shirts that actually fit me and bathrobes that are so comfortable I could live in them 24/7 and coats and jackets that not only look good but keep me toasty warm even on the coldest outings. I'm not fond of cold weather.

Anyhow, my point is, she likes sewing the way I like writing--it's relaxing and satisfying to her--and one day I overheard her talking to a friend on the phone about a sewing technique involving something called water-soluble thread. When I asked her about it afterward, she said she occasionally uses it to test out patterns to see if certain things will work and fit the way she expects them to. When the test run (using a stitch called basting, with a long a, as in tasting) is finished, she just applies water to the seams in the fabric, and--presto!--the thread dissolves. It actually disappears, and fast, and the sample garment literally falls apart. Then she can start over and sew it with real thread because she now knows it's right.

I of course didn't hear the rest of what she was telling me. I was too busy thinking WhoaI see a story there. From that point on, all I had to do was come up with a situation where a devious person--a devious seamstress, in this instance--would use that disappearing thread to evil advantage. And all of you know the process: once the seed's been sown, it's not that hard to put together (weave, maybe?) the rest of the tale. The result was "The Delta Princess," a title that I think I can promise will not mean what you might think it means. As one of the characters says, "Sounds like a riverboat." It's not. 

And that's my pitch, about two stories published on the same day--far different from each other in terms of length, genre, mood, complexity, and the magazines that bought them. But both were fun to write. 

If you have occasion to read one or both, I hope you'll like it (or them). Please let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I need more fodder for the idea machine. Where'd my wife go . . . ?

21 August 2021

Surviving in a Woman's World

This is a topic I've covered before here at SleuthSayers, and even at the Criminal Brief blog before that, because writing stories for the weekly magazine Woman's World seems to be one of the things I'm often asked about, at meetings, signings, conferences, etc. With all the ups and downs in the publishing universe, WW has somehow kept a big circulation over the years, and the part of the magazine I'm most interested in--its short mystery stories--still has a lot of readers.

The occasion for my writing this post today is that I recently sold my 120th story to Woman's World. Not a usual milestone, I know, but since I have no idea how long this lucky streak will last, I decided not to try to wait until 150 or 200 or something equally round.

Also, for those interested in writing for WW, some things about the magazine have changed since my recent columns on this subject, so I'll try to cover those, along with a summary of WW's content preferences, regarding their short mysteries. And I'll include some story statistics, in case that helps.

First, the changes

Over the years, there have been a lot of adjustments to things like story length, format, and payment for the stories in Woman's World. When I first started submitting to them in 1999 (via snailmail) the maximum wordcount for their mini-mysteries was 1000 and the wordcount for the romance stories was 1500. Eventually the romances went down to 1000 words and then to 800, where it remains today. The mysteries went down from 1000 words to its current max of 700, BUT the last two dozen or so mysteries I've sold them have been even less than that; those stories were all between 500 and 600 words each, which is what the editor seems to prefer. (Don't blame me if you write a 550-word story and they reject it--but that length has worked for me.)

The format of the mystery stories is the biggest change, though this happened a long time ago and you probably know about it already. My first mysteries for WW were traditional stories with regular beginnings, middles, and endings, like the romances--but in 2004 the head fred at the magazine, whoever that was at the time, decided to go to an interactive format in which the reader is invited to solve the puzzle. In fact, the mysteries now don't include the solutions at all; there's a separate "solution box" at the end of each story, which usually appears printed upside down on the same page. Note: the wordcount of your manuscript should include both the text of the story (not the title and byline) and the text in the solution box. Also note: the romances have not changed format. They're still traditional short stories, which many feel are easier to write than the solve-it-yourself format of the mysteries. I don't agree. I think the romances are harder to write and harder to sell, but that's just me.

As for payment, the romance stories once paid a flat rate of $1000 each (thankfully, the only two romances I've sold them were in that era), but that payment has since been lowered to $800 and then to (I believe) $720. That's not as big a reduction as it sounds, when you consider that the required wordcount is now only around half what it used to be--so the payment per word has actually increased. Payment for mysteries was once $500 each, and remained so for many years, but was recently lowered to $450. Still almost a dollar a word, though, so it's hard to complain.

The final change I'll mention is that WW now has a different fiction editor than the last time I visited this subject. The first editor I really knew and worked with was Johnene Granger, who held that position for a long time and was one of the most capable and professional editors I've ever known. After Johnene retired Patricia Riddle Gaddis--also a wonderful editor--took over, and recently the reins were passed to Alexandra Pollock. Alex and her colleague Maggie Dillard have been great to work with as well.

My WW statistics:

Number of mysteries: 118 

Number of romances: 2

Series stories: 112

Standalones: 8

Titles changed by the editor (aargh): 59

Titles unchanged (yay!): 61

Third-person stories: 119

First-person stories: 1

Past-tense stories: 120

Present-tense stories: 0

Female protagonist's POV: 37 stories

Male protag's POV (male member of a male/female team): 82 stories

Villain's POV: 1 story

Multiple protagonists (team): 98 stories

Single protags (for standalones, or when the other partner is sick, out of town, etc.): 22 stories

Whodunits: 33

Howcatchems: 85

(N/A for the two romances)

Single villain: 114 stories

Multiple villains: 4 stories

(N/A for the two romances)

Stories in which the good guys win: 115

Bad guys win: 3

(N/A for the two romances)

Stories involving murder: 25

Robbery/burglary: 72

Other crimes: 21

(N/A for the two romances)

Stories changed at editor's request: 9

Stories accepted unchanged: 111

Local/familiar settings: 113

Other settings: 7

Holiday-based stories: 10

Regular stories: 110

1999: 3 stories published

2000-2009: 28

2010-2019: 80

2020-2021: 9

WW mystery hints & tips

NOTE: These are mine, not the magazine's.

  1. Don't go over the max wordcount.
  2. Use a lot of dialogue.
  3. Don't include sex, excessive violence, or strong language. Aim for PG, or light PG-13.
  4. Use humor whenever possible.
  5. Include a female protagonist. If on a team, she should either be there or assisting from afar.
  6. Include a crime--not just the hint or threat of a crime.
  7. Your mystery does not have to involve a murder and it does not have to be a whodunit.
  8. You do not have to have three suspects. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that you do.
  9. Avoid religion, politics, and anything controversial.
  10. Avoid technical jargon.
  11. Don't put pets in jeopardy.
  12. Play fair with the clues.
  13. Make the good guys win in the end.
  14. Use domestic/familiar settings, not international/exotic.
  15. Keep the solutions short. WW sometimes edits mine to be longer, but they start out short.

This column started out short, too. I know this was a lot of info and a lot of numbers, but the requirements set by Woman's World are a bit different from most of the stories we write. FYI, I don't submit as many mini-mysteries as I used to--I write mostly longer now--but the short-short ones are still fun now and then, and WW remains a good market. If any of this helps any of you to sell a story to them, I'm thrilled.

Let me know!