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

06 November 2018

Everybody Hurts

by Michael Bracken

There have been times in my life when all I wanted to do was turn off the lights and put R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” on repeat play at a high volume.

So, I did.

Carolyn and John M. Floyd with Michael Bracken
at A Bridge to Publication, Lake Charles, LA.
The emotional impact of the song—and, to a lesser but similar extent, Adele’s “Someone Like You” and SinĂ©ad O’Connor’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”—resonates with me in a way that other music does not. Perhaps this is because my life is defined more by what I’ve lost than by what I’ve gained.

But everybody hurts, in one way or another, and there’s nothing unique about my pain.

Except.

Except, as a writer, that pain infuses my writing.

Whether my stories have ostensibly happy endings, or they clearly do not, a great many are stories of loss or the threat of loss. In “Chase Your Dreams” (AHMM, June 2016) Cody loses his lover; in “The Mourning Man” (AHMM, March/April 2018), Johnny loses his wife; in “Going-Away Money” (AHMM, November/December 2018), Sean loses his innocence; and in “Smoked” (Noir at the Salad Bar, 2017), Beau fears losing everything.

If I’ve done my job properly, readers feel the loss or the threat of loss.

And I want them to.

I admire writers who have the ability to embed esoteric clues into deftly plotted stories, but I often feel nothing when I finish reading their stories.

And I want to feel something.

IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE ALONE

When I write my stories—the stories I write first and foremost for me, rather than for a particular market or by invitation—I follow the old dictum, attributed in various forms to a great many writers, to sit in front of a keyboard and open a vein.

But, as clever as it is to say such a thing, the reality of it is much different. Most of us only scratch the surface with our writing, not bleeding any more than can be staunched with a metaphorical Band-Aid.

We imagine what others will think of us if we let loose all the pain that courses through our veins. So, we let out a drip here and a drip there, never enough to make us woozy from blood loss.

And our stories suffer because we hold back.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

While all of us hurt in one way or another, not all of us define our lives by what we’ve lost. Our pain is only temporary. We see the light at the end of the tunnel and know it is not a train barreling down upon us.

So, make readers feel that, as well.

When your characters overcome adversity, survive a harrowing experience, or meet the love of their life, it isn’t sufficient for your story to have a happy ending if your reader doesn’t feel the joy.

I wish there were a magic formula I could share, one that would allow you to write an emotion-filled story each time you sit at the keyboard. If there were, I would share it. But I’ve found no magic plot, no specific scenes, and no particular combination of words that infuse a story with emotion. What I have found is that the writers who most infuse their stories with emotion are those who are not afraid to reveal themselves through their writing.

So, sit at the keyboard and open a vein. If you bleed sweat and tears, write sad stories. If you bleed rainbows and unicorns, write joyous stories.

Just don’t be afraid.

You are not alone.



“Going-Away Money” appears in the November/December issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Also in the issue are stories by fellow SleuthSayers R. T. Lawton and Robert Lopresti. Pulp Modern Vol. 2 No. 3, in which my story “Good Girls Don’t” appears, has been available for Kindle for a few months now. The print edition has just been released.

01 May 2018

The Buddy System


by Michael Bracken

Over the course of a writing career, we develop business relationships, gain acquaintances, make friends, and acquire critique partners, but how often do we find that one writer who becomes our writing buddy?

If I attempted to list all the writers I consider friends, I fear I would fail to mention someone, so forgive me in advance for naming only a few writers whose friendships have colored my writing career before I describe what qualities define the writing buddy relationship and introduce my writing buddy.

BEST FRIEND

Joe Walter was my first writer friend. By no coincidence, Joe was also my best friend in high school. We enjoyed reading science fiction, dreamed of careers as science fiction writers, and co-founded a science fiction fanzine when we were high school juniors as a way to see our stories in print.

We read and critiqued each other’s work, collaborated on a few projects, and goaded each other into submitting our stories to the professional science fiction and fantasy publications of the day. Joe broke through first, selling a story to Vertex. Unfortunately, Vertex ceased publication before ever publishing Joe’s story.

We lost contact after high school, reconnected briefly several years ago, and then lost contact again. To the best of my knowledge, Joe never pursued a writing career beyond high school.

WRITER FRIENDS

Knights, the science fiction fanzine Joe and I co-founded, brought me into contact with real writers, several of whom wrote articles and letters of comment for Knights once it outgrew its earliest incarnation as a place for Joe and me to publish our short stories. Three of those writers—Charles L. Grant, Thomas F. Monteleone, and Grant Carrington—became columnists and, by extension, writer friends. In a variety of ways, both implicit and explicit, they taught me what it means to be a writer.

All three read some of my work and gave me feedback. Charlie published one of my stories in his anthology Midnight; Tom rejected a story for an early edition of his Borderlands anthology series, but provided feedback that helped me place the story elsewhere; and Grant actually read and provided feedback on one of my earliest novel attempts. More than that, though, they demonstrated, through their generosity of time and by example, how writers pay it forward.

Our lives and careers took us in different directions following the demise of Knights, in part because Charlie, Tom, and Grant were well into their careers, while I was in the early stage of mine and did not understand the value of maintaining relationships with other writers.

Charlie has since passed away; Tom and I are Facebook friends; and Grant spent an evening with Temple and me a few years ago when he was passing through Central Texas on a multi-state road trip.

As the years passed, other writing acquaintances and friendships developed—some were short-term, some have lasted years, and the length of a few friendships can be measured in decades.

WRITING BUDDY

Laird Long
Finding a writing buddy, though, was like learning the secret handshake that we all deny exists. The relationship provides a second line of access into the world of publishing and a second perspective about the writing life from someone traveling the same writing path.

A writing buddy is not a business acquaintance, a friend, or a critique partner, though the relationship may develop from such inauspicious beginnings.

A writing buddy is a writer with whom you share inside information, complain about low pay and long response times, celebrate each other’s successes, and commiserate about each other’s failures. You write in the same genre or genres, place work in many of the same publications, and owe more than one sale to a tip provided by the other. You don’t read one another’s work until it is in print because neither of you needs the other’s approval nor wants the other’s writing advice. Perhaps most importantly, you know each other’s closely guarded pseudonyms.

My writing buddy is Laird Long, a Canadian writer half a dozen years younger than me.

Mystery readers may recognize Laird’s name from stories in Cricket Magazine, The Forensic Examiner, Mystery Weekly, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, and various anthologies. (And look for one of his stories in an upcoming issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine.)

Unlike some of us who tout our productivity through websites, blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter tweets, Laird avoids the limelight, preferring to let his work stand on its own, and he makes those of us who think we’re prolific look like slackers. Since his first short story sale—“Dirty Work” (Blue Murder #19, Summer 2001)—Laird has sold more than 1,700 short stories, and for more than 16 years he’s supported himself primarily by writing short fiction. He supplements his short story income by writing greeting cards, and in 2013, PageTurnerEditions released his only novel to date, No Accounting for Danger.

Laird and I have never met and have never spoken. In the early 2000s, we encountered one another through posts on the Short Mystery Fiction Society Yahoo group, and in 2005 he contributed a story to one of three anthologies I edited that never reached publication.

Though our initial contact was via the Short Mystery Fiction Society, our relationship developed and is maintained entirely via email. Rarely does more than a week pass without contact, and some days we exchange several emails. Our discussions are rarely about writing, but often about the business of writing—who’s buying, what they’re buying, what they’re paying; which publishers pay promptly, which ones have started dragging payments, and which ones have stopped paying; which anthologies and publications are open to submissions only to those in the know and how to become a writer in the know.

I’m not certain how or when our relationship morphed from writing friends to writing buddies, but it came with the dawning realization that our writing paths are similar, our writing goals are similar, our willingness to explore a diversity of genres is similar, and that while neither needs the other, we benefit in ways that we do in no other writing relationship.

While trying to explain the nature of this relationship to my wife Temple, she wondered if other writers have writing buddies. I felt certain they must—though they may have different terms for the relationship—but as I pondered her question during the following days, I began to doubt my conclusion.

A writing buddy is a rare gift, something found rather than something sought, and it transcends all other writing relationships. I don’t write better because of my relationship with Laird, but I’m a better writer because of it.

WRITING COMMUNITY

Whether we touch base once a week or once a year, I cherish all my writing friendships. We swap emails, connect via Facebook and Twitter, respond to one another’s blog posts, hang out together at conferences and conventions, and sometimes even visit one another’s homes. Though the act of writing is often a solitary event, the writing community will embrace us if we let it.

So, cherish your writing friends, and if you’re lucky enough to have a writing buddy, realize that you’ve received a gift. Don’t squander it.

Speaking of writing friends: Fellow SleuthSayer and long-time writing friend John M. Floyd and I will be among the speakers and workshop leaders at A Bridge to Publication, a one-day writing conference October 13, 2018, in Lake Charles, LA.

In other news, my alternative history mystery story “Harlot Road” appears in Weirdbook #38.

13 June 2017

It's Academic!

by Barb Goffman

Growing up, I was one of those nerdy kids who liked school. Not all subjects, and not all teachers, but I loved reading and history and got mostly A's (at least in elementary school). After completing college summa cum laude, I went on to get a graduate degree in journalism, and then after working a few years, went back to school and got a law degree. As I've liked to joke, there's no such thing as too much education.

My interest in education continued after graduation. When I was a newspaper reporter, I covered primary and secondary schools. School board meetings? Sign me up. Visiting classrooms to see how students were learning and write articles that gave their parents a virtual seat in the classroom. Loved it. And when I worked as an attorney, I specialized in higher education, first assisting colleges with compliance with state and federal regulations, among other things, and then working for a student-loan provider and servicer. I might not be a teacher or professor, but education sure is in my blood.

"Asps. Very dangerous. You go first."
And that's why one of the types of books and stories I love to dig into are academic mysteries. So I was jazzed to read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (yes, for pleasure reading) a couple of days ago titled "From Indiana Jones to Minerva McGonagall, Professors See Themselves in Fiction." The Chronicle surveyed their readers' favorite professors in TV, movies, and books, and the winner was ... Indiana Jones, the main character in Raiders of the Lost Ark and three subsequent films.

Why is Jones so popular? Who wouldn't love a Nazi-hunting, boulder-dodging, snake-hating scholar who travels the world between classes, seeking archeological treasures and fighting bad guys? Quoting William Purdy, a lecturer at the University of California at Los Angeles, the Chronicle said, " 'One of the hard knocks against academics is we’re in an ivory tower and not in touch with the world. He’s a straight response to that criticism.' "

I ditto that. Indeed, the Indiana Jones movies are more action-adventure stories than campus mysteries, but there's crime at the heart of all of these tales, so they fall within my definition of the genre.

That said, there are also a lot of great crime novels set on college campuses. Just a few weeks ago, The Semester of our Discontent by Cynthia Kuhn won the Agatha Award for best first mystery novel published in 2016. Set at a prestigious fictional college, the novel showcases an English professor embroiled in departmental politics and murder. Here are just a few other mysteries involving academics that I've enjoyed:
  • The Red Queen's Run by Bourne Morris (more department politics and murder) - the first in a series
  • Murder 101 by Maggie Barbieri (a professor is accused of killing her student, which I bet a lot of professors dream about but few would admit to) - the first in a series
  • Artifact by Gigi Pandian (a historian described as the female Indiana Jones--the first in a wonderful series, but so far, no Nazis)
  • Fifty Mysteries by our own John M. Floyd (fifty short stories involving retired schoolteacher Angela Potts. They're not exactly academic mysteries, but I love Angela Potts, and she used to be a teacher, so I'm listing her.)
  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Yes, they're set at a secondary school, but it's a magical school, and they're wonderful, and there sure is mystery in these books, so I count 'em. 
    "Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it."
Other academics that made the Chronicle's list of favorite academics:
  • Charles Kingsfield from The Paper Chase
  • John Keating from Dead Poets Society
  •  Minerva McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series
Want to read the whole Chronicle article? Click here.

And please share your favorite academic mysteries in the comments. I know there are a lot more I could have listed. What academic mystery books/series/stories/movies/TV shows do you love and why?

16 June 2014

Those Quickie Mysteries

by Fran Rizer
How true.  It's addictive!

Several weeks have passed since I last joined you on this side of SleuthSayers.  My mini-vacation wasn't planned, but it worked out well for me because I haven't had much to say beyond an occasional comment along with moans and cries of pain caused by Shingles. Unlike Leigh, who can write humor inspired by his kidney stones and uninvited guests on his dock, I can't think of anything amusing to say about shingles except they hurt far more than I ever expected. Before anyone tells me I should have taken the immunization shot, let me explain that I'm violently allergic to neomycin which makes me ineligible for the vaccination.

Some of you may recall that I recently made the decision to stop writing, but, as has happened before, that resolution didn't last. What I'm experiencing is a spell when my muse has abandoned me.  I need to write something different, at least for me. I've had six Callie Parrish mysteries published under my name and a few best forgotten thrillers under a pen name. I have no desire to begin another of either.  My horror novel doesn't have a publisher yet, and I'm not interested in writing paranormal romance. So, what should I do? 


I started out in this business writing feature magazine articles.  I've gone back to that and have sent out three. We'll see if those maintain my old track record which was 100% acceptance, certainly far better than I do with fiction.  I've also been writing press releases for the charity concert my friends and I in SC Screams Team are sponsoring in July. 

It would be nice to say that press releases and magazine features are satisfying my addiction to fiction, but I'd be lying. Though being a fiction writer is a license to lie, I don't feel right lying to you, the readers and writers of SleuthSayers. I've begun some co-writing with fellow songwriter, Gene Holdway, but I want to write fiction. Not motivated to begin another novel, I decided to go to the other extreme and tackle John M. Floyd's market--those solve-it-yourself mysteries for Woman's World. For any newcomers among us, Woman's World features one mystery and one romance story every week. The pay is good, but the word limits are restrictive.  Maximum for mysteries is 700; for romances, 800.

This isn't exactly my first rodeo with WW. I've had two romances that they suggested changes and invited me to resubmit, but I hadn't tried mysteries previously.

I pick up WW each week to see if John has a story in it, so I was fairly familiar with what they print.  I feel the need to warn everyone though that if you read those short, short mysteries constantly, you reach the point that you can spot the important clue as you read, so the solution is hardly ever a surprise with some of the authors, but not with John M. Floyd.  

No problem with characters, crimes, and knowing who's guilty, but coming up with those clues required in the solve-it-yourself mysteries was leaving me clueless. I don't want clues to jump off the page at the reader, but I don't want them so elusive that after reading the ending, the reader has to go back searching to see if the author actually included them.

I shared my first solve-it-yourself mystery effort with my friend, Richard D. Laudenslager, who helped me out with some great suggestions.  I returned the favor by inspiring him to try one of his own. His first solve-it-yourself seems absolutely perfect.  I questioned how he'd zeroed in on the style.  His answer:
"I read John Floyd's blog about Woman's World fiction on SleuthSayers."

Now, the truth is that I probably did read that blog back in 2012, but since I was concentrating on book-length manuscripts at that time, I didn't remember it in detail until I went back and read it again a week ago.

I highly recommend reading John's blog before writing one of those quickie mysteries. John M. Floyd's A Woman's World Survival Guide.

John gives personal statistics for his sales to WW as well as a brief history of how their fiction has changed since his first mini-mystery appeared in WW in 1999. He also shares hints and tips for the mysteries which I'll repeat here: 
  1. Make the good guys win.
  2. Include humor if possible.
  3. Use a lot of dialogue.
  4. Include a female protagonist.
  5. Include a real crime, not a situation that appears to be crime, but is revealed not to be.
  6. Keep it fairly clean and fairly simple.  Avoid extreme violence, explicit sex, strong language, technical jargon, characters with physical or mental disabilities, overly complex plots, and exotic locations.  (John, I have to say this sounds a lot like the "cozy formula.")
  7. Don't jeopardize babies or pets. (Another cozy rule.)
  8. Stay below the 700 word count.  (John says his run between 680 and 690.)

After reading John's hints and tips, I knew immediately that my second try would be rejected and had to be revised before submitting it.  

Of course, Richard and I both hope to have stories accepted, but even if we don't, writing for this market is great exercise.  We have become far more conscientious about unnecessary words and tightening up expressions. The restrictions also encourage writers to jump right in with the action instead of spending a lot of words on set-up.  John suggests that his repeated characters of bossy retired teacher Angela Potts and her ex-student lawman alleviate the need for a lot of set up.  To that, I say, "But John, we have to sell the first story before we can repeat the characters."

How did I know WW wouldn't accept my second mystery?

As a retired teacher of disabled and visually handicapped children, I frequently include challenged or visually handicapped adults living fairly normal lives in my writing. (Example: Jane in the Callie Parrish books) The protagonist in the story was blind. See Tip 6 above.

I'd like to hear from the rest of you. Have you submitted fiction to Woman's World? What were your experiences in dealing with the restrictions?  John, how about some current statistics?
    
On the left, my partner in crime, Richard D. Laudenslager.
On the right, my partner in rhyme, Gene Holdway.
I'm 5'3", but I think this photo demonstrates that
I should be able to write short.
Until we meet again, take care of … you.