Showing posts with label Kristin Kisska. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kristin Kisska. Show all posts

07 March 2024

Ale You Need is Love

mug of beer

Confession time.

I’m not a beer drinker. Never have been. In my early days of enjoying spiked beverages, I reached for wine coolers (shoutout to my two college friends, Bartles and James). Then Scotch whiskey, both single malt and blends, took over as my libation of choice. These days, I favor crisp Italian white wines.

Which is a long way of saying, I was in store for some fun new-to-me research to help craft my short story of suspense, “Not Yo’ Mama’s IPA” in Murder, Neat, the SleuthSayers Anthology. I took Happy Hour fieldtrips to a few of Richmond, Virginia’s finest brew pubs. Tasted flights of beers. Studied the origins of IPAs, as well as the proper way to pour and serve. Did you know India Pale Ales (a.k.a. IPAs) have their own dedicated glassware? I didn’t when I started plotting my story idea.

Well, then if not beer, what inspired my story, you might wonder?  An insurance statement delivered by snail mail not so long ago. Sexy? Maybe not, but I found it pretty compelling.

Kristin Kisska
Kristin Kisska ©
Lindsey Pantele Photgraphy

As the beneficiary of my husband’s life insurance, I received what would be the final premium invoice for his term policy. That auspicious morning, I’d ripped open the envelope, looked up from the paystub to him, and joked that for one final year, he’d be worth more dead than alive—crime authors can be sensitive and thoughtful that way. It’s a good thing my husband shares my humor!

But my muse took my dark quip, noodled it for a while, and ultimately ran with it. What would it take for someone to cash in on a loved one’s expiring policy? How deep and dark would an injustice need be to give them motive?

Let me introduce you to Lynn and Jack, the unlucky-in-love, beer-drinking couple at the heart of my short story of suspense, “Not Yo’ Mama’s IPA”. Lynn finds out that ignorance can indeed be bliss…until the truth hits you like a sledgehammer.

Happy reading!

For the true crime enthusiast with an interest in insurance as motive for murder, I recommend reading the creative nonfiction, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, which dramatizes the chilling story of serial killer on the loose in Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century. The murderer, H.H. Holmes, mastered the art of convincing his many victims to take out insurance policies with him as the beneficiary. Spoiler alert ~ his prey had a very short life expectancy after signing on the dotted line.

Insurance fraud can be deadly.

At the end of the day, you may or may not find me savoring a fine IPA at happy hour. But one thing I’ll forever be preaching from my soapbox is, don’t let your life insurance policy be used as a weapon against you.

Note ~ No real-life husbands were harmed in the plotting of this short story. On the contrary, mine enjoyed being my plus one as I conducted my IPA and brewery research. I’m happy to report that we both survived the expiration of his insurance policy.

Cheers, y’all!

KRISTIN KISSKA used to be a finance geek, complete with MBA and Wall Street pedigree, but now she is a self-proclaimed #SuspenseGirl. Kristin has contributed short suspense stories to a dozen anthologies, including Malice Domestic’s Agatha Award-winning anthology, Mystery Most Edible.  Her debut novel, The Hint of Light, is an Agatha Award finalist for Best First Mystery Novel. Kristin is a member of International Thriller Writers, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Sisters in Crime-Central Virginia. Kristin lives in Richmond, Virginia with her family and their moody tabby cat, Boom. She loves hearing from friends, readers, and book clubs at

29 August 2023

Game On!

I'm delighted to welcome Kristin Kisska back to SleuthSayers today with this guest post. It's perfect timing because today is a special day for her--publication day for her first novel! Congratulations, Kristin!

--Barb Goffman

Game On

by Kristin Kisska

Credit-Lindsey Pantele
Thank you, Barb Goffman, for letting me take over your Sleuthsayers’ byline today!

Picture this.

A diligent, twenty-something graduate student sitting through her fourth lecture of the day, the statistics class, which had earned the reputation for being the dullest required course for the degree. She’s two semesters deep into her MBA program and wishes she’d had the foresight to skip this one lecture. But with her notebook open and a No. 2 pencil in hand (this story is set in the analog era, not digital), she waits for the bell to ring, announcing the start of class.

But instead of yet another mind-numbing lecture swirling with math terms like means, medians, and regression lines, the professor introduces a topic that perks her up—game theory, a mathematical model of corporate and geo-political strategy. This has been used to analyze everything from the Cold War, mergers and acquisitions of global companies, privatizing utilities (hello, Ma Bell), and even chess strategies.

While most of this high-level concept was beyond this starry-eyed grad student’s mere human-level grasp of math, one of game theory’s core elements resonated with her:

Every player (a) is rational, and (b) will always make decisions in their best interest.

The element’s inverse truism is that if a player does something that seems counter to their best interest, then the opponent does not have complete or perfect information.

Spoiler alert. This grad student was me.

Let’s fast forward a couple decades (or three). I’ve since traded my global corporate finance hat for my #SuspenseGirl author hat. Not many lessons from my MBA days have helped me in my current career path, but I’ve used this one element from that epic statistics lecture every single time I sit down to write fiction.

If all fictional characters were to behave predictably, what fun would that be? Not much. I’d argue most readers crave the chance to solve puzzles. If not, mysteries wouldn’t be the thriving genre they are today.

When it comes to fiction—particularly crime fiction—astute authors can use this game theory element to their advantage. By layering in a character’s unexpected behavior, either subtle or obvious, a crime fiction author can signal to the reader that new—surprising—information will be forthcoming. It can elevate the reader’s experience by hinting at the richness of the character’s as-yet unrevealed backstory:

Secrets. Relationships. Unresolved traumas. Character wounds. Behind-the-scenes conflicts. Or even a deeper understanding of the stakes involved.

Let’s consider the classic movie Star Wars. When Obi-One Kenobi is fighting Darth Vader, the first-time viewer would expect Obi-One to fight for his life. Survival is a rational, relatable, and universally assumed goal. But for no explicable reason, when Obi-One sees Luke Skywalker watching the fight from a distance, he surrenders by raising his lightsaber and allows Vader to strike a death blow. In the moment, we (the viewers) are as confused and shocked as Luke Skywalker. It’s not until later that we learn that by dying, Obi-One could amplify his power for good because he becomes one with the energy of the Force.

Or, as is in the case of my debut novel, The Hint of Light, (published today!), the unconditional love of a mother toward her child can make her actions seem irrational and unpredictable. In real life, over-protective mothers are so common in society we’ve labeled them as mama bears, helicopter moms, and even tiger moms, but these terms boil down to the same concept. The maternal-child relationship can be so intense it can make people do very strange things when placed under pressure. A mother, in an effort to keep her child safe, can seem both irrational and unpredictable. And yet, when viewed from the mother’s lens with her specific interpretation of events, her priorities, and the options open to her, readers may understand the extreme choices she has made.

We could carry this example one step further by also challenging the first part of this game theory element—that all players are rational. It’s not always a given. In fact, we have a thriving subgenre called psychological suspense, which depends on the concept of the unreliable narrator. But I addressed this in another Sleuthsayers blog post, Deconstructing a Narrator:

Now, I have a little game theory homework for you. What character in a novel or movie made a choice that shocked you? What new information did you learn after the fact that made their choice seem reasonable?


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23 October 2020

Got Poe?


'Tis the season for all things spooky and macabre. Which all-time classic author comes to mind this time of year?

For me, it's Edgar Allan Poe.

I have a few things in common with the Father of the Detective Story. We both have called Richmond, Virginia and New York City home. We both share an affinity for ravens. And we both studied at my alma mater, the University of Virginia.

If you aren't familiar with Poe's UVA college days, here are a few factoids you may enjoy:

  • Seventeen-year-old Poe enrolled at UVA on February 14, 1826--yes, Valentine's Day--and remained through the full academic year, which ended in December.

  • Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, former US president, and founder of UVA passed away five months after Poe moved to Charlottesville. Though not confirmed, it is likely Poe met Jefferson at school functions and attended the memorial services held to honor the University's founder, including by wearing a black arm band.
  • Poe had an impressive athletic record while at UVA. He was a record-breaking swimmer, having swum six miles against the current on the James River. His running broad jump distance was 21' 6" with a running start of twenty yards.
  • Of the eight academic schools possible to enroll in at the time, Poe registered for two (modern and ancient languages). Of note, most students in those days enrolled in three schools, but Poe couldn't afford the extra fifty-dollar fee.
  • He was secretary of the University's Jefferson Debate Society.
  • Poe lived in a section of UVA's original academical village called The Range. His single dorm room, coincidentally and ominously No. 13, is now referred to as The Raven Room.
  • Mary Stuart Smith described Poe's dorm room (May 17, 1899) ~ There was one window, and opposite it, a door, both furnished with green blinds. There were two closets, one on each side of the open fireplace, with a book shelf, a single bedstead, a table, a wash stand, and a small travelling trunk. The walls were whitewashed, and adorned with quantities of spirited sketches in charcoal, drawn by the skilled fingers of the two-fold artist who was its occupant.
  • While living in 13 West Range, Poe etched a verse on the glass pane of his window:

Oh Though timid one, do not let thy
Form slumber within these
Unhallowed walls,
For herein lies
The ghost of an awful crime.

  • His nickname was Gaffy, the hero of a short story he wrote and read allowed to several classmates who had gathered in his room one night. According to legend, Poe flung the pages into the fire, destroying the only copy, after a friend noted it had repeated too often.
  • Poe wrote Tamerlane while at UVA. Later the University influenced two of his short stories, "William Wilson" and "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains."
  • Poe had a strained relationship with his uncle, John Allan, who was his guardian at the time and limited Poe's funding. By the end of the 1826 academic year in December, Poe had resorted to burning his furniture to keep warm. When he left for winter break, Poe had every intention of returning to UVA the following February, but . . .
  • Allan refused to continue financially supporting Poe at school, so he never returned to the University. Thus, he never graduated from college.
  • Poe left behind many personal debts, which Allan refused to settle. Worth noting, a century later, the University's librarian, Harry Clemmons, paid Poe's outstanding library fines.
  • UVA commissioned the sculptor George Julian Zolnay to create a bronze bust of Poe to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his death.  The bust was displayed in Alderman Library before the renovations commenced this autumn.
  • If you ever visit Charlottesville, Virginia, stop by No. 13 West Range. UVA restored and furnished Poe's old dorm room to its period-appropriate spartan glory, though I suspect the  raven statuette was added later.

 . . . evermore.

The University of Virginia, Albert and Shirly Small Special Collections Library, The Raven Society, Bookman by C. W. Kent (1917), and Edgar Poe and the University of Virginia by F. Stovall (1969).

PS ~ Let's be social:

02 October 2020

Widow's Walk


I learned a new-to-me term recently ~ Widow's walk.

It's actually been around for centuries, but not hailing from a coastal area, I'd never noticed it before. Truth be told, I've heard of the word cupola, which is often used interchangeably with widow's walk. Both technically refer to lookout platforms situated above a building's roof. 

The term widow's walk originated in the eighteenth century referring to the exterior architectural feature of a rooftop patio. Though the original function of the elevated platform was practical--to facilitate a homeowner's ability to fight rooftop fires, which were common given the proximity to the chimneys.  

However, more romantic, nautical connotations suggest that the name widow's walk may have evolved through lore. 

The term, widow's walk, has two subtext elements. First, it implies that the structure has a view of the sea, or at least a large body of water. Secondly, it implies the risk of death, or at least the dreaded possibility of it. It conjures images of women wearing hoop skirts and hugging woolen shawls, bracing themselves against the salty gusts from a dark and stormy ocean, keeping watch for their husbands from their ventures on the sea.

Perhaps you've run across a widow's walk referenced in literature. 

In his book Chesapeake, James A. Michener described a widow's walk as "derived from romantic tales of those loyal women who continued to keep watch for a ship that had long gone to the bottom of the coral reef."  

In the crime fiction genre, the earliest version of the title Widow's Walk I could find was the 1846 classic mystery by French author, Charles Rabou. In 2002, it also graced the title of the 29th novel in Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. 

Even more recently, it was the title of the seaside ghost story in the 2019 feature film of that name.

Last month while visiting a quiet beach community in Virginia, I stumbled across a widow's walk (not literally).  A recently renovated beach house boasted one of these lookout towers.  In my defense, who wouldn't be drawn to it?

Since the owner happened to be onsite, he offered to give me a tour. Hoping not to appear too stalkerish, I hopped at the chance to ascend his spiral staircase to the widow's walk several stories above ground and bask in the sweeping ocean views.

What the owner didn't realize was that even before I took my first step inside his beach house as my private tour began, my crime-fiction wheels got a-churning. This signature piece of architecture begged to be the scene of a (fictional) murder. So--ever the slave to my muse--I revised my current work-in-progress by changing the location. 

This widow's walk is now showcased as the climactic setting of my latest short story of suspense, "Vendetta By the Sea," slated to be published in the upcoming anthology, VIRGINIA IS FOR MYSERIES: VOLUME 3 sometime in 2021.

Want to know more about the history of this architectural feature? You can read more in the blog post, "The Myth and Reality of Widow's Walks" <here>

Has a real setting ever inspired one of your crime fiction stories?

PS ~ Let's be social:

11 September 2020

Share the Love

Always remember. Never forget.
 ~ September 11, 2001 ~


Hi. My name is Kristin Kisska, and I am a book-aholic.

By book-aholic, I mean that I love all things bookish: shopping for books, the smell of books, the heft of a book in my hands, the satisfying turn--or swipe--of a page to start one-more-chapter-before-I-go-to-bed kind of books.

By design, I don't even know how many books I have in my possession. I have three different to-be-read piles all triaged by the amount of guilt I'd quash if I read them before any others, a collection that I keep proudly displayed of authors I've met, and my signed books. And then there's the pile of books that have been passed along to me. Sure, I also have an e-reader loaded with  good, unread content vying for my attention, but there's something special about a stack of paper ready to transport me to another world.

But my biggest (and growing!) piles by far are the books I've already read. My bookshelves would agree as they groan with each new addition squeezed onto the double- and triple-stacked mounds and even crammed over top, too.

Normally, when my piles take up too much of my floor's real estate, I'll haul a box of books over to my local library to donate so that they can sell them in their next fundraiser. But--no surprise--things aren't exactly normal these days.  My library has been closed these past six months due to the pandemic, and even though they are offering limited access to their collection, they are not accepting donations.

What's a book-aholic to do now that I have extra time to read?

Option A. Let my book piles invade every nook and spare corner of my home in a manner that would inspire Marie Kondo to host a decluttering intervention.

Option B. Pack up my books in shopping bags, then ding-dong-ditch them on my quarantining neighbors' front steps. They need entertainment too, right?

*** Or, better yet  ***

Option C. Drop my already-read (and sanitized!) books off at a Little Free Library.  Why?  Glad you asked.

In most areas of the United States, local libraries and schools are closed, and way-too-many people are experiencing financial hardships from layoffs and/or reduced income. Purchasing books is a luxury many in our communities may not be able to indulge in for the foreseeable future. People of all ages still appreciate entertainment. What better way to spend free hours than in a good, time-treasured paperback.

Share the love. Share the adventure.

If you loved a particular book you plan to donate, add a sticky note to the cover saying why. Even if you didn't enjoy the book and could barely eke through the first few chapters before giving up, it could become someone else's favorite read.

In case you haven't already noticed these dollhouse-looking structures planted in neighborhoods and school grounds, you may be surprised how many are nearby your space.  Here is a link to the Little Free Library sharing box map: . Especially if you are donating books during the pandemic, please follow the CDC's sharing guidelines, which can be found here: .

But what if you live in an area without a Little Free Library nearby? You can open one yourself.  Instructions are on their website. Or you can take a page from best selling author, Michelle Gable's playbook and host your own temporary free bookshop right in your own front yard.  PS - Dog not included.

Are you a crime or mystery author? Use your local Little Free Library network to increase your readership. If you write and have extra copies on hand of your novels or anthologies, consider strategically placing one or more in your neighborhood and share the news on social media, like author Tessa Wegert did. Include a bookmark with your website, or even a hashtag. A few fresh reviews, photos of your book in the wild, and the publicity may be just the boost your platform could use while in-person book events are discouraged.

What do you do with your already-read or extra books?

PS ~ Let's be social:

21 August 2020

Travel Bug

You always want what you can't have.

When it comes to this old adage, I'm no exception. There's a lot that we can't have right now:
  • Hugs.
  • A morning spent writing in a cafe surrounded by the cheerful din of other coffee-drinking patrons.
  • The concert-on-the-lawn that I had tickets to attend tonight, but is now rescheduled for August 2021.
  • Browsing the book collection inside my local library.
  • Even a day so normal, that before last March I would've found it downright boring. Now, I'd consider it blissful.

I'm guessing I'm not the only one missing the old ways. Am I right? But, do you know what I really miss most?

Travelling abroad.

Back in my take-on-the-world twenties, I was bitten by the travel bug. Big time. There was something about wandering unknown-to-me streets, meeting new people, eating exotic meals, and exploring a country with my backpack, a map, colorful currency notes, and my dogeared multi-language translation dictionary that gave me a rush. I thrived on the adventure.

Four continents, thirty-seven countries, and countless foreign cities, towns, and villages later, I'd collected so many border-control stamps, the American Embassy in Prague added pages to my passport. Those were heady days.

Then came grad school back across The Pond, a mortgage, and know the story. My urban-trekking days became a thing of the past. I'd traded schlepping my backpack for a diaper bag.

Until...I started writing suspense fiction.

While I didn't fully resurrect my globe-trotting days again (I wish!), I've learned to virtually immerse myself in a new culture without leaving my town. I nerd-out on combing through satellite images of foreign cities, watching subtitled/dubbed movies, checking out documentaries, eating--and sometimes even attempting to cook--the traditional foods, reading travel books, blogs,  fiction written by local authors, and regional history books to learn historical context and evolution. I've listened to language-on-tape lessons and interviewed people from there and friends who recently traveled to my setting.

For the most part, I've conducted my travel research with a potential crime story in mind, usually contemporary. A few years ago, though, I wanted to write a story depicting the intoxicating days of Prague Spring, which restored freedoms to an oppressed people. It didn't last long. At midnight on August 21, 1968 (exactly fifty-two years ago today!), 5,000 Soviet tanks rolled across the borders to occupy then-Czechoslovakia and reinstate hard-line communism. The Czechoslovakians took to the streets to protest. Unsuccessfully. It would take another twenty-three years before they would finally free themselves from Soviet rule.

Despite having lived in Prague for three years and cultivating an understanding of a people who had suffered generations of oppression, I had much to learn about the circumstances surrounding Prague Spring. I'd only been an infant that summer of 1968, so even my Czech peers didn't have a living memory of the invasion or the soul-crushing aftermath.  So, I dug in hard to learn as much as I could. In all of my Prague Spring research, two videos I found online were particularly influential in helping me shape my story:

Thus, my short story of historical suspense was born. It was Romeo and Juliet set amid the crushing events that ended Prague Spring.  "Czech Mate" was published in Malice Domestic's MYSTERY MOST GEOGRAPHICAL (Wildside Press, 2018).  You can read my story here.

My current crime fiction research is taking me to Italy and Russia.  Where would you like to visit (virtually or in real life)?

PS ~ Let's be social:

31 July 2020

Dying Message

Earlier this month, fellow SleuthSayer Joseph D'Agnese blogged about USA's founding father and Declaration of Independence signer George Wythe's famous last words, "I am murdered!" before he died from having been poisoned.

In my humble opinion, as far as last words go, Wythe won.

So, over mugs of coffee a few mornings ago, when my crime writer friend, Josh Pachter, first mentioned the use of "Dying Message" as a literary device, I wanted to know more.

Take it away, Josh...

KK: Can you explain the "dying message" trope for us?

Well, sure! But let me start by explaining why Kristin is asking me this question.

In mid-July, she drove down to my new home outside Richmond, Virginia, to pick up a piece of furniture my wife Laurie and I no longer needed for her daughter's first college apartment. I made a pot of coffee and, while Laurie teleworked, Kristin and I sat out on our new deck and talked. I don't remember exactly how it came up, but I asked Kristin if she was familiar with the old "dying message" trope, she said she wasn't, I explained it...and her eyes lit up. "Can I interview you about this for SleuthSayers?" she asked.

So here we are.

I suspect that many of the Sayers of the Sleuth are already familiar with the dying message, and some are probably far better versed in its history than I am, but, for what it's worth, here's what I have to say on the subject.

Ellery Queen may not have invented the concept of the "dying message" clue, but Fred Dannay and Manny Lee--the cousins who wrote as EQ--were certainly its most active proponents, and many of their novels and short stories rang changes on the concept.

Here's a basic description of how it works:

Person A murders Person B and leaves the scene. But--sacre bleu!--Person B is not dead yet, after all, and regains consciousness long enough to want to tell the police who killed him. Unfortunately, there's no working phone at hand, so Person B can't simply call the police and tell them who did the dirty deed.  There is, however, a piece of paper and a pen, so Person B leaves a cryptic note, identifying his killer.

"But," you say, "why a cryptic note? Why doesn't Person B simply write Person A's name?

Ah, well, because, despite the fact that he's dying, Person B has the presence of mind to realize that person A might return to the scene of the crime--and, if she does, she'll see the piece of paper with her name on it and destroy it.

And that's the "dying message" trope, resulting in a story the heart of which is the protagonist's mental struggle to figure out the meaning of the cryptic clue.

Far fetched? Certainly.

Realistic? Perhaps not.

But I'm reminded of something my buddy Les Roberts--the author of 20+ novels featuring Cleveland PI Milan Jacovich--once did.  In one of Les' books, Milan trails a suspect to a Monday-evening performance of the Cleveland Symphony. When the book came out, Les received hundreds of letters from irate Clevelanders, pointing out that the Cleveland Symphony  doesn't play on Mondays. Les printed up a form letter he sent back to every complainer: "The Cleveland Symphony might not play on Mondays, but my Cleveland Symphony plays whenever I damn well tell them to."

His point? This is fiction, folks, and in fiction an author can do whatever the hell he wants to do. He is the puppet master, and the puppet master gets to pull the strings.

So Ellery Queen wrote lots of dying-message stories, and the question of whether or not such a thing would ever happen in real life is frankly irrelevant.

To keep the device from going stale, the cousins eventually began to come up with variations on the theme, such as oral dying messages (in which only part of the victim's dying words are heard, or the victim's last words are misunderstood, or the victim mispronounces a key word or words) and the "accidental dying message."

I'll give you an example.

In "GI Story," which first appeared in EQMM in 1954, Clint Fosdick is murdered, and it's clear that he was killed by one of his three stepsons: Linc Smith, Woody Smith, or Wash Smith. Before Clint expires, he scrawls the letters "GI" on a piece of paper, but all three of the Smith Brothers--:::cough:::--are former soldiers, so the message could apply equally well to any of them.

Ellery, however, finally realizes that Clint had no intention of leaving a cryptic message. In fact, "Fancy verbal acrobatics are the pleasant preoccupation of detective fiction," Ellery says, poking fun at his own trademark trope. "In real life, they don't happen...Clint Fosdick, in writing those two letters...was trying to do just one thing: name his killer."

The three brothers, Ellery realizes, were named after American presidents--Abraham Lincoln Smith, Woodrow Wilson Smith, and George Washington Smith--and the dying man was beginning to write the word, "GEORGE" when death took him immediately after he completed the down stroke of the second letter of his murderer's name. Et voila! 

KK: Have you used the "dying message" trope yourself, Josh?

Why, yes, Kristin, as a matter of fact I have!

My second published story--"E.Q. Griffen's Second Case," which originally appeared in EQMM in 1970 and will be reprinted in The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen, which I co-edited with former SleuthSayer Dale Andrews and which will be published by Wildside Press later this year--is a dying-message story, in which a guy is murdered outdoors and pulls loose a chunk of the tarry stuff that sort of grouts sidewalk panels together and writes a clue to the identity of his killer on the sidewalk.

After Dale and I co-edited our original Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside, 2018), I started writing a series of pastiches of EQ's "Puzzle Club" stories, and the first three of them are all dying-message stories: "A Study in Scarlett!" (EQMM, May/June 2019), "The Adventure of the Red Circles" (EQMM, Jan/Feb 2020), and "The Adventure of the Black-and-Blue Carbuncle" (EQMM, forthcoming).

I also had two dying-message stories appear in print in 2018: "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Murder" (Mystery Most Geographical, Wildside) was a finalist for the Derringer Award, and "50" (EQMM, Nov/Dec 2018), in which my E.Q. Griffen character returns, finished second in the magazine's Reader Award balloting. You can download and read both of those stories for free at this link.

Dale, by the way, has published  four Ellery Queen pastiches in EQMM, and all four of them are dying-message stories. His latest, "Four Words," will appear in the Sep/Oct 2020 issue, on sale August 13.

And for those who'd like to read more about the "dying message" trope, there's an excellent discussion at the Ah Sweet Mystery blog, and another (filled with spoiler-protected examples) at Fandom website.

KK: Thank you for letting me put you in the hot seat, Josh.  Oh, and by the way, check out this little gem I found while preparing my post...a signed copy of our co-contributed Malice anthology.  C'est magnifique!

Josh Pachter is an author, editor, and translator. More than a hundred of his short stories have appeared in EQMM, AHMM, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, and many other periodicals and anthologies. He has edited and co-edited a dozen anthologies, including The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads, 2020), The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe (Mysterious Press, 2020) and The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett (forthcoming from Down and Out Books in 2021).  His translations of stories by Dutch and Flemish authors appear regularly in EQMM. Earlier this year, he received the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for Lifetime Achievement and became the first person to win both the Golden Derringer and a competitive Derringer in the same year.

PS ~ Let's be social:

10 July 2020

Sleepless In Seattle?

I'm curious. Do you live in or near a big city? Maybe NYC or LA? If so, do you have a strong opinion about fireworks right now?

And by *fireworks* I don't mean the Independence day, everyone cheering when they light up the sky variety. I mean the every-thirty-minutes-keeps-you-up-all-night kind of fireworks.

Are you exhausted?  Cranky? Confused?

Have you called the [insert: police, fire department, congressman, shrink, other authority] to complain and hopefully make it stop so you can go back to sleep?

One thing's for sure, complaints are way up in 2020 versus this time in previous years.

Lucky for me, from my sleepy suburban vantage point, we've only had a few incidences of late-night pyrotechnics that could probably be attributed to beer-induced July 4th warm-ups. But I understand many, many friends and family members residing in larger cities across the USA have been singing the insomnia blues for weeks. And still are.

New York City ~ Chicago ~ Los Angeles ~ San Francisco ~ Boston ~ Denver ~ Philadelphia

Hmmmm, a modern-day mystery to be solved. Whodunit? And maybe even more compelling, whydunit?

Color me--a writer and reader of crime fiction--invested.

For the past few weeks, I've scoured social media feeds, googled news articles, watched YouTube interviews, and checked in with friends who live in or near those cities. Word from my daily scrolling is that these all-night fireworks aren't being hailed as celebratory (Independence Day traditional and amateur shows notwithstanding), as much as ominous.

I ruled out the run-of-the-mill illegal fireworks shenanigans from collectors who are bored with the pandemic's shelter-in-place orders, because too many cities were being inundated simultaneously across the country and the onslaught was so relentless.

Were said pyros honoring the front line workers who still battle against the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite varying levels of lock downs?

Are they resulting from the Black Lives Matter protests? Or counter-protests?  I ruled this theory out when I learned that fireworks sales spiked two weeks before George Floyd's murder.

Are they some other kind of coordinated protest?  I steered clear of the mounting conspiracy theories ranging from the fireworks displays covering up actual gunfire and a government attacks, all of which flirt with paranoia.

Even weeks later, no one seems to know for sure, nor has any group claimed responsibility. If only we knew who and why, then authorities could attempt to assuage the onslaught. For now, we are a captive, involuntary audience.

And then it hit me...

As a writer who lives and dies by generating suspense in my fiction, I'm reluctantly impressed with these faceless antagonists. They hooked me with their nocturnal coordinated attacks (minus the loud explosions, because kids, pets and those suffering from PTSD are in hell). I can't stop researching and questioning.

But isn't that what we crime writers strive for with every story we write?  To keep our readers in suspense so they can't sleep at night for wanting and needing more information? To follow every stray clue to somehow solve the impossible riddle? To ultimately find relief in the answers.

As they say, the suspense is killing me.  Do you have any theories about these  fireworks?

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