Showing posts with label Malice Domestic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Malice Domestic. Show all posts

03 May 2022

Everything is Fodder


Things many people find difficult to do:

  • Lose weight
  • Follow directions
  • Not give unsolicited advice on Facebook 

You can count me among "many people" when it comes to the first item. But with the other two, I know about their prevalence because I have been a victim of them.

A victim, I say!

Yes, yes, I occasionally give unsolicited advice, but it's always with hesitation. An explanation for why I'm wading in. An apology even. Other people, I've found, don't have such qualms.

An example (one of many): About two years ago, in the height of 2020 pandemic madness, I posted on Facebook that I had a lot of broccoli in my house but the dressing I'd gotten in my last grocery pickup didn't taste good. I mentioned the three other condiments I had at home (salsa, ketchup, and butter) and asked my friends if any of them would work with broccoli, as I had my doubts. (I hadn't thought of melting the butter--once that option was pointed out, it was a doh moment.) At any rate, I also made clear that I don't cook and had no other ingredients in the house, so I requested that my friends not make alternate suggestions of condiments to use or ways to cook the broccoli. I thought I was pretty clear.

Then the following happened. The conversation has been greatly condensed since I received more than 300 responses. Names have been removed to protect the guilty.

Friend A

Roast it in the oven with olive oil and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top. It’s not hard. Or steam it and top with butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. 

Me

Don't have olive oil, cheese, or lemon. 

Friend A

Ok—just steam and add butter. Do you have Italian dressing. You could use that as an olive oil substitute.

Me

Nope, I don't.

As you can see, I was calm at this point, merely reminding Friend A that I didn't have some of the items she suggested I use.

Friend B

A nice, sweet balsamic vinegar. I like white balsamic.

Me

I don't have vinegar (and I don't like it either). More for you!

See how pleasant I was? This was early going.

Friend C

I roast broccoli with garlic and chopped up bacon.

Me

I have no garlic and I don't like bacon.

Friend D

Saute in some olive oil with garlic. Squeeze on some lemon before eating if you have some. Delicious. Or roast tossed in olive oil with a little garlic salt or sea salt or Goya adobo seasoning.

Me

I don't have any olive oil or garlic. Or lemon. Or sea salt or adobo seasoning. And sauteing and roasting means cooking. I don't cook. 

Friend E

Add it to something you like ... or, as others have said, butter is good, and I'd add some seasoned salt. I like sprinkling blends from Penzeys Spices on various foods. Their Salad Elegant would be great on broccoli.

Me

I don't have seasoned salt. I wasn't kidding about the only possible toppings I have in the house. Butter, salsa, and ketchup.

Friend F

The extent to which people cannot comprehend the state of your pantry is deeply hilarious to me.

Me

I am less amused.

Friend F

Would definitely think twice about hiring your fb friends for a job that requires ability to follow instructions.

She (Friend F) wasn't kidding. But I steeled myself and kept reading the responses.

Friend G

I would boil some water, add a ton of salt, and blanch the broccoli for like 2-3 minutes. Then drain and chill.

Me

Blanch?

Friend G

Extremely easy. [Lists a link for how to blanch.]  

Note to the reader: Not extremely easy.

Friend H

Really tasty: sliced zucchini or yellow squash, plus a red sweet pepper, sauteed in olive oil or butter with garlic and sweet red onion or green spring onions. Add a little basil for punch, but it isn't required.

Me

[Mouth hanging open.]

At this point, I stopped responding to almost all the comments, most of which were suggestions of other things I should cook using food I didn't have in the house. Me. The person who doesn't cook and who certainly would not be going to the market for the suggested foods. (Add one picky eater who doesn't cook and the height of the pandemic and you got hell no.) 

Occasionally, though, I became so incensed, I did respond.

Friend I

Saute in a pan, with ginger, olive oil and garlic, 1 T corn starch, and 1/4 cup of water.

Me

I DON'T COOK!

Friend G

This post has turned absurd, and I love it.

Me

That makes one of us

Friend J

Two of us! Sorry, Barb.

Me

It's like people are trying to give me a stroke at this point.

Can you feel the stress? It's two years later, and reading all these comments is aggravating me all over again.

You may be wondering why I'm sharing all of this with you, other than for your amusement. It's because of something I often say: Everything is fodder. If you're looking for a story idea, mining current events or events in your own life is often a good place to start. I took this condiment conversation and my associated aggravation and put it to good use when the fine folks at Malice Domestic put out a call for short stories for their anthology titled Malice Domestic 16: Mystery Most Diabolical.

What if, I thought, a low-earning spendthrift without any morals is the only living relative of a rich elderly woman. He decides to friend her on Facebook, aiming to drive her crazy with unsolicited advice so she'll have a heart attack and die and he can inherit all her money. That sounded pretty diabolical to me. 

Five thousand words later, the idea became my newest short story, "Go Big or Go Home," which is the lead story in Mystery Most Diabolical. The book was released about ten days ago. I had a lot of fun writing the story. I hope readers will enjoy it just as much. And yes, it has Facebook conversations just like the one above.

Mystery Most Diabolical is out in trade paperback and hardcover. (Click here to buy from Amazon. Or, to buy directly from the publisher, click here (for paperback) or here (for hardback).) The ebook doesn't seem to be for sale yet, but I'm sure it's coming soon. The anthology has 32 stories, including one from fellow SleuthSayer Michael Bracken. I welcome the other authors in the book to share what their diabolical stories are about in the comments.

But before that ...

Congratulations to fellow SleuthSayer R.T. Lawton for winning the Edgar Award last week! And congratulations to Michael Bracken for winning the Derringer Award a few days ago!

And, for those of you in the Dallas, Texas, area, here's an event worth your time. Next Wednesday, May 11th, the Sisters in Crime North Dallas chapter will be hosting an in-person event for its recent inaugural anthology, Malice in Dallas: Metroplex Mysteries Volume 1! Books will be available for purchase, and authors with stories in the book will be on hand to sign copies. There also will be a scavenger hunt, drawings for prizes, and more! (What's the "more"? You have to go to find out!) The festivities will be at the J. Theodore Restaurant & Bar in Frisco, Texas, starting at 4:30 p.m. Central Time. Click here to learn more about the event and to RSVP.

Why am I telling you about Malice in Dallas? Because I had the pleasure of editing it. It has ten crime stories, including one by fellow SleuthSayer Mark Thielman. The tales will bring you to various locations throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth area, including Little Mexico, Lake Ray Hubbard, the downtown Dallas pedestrian tunnels, and Dealey Plaza, where President Kennedy was shot. We've got historicals, police procedurals, and amateur-sleuth mysteries. Some of the stories are humorous. Others are dark. All, I hope you'll agree, are good. If you can't make it to the event, you can still buy the book by clicking here.

12 April 2022

Have Mask, Will Travel – I'm Ready for Malice Domestic


After a two-year hiatus (thank you, covid), Malice Domestic is resuming its annual in-person convention next week. I don't know where the time has gone. While I'm nervous to be in such close contact with so many people (freaking covid), I'm excited to see (and hug?--still a question mark) these friends I haven't seen in so long. It will be great to get back to normal and see my Malice family.

Normal. That's a concept, isn't it? Will it be "normal" considering a lot of the regulars won't be there? Some because of scheduling conflicts. Some because they're still being careful due to covid. (I so get that. I'll be checking in with a gazillion masks.) And some people won't be there because they're simply not around anymore. We've lost too many people we love since the last Malice, authors and readers.

But as they say, the show must go on. So, I've compiled information on where you can find me and my fellow SleuthSayers attending Malice. If you'll be there, I hope to see you.

Michael Bracken

  • Michael will be moderating the panel Murder in Few Words: Short Stories on Friday at 4 p.m.
  • He'll be participating in the signing for the new Malice Domestic anthology, Mystery Most Diabolical, on Friday at 9:30 p.m. 
  • He'll also be in the signing room on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Barb Goffman (yes, that's me!)

  • I'll be on the panel Make It Snappy: Our Agatha Best Short Story Nominees on Friday at 2 p.m.
  • I'll be signing in the signing room on Friday at 4 p.m.
  • I'll be participating in the signing for the new Malice Domestic anthology, Mystery Most Diabolical, on Friday at 9:30 p.m. (And if you're interested in getting a copy, it should be newly on sale at Malice!)

Art Taylor

  • Art will be moderating the panel Make It Snappy: Our Agatha Best Short Story Nominees on Friday at 2 p.m.
  • He'll be on the panel Last Night, I Dreamt I Went to Malice Again: Romantic Suspense Influences on Saturday at 11 a.m.
  • He'll also be in the signing room on Saturday at noon.

Mark Thielman

  • Mark will be on the panel Murder in Few Words: Short Stories on Friday at 4 p.m.

If you haven't read the five short stories nominated for the Agatha Award, there's still time to read them for free before you get to Malice to vote. Click here and scroll down to the five story names. They are links. And if Malice Domestic is new to you and you want to learn more about this annual fan convention celebrating the traditional mystery, click here.

So, that's it. Get packing. (Oh, who am I kidding. I bet some of you are already packed.)  See you next week!

30 March 2021

What Drives Me ... And Maybe You Too


Why do people write fiction?

  • For enjoyment? That seems likely. 
  • For money? I guess that could be true, although except for a lucky few, writing fiction is certainly not the road to riches many people probably presume it is. 
  • Because they feel compelled to? I've heard people say that.
  • Because they are good at it (or fancy they are) and are driven by the need for praise and validation? Ding ding ding, we have a winner. 

If the question is why I write fiction, my answer is enjoyment and, I'm embarrassed to say, the need for praise. That became glaringly clear last week when something happened--I'll keep the details to myself--and I realized that far too much of my self-worth is wrapped up in the need for positive feedback on my work.

I would think that this far into my writing career, especially considering that I have had a fair amount of success, the joy I derive from the act of writing should be enough. I shouldn't need validation on top of that. But I do. 

No matter how much I enjoy writing (yes, sometimes it's a slog, but sometimes it's not), when I'm finished, I immediately crave feedback. That's why I used to send stories out more quickly than I do now, often too quickly, because I couldn't help myself. Thankfully, in the past few years I've become stronger, giving my stories time to cool so I can give them a good edit before I send them out, but it's a struggle each time I get to the end. I probably still send some stories out too quickly, resulting in unhappy rejections.

This is why I am much more excited on a day a story is accepted for publication than on actual publication day. A story's acceptance is direct feedback that someone I respect liked it enough to decide to publish it. The acceptance email might even have some comments about what the editor liked about the story. Publication day likely doesn't involve that same kind of feedback. Sure I might hear from people who congratulate me on the publication--and I'm not knocking that feedback at all; bring it on!--but such words are different from someone reading the story itself and telling me that they liked it and, even better, why. Some stories are published and I never hear any feedback from readers regarding whether they liked it. I may never even know if it's read. It can be a bit of a letdown.

That's why I read my reviews. It's why I search for them. Some of you reading this are probably shaking your head at me. "Never read your reviews!" I've heard the advice more than once. But still they pull at me like a drug. I seek them out. I bet some of you reading this column do too.

As someone who was raised in a home that emphasized academic achievement, I can understand how I ended up this way. A good primary-school student does homework that is returned regularly, often with check marks or stars. As the student gets older, there are tests and report cards that hopefully have the expected high grades, which result in praise or acknowledgement that you met familial expectations. I was primed my whole life while growing up to want the positive feedback that comes from doing a good job. And that desire hasn't disappeared now that I'm an adult who writes fiction. Instead, I'm like Pavlov's dog. Whenever I've put in the work and written what I believe is a good short story, I crave corresponding (hopefully positive) feedback.

I recognize that I shouldn't place so much power over my self-image in the hands (and the words) of others. I should derive joy from the act of writing, especially since I have enough experience to know when my work is good. I should not need external validation. But I do.

Perhaps others do too. I likely am not alone in this. This is why I urge readers to let authors know if you read their stories or books and like them. Public reviews or comments are good, but even a private email would be fine. It doesn't have to be detailed like a book report or written well enough to get an A. An email that said, "I just read X and it made me laugh. Thank you," would make me float all day long.

And now I open this blog to your (hopefully kind) comments. You know how much I love feedback.  

 ***

But first, a little BSP: I'm delighted to share that my story "Dear Emily Etiquette" was named a finalist last week for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story published last year. (Talk about external validation!) It appeared in the September/October  2020 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Also nominated in my category are my fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor, as well as Shawn Reilly Simmons, Gabriel Valjan, and James Ziskin. 

The Agatha winners will be announced in July during More Than Malice, this year's online Malice Domestic convention. You can learn more about the convention (and register at an early-bird price) here. And if you'd like to read my nominated story, you can read it by clicking here. Or you can listen to me read it to you on the Ellery Queen podcast by clicking here. The story runs for 32 minutes. Enjoy!

28 April 2020

For the Love of Malice


In the spring of 2001, I was taking my first mystery-writing workshop. My instructor, author Noreen Wald, told us—all eight of us, I believe—that we had to go to Malice Domestic. I didn't even really understand what Malice Domestic was, but I knew I wanted to write mysteries, so if Noreen said I had to go, I had to go.

That was the beginning of my love affair with mystery conventions. Over the years I've been to Sleuthfest once and to Bouchercon nine times, but Malice is the convention I never miss. It's a place where I feel at home, among friends who love traditional mysteries, many of whom I now consider family. This year was to be my twentieth Malice, and not getting ready to drive to Bethesda on Thursday for the start of the convention just feels wrong. I'll miss the dinners and the panels—as the former program chair, I always have to plug the panels—and I'll especially miss the hugs. Remember when we all weren't afraid to get within six feet of one another, nonetheless to hug?

But just because Malice is canceled this year doesn't mean that we can't still celebrate the traditional mystery this week and the people who write and read them. The Agatha Award voting will be held later this week (links to read the nominated short stories are below), and the winners will be announced in a live stream Saturday night. The Malice board also will be announcing next year's honorees (who will be sharing the stage with the wonderful people who were supposed to be honored this year, in what I understand might be a supersized Malice), as well as the theme for the anthology to be published in the spring of 2021. I believe the Agatha board of directors will be sending out more information about all of that very soon.

And that brings me back to getting into the Malice spirit. I was talking last week with my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor about it and how we could use my blog post today to do it. Art wisely suggested that since one of the great things about Malice is it allows readers to learn about new writers, it would be wonderful to have this year's Agatha short story finalists tell you, our SleuthSayers readers, about some great up-and-coming short story authors. I shared the idea with the rest of our fellow finalists, and they all were in faster than you can read flash fiction.

So, without any further ado, here are five short story writers whom we five nominees admire. I hope you'll check out their work.

Art Taylor, talking about Kristin Kisska (who recently joined our SleuthSayers family)

I admired Kristin Kisska's fiction before I knew that she was the one who wrote it—literally, since her name didn't accompany that first story. "The Sevens" was a blind submission for the 2015 Bouchercon anthology, Murder Under the Oaks, which I edited. Set at the University of Virginia in 1905, "The Sevens" stood out for its intriguing plot and its rich sense of both place and historical detail. It became Kris's first published story, and as editor, I was thrilled to introduce this tremendous talent to the mystery world. Since then, Kris has published short stories in several collections, including two Malice Domestic anthologies—Mystery Most Geographical and Mystery Most Edible—and Deadly Southern Charm from the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters of Sisters in Crime. Checking her website as I write this, I found a more recent story I'd missed: "Prelude" in Legends Reborn. Score! And even better news: Kris just signed with a literary agent for her first novel. Save me a place in line for this next debut—book-length this time!

Shawn Reilly Simmons, talking about S.A. Cosby

I first met Shawn (S.A.) Cosby when I was invited to read at a Noir at the Bar event three years ago in Richmond, Virginia. All of the stories that night were good, but Shawn's was uniquely memorable—he writes gritty southern noir woven through with glittering threads of humor. Since that night in Richmond, Shawn and I have appeared together at N@TB events many times, and have downed more than a few cocktails together at Bouchercon in St. Pete and Dallas, where he won the 2019 Anthony Award in the short story category. He's one of the most upbeat and nicest guys in the mystery world, and each new story he writes brings that unique flair that is his alone. Shawn's newest story is "The King's Gambit," which will appear in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in June, and his novel Blacktop Wasteland will be published in July by Flatiron Books. It's described as Ocean's Eleven meets Drive with a southern noir twist, and it's recently been optioned for film.

Cynthia Kuhn, talking about Amy Drayer

I had the good fortune to meet Amy Drayer at the Colorado Gold conference, and she immediately impressed me with her smart, engaging perspectives on writing in general and mystery in particular. After she joined our Sisters in Crime chapter, I read her fantastic work and was even more impressed. Amy's writing is compelling, witty, eloquent, and thought-provoking. Her published short stories include "The Clearing" in False Faces: Twenty Stories About the Masks We Wear and "Honorable Men" in Shades of Pride: LGBTQAI2+ Anthology. "Schrodinger's Mouse" is forthcoming in Wild (Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers). She has written short fiction in genres ranging from horror to fabulism, literary flash to pop fiction. The first book in her wonderful Makah Island Mystery series, Revelation, also came out in March.

Kaye George, talking about Joseph S. Walker

Joseph S. Walker came to my attention when he submitted a story, "Awaiting the Hour," for my own 2017 eclipse-themed anthology, Day of the Dark. The story was stunningly good, and I was amazed I'd never heard of Mr. Walker before. I've certainly heard of him since. I gave a couple of stories from that publication to Otto Penzler, and he mentioned Joseph's in his annual publication honoring the best of mystery short stories. Joseph went on to win the Bill Crider Prize at Bouchercon 2019 in Dallas, then the Al Blanchard Award at New England Crime Bake. His latest published fiction is "Etta at the End of the World" in the just published May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

Barb Goffman, talking about Stacy Woodson

It seems appropriate for me to end this column talking about Stacy Woodson because I met her at Malice Domestic in 2017, when I served as a mentor/guide to Stacy and fellow Malice first-timer Alison McMahan. Since then Stacy has become one of my closest friends, not only because of our shared love of Mexican food (Uncle Julio's forever!) but because she is as passionate about short stories as I am. Everything she writes showcases not only her raw talent but also her heart. I was honored to edit her first published story, "Duty, Honor, Hammett," before she submitted it to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. It not only ran in the magazine's Department of First Stories in 2018, but it went on to win the magazine's annual Readers Award, only the second time in history an author's first published story took the top honor. Stacy has since gone on to be named a top-ten finalist for last year's Bill Crider Prize at Bouchercon, and she's placed a number of stories in Mystery Weekly, Woman's World, and EQMM, where her story "Mary Poppins Didn't Have Tattoos" will appear in the July/August issue. Stacy's most recently published story is "River" in the anthology The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell. "River," like so many of Stacy's stories, gives a window into her experience as a US Army veteran. Given Stacy's insatiable desire to learn and grow as a writer, I have no doubt you'll be reading much more from—and about—her in the future.

I hope you've enjoyed learning about these newcomers to the crime short-story field, who are already wowing readers. Please consider checking out their work. There are so many independent bookstores that could benefit from your business, especially during this pandemic. The stores might be closed, but many are still mailing books out.

And before we go, to those of you who were registered to attend Malice Domestic this year and who either transferred your registration to next year or donated your registration payment to the convention, it's nearly time to vote for the Agatha Awards. The electronic voting is going to begin soon (tomorrow or Thursday, I expect). It's not too late to read the short stories that are nominated for the Agatha. They are:

  • "The Blue Ribbon" by Cynthia Kuhn, published in Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible
  • "The Last Word" by Shawn Reilly Simmons, published in Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible
  • "Better Days" by Art Taylor, published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
Just click on the titles. Happy reading, and I hope to see all of you next year at Malice!

29 October 2019

Bouchercon Bound!


Though I am writing this more than a week before it posts, the day after it posts Temple and I will head to Dallas for Bouchercon 2019, our fourth consecutive Bouchercon, which, as a point of reference, occurs less than a month before our fourth anniversary.

Michael with Rebecca Swope at the 2002 Shamus Awards Banquet.
(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Swope.)
I’ve attended science fiction conventions off-and-on since the first Archon in St. Louis, Mo., forty-three years ago, but the 2002 Bouchercon in Austin, Texas, was my first mystery convention. I was lucky to be a panelist (discussing my private eye novel All White Girls), I met and spent time with several writers I had only known online or via snail mail prior to the convention, and I attended my first Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards Banquet that year. Unfortunately, financial constraints prevented me from fully experiencing the convention. I commuted each day from Waco because I could not afford a hotel room, my food budget was negligible, and I had no money to spend in the dealer’s room.

My second mystery convention was the 2011 Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe, N.M., where I participated in a short story panel, met more writers I had only known online, and met one editor to whom I’ve since sold several short stories. Unfortunately, I spent much of my time in Santa Fe suffering from altitude sickness, and I thought my head was going to explode the entire time I was there.

My experience with mystery conventions took a positive turn in 2016, with Bouchercon in New Orleans. Less than a year earlier I had the good fortune to marry a mystery fan born in New Orleans, so I had no difficulty convincing Temple that we could combine a mystery convention with sight-seeing. Receiving a lifetime achievement award at the convention was a bonus.

In addition to meeting many of my writing friends during the convention, Temple had a book signed by Michael Connelly (she claims Connelly’s her second-favorite mystery writer named Michael, but I’ve seen the gleam in her eye every time a new Connelly novel is released or a new season of Bosch airs), and she had a close encounter with Sara Paretsky at the Shamus Awards Banquet. Before the convention ended, Temple was making plans to attend Bouchercon the following year in Toronto.

We added Malice Domestic in North Bethesda, Md., to our convention schedule in 2018 and had hoped to attend Left Coast Crime in Vancouver earlier this year. (Unfortunately, the unexpected need to replace my car saw us using our travel savings for a down payment on a new vehicle, causing us to cancel our trip.)

But Temple fangirling over her favorite mystery writers and us spending time with friends both old and new are only a few of the many benefits of attending mystery conventions together. I’ve walked away from each of the last three Bouchercons and two Malice Domestics with writing or editing opportunities I likely would never have had had I not attended.

At Bouchercon this week, I’ll be participating in “Short and Sweet but Sometimes Dark,” a short story panel at 4:00 p.m. Thursday, moderated by Barb Goffman and featuring panelists Mysti Berry, John M. Floyd, R. T. Lawton, and James Lincoln Warren.

I will also be presenting a brief introduction to Texas private eyes at the Shamus Awards Banquet Friday evening.

And, though there’s no formal event scheduled, Murder By The Book will have copies of The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books) available for sale and many of the contributors and I will be wandering around the convention ready and willing to sign copies.

I can’t predict what else may come from this week’s convention or from future mystery conventions, but even before this year’s Bouchercon has begun, Temple and I are already making plans to attend both Bouchercon and Malice Domestic next year.

My story “A Cling of Koalas” appears in A Murder of Crows (Darkhouse Books).

My story “Sex Toys” appears in Knucklehead Noir (Coffin Hop Press).

My essay “Lifecycle of a Fanzine Fan,” about how I now do professionally all the things I did as a teenaged fanzine editor, appears in Portable Storage Two.

01 October 2019

Daring to Paint on a Grin


Welcome to October, the month of everything spooky. So it seemed a no-brainer to me to invite a good friend of mine to guest blog today on SleuthSayers because she just had a short story come out in an anthology all about clowns. Yep, those guys and gals with face paint and big red noses who sneak out of your closet at night and … well, I'm not sure what happens next. I've never minded clowns myself, but I know they scare the bejesus out of a lot of people. So if you're one of them, or if you happen to like clowns, this blog post is for you. If you enjoy funny authors and funny crime short stories, this post is definitely for you. And if you've read this far, then you'll certainly want to keep reading, because here, finally, comes the good stuff. I hereby present my friend Eleanor Cawood Jones.

— Barb Goffman

Daring to Paint on a Grin

by Eleanor Cawood Jones

Recycling. I’m into it; chances are you’re into it. But now I’ve gone and recycled a clown. I don’t know that it’s particularly beneficial to the environment, but it’s sure been a lot of fun.

Enter backstory, stage left: Many, many years ago (okay, 2015, but who’s counting?) I was fortunate enough to receive an email containing a writing prompt and instructions from my friend Gretchen Smith. It went pretty much exactly like this: “Here’s the call for Malice Domestic 11. Write this now.” Well, lo and behold, the call was for convention-themed mystery short stories. And had I not once been snowed into a casino-hotel in Green Bay, Wisconsin, during an ice storm where there was a clown convention going on?

I had. (Could happen to anyone, right?) And if that’s not fodder for a murder, I must ask you what is.

And this is where my God-given ability to attract weird paid off, because “Killing Kippers” became my first traditionally published short story in Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional. And believe you me, I never thought anything good would come out of that convention experience. This after an initial run through Gretchen, who turned a laborious two pages into one catchy paragraph at the beginning, and a second laborious edit by Barb Goffman, who gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten from an editor.
I’d gone on and on in describing the action, and Barb’s words were simple. “Don’t do this to yourself.” So I turned all that snore-y prose into dialogue, and it allowed me to keep the description, add some humor, and keep the story moving. I think my friendship with Barb was largely born through revisions on that story. I believe she brought out the best story I had in me.

Yeah. … This was supposed to be a short bit about a recycled clown story, but as I’m writing it’s turned into a reflection on good friends, a sharp poke in the arm when you need to get going, and good editing advice. Because that story, although it remained largely intact from the first draft, took a village, and I was so utterly proud when it made it into print.

I was proud, too, because it’s the only story I may ever write where the point of view is first-person-drunk. (Don’t judge—I was surrounded by clowns for four days at a bar. How would YOU have coped?)

Many, many years later (this year) Barb sent me a call for an anthology based in England that planned to turn the clown stereotype on its ear. There are all those books and movies about scary clowns—but what are clowns afraid of? What’s behind that face paint and big red nose? The editor, Dave Higgins, said he’d accept reprints, and I shipped Kippers off to him.

Later, I was so delighted to hear that Kippers was going to be resurrected in the UK in Bloody Red Nose: 15 Fears of a Clown, and with co-authors who are largely from the horror genre to (oversized, floppy) boot. Delighted right down to my British Isles DNA. And now it’s out– official release date was Friday the 13th. Bwah ha ha! With this phrase on the back cover from Dave: “In a world filled with menace, dare to paint on a grin.”

So now … she’s ba-a-a-aaack! Kippers is here, along with fourteen other stories sporting titles like “Corn Stalker” and “The Killer Clown Massacre” and “Clowns on the Run.” And I've had the personal excitement of finding an editor and fourteen other authors I’d never met before. If you’d like to try something different and new I invite you to pick it up and enjoy. It’s a delight and joy to be in this new book with a revitalized story. And a horror writer? Never thought of myself that way. But, heck, if former nun Alice Loweecey can do it, why can’t I? (Insert evil grin here.)

So that’s this week’s recycling. Or maybe reincarnating. Yeah—a reincarnated clown. There’s a story in there somewhere, right? Maybe I’m a little bit of a horror writer after all.

Who else writes or reads in more than one genre, and was it by accident or design? For me it was as accidental as stumbling into a clown convention. But did I mention that could happen to anyone?



Eleanor Cawood Jones began writing in elementary school, using #2 pencils to craft crime stories starring her stuffed animals. Her stories include “Keep Calm and Love Moai” (Malice Domestic 13: Mystery Most Geographical) and “All Accounted For at the Hooray for Hollywood Motel” (Florida Happens). Coming soon: “O Crime, in Thy Flight” in Crime Travel and “The Great Bedbug Incident and the Invitation of Doom” (Chesapeake Crimes: Invitation to Murder). A former newspaper reporter and reformed marketing director, Eleanor is a Tennessee native who lives in Northern Virginia and travels often. You’ll find her rearranging furniture or lurking at airports.


Bloody Red Nose is available in paperback and ebook in all the usual places, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And you can find Eleanor on Facebook under her full name and on Twitter under @eleanorauthor.

16 July 2019

Community Standards


This year’s Malice Domestic in North Bethesda, Maryland, provided ample opportunity to spend time with several writers I count among my friends and with many more who became friends during the convention, and I realized how different life is when a large group of like-minded writers live in close proximity.
With Josh Pachter and Art Taylor at Malice Domestic 2019.
At some point during the convention, Josh Pachter and I discussed how the mystery-writing community in and around Washington, D.C., contrasts with the mystery-writing community in and around Waco, Texas. Many of the writers attending Malice see each other several times a year—at readings, book signings, Noir at the Bar events, library presentations, and the like—and they see each other so often that they rarely have reason to email one another. The mystery-writing community in and around Waco consists of, well, me.

Several romance writers live in the area, as do a few literary writers and poets of one type or another, but the only mystery writer living near me isn’t producing much new work these days. Because I don’t comprehend poetry or poets, and because literary writers don’t tend to hang with us genre types, I feel as if I live in a writing desert.

So, I’ve little opportunity to spend time with genre writers (of any genre) other than at conventions, and only in the past few years have I had the financial resources to travel more than a few hours from home to attend Bouchercon and Malice Domestic. Prior to that I attended some regional science fiction conventions (ArmadilloCon and the now-defunct ApolloCon), Bouchercon when it came to Austin many years ago and Left Coast Crime when it came to Santa Fe several years ago.

A gaggle of wordsmiths at Malice Domestic 2019.
Yet, I always remembered what life was like when I lived in Southern Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri. I was a young, barely published writer, and several times my then-wife and I had dinner with John Lutz and/or Francis M. Nevins, Jr., and their wives. And at least twice I attended the Nevinses’ Christmas party, where I met, among others, Elaine Viets when she was still a newspaper columnist.

I wondered if such a thing were possible in Waco, in a state where writers may live hundreds of miles apart, and Temple and I had several conversations about how we might duplicate those Christmas parties. Rather than a holiday event, when everyone is juggling family and work obligations, and rather than an evening event, which would cause guests to drive home in the wee hours of the morning, we decided to try a Saturday afternoon event in the spring.

Texas writers crowd the Bracken/Walker living room
during the 2019 Spring Writer Gathering.
We hosted our first Spring Writer Gathering the Saturday after Mother’s Day 2016, and we’ve hosted it the same weekend each year since. Though the event is open to all writers and their significant others, and most genres are represented in one fashion or another, we tend to draw a significant number of mystery writers from all across Texas. A few of our guests have joined us every year, a few only once, and many have attended two or three times.

This isn’t a critique group, and there’s no agenda. It’s just writers hanging out, talking about whatever strikes their fancies. Sometimes it’s writing, but the conversation is just as likely to cover dozens of other subjects. Sometimes we sit in a large group in the living room; sometimes we break into smaller groups that drift into the kitchen or the dining room.

Some of our guests are writers I’ve known for at least two decades, while others are recent acquaintances, and some I’m meeting in person for the first time when they arrive at our doorstep.

In doing this, my writing community is growing. Though it may never reach the size of the writing community in and around Washington, D.C., and even though our gathering may never draw the number and diversity of attendees as the Nevinses’ Christmas parties, I am quite pleased with the event’s success.

So, if you’re a writer living within driving distance of Waco, Texas, or think you might be traveling through our area the Saturday after Mother’s Day, drop me a line. Temple and I would love to have you join us next year for our annual Spring Writer Gathering.

My story “Oystermen” appears in the July/August issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and “Three Brisket Tacos and a Sig Sauer,” the second story of season one of the Guns + Tacos serial novella anthology series, releases August 1. Subscribe to season one here and receive six novellas—one each month beginning with July—and receive a special bonus story at the end of the season.

04 June 2019

With Malice Aforethought


By Michael Bracken

Audience arriving for "Make It Snappy:
Our Agatha Short Story Nominees"
While attending Malice Domestic last month, I had dinner with several writers and found myself sitting with Susanna Calkins, who I met earlier that day when I moderated “Make It Snappy: Our Agatha Short Story Nominees.” Susanna—along with Leslie Budewitz, Barb Goffman, Tara Laskowski, and Art Taylor—provided the audience with an entertaining and informative fifty-minute conversation about their Agatha-nominated short stories, themselves, and writing. One question not asked during our panel discussion, but which often comes up in one form or another, sparked a significant portion of our dinner conversation:

What motivates you to write?

Susanna noted that many of us have pat answers—chocolate every five hundred words, perhaps—that are easy to toss off during a panel discussion, but which do not actually answer the question. As an academic, Susanna is interested in one day researching the answer to that question and in exploring both what motives writers to write but also what prevents would-be writers from writing. What she discovers through this research might then be applicable to other creative fields.

This intrigued me because my son Ian teaches (and practices) Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), a therapeutic model that trains caregivers to provide effective support and treatment for at-risk children, but which can be applied to all relationships. We have had several discussions about motivation and about how the desire for a dopamine rush can be a motivating factor in our decisions. Many of us drink, smoke, take drugs, and engage in risky behavior to trigger that dopamine rush. Some of us write short stories.

Friday evening Malice Domestic dinner companions.
Every time I have a story accepted, every time I receive a payment, every time I have a story published, every time I see a story mentioned in a review, every time I see the expression on someone’s face when they learn how many stories I’ve written, I feel that rush. It feeds me. It motivates me.

What motivates me may also serve as a barrier to growth. I have identified myself as a short story writer, and I have used that self-identification to expand into closely related activities that feed the same dopamine rush: editing anthologies (and, now, a magazine), moderating and serving on panels about writing short stories, writing essays and blog posts about writing short stories, and so on. When asked about writing novels, I have a pat answer that emphasizes the success I’ve had with short fiction: Why shoot the horse I rode in on?

But the real reason I no longer write novels may be fear. Not fear of failure—every novel I’ve written has been published—but fear that long-term projects such as novels don’t provide steady hits of dopamine. Without that repeated rush, there’s no motivation to continue the work.

I recently had an opportunity to pitch a partial and an outline. I presented two, was given encouragement to press forward with one, and promptly stepped on my own willie: I loaded myself up with short-story and short-story-related projects.

And I felt good.

My son and I will continue our discussions about TBRI, dopamine, and related topics, and through our discussions I may learn more about what motivates me and how and why it motivates me. And because I would like to know what motivates other writers—I know it really isn’t just chocolate—I hope that someday Susanna actually does her research.

12 February 2019

Agatha Award short-story finalists for this year


Given that I am swamped with work, I've decided to take the easy way out this week and write something short for you. But never fear. I'm a short-story writer, so brevity is my friend.
Allow me to introduce the finalists for this year's Agatha Award in the short-story category, all of whom know how to make every word count. I'm pleased to be one of the nominees, along with my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor, and the three other finalists, all of whom I'm also proud to call my friends. So without further ado, the finalists and their stories. Each title is a link to that story, for your reading pleasure.

  • Leslie Budewitz. Her story "All God's Sparrows" was published in the May/June 2018 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  


  • Barb Goffman. (Yep, that's me.) My story "Bug Appetit" was published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.



Attendees of the Malice Domestic mystery convention will be able to vote for their favorite story during the convention this May. In the meanwhile, happy reading! See you in three weeks.

12 June 2018

Paneling


Paneling at ArmadilloCon 2012
I have participated in panels at several science fiction/fantasy conventions and a few mystery conventions, and I’ve noticed a distinct difference in approach. I have only once participated in a panel at an sf/f convention in which the moderator contacted me in advance, yet I’ve had pre-convention contact with the moderators of every mystery convention panel in which I’ve participated.

On several occasions, the moderators of the sf/f panels didn’t realize they were the moderator, and on more than one occasion the moderator didn’t bother to show up, leaving panelists to draw straws for the task. While a panel in which none of the participants is prepared can be, and sometimes is, wildly entertaining, more often it consists of five writers saying variations of, “I don’t know why I was selected for this panel. I don’t know anything about Transsexual Taiwanese Tyrannosauruses” and one blowhard spouting variations of “Look at me! Buy my book! Look at me again! Buy my other book!”

Gathering the masses before starting the “Make it Snappy
panel at Malice Domestic 2018. L-R: Me, Gretchen Archer,
Barb Goffman, Debra H. Goldstein, Gigi Pandian,
and Art Taylor.
(Photo by Eleanor Cawood Jones)
When offered the opportunity to moderate “Make it Snappy: Our Agatha Best Short Story Nominees” at Malice Domestic 2018, I followed the best-practices example set by all the mystery convention moderators and one sf/f convention moderator with whom I have paneled: I contacted all the panelists in advance, introduced myself, and sought information that would help me formulate questions. Once I had the information I needed, I developed questions specific to each panelist (though I did not have time to ask them all), shared with them my plan for the panel and, once at the convention, had the opportunity to meet all of the panelists prior to gathering onstage.

I think the panel went well, but I’m not here to tout my skills as a moderator. I’m here to share some tips for successful paneling from the perspective of someone who has attended many panels, participated in several, and moderated a few.

EIGHT TIPS

1.  While you may be there to promote yourself and your work, the audience is there to be entertained and informed. So, entertain and inform.

2. If you have never been told by a parent, teacher, or significant other to use your “inside voice,” practice projecting. Use any provided microphones, especially if the panel is being recorded.

3. If you’re a moderator, know your panelists. At the very least, read their bios in the program.

4. If you’re a panelist, know your moderator. At the very least, read her bio in the program.

5. Asking generic questions and having each panelist answer in turn is a lazy moderator’s approach. So, prepare questions specific to each panelist and try to foster a dialog among the panelists.

6. Share the limelight. For moderators, this means ensuring every panelist has the opportunity to speak. As a panelist, this means speaking up if you’re shy, and it means curtailing your tendency to bloviate if you’re not shy.

7. Allow time for questions. If the audience is engaged, they will ask great questions. For the benefit of the rest of the audience, repeat or paraphrase questions before answering.

8. Start on time, end on time, and clear the stage for the next panel. If you are lucky enough to have fans swarming the stage afterward to ask questions and seek autographs, encourage them to follow you into the hall.

I have also participated in panels at writing conferences. The audience—primarily writers and would-be writers rather than genre fans—expect more information and less entertainment, but otherwise all the tips apply.

EMULATE BILL

One writer whose paneling skills deserve emulation is Bill Crider. Every time we paneled together, he was the most knowledgeable, most experienced, and best-known writer on stage, and many of us would have sat at his feet in rapt attention while he talked for the entire 50 minutes. Yet, he never took advantage of his stature. He shared the limelight and regularly used his time to tell the audience something they might not know about one of the other panelists, or to direct a comment toward or ask a question of one of us.

That’s in direct contrast to several authors so enamored of their own voices that other panelists might as well not exist, and when moderators—either unable to unwilling to interrupt—let the blowhards take over, everyone suffers.

I’m not much good with small talk, but put me on a stage and ask me about writing, and I can bend an ear with the best of them. So, if you’re ever paneling with me and I start to bloviate, please kick me under the table and remind me to channel Bill Crider.

We’ll all be better off.

My romance “Too Close to School” appears in the anthology A Wink and a Smile (Smoking Pen Press), released in May.