Showing posts with label Mystery Writers of America. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mystery Writers of America. Show all posts

21 November 2017

A Writer’s Thanksgiving


Well, since Thanksgiving is in a couple of days I thought I’d write about what I, as a writer in particular, am thankful for. We all have things in our “regular” lives to be thankful for, so this column will address specifically some of what this writer has to be thankful for:
Computers: Whoa! I can’t say enough about this one. Changed my life. I’ve mentioned before how when personal PCs came out I thought they were just another silly toy. Then my former writing partner got one and I saw him move a paragraph from one page to another and I was hooked. How much better than literally cutting and pasting with scissors and white out. (Of course I’m sorry for Mike Nesmith and his mom, who invented white out, but I think they’re doing okay anyway.) So I was the second person I knew to get a PC: two floppy drives, wow! And we know how far computers have come from those days. Now your phone is a mini-computer.

Microsoft Word: When I started out on that dual floppy computer I used a word processing program called XyWrite, which I really liked. But it didn’t weather the transition to GUI programs like Windows. So I switched to Word. One can complain about both Microsoft and Word plenty, but overall they’ve made my life a hell of a lot easier.

Paying Markets: In the ye olden days of the mid-20th century writers could actually make a living selling short stories. That’s not really true anymore. There aren’t a lot of paying markets. No one would think of not paying their doctor or plumber, but for some reason people don’t think writers’ work is worth paying for. Sure, sometimes they’re struggling themselves, but even a token payment would be nice. When I was teaching screenwriting seminars on occasion I would always tell the students not to work for free. And, though I have published with non-paying markets it’s definitely better to get paid. So thanks to Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock (and others)—magazines that still pay and still publish short stories. Long may they live!

Assistants: I’m most grateful for all the wonderful assistants I’ve had over the years. A variety of dogs and cats, who’ve kept me company, provided inspiration, and sometimes aggravation, but have always been wonderful companions and who make the solitude of writing much more bearable. And who, on occasion, have tripped the light fantastic over the keyboard and probably added a little extra dazzle to my writing.
One of my former assistants

My current assistants

Kindle and E-publishing:  I have mixed feelings on this one. Yes, I prefer hard copy books, though I read about 50-50 these days between those and e-books. But e-publishing has opened the door for lots of people to read my scintillating syntax (or is that sin tax).  And it’s kind of cool to be able to go on a trip and bring 100 books along so I can read whatever I feel like. And even more cool to be able to buy a book at 3am and have it in my cyber-hands faster than you can say “Amazon-one-click”.

Social Media/Facebook/Twitter: Aside from the marketing benefits of social media, it’s a great way for writers, who are pretty much a solitary bunch of people, to be able to get together at the cyber “water cooler” to chat, share ideas, happy moments, sad moments, laughter and opinions—sometimes too many damn opinions…. I’ve made many friends across the country (and the world for that matter) and figure there’s someone I could have lunch with almost anywhere in the country and in many parts of the world.  Of course, as with anything, there’s always some jerks and trolls in the bunch. And to those people I say CENSORED.

The Internet: In a word—research. I love being able to research everything on the internet. From
murder methods, to maps, history, music and how-to videos on You-Tube. Of course some of those how to videos are how to play this or that guitar or bass part or just watching a bunch of old clips of rock bands. As for murder methods, I hope the police never have to search my computer—I’m guilty. Guilty. Guilty of researching heinous methods of offing people. But what better way for a writer to procrastinate and call it work!

Smart Phones & tablets: At first I was reluctant to get a smart phone, but now I love being able to check my e-mail on the go, post photos on Instagram of my doctor’s waiting room while I wait and wait and wait, like the people trying to get an exit visa out of Casablanca, for the doc to show up. Or snap a picture of the traffic jam I’m stuck in on the drive home. And while I never want to become one of those people with their noses glued to their cell phones all day and all of the night (to borrow a line from the Kinks), I am grateful for the little distractions both the phone and tablet provide and how I can stay connected even when I’m away from my computer. Oh, and thankful for Android. I love that all my Google contacts, etc., are integrated across all my devices.

Support from Friends and Fellow Writers:  I’m thankful for all the friends and writers who have supported me and cheered me on, read my books and stories, nominated me for awards and voted for my writing, given me great reviews, interviewed me, published me in their magazines, given me space on their blogs (including this one: shout out to Leigh and Rob and everyone else here!), congratulated me on FB, liked my FB posts, shared my good news and sympathized when bad things happened, and on and on. Grateful, too, for Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, et al. Writing is a lonely profession and the support of friends who understand the struggles of a writer is…to quote a famous commercial…priceless…

And last but not least: My wife, the indomitable, inimitable, indefatigable, intrepid and on occasion infuriating ;-) when she wants me to rewrite things (but she’s almost always right), Amy, who has stood by me through thick and thin. Who, though not a writer, is my number one reader, number one editor, number one fan and number one supporter. And who puts up both with me general (a job in itself) and as a writer (another job in itself as all the significant others of writers are well aware).




So, Thank You All And Have A Wonderful Thanksgiving!




***

30 April 2017

On My Way


 Family Fortnight +  Leading up to the  International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the second in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!
by Dylan Davis

Hi. Dylan here. I'm an 8th Grader who does daycare for his Grandpa R.T. and Grandma Kiti five days a week, ten months a year. See, every morning, my mom drops me and my younger brother off at the grandparent's house for breakfast. I make sure they eat right and take their vitamins. Older folks need that sort of care.  After breakfast, I walk around the corner to school. Then, after school, I walk back to their house and do my homework. Sometimes, I stay for supper. On those days, I make sure they get some exercise and socializing by getting them out of the house to drive my brother and me to taekwondo a few miles away at the local academy. We have separate classes at different times. On other occasions, it's off to soccer, or basketball, or volleyball, or whatever seasonal sport my brother and I happen to be involved in at the time. I think you can see how this occupies a lot of my time.

So anyway, in what little spare time I do have, I just might be on my way to being a writer. I say that, because I recently got my first rejection. Well, actually it's half a rejection. You see, my grandpa and I wrote a short story together. Basically, here's what happened.

I was minding my own business playing a video game on my iPhone when Grandpa brought me an e-mail to read. Something about an open call for an MWA anthology with a Goosebumps theme for pre-teens and slightly older kids. He then made me an offer I couldn't refuse. So, we put our heads together and did some brainstorming. I came up with the story characters, he came up with a general story line, and we both did some of the writing.

Our first problem came when we found out that only MWA members could submit to the anthology. That took my name off the byline. However, grandpa agreed to split the check with me if we got published, plus he said he would give me credit in the author blurb in the back of the book, so we continued.

Grandpa and I both worked on the plot, shooting ideas back and forth to each other. When I was at my house and got an idea, I would sometimes face time him. This way, I wouldn't lose my thoughts. At times, grandpa's writing style and mine clashed, but we usually worked it out. At the end of all this, I really didn't mind that we didn't get selected by the MWA judges. All I really cared about was that it was a fun time working with my grandpa.

Still, it would have been nice to get published. At this point, I figure I've gotten at least as far as Step 5 in the process.

Step 1:  brainstorm
Step 2:  write & re-write
Step 3:  submit
Step 4:  wait
Step 5:  get accepted or get rejected

Now, if I can only get to Step 6: published & paid

Thanks for reading this, and good luck to all.

16 March 2015

Organize and Join


Jan Grape
There are many mystery writer organizations around.

Here’re a few to keep in mind.


Mystery Writers of America aka MWA

MWA's logoThe oldest American organization formed in 1945 is  most the well-known and in many eyes the most prestigious. Membership is open to published authors in the mystery field, including fiction, and fact books and stories, magazines and motion pictures. An associate membership, includes editors, agents, directors, booksellers and fans, all known as friends of mystery. Later the memberships were reclassified as “Active” for published writers. “Associate” for non-writers in the mystery field for editors, agents, booksellers, etc. and “Afilliate” for fans and unpublished writers.  MWA gives the Edgar Award each year and the nominees and recipients are chosen by a committee of peers and given at the annual Awards Banquet in New York each spring, usually in April. MWA has chapters all around the country. More information and how to join may be found at www.mysterywriters.org
PWA LogoPrivate Eye Writers of America aka PWA

Began by Private Eye author and Executive Director: Robert J. Randisi in 1982. Their purpose was defined to identify, promote, recognize and honor the writers who write books and stories featuring a private eye as the main character. PWA gives an award known as the Shamus and is given out each year at the PWA banquet during the Bouchercon event in the fall. The nominees and winners are chosen by a committee of peers. There are no chapters located around the country, all members belong to the National organization as either “Active” or “Associate” members. More information and how to join may be found at www.privateeyewriters.com

Sisters-In-Crime aka S-in-C

In 1986-87 this organization was discussed and organized by several women who had discovered women mystery writers were not reviewed as often or as well as their male counterpoints. Sara Paretsky was the major driving force, aided by Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Charlotte MacLeod, Nancy Pickard, and Susan Dunlap. The main goal of Sisters was to combat discrimination against women in the field of mystery, educate publishers and the public at large about the inequalities in the treatment of female authors. Along with that goal was to raise the awareness of the role of women writers and their contribution to the whole mystery genre. Many have asked why just for women? Actually, S-in-C has many talented men who are also members. In many ways the whole genre needed to be recognized as serious writing. People still today when they hear or know a woman is a mystery writer are asked “When are you going to write a “REAL book?”

One major project for S-in-C has been to contact newspapers and magazines and ask them to publish more reviews of women authors. Progress has been made, but it’s still a man’s world. Sisters has also worked to assure that women authors are judged for mystery awards the same as men are. Sisters strive to be more educational that anything political. There are chapters all around the country and even international chapters. The national organization has published book guides to selling, to promotions and specifically for author signings. Sisters national organization generally meets at Malice Domestic in May and at Bouchercon in the fall.

More information and how to join may be found at www.sistersincrime.org

Other Organizations include: Thriller Writers of America and American Crime Writers League.

31 March 2014

Edits and Editing


Jan Grape Okay, class. You've all heard this before but it's good to remind ourselves over and over about the joys of editing. I used to hate to edit, because it seemed so tedious but once I realized how much better reading my story or book will be with good editing, I hopped on the band wagon.

I've been reading books for an award to be given later on this year. I'm the chair of the committee and there are two other people on the committee with me. We each will read a book, not the same book at the same time, but we need to winnow the pile down and pick our nominees and our winner. In the back and forth e-mails we are sending each other, one big thing has been discussed back and forth. The need for some good editing. It not too easy to edit your own work, but I've found one thing that helps me is to put that mss in the file cabinet for at least a day or two. A week is even better and three weeks is excellent. Let the story jell. Work on something new, and take your mind totally off your work in progress (WIP).

If possible get someone to give the WPI a read for you and I don't mean your mother or brother or even your critique group. Let someone you trust that has been published read and critique for you. And it's very important if you don't have an editor at your publishing house. If it's a small press and they just don't have enough people to go around, you might consider hiring someone to edit for you. It could be that a friend who has some experience, has been published and especially in your genre will look at your book without charge. If so, that's great. Take them to lunch or at least promise them a copy of the book when it is published.

There are also a number of editing services. But like with anything, some are good and some not so good. Some may be too expensive for you. Check with organizations like Sisters-in-Crime. You don't have to be female to join. We call them Brothers-in-Crime. Check with Mystery Writers of America. Here in Texas we have a large national and international writing organization called Writers League of Texas. All will have listings of editing, critiquing services.

Several years ago before I was published I checked with the major university in my home town with the creative writing department. I found a professor who was willing to read and critique my WIP. He charge a fairly substantial fee. I didn't have much extra money at the time, but I wanted the mss to be in the best possible shape. Unfortunately, he wasn't that familiar with the mystery genre, he leaned way over to literary fiction. He wanted to know the theme of my book. The motivations of each character. He thought the dialogue was too informal. In other words, he was too much of a professor for me. And his help was no help for me.

A short time later, I attended a writing conference in Houston, with editors, agents, and a handful of published writers . All were willing to read and critique, I believe the first fifty pages of your WIP at no charge other than the conference fee. Mine was being read by a New York agent. He was fairly well known in the business. I walked into the room where I was to have a private talk with him. The first thing he said was, "I don't like your characters and I don't like your setting." I was flabbergasted and crushed. I said, "Okay, but how's my writing." "Oh your writing is fine," he said, "but I just don't care for your book." I was supposed to have a fifteen minute meeting with him and this all took about two minutes. I walked out, went straight to my room and cried.

A few minutes later, my roommate walked in and she was crying. Her critique had been by one of the semi-famous authors and what he actually done was a line edit but it was like he wanted her to change so much, she felt like he didn't like her book. He destroyed her. He gave her the full fifteen minutes but they had been quite rough. After she got over her initial shock and we looked at what he had done, we realized his line editing was very good, it's just we were still babies in the writing game and didn't understand what had been done. I, on the other hand, could find no redeeming words for my visit with the agent. I did realize later that opinions were very subjective in this writing game. I received rejections that said, the characters weren't strong enough. The next editor who read the very same mss said my characters were wonderful but the plot sucked.

Several other attendees had similar complaints and we all reported what had happened to the organizers. It was decided from that time forward, we would pay the critiquers a nominal fee. That way they didn't feel like they were working for nothing, the conference had paid their way to Houston, paid their room and meals but they obviously felt put upon. It did seem to make a difference. I think the fee might have been twenty-five dollars for a 15 minute meeting. They could schedule as many as they felt they could handle over the two day conference.

One of the neatest stories I heard during a Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America was from a man who was a best selling author of True Crime and a number of fiction books and stories by the name of Clark Howard. Even some of his stories were made into movies. When he was in college in the mid-west, near Chicago, he took a creative writing class. The students were to write a story, turn it in, the teacher made copies for everyone and passed them around. The whole class was to critique the story in class. When they got to his story, the whole class ripped it to shreds. Whatever one person said, the next person piled it on. About that time the class was over and Clark said, "I didn't have the nerve to tell them I'd just sold that story for five hundred dollars. He left and never went back to that class. (I don't remember if he'd sold it to Ellery Queen or Hitchcock magazine.) I told him I would have walked back into class the next time they met and tell them he'd sold the story and then say "Neener, neener," and then walk out.

I do think it's  important to get your WIP in the best shape possible before you let anyone publish it. Most writers I know, say their first reader is their spouse. And sometimes that works very well. My late husband, Elmer, was my first reader and he caught things like the correct description of a gun. Or the way a building or house looked or was constructed. Or my description of a car or motorcycle. Anything mechanical or along those lines he was an expert. And often if a scene or a plot line made good sense. But he had no idea if the dialogue was stilted or sounded natural. He had no idea if I wrote a run-on sentence or an incomplete sentence. So I always had to have another writer read and let me know about sentence or scene structure or punctuation. I was fortunate in the early years I had a wonderful critique group. There were only four of us. Susan Rogers Cooper, Barbara Burnet Smith and Jeff Abbott. Susan had published three or four novels and I had published two or three short stories and a handful of magazine articles. But Barbara and Jeff were not published  We did help each other and Barb and Jeff were soon published.

Tell yourself the story first. Let the creative side work it's magic, write the whole mss. Of course most of us edit the previous day's work before we continue the new day.  Before long it will be finished. Then set it aside to cool off. Wait as long as you can to take the story up again and let the editor side of your brain read and edit and edit and edit. But don't forget to stop and let it go. You can keep messing around with it and in time you'll think it's got to be perfect. Once you've done some rewriting and let someone edit for you then send that WIP to your agent or editor and keep your finger crossed. Before you know it you'll be holding your book in you hands. You'll open it up and start reading and find 10 mistakes that you or someone should have caught. But that's okay, you'll get better editing on the next book.

All right, class dismissed. Stay warm if you're still in winter. April is here and warm weather is coming. I guarantee you.

26 October 2012

It Lives !!!


According to the old story written by Mary Shelley in the early 1800's, Dr. Victor Frankenstein stitched several body parts together in order to make his creation a whole being. Then to give it life in his laboratory, he jolted it with bolts of lightning on one dark and stormy night. At that pivotal moment (in the movies) as his creation began to stir, he cried out, "It's alive." How great to see one's creation live. Hey, it's five days to Halloween and I needed a theme, so hang in here.

I, for one, don't have a laboratory, only a study where I write. However, I have on separate occasions, in the not too long ago, taken two very dead short stories into my study and laid their little rejected carcasses out for autopsy in the dead of night. After much contemplation, and perhaps a jolt of Jack Daniels (sorry, but that's as close as I can get to white lightning in furtherance of this Frankenstein analogy), I went to work on resurrecting their possibilities.

The first corpse was a reject from Woman's World magazine. Because of the strict structure for these 700 word mini-mysteries, a second paying market is rather difficult to find for these creations. I poked it here, prodded it there, and tried to slide a whole new skeleton underneath the flesh of the story, but it just wasn't working. In the end, I left the old skeleton in place for the structure, massaged the body a little and spruced up the outside for appearance's sake. I then, surprise, surprise, sold it to an editor named Dindy at a little known market, Swimming Kangaroo, for the grand sum of $25. Yeah, I know, $25 is quite a come down from the $500 that Woman's World pays, but at least this was better than having the little monster running around loose in inventory. Amazingly, this editor liked the WW structure, plus I would now be published internationally. Think Dindy. Think Swimming Kangaroo. Had to be Australia. Right? I was gonna be an internationally published author! Time to get out the bubbly.

And then the check came. Turns out the return address was in Texas. So much for the international part. Even so, I was preparing to send Dindy another one of these resurrected mini creatures, when Swimming Kangaroo evidently lost a stroke (or had one) and went under.

My next attempt at bringing life to the recently deceased came when Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine rejected one of my standalone stories. It was one which Rob had critiqued approximately nine months earlier and had made some good suggested changes. I thought we had it made after my 2011 re-write, but nope, here it came back in a body bag during the middle of February 2012. It may have been cold outside, but the timing for the deceased' toe-tagging and autopsy turned out to be quite fortuitous.

A few months before, when the call for submissions to the 2013 MWA anthology came out, I had not been able to brainstorm any ideas for the anthology's theme of something mysterious in a box. And then at the last moment, right here on the autopsy table in front of me was laid out a corpse named "The Delivery." Oddly enough, it was about something mysterious in a box, a story written long before MWA's call for submissions. Kismet was obviously knocking at my door. Who was I not to answer?

I gave my dead creation another jolt. It stirred, so I packed it up along with five of its clones and shipped them back to New York City just before deadline. And waited. And waited. And waited, just like any anxious mad scientist would whose creation had gone off to the Big City.

At last, notice arrived back through the ether. My creation had been accepted. It was then that I knew for sure and cried to the heavens, "It lives, it lives!"

Coming to a book store near you, the Mystery Writers of America anthology The Mystery Box, April 2013.

01 May 2012

Edgar


April 9th: At the time of my writing this (but not at the time of your reading it), I do not yet know the outcome of the Edgars awards. As you might surmise, I am keenly interested for entirely selfish reasons--my story, "Tomorrow's Dead" is a nominee. Strangely, it appears that other writers have had stories nominated as well. In my fantasy world this would not be necessary, as the flawless crafting of my gem of a tale would simply preclude the necessity. In the real world, however, there's a very good chance that one of them, and not my humble self, will be waltzing out the door with the coveted bust. It appears that these 'others' have written some pretty good stories themselves...at least according to some.

I've been writing for twenty-three years and, like most writers, I have largely done so without much notice. That's not to say I haven't been published, but my walls aren't exactly groaning under the weight of plaques and awards for it. My biggest thrill to date, and it was thrilling, was winning the Ellery Queen Readers Award for "Ibrahim's Eyes". Even then, I shared the award with the late, great Ed Hoch with whom I tied in the balloting, though he was certainly good company in which to find myself.

Other stories have received nominations for various awards, but none have come up a winner, and though I don't like to admit it, each loss was something of a blow. Considering the undeniable prestige of the Edgar Allan Poe Award, I can't help but prepare for a correspondingly heavy one in this case. Of course, it's a great honor to have a story nominated at all (and trust me, after twenty-three years I had put the very thought of it completely from my mind) but it also places something of a burden on one's shoulders. I know that many of you have already experienced this (or will in the future) and understand what I'm talking about. As the season of euphoria dwindles and the day of reckoning draws nigh, how I handle not getting the award becomes just as important as what to do should I win it. Not only will many of my fellow writers be in attendance, but so will Janet Hutchings, the editor of EQMM and a wonderfully kind person who has shown great faith in me over the years. My wife, Robin (She Who Walks In Beauty), will be by my side, as will my brother, Danny, and his wife, Wanda. They are traveling all the way from Georgia for the occasion and, I'm sure, expecting a big finale! Even my editing staff, which is to say my children, will be standing by their various phones for news of the outcome! Thank God, I handle pressure really, really well, damnit!

Whatever the outcome, be it tears or joy, the following day (or perhaps just a little longer under the circumstances) I will find myself sitting in front of my computer trying to write something again. Something good and worthwhile and that someone will want to publish. I may find it easier if little Edgar's bust is perched on my desk overlooking my efforts, or I may find it more difficult because expectations have been raised and now I must meet them. His absence may be a blessing in disguise, allowing me to carry on unencumbered and free to do exactly as I wish and that I have always done. Or, just the opposite; creating a black hole that sucks the creativity out of me with a violent implosion. Whatever the outcome, I'll have to start stringing together words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs just as I did before Little Eddie came into the picture. But will I be the same? I doubt it. We writers are always affected by the things and events that surround and touch us, and this will be no different for me. I just hope that when the dust settles that I've been made somehow better by the experience. Saint Thomas More, patron of lawyers and writers (Utopia) put it this way:

Give me the Grace Good Lord, to set the world at naught; to set my mind fast upon Thee and not hang upon the blast of men's mouths (I especially like the 'blast of men's mouths' part). To be content to be solitary. Not to long for worldly company but utterly to cast off the world and rid my mind of the business thereof.

Though it is often referred to as the 'Lawyer's Prayer', I think it is good advice for writers too, don't you? I will complete this posting upon my return from NYC, but will not alter what I have written up to this point regardless of the outcome. Here you have my true thoughts and feelings prior to the conclusion of the whole affair. When I return, you will have the rest...for better or for worse.

April 30: As promised, I have returned to complete my posting and I didn't alter one word of what I had previously written. Most of you probably already know the outcome of the Edgars, but for those of you who don't--I didn't come home with the coveted bust. Peter Turnbull is the very happy writer who carried away the prize; though I use the phrase loosely, as he was not actually present, but at home in England. His story was very deserving, and I'm not just saying this to appear a gracious loser. When I read it some months ago to acquaint myself with the competition, I actually did remark to Robin, "I may be in trouble here." It turns out I was prophetic.

We had a wonderful time at the banquet and got to meet many a writing celebrity; several of whom we stalked like paparazzi. Mary Higgins Clark and Sandra Brown were kind enough to act as if my wife and sister-in-law were old acquaintances and not two strange women who may have gotten past security. It was also a distinct pleasure to visit with many of our colleagues, including my Tuesday counterpart, Dale Andrews (at the EQMM cocktail party) and Criminal Briefers, James Lincoln Warren (as dapper and clever, as ever), Melodie Johnson Howe, and Steven Steinbock. It felt a little like a reunion on fast forward. Doug Allyn sat next to me at the EQMM table and gave me his napkin after the announcement for best short story was made. I believe he was muttering something like, "Show some spine, Dean...my god man, people are looking!"

Alright, it wasn't as bad as all that. In fact, when the dust settled, I felt I might be able to go on after all. As I remarked, quite bravely, I thought, "Tomorrow I will be writing again." And I am.