Showing posts with label R.T. Lawton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label R.T. Lawton. Show all posts

24 April 2022

Breaking It Down


As some of you already know, my story, "The Road to Hana," was one of six to be nominated for an Edgar in the Short Story Category. Plus, there's some of you who may have read my article in The First Two Pages after Art Taylor asked me to write an essay as part of his program to get essays from those short story authors who were nominated this year. So now for the rest of you, I'm going to break down some of my reasoning for the sentences I wrote for the beginning of my story.

The Background

My wife and I had vacationed on the Hawaiian island of Maui for two weeks in February for several years. No, we aren't rich. It's just that we learned how to do it on a lower budget. We got a special (return) rate at a small condo on the beach, rather than staying in an expensive resort area, cooked most of our own meals (it's a budget killer if you eat out a lot, unless you eat where the locals eat) and we found some of the little secrets of Maui. For instance, did you know that native Hawaiians  get a Kamaaina discount at many of the shops and stores? Seems my wife with her suntan at that time was often mistaken for Kamaaiana (local). And, did you know there's a writers open critique group that meets in an old stone church on the road leading upcountry from the old hippie town of Paia? You have to look hard for some of this stuff.

In any case, during our many stays, we traveled the road to Hana on the other side of the island several times, a couple of those times even going beyond Hana to other sites.

Photo by Jim Evans on Wikipedia
On one visit, while reading the local newspaper, I ran across an article about a young man who had smoked some of the petals of the local Trumpet Flower, a known hallucinogenic. The young man then made the decision to go deep water swimming. He was never seen again.

I was intrigued. He will never know it now, but that young man started the brainstorming for a story, even if it did take years before the story actually got written.


And now the opening sentences

There's only one road from Kahului's airport going over to the small town of Hana on the eastern side of the island.

This opening sets the place and tells the reader that the protagonist, or anyone else, going to or from the town of Hana only has one choice of roads to take if traveling by vehicle.

And then, the next line. This Hawaii highway has 59 bridges and 620 curves for the 52 miles it takes to get there. This sentence foreshadows that the road and its curves can be dangerous to drivers if those travelers are not careful. Call it atmosphere, call it background, call it setting, this is a situation where the topography of the land becomes an important part of the story and crucial to the plot, as the reader will soon realize.

I've got no idea who took the time to count the number of curves in the road. This emphasizes the curves and sharp turns to keep that image in the reader's mind for when our protagonist must travel that road, first to Hana and later back to the airport for his flight home.

Whoever he was, he must've been really bored that day and had nothing else to do. Fine by me, I was looking for boredom right about now. There's nothing like being shot on the job to make you want to stop the world and smell the roses, hell, smell any kind of flowers and thank your lucky stars the other guy wasn't a better shot. Okay, now the savvy reader knows the protagonist is some type of law enforcement who has come to the island paradise for peace and recovery from his injuries. Will he find it? A mystery reader already knows the answer to that and reads on to find out what happens next.

After more description of hairpin turns, old one-way cement bridges, deep jungle ravines on one side and steep drops to the ocean on the other, our protagonist notes: If you go off the edge here, you'd best be able to fly.

Later: It was at one of these quick turns reaching out towards the ocean where I saw flashing lights in late afternoon.

Our protagonist gets out of his rental car to check on the situation. Looked to me like two tow trucks were trying to winch a wrecked car out of the foaming surf and drag it up the slope. Also looked like a slumping body was seat-belted behind the steering wheel. Evidently, some poor schlub had tried to take a straight line where the asphalt took a bend.

Was this an accident or murder? The reader has suspicions and journeys on with our hero to find out alongside him as he slowly discovers what is going on.

So now, you tell me, did I do my job? Did the opening sentences draw you in? Is this a story you want to read? I know the opening worked well enough for the editor of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine to accept the story. 

I submitted it on 07/21/18. It was accepted on 09/29/19 and published in the May/June 2021 issue of AHMM. On 04/28/22 at the Edgar Awards Banquet in Manhattan, we will see if the story is good enough for an Edgar.

In the meantime, I, along with everyone else, will keep on writing. There is always next year and who knows which new story will get nominated and which author will win the Edgar. Maybe I'll get another chance at Ed… yeah, I've got this great idea for a story in mind about this…

27 March 2022

Me & Ol' Bobble Head


Years ago at one of the Edgar Award Banquets back when I served on the MWA Board of Directors, Margery gave out Edgar Allan Poe Bobble Heads as party favors. Mine, still in the original box, sits on my computer desk where I write my short stories. Call it a nod to the muses for a little extra assistance in creativity.

For many years, I assumed that Ol' Bobble Head would be the only Edgar to grace my writing area, and that could still be the way things turn out yet. But this year, I do have a slim chance to get a real one. You see, on the early morning of Wednesday, January 19, 2022,my wife informed me that my story, "The Road to Hana," had been nominated for an Edgar in the Short Story category. To say I was astounded, elated and/or greatly pleased would be an understatement. I tried to be cool, but nope, my feet did not touch the floor. In the end, it made no difference, I still had to do the breakfast dishes. So much for fame.

So now you're asking yourself, what are this guy's odds of getting a real Edgar? Well, since I have interviewed an illegal bookie during my professional past, I do feel somewhat qualified to come up with the proper odds for this particular event. Normally, there are five nominations in an Edgar category, so that would give me a 20% chance of winning, however there must have been a tie when it came to the top five short stories this time because for the 2022 competition there are six nominations in the Short Story category. This now gives me a 16.67% chance of winning. Oops, my odds just dropped. Sonuvagun.

Of course, since two of the six nominations are stories published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, this means that the editor, Linda Landrigan, has a 33.33% chance of having one of the two stories in her magazine which were nominated by the judges to receive an Edgar. That's better odds for her.

Now, to throw a ringer into the competition, one of the nominees would have to be awarded posthumously if he wins. It seems this really famous author passed back in 1968, roughly two months after I came back to "the world" from my twelve-month, all-expenses, government-paid vacation in a tropical climate, if you don't count the monsoon season. I was barely trying my hand at writing war poems, much less trying to create short stories for publication. Damn. I think you can see how hard it is for a guy to get a real Edgar these days.

In any case, I would like to commend the judges for their high intellect in nominating my story and throwing my hat in the ring this time. As the saying goes, "It's an honor just to be nominated." I'll stick with that because regardless how it comes out on April 28th at the Banquet in Manhattan, I definitely do feel honored to have even been mentioned in this group of distinguished authors.

As for Michael Bracken and James A. Hearn, I have read your excellent nominated short story, "Blindsided," also in AHMM. So, I'm sure you'll pardon me at this stage if I go find a bar and wish myself some luck, so that my story can at least give yours a little bit of competition. See you guys at the AHMM table at the banquet.

Well, Ol' Bobble Head, I would surely love to introduce you to Ed, but if nothing else, we will always have Manhattan.

27 February 2022

In Another Man's Shoes


There's a fellow member in our Denver MWA Chapter who keeps telling me that I write like Damon Runyon. In case you haven't heard of him, Runyon was a famous journalist from about the 1910s until the 1940s who also wrote short stories about New York characters who hung out on the streets around Broadway. If you are old enough, you have probably seen Marlon Brando in some version of Guys and Dolls based on a few of Runyon's story characters.

As for me, I didn't see the resemblance between my writing and Runyon's writing. If it was that some of the type of characters which I wrote about were similar to Runyon's, then fine. But the styles of writing were completely different in my mind, so I bought a couple of Runyon's collections of short stories to find out what Runyon and his street people were all about and how Runyon wrote, So now, let me introduce you to a few of Runyon's characters and his style of writing.

In More Than Somewhat the reader is introduced to people such as Judge Goldfobber, who is a lawyer, but not a real judge. It pleases him to be called judge and people like to please him because "He is a wonderful hand for keeping citizens from getting into the sneezer (jail), and better than Houdini when it comes to getting them out out of the sneezer after they are in." Furthermore,, "He is such a guy as loves to mingle with the public in these spots (night clubs and other deadfalls)), as he picks up much law business there and sometimes a nice doll."

The Unnamed Narrator of many of these stories "get(s) to thinking of Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore, and the reason (he) figure(s) they must be suffering from the underemployment situation is because if nobody is working and making any money, there is nobody for them to rob, and if there is nobody for them to rob, Harry the Horse, Spanish John and Little Isadore are just naturally bound to be feeling the depression keenly." To remedy the Judge's most recent problem and the three criminals underemployment, the Unnamed Narrator reluctantly recommends the three criminals to the Judge for a job the Judge needs done.

On another front, we meet Dave the Dude. "Only a rank sucker will think of taking two peeks at Dave the Dude's doll, because while Dave may stand for the first peek, figuring it's a mistake, it is a sure thing he will get sored up at the second peek and Dave the Dude is certainly not a man to have sored up at you."

"But this Waldo Winchester is one hundred percent sucker, which is why he takes quite a number of peeks at Dave's doll. And what is more, she takes quite a number of peeks right back at him. And there you are. When a guy and a doll get to taking peeks back and forth at each other, why, there you are indeed." "Now this is bad news, because when Dave the Dude takes a guy out for an airing, this guy very often does not come back."

In Damon Runyon Favorites, along comes Big Butch the safe cracker. "It seems that there is a big coal company which has an office in an old building down in West Eleventh Street, and in that office is an old safe, and in that safe is the company payroll of twenty thousand-dollars cash money. Harry the Horse knows the money is there because a personal friend of his who is the paymaster of the company puts it there this very afternoon.

It seems that this paymaster enters into a dicker with Harry the Horse and Little Isadore and Spanish John for them to slug him while he is carrying the payroll from the bank to the office in  the afternoon, but something happens that they miss connections on the exact spot so the paymaster has to carry the sugar to the office without being slugged, and there it is now in two fat bundles."

To remedy this situation, the three criminals are trying to enlist the talents of Big Butch, however Big Butch has some reluctance to open said safe due to having already been in Sing Sing on three prior occasions for opening safes and should he go for a fourth time, he will be required to stay for life, no argument. Furthermore, he has to mind the baby, little John Ignatius Junior, who is now asleep.

Harry the Horse convinces Butch that this is an old pete box which he can open with a toothpick. "Listen, Butch," Harry says in a whisper, "we can take the baby with us, and you can mind it and work, too." In final negotiations, the sleeping baby gets cut in for five percent of the take, which all concerned figure is only fair since the baby will be going along. As it is, the baby turns out to be more than worth his participation.

And in turn, both story collections were worth the price of admission to Runyon's world. I tried to mimic Runyon's story telling ability and some of his style when I wrote "Most Important Meal of the Day." It sold to Black Cat Mystery Magazine and will be published in a forthcoming edition. Buy that issue when it comes out, read the story and let me know how I did. Thanks.

30 January 2022

From the Response Time Front


It's a frequently asked question on the Short Mystery Fiction Society posting board as to how long the wait time is for  replies on short stories submitted to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  The publication's website does not currently provide an official response time, so I mostly depend upon other submitting authors to get an idea of how long my submissions will ne relaxing in the magazine's e-slush pile.

In the last year, according to my personal notes, the response times I had received were running at about eleven to twelve months. Based on that information, I expected to get a reading and a response about November 29, 2021 for my November 29, 2020 short story submission. Therefore, my mind settled in to wait until then with no expectations until about that date.

As time drew close, I learned that two of our contributing SleuthSayer authors (John Floyd & Rob Lopresti) had each recently received a response of acceptance about fourteen months after they had submitted their stories. I subsequently readjusted my mind to a new date of January 29, 2022. Come the evening of January 9, 2022, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an e-mail of acceptance from the AHMM editor. That made for a thirteen month and one week turnaround. The editor must've been reading like crazy over the Christmas and New Years holidays, while the rest of us were socializing, in order to knock three weeks off the response time during that short of a period of time.

Naturally, I understand that some authors don't like that long for an acceptance or rejection on their submission. And yes, it does tie up a story for a length of time. In which case, my suggestion is to write more stories, send out more submissions and forget about them for a while. In the meantime, to improve your odds, write and submit more.

As for my track record, the AHMM editor had just accepted my 48th story in her magazine. That gave me a 66.66% acceptance rate. I will admit the acceptance rate had been higher than that at one time, but it seems I hit a speed bump last year when I received a run of four straight rejections. Now, with that 48th acceptance in hand, I will use this information to more carefully decide what story content and writing style to send her in the future, which should improve my odds. It's a learning curve.

One more slant on the long wait time. It has been mentioned before that whereas EQMM has a shorter turnaround time, that editor tends to read the first few pages of a submission and if the author doesn't capture her interest in those pages, then the read is finished. The editor of AHMM tends to read the entire manuscript, which admittedly does take more time.

Of course, there is another fairly well-paying publication out there where the author's submission is not acknowledged as received and the author may never receive a reply of acceptance or rejection, in which case the submission sets in limbo unless the author sends an e-mail or letter of withdrawal.

In the end, it's the author's story, the author's time involved and the author's decision or business model as to how they wish to proceed on where to submit their creations.

Best of luck to you all. I love reading good stories.

And, while you are here, give us your thoughts on the submission process.

26 December 2021

The Advantage of Networking


I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but this topic is important enough that I believe it bears mentioning again. You just never know when networking will bring you an unexpected gift or boost at just the right time.

In a previous blog, I told about Brian Thornton (a fellow SleuthSayer) and me taking an MWA Board Member to the Russian Vodka Room in Manhattan for Baltika #3 beers and finding out later that particular member was an editor. This little outing subsequently led to me getting talked into a non-fiction book contract written under an alias. And yes, that was good beer.

Okay, so several years later, I'm on a short story panel at a Bouchercon in Dallas where Barb Goffman is the panel moderator. While waiting for the panel to begin, we start chatting and she happens to mention that she likes my short story "Black Friday" (the 10th story in  my Holiday Burglar series) which was published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Nov/Dec 2017 issue.

Then, a couple of months ago, Barb looks me up in an e-mail asking if she can reprint "Black Frida" in Black Cat Weekly of which she does the Barb Goffman Presents section and is an Associate Editor of the magazine. (And no, no beer was involved.) But yes, not only does this e-mail come at a good time, Barn also wishes to pay me in good, solid U.S. American Dollars. So, you see this networking thing does pay off in the end.

NOTE: Black Cat Weekly #13 is an e-format, 479 page publication of good reading put out by Wildside Press LLC. Maybe you should buy a copy of this publication and see if it is a good market for you and your work. At least you'll enjoy the reading, if nothing else.

And While you're at it, you too should try some of this networking stuff at critique groups, writers' conferences, chapter meetings, readings, library gatherings, getting involved in writing organizations and/or whatever works for you. Get you and your stories and your name out there by being there.

And, don't be shy. Let us know how it all comes out.

28 November 2021

Using All Your Resources


I was in the process of writing this blog article about how writers should use all of their creative resources to get a new story started and then I got sidetracked. Was the correct word sources or resources? Might be best to have a look. I went to Google as the deciding judge. Sources vs. resources.

Uh huh.

They lost me in their definition examples when they used the sun as both a source of energy and as a resource of energy. So, I'm just going to use the word resource and you readers can decide on your own which word is correct under these circumstances, source or resource.

Anyway, to get back on track, I don't know how the rest of you authors get your ideas going in order to create a new story. Short story or novel, take your pick.

I usually go to sleep putting my brain on notice to come up with something and then wake up with a character in trouble in whatever type of scene, write the scene down that morning and then come up with a plot at a later time. Or take a walk and daydream along the way. That's probably why I have so many story starts setting in computer files waiting to be finished. Of course, this way I always have something to continue writing on.

Even so, my brain doesn't always cooperate at sleep time or on walks, in which case the well runs dry and any lowered bucket hoping to fill up with fresh elixir only bumps against moist sand. But, working undercover and with sly criminals for twenty-five years, I learned early on that it was best to have more than one trick in the bag.

So, I've got this Huey pilot buddy who has done a few things in his time that I'm not allowed to talk about and has a fine brain of his own. He is not a writer himself, but he does understand some of the basics and he likes mysteries. So, we get together every so often and bounce story ideas off each other. Maybe five percent of what he comes up with is pure gold. For instance, a few years ago, he came up with an Archimedes science solution to apply to one of my stories set in the 1660s Paris Underworld series. This solution gave me the second half of the story and an ending. AHMM subsequently published the story, "Of Wax and Watermarks."

And then, a couple of years ago during one of our brainstorming sessions, he produced two main characters and several very visual scenes set it modern day Italy. All I had to do was stitch the scenes together, add the dialogue and come up with the ending. It was like being handed an outline. The story felt like it almost wrote itself.

Did it get published?

Yes it did.

Mystery Weekly Magazine (now known as Mystery Magazine) snapped it up and placed it in their September 2021 issue.

I don't know if any of you writers out there have someone you can bounce story ideas off of as a resource, but you might consider the concept.

As for me, I'll keep the guy around as a resource. I might even ply him with a little Vanilla Crown Royal from time to time to loosen up the corners of his mind for creativity. As a sometime resource, he's gold.

So, what resources do you have in your bag of tricks?

31 October 2021

The Women in my Writing World


Kathleen Jordan

Thinking to give AHMM one more try back in the year 2000, I went to their website to see what type of story they wanted. Kathleen Jordan was the editor at the  time and the website said she wanted stories set in exotic locations. I just happened to have finished a story ("Once, Twice, Dead") set in the Golden Triangle of SE Asia. I figured you couldn't get much more exotic than that, so I sent it in. She bought the story and it was published in AHMM's Sept 2001 issue.

The high of being published in a major mystery magazine quickly ran into the speed bump of reality. What next? Or, was I merely a flash in the pan, a one-trick pony?  I had no story ready to submit next. And, any story I did come up with needed to be of high quality in order to obtain a second sale. It also needed to be different from other stories already out there. So, I looked around and decided to borrow from the best.

Isaac Azimov in his Black Widower series had a character who solved mysteries just by hearing someone relate the circumstances. Nero Wolfe had Archie bring him the clues he needed. And, on the darker side, Lawrence Block had his Ehrengraf series with a crooked attorney who always got his guilty clients off by shady means without going to trial. Plus, in a biography of Dashiell Hammett, it seems that Hammett was acquainted with a pair of brothers in San Francisco who operated as bail bondsmen and used their criminal clients to commit robberies and burglaries. All of this being perfect fodder for a new story.

What to name it if it became a series? Well, let's see, back in the early 1970s, Kansas City had a gang of bank robbers, dope dealers and killers known as the Black Mafia. Two of its members were known on the street as Twin and Twin Brother. Through several incidents on some of the darker streets of the city, Twin and I got to know each other quite well before he joined Twin Brother in prison. So, for a story series, let's have an intelligent but crooked proprietor of a bail bond firm solve mysteries from the clues brought to him by his minion, a not so bright bail agent who is afraid of his boss. And, perhaps all of their clients are guilty criminals who accidently fall from high places, go deep-water swimming without the proper breathing equipment, get hit by an errant taxi cab (but hey, they weren't exactly within the marked crosswalk at the time) or somehow managed to take up temporary residence in the morgue, while the bail firm always makes a profit on the transaction. Thus, the Twin Brothers Bail Bond series was born and Kathleen Jordan bought the first two stories.

Linda Landrigan

Kathleen passed and Linda took over as the editor for AHMM. Suddenly, I was an orphan, I'd lost my rabbi. My first introduction to Linda was when she asked for some changes to the second story in the series, a story already bought and paid for. Maybe this wasn't going to be a series after all.  I made the requested changes and submitted the third story. She bought it and seven more with the same characters. I had a foot in the new door.

At the Las Vegas Bouchercon bar, Linda bought the drinks and I got bold enough to inquire what she would like to see in my future writing. She suggested a Moriarty type character to go up against the proprietor of the bail bond firm. Therefore, in "The Other Bondsman" I created Herr Morden (Mr. Murder), the German phonetic of ermorden: to murder.

Years later at breakfast in Manhattan, I asked the same question again. Linda replied that in my Armenian series set in 1850s Chechnya, she would like a story told from the little Nogai boy's point of view. This was a character who in several preceding stories never had more than three lines of narrative and zero lines of dialogue. She got her story ("The Little Nogai Boy") which then got me a sale and a Derringer nomination. Goes to show that networking and personal relationships can help keep those acceptances coming. To date, I'm at a 66% acceptance rate with AHMM and have four submissions waiting in their e-slush pile.

Pat Dennis

When I went to the Las Vegas Bouchercon, I arrived a couple of days early in order to attend Jerry Healy's all-day novel writing seminar. As I'm sitting in the front row waiting for the session to begin, a lady dragging an oxygen tank on a two-wheel cart, walks up behind me. "You're my screen saver," she says. I had never met this woman before and at the time, I wasn't totally sure how I could be a screen saver. But, I was flattered to be recognized. Turned out she was the editor of the anthology Who Died in Here?. All of the anthology stories submitted had to be set in a bathroom of some type. Payment was $25 and an air freshener. She (Pat Dennis) had accepted my story, "Flying Without a Parachute," based on a real incident where a heroin deal had gone bad and the protagonist/defendant temporarily escaped arrest by leaping from a third story window. Defendants really should know that cement driveways make for a hard landing when you are three floors up. I had a lot of fun promoting that anthology. (acceptance rate 100%, one story.)

Johnene Granger

The Short Mystery Fiction Society had a posting several years ago about Woman's World magazine buying (at that time) 900-word mini-mysteries for the grand payment of $500. I sent them one and the column editor, Johnene Granger, subsequently bought nine more. Since I had a steep learning curve as to what topics were acceptable and what wasn't, my acceptance rate with this publication hovered around 33%. Sometimes, the column editor wanted the story, but for some reason the magazine's chief editor rejected the story. However, when Johnene moved on and a new column editor took over, I could not sell a single mini-mystery to them. So, I took my five thousand dollars and faded away, leaving  that market to our own John Floyd who has now sold over a hundred of his stories to them. You just can't beat success. Good on ya, John.

Kerry Carter

I kept reading posts about authors selling stories to Mystery Weekly Magazine, so I finally sent them a humorous story ("The Job Interview") about three individuals trying to rob the same bank at the same time. The editor, Kerry Carter, bought it.

In that time period, the magazine paid one cent a word through PayPal. I will admit to some confusion when PayPal then took a small fee. Through a small amount of research, I discovered that the magazine is a Canadian company in which case PayPal charges a conversion fee when converting Canadian Loonies to U. S. Dollars.

No sweat, I subbed them a second humorous story ("The Clean Car Company") in which a criminal can obtain a "clean car" the same way he can get a "clean gun" in order to commit a crime. The magazine subsequently raised their payment rate to two cents a word. I sent another submission ("The Story Game"), also accepted. Then they put out a submission call for humorous stories for an anthology (Die Laughing), so I sent them "Blue Light Special" My acceptance rate currently stands at 57% (4 out of 7).

And, as mentioned in a previous post, Kiti is my First Reader, part-time publicist, part-time social media person, all-around mental support and wife of 41 years. Guess my acceptance rate here must be okay to make it all those years.


ADDENDUM:

I can now happily add Barb Goffman to this list. She recently asked if she could reprint "Black Friday" (10th in my Holiday Burglars series) in an upcoming issue of Black Cat Weekly: Barb Goffman Presents. The manuscript has been submitted, the edits have been made and the contract has been signed. Now, I'm just waiting to see it in print. And, I may or may not be working with Barb again, depending upon whether it is Barb or Michael Bracken who edits my submission to our SleuthSayer anthology.


It's a good life.

26 September 2021

So I was Thinking


So, anyway, I was thinking that maybe I should expand my field of writing and possibly try some new markets. I could always write some horror short stories and see how that went, but to enter that market, I would need to come up with something fresh and really scary from what's already out there. Nah, better not, I like to sleep at night.

Maybe I could try for the sci-fi market. The problem with that genre is my my knowledge of space technology is minimal, so I'd probably be limited to writing space opera and dodging incoming from those readers and editors questioning what little science I did use in my stories.

Well, there is one subgenre under the mystery umbrella which I haven't tried yet. The Private Investigator story. Guess the main reason I haven't wandered into that market is my need to find a new angle into a PI story. Seems that some angles have been used so many times that they have become a cliche. You know what I mean, the PI who is an alcoholic, is retired from or fired from the local police department, divorced, disgraced, has one buddy still on the force who gives him case details, has a certain hobby, is handicapped in some manner (whether it is physical, mental or a language barrier), etc.

I think the last innovative angle I've read was by Dave Zeltserman when he invented a micro-computer with a personality named Archie. Archie, disguised as a tie tac, researched records by hacking into computer systems, answered the business phone and gave advice to his (protagonist) PI, all while bringing him clues. So, then I'm wondering what's left to be fresh and new.

In an e-mail discussion with John Floyd, in which I mentioned all of the above, John was gracious enough to provide me with a copy of his PI story in Black Cat Mystery Magazine. His "Mustang Sally" had just won the Shamus Award for Best Short Story. In that story, his PI was just an Average Joe trying to get by, but the story did have a great twist to the ending, and that is probably why it won the award. So, maybe the PI didn't have to be someone or something special, if it was a really good story. Point taken.

Next step forward. As luck would have it, a guy (Steve Pease) in our MWA chapter carpool is a licensed Private Investigator in the state of Colorado. Not only that, but he also recently taught a twelve lesson course on PIs to a local chapter of another national writers group. And for a small negotiated fee, somehow involving a quantity of wine, plus me being a fellow carpool member, retired law enforcement agent and current friend, I could take a gander at his lesson plans. Turned out to be very interesting information, plus it came with war stories for examples. Great stuff.

So now I'm thinking, with all this material, I'm gonna brainstorm me a PI short story.

Look out Shamus Awards. Here I come.

29 August 2021

The Good, The Bad, The Lemonade


 

 If you're writing short stories, I assume you have some sort of business plan for them. In which case, your plan may be as simple as:

Plan A: submitting only to prestigious and high paying markets. (Hey, you'll probably get more money this way, but your overall published stats won't be very high.)

Plan B: submitting to as many markets as possible without regard for pay or prestige. (In this case, your published stats will probably be up there, but you may not make much money.)

Plan C: this one is also known as a portion of the John Floyd/Michael Bracken Plan where you work frequently, write prolifically and submit enough stories in a year that you can do both Plan A and Plan B at the same time.

Now, let's go one step further. Don't some of your stories deserve a second life?

Plan D: keep your eyes and ears open for any reprint markets that accept previously published stories. My bank account knows I miss Great Jones Street, a short story on your cell phone company, which was conceived before its time. I received $500 for eight previously published short stories. There was also a nice chunk of change for a reprint in an Otto Penzler anthology about villains. You could probably get more information on how to find reprint markets from John  and Michael, but you generally need to know about these markets as soon as they open. Many of them are a limited time offer.

and, it's just possible that some of your short stories should get one more chance at a first life.

Plan E: gather your, preferably related, stories into collections. Submit them to a traditional publisher and see if you can get a contract. Of course, if you're in a hurry, or can't find a traditional publisher for your masterpiece, or don't like the terms of a potential contract, you can always put out your story collection in e-format or KDP Paperbacks,

BEST PLAN: if you are dedicated enough, creative enough and have enough time in the day, then combine all of the above plans and keep on going. Success for you as a writer may be just around the corner.

so, where am I at in all this?


The Good:

"Gnawing at the Cat's Tail" will be published in the Sep/Oct 2021 issue of AHMM. This is the 7th story in my Shan Army series set in the Golden Triangle of SE Asia during the time period of the Viet Nam War. It involves two half-brothers vying against their surroundings and each other to inherit their warlord father's opium empire. One brother was raised in the British education system of Hong Kong, the other grew up with the hill tribes in the mountain jungles.

The Bad:

It was a good run with seven published stories in the series. Unfortunately, Stories #8 and #9 were rejected. The reason given was that the stories were good, but the editor thought both stories worked better as part of a novel or in a serial rather than as standalone short stories. Since the editor is the boss, that is that. I will now go and make lemonade.

The Lemonade: 

I currently have six story collections out in e-format for Kindle and other e-readers, plus they are in KDP Paperback form at Amazon. So now in about March 2022, I will release 9 Tales of the Golden Triangle in e-format and KDP Paperback. This collection will include the seven previously published stories and the two rejected stories. It will be book number seven. Book number eight, to be released later that same year will be a second collection of historical mysteries, most of which were previously published in a magazine or an anthology.

THEY LIVE AGAIN !!!

and, that's part of my plan.

Tell us about yours.

25 July 2021

One Movie at a Time


2020 was a long dreary year, but partway through 2021 the future started looking brighter as more people got vaccinated and stores, restaurants and various events began to open up. And then, the D mutation flexed its muscle and put question marks on how bad the future could become.

In our little cul-de-sac of nine houses, the majority of homeowners had a hello and wave relationship with their neighbors. During the eighteen years we had lived in this small community, there had not been a single organized get-together for all the neighbors to get to know each other. It was a friendly place… up to a point, but very few of the neighbors socialized with each other. Then one evening, one of our next door neighbors and his spouse proposed an idea they had. Seems the neighbor had a DVD projector, a folding table to put it on and a movie screen he'd made out of an old white sheet.

As a trial run, he hung the sheet from his pergola in his back yard and set up his projector on the table. We brought over two sets of Bose speakers from our old sound system and we set up some canvas camping chairs on their back lawn. The next door neighbors on the other side of our house were also invited to attend the trial run.

The movie selected was Trouble with the Curve, starring Clint Eastwood as an aging baseball scout who had a rocky relationship with his ambitious lawyer daughter. Everything worked well that night, so now it was time to expand to a larger audience, but we needed a bigger venue than his backyard.

The neighbor with the initial idea made up a handbill invitation to a free movie and ice cream social night. That same neighbor and us would would supply the ice cream, bowls and spoons. Everybody else would bring their favorite ice cream topping to share.

A few days before the event, I went around the cul-de-sac ringing doorbells and handing out handbill invitations. At the time, we didn't know if the audience would be the same seven who attended the trial run or a potential high of twelve in attendance. Since the number of attendees was an unknown factor, our driveway, which had the least slope to it, was elected as the bigger venue for this showing.


The movie screen/white sheet was hung with plastic hooks from the rain gutters over our garage door, while the projector and table were located about halfway down our driveway. The ice cream table was set up off to one side on the sidewalk. Everyone brought their own chairs and found places to put them where they would have a good view of the movie. Tiki torches filled with mosquito repellant were set up off to the side in order to ward off any unwanted pests.

Amazingly, there were eighteen in attendance for ice cream and the movie. Because we didn't know how well this project would be received, we had only allowed a half hour between ice cream social before the movie was scheduled to run. But, when the ice cream half hour was up, the attendees were still engaged in on-going conversation with the neighbors they had lived side-by-side with for years with only a wave and a hello. Of course, ice cream time got extended. Finally, I had to instruct everyone to pick up some popcorn which my wife had bagged up and then to take their seats, the movie was about to start. Otherwise, we may not have wound up this party until well after midnight.

For this movie, we showed Second Hand Lions with Robert Duvall and Michael Caine. Another hit. Afterwards, surprisingly enough, everyone stuck around to take down the screen and carry all the equipment and tables back to the original owner's house and/or backyard.

There's nothing like success. For our next event, we may expand the social time by making it a covered dish supper with each family bringing something for the table. This way, they can talk with their neighbors for a longer period of time.

The question now is which movie to show. It needs to be a family friendly one, kids may attend, yet be appealing to a wide audience. Any ideas?

We're just coming together, one movie at a time.

27 June 2021

Blue Light Special


Back in the summer of 1980,Miami was an open town. The Cocaine Cowboys were riding high with cash, guns, killings and lots of product. Enterprising pilots, flying under the radar, clandestinely dropped parcels of cocaine and bundles of marijuana into the swamps to be recovered by ground crews. Mother ships loaded with marijuana out of Colombian ports ran the high seas headed north. Dealers used grocery sacks to take their money to the bank. Get in a wreck with a van load of marijuana on the Interstate? Walk away, there will be another load. Homicide cops responding to killings of major league dealers found large quantities of money. Temptation set in. After all, the owner of all that cash wasn't alive to complain about his loss. But, when those big payouts went dry, some entrepreneur cops decided to make their own killings. And, guess who did the homicide investigations on those deceased dealers? It could be an exciting time...... if you lived.

That summer, I caught a special and got loaned out to our office in Miami for a few months. Twelve of us agents from various offices across the U.S. were temporarily assigned to the same task force to replace the group of local agents who were being relocated further south to conduct surveillance on clandestine landing strips known to be on several islands in the Caribbean.


Part of our duties were to partner with U.S. Customs out of the port of Miami in order to intercept smugglers along the Florida coast at midnight as they tried running in from the Bahama banks. We hunted in wolf packs with go-fast boats and a Customs tug boat which operated a radar set. Whenever the tug's First Mate got a speeding blip on his radar screen, he radioed the information to the appropriate go-fast boats and the chase was on. At the time, Customs used a flashing blue Kojak light to signify their presence. Some smugglers then idled their engines and trusted to their hidden compartments to get them through. Others goosed their engines and ran for it.

Meanwhile, on the Gulf side of Florida a few enterprising redneck entrepreneurs who didn't have the cash nor connections to purchase large quantities of controlled substances on their own came up with the bright idea of acquiring their own flashing blue lights. This situation made for confusion and adrenaline, not to mention what you might call a touch of modern day piracy conducted under a false flag.

With all of this fodder for a short story, I couldn't resist when Mystery Weekly Magazine put out a submission call for humorous stories to publish in its Die Laughing anthology. My story, "Blue Light Special," was accepted earlier this month, the e-contract has been signed, PayPal has delivered the payment and now I'm somewhat patiently waiting to have the anthology in hand.

Yes, you may sleep easy in your beds at night. Worse thought-out plots of nefarious action have occurred on the high seas in the dark of night. So, pleasant reading to you and yours, and have a few laughs while you're at it.

PS ~415 stories were submitted to the anthology, 44 were accepted. A hearty congratulations to SleuthSayers Rob Lopresti and Bob Mangeot for making the cut.

30 May 2021

The Road to Hana


“The Road to Hana” is one of those stories that took several years from concept to to conclusion and underwent many transformations during the journey. I started out with the right murder weapon in mind and had the correct setting for the story to play out. I just needed to figure out the proper characters for protagonist, antagonist and secondary players.

The setting is an exotic location, a paradise where murder is out of place. It is also a location I am familiar with, having gone back to it many times over the decades.

If you look at the Hawaiian island of Maui as a figure 8, the airport would be located at the waist of the figure. Driving clockwise from the airport on the lower half of the 8 takes you 52 miles to the small villages of Hana on the windy side of the island. Most of this 52 miles of highway clings to volcanic rock cliffs and parallels  the coast. It has 56 bridges and 620 curves with dense jungle on both the uphill and the downhill sides of the road. Most of the bridges are one-way at a time, built of crumbling cement date stamped in the 1920s. The view is beautiful, but don't take your eyes off the road for long. This side of the island is not the side where all the nice, sandy beaches are located, nor the large, fancy resorts. It's where you go on a one-day trip to see what's left of old Hawaii or else to get away from everything.

Wkipedia map

That's setting. So, who would make a good protagonist? How about a big city homicide detective recovering from a bullet wound in the line of duty. He wants someplace warm, quiet and laid back to rest up for a few days. To that end, he rents a tourist bungalow outside Hana and settles in to see a few local sites, find a good restaurant and have a tourist drink or two.

In the beginning, he does not suspect that another visitor's death may actually be a homicide, nor that the antagonist may consider a second murder to cover up the first.

With the above information in place, the antagonist and bit players wrote themselves into the story. Now, I'm not sure what took me so long from start to finish. "The Road to Hana" appears in the AHMM May/Jun 2021 issue. That makes four stories in four straight issues. A good run, but now it will be a long dry spell before any others of mine get published.

Aerial View Hana Highway © Wikipedia

Originally, I wrote this one as a standalone, however I I usually try to keep in mind what it would take for one of my standalones to become a series. In this case, the detective could only make so many trips back to the islands before the concept gets worn out and he needs to retire and move to the islands before he can stumble over more bodies and make it seem credible. Otherwise, the Tourist Board would surly ban him from setting foot in the islands.

If you ever get the chance, I recommend taking a trip to Maui and driving over to the Hana side to enjoy the scenery, if nothing else.  We swam in the Seven Pools, hiked up through bamboo forests on the old volcano to a 100 foot water fall splashing down to a small pool and ate ripe guava off of trees along the way. Also found coconuts on some of the small beaches. Never did make it to aviator Charles Lindbergh's grave in a cemetery behind an old church. Maybe on the next trip.

25 April 2021

The Hat Trick


When a hockey player scores three goals in the same game, he is said to have performed "The Hat Trick." There are several myths as to where the term came from, however, it appears that the term was first coined in December 1933 when The Winnipeg Free Press described a hockey game in which Romeo Rivers of the Monarchs scored his third goal when he received a pass from his team mate who had drawn the opposing goalie out of position.

The term has since moved into other sports, referring to a player scoring three times in the same game. If the player happens to score two goals, it's called a "brace," and if he scores three consecutive goals in the same game, without another player scoring in between any two of his goals, that feat is then called "A Natural Hat Trick."

Transposing the above logic into the game of writing for AHMM, I think I can claim the simple version of The Hat Trick. To borrow someone else's phrase, someone a lot more famous than I am: "So, here's the deal."

1st Goal

The Nov/Dec 2020 issue of AHMM published my short story "A Matter of Values." Originally, I intended this Prohibition Era tale about an Irish bootlegger and his vice cop buddy to be a standalone. However, as I mentioned in a previous blog, I am now under pressure to turn the standalone into a series. To date, I have two story starts, "Whiskey Curb" and "On the Pad." Both are based on actual places and/or happenings in NYC during that time period. We'll see if either makes it to the finish line.

2nd Goal

The Jan/Feb 2021 issue of AHMM published "A Helping Hand," 8th in my 1660's Underworld series. This story involves a young, orphan, incompetent pickpocket trying to survive in a criminal enclave in Paris during the reign of Louis the Fourteenth, the Sun King. Constantly being hungry, he is often drawn into the schemes of others in hopes of getting something to eat.

3rd Goal

The Mar/Apr 2021 issue of AHMM published "St. Paddy's Day," 12th in my Holiday Burglars series. In this one, Yarnell and Beaumont are hired by a woman to steal her husband's body and get it to the funeral home in time for his services the next morning. It seems the deceased's drinking buddies stole the corpse at the wake, bungee-corded it to a refrigerator dollie, stuck a drink in his hand and proceeded to wheel him through all his favorite bars on St. Patrick's Day. Our two protagonists took on the job because the deceased was a fellow burglar, not to mention the fee for doing so.


And, there you have it. I'm considering that writing for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine as one game, while writing for any different magazine as a separate game. Since I have a story in three consecutive issues of AHMM, I am hereby claiming a Hat Trick in the field of writing mystery short stories.

Hey, in our business of writing short stories, you aren't going to get rich, so you have to find glory where you can.

Now, get out there and write/submit/sell your own short stories and claim your own Hat Tricks.

28 March 2021

Support and Dedication


As writers, we all know how important it is to receive support from those around us. And that is why I am dedicating this day's blog to my wife Kiti.

So here's what has been going on. As some of us may have already found out, Old Age can be a Bitch, especially when she comes for you with a vengeance as body parts start wearing out. You see, for part of December through part of February, I had hip pains and upper thigh pains down to my knees.

X-rays and an MRI showed bone degeneration and collapsed disks pinching the nerve bundle. Surgery fused L-3, L-4 and L-5, grafted the appropriate bone and built a metal cage to stabilize it all.

It took incision cuts fore and aft to get there. Nor, with my limited movement during healing, I can't even get out of bed by myself to go to the bathroom without the assistance of my wife. Currently, that is an every two to four hour test of devotion in each twenty-four hour period.

And when I think about it, she was already here as my First Reader, writers conference guide, secretary, best friend, emotional supporter and all those other things, besides being my wife. And, she did this while working as a federal credit union Vice-President and raising four kids, two hers and two mine, plus eleven grandchildren.

Anyway, I think you can see why I'm dedicating this blog to her. And, I hope you have someone this supportive in your life.


28 February 2021

Come Along for the Ride


So, I'm sitting with my buddy Mike(Huey pilot and one-time deputy sheriff) on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, treating ourselves to rum and Cokes while brainstorming storylines for mystery short stories. I know what you're thinking. If I could make more money from writing and selling short stories, then I could try writing some of those cruise expenses off on my income taxes. Unfortunately for me, those deducted figures would probably fall into the category of real fiction. Truth be known, only  a small percentage of  these brainstorming sessions ends up becoming a completed and salable story.

Anyway, if I'm going to write a standalone or what I hope will be the first story in a series, I prefer to pick a setting or an idea that hasn't been done before or at least, to my knowledge, not very often. Because of my two years, nine months and twenty-nine days in the Army, plus more than twenty-eight years in federal law enforcement,  I tend to enjoy the antics of incompetent criminals. Most of these characters seem to be knocking on the prison door screaming, "Let me in," while their screwups generally fall into the category of "What were you possibly thinking?"

So, when the wheels start turning, it's easy to reach into the past and find characters and/or events and put them in a what if situation. It was circumstances like these on that cruise ship brainstorming session that produced "The Clean Car Company," published in the January 2021 issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine.

It went something like this. What if a junior league criminal is sitting in the back booth of a very dark bar waiting for his partner in crime to show up, so they can figure out how to make some money. And, while he is nursing the dregs of his drink, three males slide into his booth and don't realize that someone else is sitting in that booth. These three new arrivals commence to continue planning the heist they have in mind.

Time to give these characters some names in order to avoid confusion with who's doing what. Danny is our protagonist and the alleged brains of his junior league criminal partnership. Leroy is the slim killer sitting beside Danny in the booth. Caps, nicknamed for his penchant for knee-capping people who get sideways with him, is sitting across from Leroy. The Kid, sitting across from Danny and beside Caps, is Caps' teenage nephew and a screwup when it comes to crime.

When Caps suddenly realizes they have an unwanted visitor sitting in the darkest corner of the booth, and that this visitor has just listened in on their heist plans, he becomes noticeably upset. Leroy takes out a switchblade and offers to take care of the problem. 

Faced with a dire situation, Danny must quickly come up with a solution to everyone's problem. Working with the facts available to him:

  1. Danny has just inherited his Aunt Rosie's car
  2. The car's license plates are now registered to a deceased person
  3. He and his partner are trying to figure out how to make some money
  4. The heist gang's 4th member, who was to steal a getaway car and be the getaway driver, is currently in jail on a different charge
  5. The gang can get an other driver, but they still have getaway car
  6. Danny has to think fast else his lifeless body will be left behind in the booth

Danny tells the gang that he is starting a new business and the heist gang can be his first customers. He offers them Aunt Rosie's car as a "rental getaway vehicle." As he explains it, it is a "clean car," much the same as a criminal could obtain a "clean gun" from a clandestine weapons dealer on the street. It's a cash only and no paperwork deal. 

The heist goes forward, but there is no honor amongst criminals. Danny and his partner end up with an unexpected problem when they are double crossed by one of the gang members.

To see the problem and read the outcome, obtain your copy of the January 2021 issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine. There's some good reading in that issue.

31 January 2021

A Helping Hand


The Story

My latest story, "A Helping Hand," is currently out in the AHMM January/February 2021 issue. It is the 8th in my 1660's Paris Underworld series. The protagonist, a young, orphan, incompetent pickpocket, tells of his adventures trying to survive in the criminal community of old Paris.

The Con

Like most of my mystery short stories, the storyline is based on my undercover experiences on the street where hardened criminals often looked on others as marks, or pigeons to be plucked, whether these street wolves were after your valuables or just to somehow gain an advantage on you.

A simple uncomplicated con, for instance, used by some of the heroin users in 1970's Kansas City when the users needed money for their next fix went like this. They would enter a large department store, go to a counter and request one of the store's empty bags with the store logo on it. Then, they would move on to the home goods section and pick out an appliance, say a toaster. When no one was looking, they'd place the toaster in the store bag they'd acquired at the first counter. Next stop was the Customer Service Desk where they produced the toaster in the store bag, claimed that a relative/friend/someone had bought it for them as a present, but they already had one, therefore they would like to return it for cash. That's why these days, most stores won't give you an empty store bag, plus you need a receipt to get your money back on a returned purchase.

But then, not all cons are for instant cash. We've all heard reports of pimps and other conmen hanging around bus stations to seek out naive youngsters and pretend to befriend them in order for the street criminal to take advantage of the unsuspecting new arrival. Unfortunately, the world has many predators out there.

The Story

While trying to lift the purse of a wealthy merchant, our protagonist is interrupted by a man with a scar on his face. Scar Face convinces the orphan pickpocket that he has done the orphan a favor by saving him from arrest by the city bailiffs. He continues by telling the orphan that while he did not get the merchant's purse, Scar Face has some comrades with a pending burglary which will make them all some good coin in the end. Seems all these burglars need is someone small enough for a special job. The orphan agrees to join the group and help with the burglary.

The Con

One ploy of many cons is to convince the mark that he is on the inside and that someone else is the victim.

The Story

Our young pickpocket protagonist is introduced to others involved in the burglary scheme. Gradually, Scar Face and his adult partner feed little bits of information to the young orphan about the pending crime. Since our protagonist hasn't eaten for a while and is quite hungry, he goes along with the plan as it is laid out.

The Con

Sooner or later, most cons involve a double-cross where the conman expects to end up with all the proceeds from the scam. The victim finds himself holding an empty bag. A good conman will then also make the situation appear as if someone else took the proceeds. This misdirection gives the appearance as if he too is a victim of unforeseen circumstances and not at fault for the misfortunate events which robbed the main conspirators at the last moment.

Back to the Story

The burglary is successfully completed and the loot is stored in a safe storehouse. Now, the plan is for the loot to be sold off in small lots and the resulting money to be equally divided amongst the four burglars, but Scar Face puts his double-cross into play.

Our young, incompetent pickpocket may not know all the tricks of the game, but he has lived in his criminal community of old Paris long enough to have learned some tricks of his own. He soon enlists the assistance of a couple of unlikely allies.

Get your copy of the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of AHMM, read the story and watch the con unfold.

So what would you have done if you lived on the streets of 1660's Paris and were hungry all the time?

27 December 2020

A Weird Christmas Tale for Writers


Terry Pratchett gave us the character of Hogfather to replace Santa Claus in his best-selling fantasy series. And, since it is only fair that Hogfather, like Santa, should have his own minions, I give you Blind Pig as a potential candidate for one of his elves.

Having worked the motorcycle gangs for several years, it did not take long to find a real-life representative for the character of Blind Pig, a hulk of a free-thinking biker who sees the world around him through a different filter. But, he does love his customized Harley.

So, here's your Christmas gift from me for this year.

A Weird Christmas Tale for Writers
Having been severely encouraged by his new old lady Patricia to acquire a modicum of culture and perhaps broaden his literary interests at the same time, the Pig made the momentous decision to write his memoirs and give them to Patricia as a Christmas present. He perceived himself as the only proper expert for this endeavor, seeing as how he was the sole person that truly understood himself.
Patricia for her part, was suitably impressed that the Pig was going to write anything, much less his autobiography.


Having now heard the term autobiography banded about for the first time, the Pig was stymied for a minute or two. He had been so caught up in the idea of drafting his memoirs that he hadn't even considered the words auto and biography in the same sentence. Ambling off to the kitchen for another beer, he contemplated the two words and decided they wouldn't do at all for his project. In the first place, the Pig refused to ride in one of them steel cages known as an auto, that was for civilians in the straight life. And in the second place, he decided that most auto biographies must have been written by race car drivers, which obviously left him out. Therefore, being a motorcycle enthusiast, he decided to refer to his memoirs as a motor-cy-ography.

Thus having rendered that turning-point decision, he proceeded to gather up his writing materials. Lacking the immediate possession of either a computer or an old-fashioned typewriter, the Pig adjusted his mind to write in longhand. He promptly located the stub of a carpenter pencil and an almost dried-up ballpoint pen bearing the logo of his local bail bond agent. Finding no clean paper to write upon, Pig then moved on to cut up a stash of old brown-paper grocery bags that he'd forgotten to throw in the trash over the last several years. As he labored, Pig thought he had now acquired a glimpse into the demise of the modern writer, seeing as to how most grocery bags had gone from paper to plastic, thus depriving the writer of a convenient source of free paper material.

All set to begin with carpenter pencil in hand, the Pig suddenly found himself plagued by Writer's Block, which pleased him immensely because he now knew that he was on the road to being a real writer, otherwise he wouldn't be blocked. In order to break through this barrier, the Pig thought about what other writers talked of at times like these and knew immediately what he needed to do. Turning to the Z's in the Yellow Pages, he punched a phone number into his cell and waited for someone to answer.
  "Hello. This is the zoo. How may I help you?"
  "Do you have one of those Bullwinkle things?"
  "Excuse me."
  "You know, one of those big brown, grass eating things from the north woods."
  "Oh, you mean a moose?"
  "Yeah, can I borrow one for a while?"
  "I'm sorry, sir. We only loan our animals out to other zoos, not private individuals."
  "Just for a couple of weeks. I'll take good care of him."
The line went dead.
Incensed at his first rejection as an author, Pig retired to the bedroom and commenced rooting through the closet. In quick order, he extracted his black, ninja, steal-at-night clothes, a red Santa hat trimmed in white rabbit fur, several lengths of rope and two pair of old sweat socks from the laundry hamper. As the sun went down, he loaded all his gear into an old pickup he had borrowed from an unsuspecting neighbor. He also threw in a case of Jamaican Red Stripe beer, ten peanut and jelly sandwiches and three Moon Pies, just in case he got hungry during the coming escapade.
#
Early the next morning, as a heavy metal version of Jingle Bells played on the truck's radio, Pig returned to the house where his new old lady Patricia was waiting on the front porch. In the back of the pickup, Pig had one dazed, bound, gagged and blindfolded moose. With an apparent perception of the problem, Patricia then proceeded to explain to Blind Pig the difference between the large, antlered herbivore he had kidnapped from the zoo, ie. a moose, as opposed to the spiritual inspiration for a writer, ie. a muse.

Undaunted by this minor mistake, Pig asked if he could keep the moose in the backyard at least until after the Christmas holidays were over.
The moose, still gagged by the two pair of old sweat socks, had no say in the matter.
- not the end -

PS~ there is a Part Two, but we'll save it for maybe another time. In the meantime, keep on writin'.

Merry Christmas to all !!!
or if you are a Pratchett fan, then
Merry Hogwatch Night to you !!!

29 November 2020

What Does It Say About You?


Almost every author has at least one of what I'm going to talk about. And, some of what I've seen are better than others. I'm referring to the photo you use on your book cover, or on your blog site and/or submit to the writers conferences so the committee can include that photo of you in their conference booklet.

Unless you are hiding out from say, bill collectors or the drug cartels, you want people to recognize you for several reasons. Readers may want to say hello to their favorite author and perhaps to discuss one of your story characters or maybe ask questions about you latest story which really impressed them. Agents, editors, publishers and booksellers passing by at a conference may decide they'd like a congratulatory business word with you. Other authors, upon recognizing you, may want to meet their competition or discuss aspects of the writing craft. All of these are missed opportunities to network if no one knows what you look like or who you are.

Well, says you, I already have a photo for all those purposes. Good for you is my reply, but not so fast there. Per chance there is a question or more you should ask yourself.

Does it still look like you?

How old is the photo? Have you changed your hair style in the meantime? Do your clothes date you to a certain time period? When you look in the mirror every day, any change in the appearance of the person looking back is probably minimal, but over the passage of time, the change from the photo may become very distinct. We've all seen that conference booklet photo of the author who tried to stay young forever. At those times, it can become jarring to see the reality in person. So, make a more current photo when needed. These days, it's easy to update photos to have a gradual transition in appearance.

What does your photo say about you?

Obviously, if you write Westerns, you'll probably be dressed in cowboy gear. And, if you write Romance, then you'll probably have your hair done, have professional make up and wear a classy dress. Readers have expectations as to what their authors should look like. Do your best with what you've got, but try to fulfill those expectations as best you can You only get one chance to make a first impression and that impressions can make a difference in sales.

With the digital cameras we have these days, you don't need to go to a professional photographer, unless maybe you're a big-name author. The rest of us can keep taking digital photos until we get the look we like, one that says "this is me and I'm a professional at what I'm doing."

It's up to you to decide what goes into your photo. If you have a background in what you're writing, then you may want to reflect that in your photo, whether it's through a prop or a staged backdrop. I've also noticed that some authors will pose with their dog or cat. I assume they are appealing, in a subliminal way, to other dog or cat lovers. Kind of a "We have a common bond here, so you'll like my book" approach to advertising.

For me

My first three appearances in 1990's writers conference booklets showed a profile caricature in trench coat and fedora rather than an actual photo. You see, I had a few felons (one of whom had gone down twice for homicides before he brought me a kilo of coke), who had done their time and were getting released back into society. (The kilo guy was on the streets less that a month before he was revoked for choking someone.) Anyway, I didn't need them finding me from a photo and causing a disruption at the conference.

My first real photo was back when AHMM used to publish photos of their authors when they had a story in the magazine. I also used that same photo for the MWA Board of Directors when I attended my first board meeting in NYC. It showed me in a black cowboy hat during the time I did ranch things on the Front Range of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The next photo, which I still use, is me in an EDGE ballcap, glasses and a bandido mustache. None of that has changed over the years, except that the real me has acquired some crow's feet around the eyes, but that change wouldn't show up in my photo anyway.


And, lastly, the photo I use for SleuthSayers is one I originally made for a non-fiction book I wrote under an alias. Under the terms of the contract, book signings could be held simultaneously on both the East Coast and on the West Coast and neither one of them would be me. I used a navy watch cap, dark sunglasses and had my wife dye my sideburns and mustache with black shoe polish. I guess you could say this photo reveals one of the many personas I've adopted in my past.

For you

So, tell us what your photo says about you.

Does it reflect your background?

Does it go with your genre?

Does it distinguish you from other authors?


Got any author photo tips or insights for others?

25 October 2020

Evolution of a Story


 Originally, I was going to title this one as "Three Strikes and a Home Run on a Bunt." But that is too long for a title, and as baseball fans know, technically a batter only gets three strikes and then he is out of the batter's box. He doesn't then get another chance to swing at the ball. So, pay attention here because this is the way this game went.

Strike One
Back in the 90's, another short story author proposed that he and I should write a private investigator story together, a story set in the corrupt river-town of Sioux City during the Prohibition Era. At the time, the proposing author had several more published short stories than I did, but he had also received several rejections from AHMM. So, our plan was to co-author the story and submit it to AHMM and he would then get a story into their magazine, well, at least half a story. Since he and I liked the same authors and the same type of stories, it should have been easy working together.

I wrote part of the story and passed it to him. He wrote the next part of the story and passed it back. And, so on until the story was finished. Were there any problems? Of course there were. We didn't agree on the title, the private eye's name or even his height, among some of the important issues. Consulting with other fellow writers as intermediaries resulted in evenly divided opinions or else a third suggestion which neither co-author wished to implement. In the end, there was a lot of coin flipping. I submitted the story with both author's names  for the byline to AHMM. They rejected it. The editor must've had her own coin. At separate times afterwards, my co-author submitted our manuscript to two small press magazines he had previously been published in. In turn, each magazine accepted the story, but then went toes up before a contract could be signed. The story never saw print. With all the fun I'd had on this joint project, I swore to myself to avoid any short story collaboration in the future. This worked for about twenty years.

 Strike Two
Now, we move forward to the 21st Century. An author, whom I highly admire and was already in AHMM, inquired about the two of us co-authoring a short story for AHMM. I explained my prior situation and declined the proposal. A couple of years later, the inquiry came again. By the third request, I decided what the hell, give it a try, see how it goes. I then created a partial story outline proposal involving a bent cop and a gangster during the Prohibition Era, but a completely different plot than the story in Strike One. Next, I wrote about 1,000 words in the POV of one of the two main characters and passed the partial outline and story start to the other author for his turn to write about 1,000 words in the POV of the other main character. After the pass, other projects seemed to have come along and everybody went their separate writing ways. No harm, no foul.

Strike Three
A couple of years ago, I wrote a story about a gangster in 1930's New York City during (you guessed it) the Prohibition Era. Completely different plot than the ones in Strike One and Strike Two. I shipped the manuscript off to AHMM via e-mail in August 2017. The rejection came back in July 2018 with the editor's comments that it looked like I was setting the story up for a series. (Remember her comment for later.)  And, the editor was correct, I had intended for the story to become a series.

The Bunt

Looking through my story starts one day for something to write, I came across my old 1,000 word start from the abandoned Strike Two project. Years had passed without any progress, so I blew the dust off and continued the story. Only now, I changed the story to be written solely from one main character's POV, the bent cop. I finished the outline and the story as I wrote. The manuscript went to AHMM in February 2018 and was accepted in January 2019.

The Ball Keeps On Rolling
In the early part of August 2020, I got an e-mail from the Managing Editor of AHMM saying that I will have a story coming out in their Nov/Dec 2020 issue, but she had been on vacation and was trying to catch up, so she didn't yet know which story it would be. Since they had at the time six of my purchased-but-not-yet-published stories setting in inventory, I obviously didn't know which one it would be either.

The Home Run
In last August, Rob Lopresti e-mailed me with a link to the preview of the Nov/Dec 2020 AHMM issue. The last line in the 2nd paragraph in the Editor's Preview section says: "And R.T. Lawton introduces us to a new series in "A Matter of Values."

And yep, that's the bent cop and gangster story from Strike Two and The Bunt, but I wrote that one as a standalone story. Let's see now, one is a standalone, two is a sequel and at least three is a series, unless you count that as a trilogy, in which case it takes four. This means that in order not to disappoint the editor, I now have to come up with two or more new stories involving those same two main characters and then get contracts for each of those stories.. What a problem to have. Goes to show, you just never know how things will go in this game of ours.

27 September 2020

In the Trenches


"In order to write about life
you must first live it.
        — Ernest Hemingway

For most of what goes into my writing, I tried to first live in that life, but then as a kid I had also raised myself on such novels as The Three Musketeers, Scaramouche, Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. The true adrenaline adventures came later.

If what I was going to write about as an adult was not something I had personally lived or observed, then I would research that topic. I quickly found the best research information came from those who had lived in that life, so when I decided to write my Bookie series, I went out and got myself a bookie. Surprisingly, he wasn't like bookies are depicted in movies and on television. This bet taker turned out to be a young guy, no different than the All-American kid next door. It's just that he illegally took bets on sporting events and laundered some of his cash salary received for booking these bets through his personal legitimate business as a landscaping company.

Now bookies don't necessarily talk to law enforcement and especially not to lay out their entire clandestine operation. Since this particular bookie had a loose, potential connection to my extended family, he agreed to meet with me, but not in the city where we both lived. Which led us to Bernie, my mother-in-law, who lived in a town about an hour away.

At the time, Bernie was a school teacher and the biggest fan of my short stories and magazine articles. She definitely did not condone crime or criminals, but when I explained the situation, she decided that since it was me then I could use her house for the meeting place. She would just go shopping during the appointed meeting time.

The bookie, whom I had never met before, and I got together for a couple of hours and talked. I ended up with four typed pages of notes. Having never made a sports bet, except for friendly wagers with friends while watching various Super Bowls, this was all new to me. I learned about overs and unders and the spread. I learned how bookies only take referred clients, how limits worked, how the odds came from Vegas and the terms for betting. A penny is a hundred dollars, two cents is $200, a nickel is $500 and a dime is $1,000. Back then, bet records were kept on cassette tapes and tossed in a burn barrel after debts were settled. Sometimes, they merely used magnetic erasers to clean the tapes. The client knew he was being taped when he placed the bet. The bookie then repeated the bet on tape and stated the account number of the client.

A Popcorn Bookie was a small wanna-be bookie who usually operated in a bar or other business and laid off his bets to a larger local Book. For very large bets, the local book would usually lay off those bets to an offshore book in order to protect themselves from extreme loses.

Using some of the above information, I wrote the first two stories in my Bookie series. Unfortunately for me, AHMM and EQMM didn't take these stories, so they didn't become an actual series. You know, one is a standalone, two is a sequel and it takes at least three to make a series.

For my E Z Money Pawn Shop series, I went to an actual pawn shop owner on a cold call and spoke to him for an hour. He was not as forthcoming as the bookie when it came to telling shop stories, but I got enough info to write a couple of my own stories. These two pawn shop stories and the two bookie stories can currently be found in 9 Deadly Tales on Amazon in paperback.

For my 9 Tales of the Golden Triangle, I figured a year in Nam (1967-68) was close enough for experience, plus years later, reading the reports on opium warlords that crossed my work desk along with various editions of the South China Morning Post out of Hong Kong. Six of these tales have already been published in AHMM, one more has been purchased by them but not yet published and two more are resting in AHMM's e-slush pile. All nine stories should see print in paperback on Amazon in a year or two.

In past SleuthSayer blog articles, I have written about the backgrounds of 9 Holiday Burglars Mysteries, 9 Historical Mysteries and 9 Twin Brothers Bail Bond Mysteries, so I won't repeat that information except to say they are also available in paperback on Amazon.

And, that's me reporting from the trenches.

Have a nice day and keep on writin'.