by Steve Liskow
That's the anthology coming out June 18 with one of my stories in it. John Floyd has one in it, too, along with several other people I know. Kate Flora, who founded Level Best Books, accepted my first short story for publication fifteen years ago. K.M. Rockwood suggested the name of a band that appears in one of my novels. Crime writing is a small world.
The back cover copy gives you a good sense of what's in store:
Lovers and losers. Whether it's 1950s Hollywood, a scientific experiment, or a yard sale in suburbia, the twenty-two authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of "heartbreaks and half-truths" in their own inimitable style, where only one thing is certain: Behind every broken heart lies a half-truth. And behind every half-truth lies a secret.
According to my spreadsheet, "Ugly Fat" received fourteen rejections between the end of 2008 and early this year when Judy Penz Sheluk selected it for the anthology. One market told me to re-submit it--and rejected it again. That did wonders for my self-esteem. I assume another market rejected it because I sent it in April 2018 and haven't heard from them yet. That's not unusual, though. I still have seventeen unanswered queries from agents to whom I sent The Whammer Jammers in 2011. That's a major reason I started self-publishing my novels.
I've always loved short stories but never felt comfortable with the form until I attended the Wesleyan Writer's Conference in summer of 2004. Alex Chee, Roxanna Robinson and Chris Offutt were all excellent teachers. Chris also gave me helpful feedback on an early version of what eventually became Blood on the Tracks (Interestingly enough, so did Kate Flora at Crime Bake a year or two later, on a very different draft). I wrote eight or ten short stories in the months after that one-week workshop, and four stories that have seen print came from writing prompts or other suggestions I picked up there.
"Ugly Fat" is different from many of my stories, but similar to a lot of them, too.
Like many of my stories, it has a female protagonist. I worked theater with strong, organized, creative stage managers for thirty years, and most of them were women. My wife is smarter than I am, too (Yes, I grant you, that's no big deal). My novels feature strong women like Valerie Karr, Megan Traine, "Shoobie" Dube, and Svetlana Melanova. Weak or dumb women don't do it for me, and that bias shows up in my writing.
Connie, the protagonist in "Ugly Fat," has been dumped by her cop boyfriend and is now visiting the gym to get back in fighting trim. She stops at a tag sale and finds that her problems are nothing compared to the woman running the sale. Molly's husband dumped her for his secretary and they eloped to Mexico. Now Molly is selling all the guy's clothes, books, and sports gear. She divorced his sorry ass and refers to it as a great diet, in which she lost 170 pounds of ugly fat in one day. Connie sympathizes, but figures out there's more to the story than meets the eye.
The story has dark humor, which I like, and a few music references, also a staple. Telling more would spoil it.
Now, you ask, how is it different from my other stories?
If you don't ask that, you missed your cue.
Well, it's only 2400 words long, one of my shortest published stories. My comfort zone seems to be about 3500--or, if you include my two novellas--about 4300. Excluding the novellas, my two longest stories are roughly 6000 words.
I've always been a process kind of guy, maybe because I taught for so long. More often than not, I know when, where, why, and how I got the idea for a story. I've discussed that before. I try to help people in my workshops realize that ideas come from anywhere and everywhere, sometimes several places and ideas at once.
I remember nothing about when or where this story came to me. The draft I sent for the anthology is "Version S," which would be the 19th version. That's far more than usual, and I don't know why there were so many. I usually do five or six drafts over a span of three or four months. Since I sent the story out the first time around Thanksgiving 2008, I probably wrote the first draft in July, most likely after seeing a tag sale or ten within walking distance of my condo any given weekend.
Who knows? Who cares?
Connie's found a home. And she's in good company.
15 June 2020
03 February 2019
by Leigh Lundin
My friend Thrush orders so much stuff on-line, Amazon built a warehouse near his residence. Last year a couple of deliveries went missing, odd computer parts of use only to him. Records showed they were placed at the door, but he didn’t receive them. That tends to defeat the goal of internet shopping of not leaving the house.
After this occurrence, I encountered the term ‘porch pirates’. It turns out some people make a habit of spotting deliveries, sometimes stalking FedEx and UPS trucks, to snatch parcels from the stoop before the owner can retrieve them.
Reports have surfaced of deliverymen who were too lazy or timid to dash through the rain or snow or sleet or hail or gloom of night for a delivery and simply recorded packages as delivered. Fortunately such skulduggery is rare. Snatch and grab is much more common.
Authorities seldom involve themselves in porch thievery. It’s pretty much up to the homeowner to police his parcels. A number of surveillance cameras have caught the unwashed ungodly in the act of larceny and posted the results on YouTube. Sometimes customers get their goods back, sometimes they don’t.
|Mark Rober’s Glitter Bomb|
|Glitter Bomb in Action|
NASA design engineer Mark Rober suffered the loss of a purloined package. When police refused help, he took matters into his own hands.
“It’s not rocket science,” he thought. And then, “Wait… Maybe it is.”
He built what has become known as the glitter bomb. The video explains better than I. Non-geeks might want to skip a couple of minutes past the two minute spot, but then we get to see the machine in action.
Apparently the public can now buy numerous, dumbed-down copycat versions of the original glorious glitter grenade. Jaireme Barrow’s company sells another device, a 12-gauge shotgun blank that explodes when stolen. Consider patronizing inventors for your porch pirates entertainment.
SleuthSayers to the Rescue
But wait, I thought. What if SleuthSayers built their own lanai larcenist Crime Stopper? What if we readers and writers cooked up a sadistic surprise for blatant banditos? In particular, why not a corpse, a bloodied, battered, putrefying remains of a body? Left amongst the severed parts might lie a note, maybe ransom, maybe threatening.
Not a real corpse, of course, but a masterpiece facsimile to gut grabbers of goods. Surely our audience could come up with a masterpiece of vile verisimilitude to make a vandal vomit. (My alliteration seems to run amuck today.)
So I’m thinking Eve could bring her varied knowledge and experience to bear as project leader. Rob and David provide research and guidance. Mary and Melodie’s hospital trauma experience might aid artists. Fran brings us cosmetician knowledge, how to make up a corpse. Surely Paul knows Hollywood makeup experts. Who are the artists among us? Janice for sure, maybe Michael or Lawrence? We need slightly mad writers to pen a frightening ransom note, surely Steve, Stephen and Barb. Brian’s exposure to the world of teens could prove helpful in choice of packaging– Xbox or iPad, none of that fuddy-duddy Dell stuff. I picture RT and O’Neil procuring a skeleton, not a real one but a classroom model smuggled out of Quantico. We’d rely upon John’s computer skills to man the 3D printer, stamping out faux phalanges and fingers, tarsals and teeth. What about our readers?
Flesh texture strikes me as a problem, although gross enough remains might deter curious pokes and probes. Say we want to apply tissue and rancid adipose upon a 3D-printed or purchased skull. Would a slab of jowl bacon be kosher? Or is there a plastic or polymer clay that firms a little but doesn’t become hard? Or would silicon work? Enquiring minds want to know.
Let’s say O’Neil and RT settle upon packaging from an Aibo, Sony’s expensive robot dog. The team packs the diabolical creation in the box. We apply fake labels, set it out on the stoop under the watchful eye of hidden, internet cameras, and it’s good to go.
And then… and then…
Authorities commit the traumatized thieves to the hospital’s mental health ward for observation. USPS and Amazon report a 13% reduction in package theft. SleuthSayers head for the nearest bar.
A Hysterical History of Horror
We must avoid the consequences undergone by my friend Robbie. Robbie Pallard worked for Disney as a designer when Terror on Church Street opened a downtown Orlando attraction, a block-long haunted two-storey mansion on steroids. This house of horror’s ghoulish attics and cellars bulged with cruelty and crime. A ghostly graveyard covered the results from its mad scientist labs.
ToCS picked Robbie to design their sets, mostly scenes from infamous horror movies. He tapped me to build their web site and a couple of props.
Their choice of Robbie wasn’t accidental– his reputation preceded him. He was once commissioned to decorate and stage a vignette for an upcoming Halloween party at a fancy, upscale house.
Sometime after completion, a visitor comes to the door. Getting no response from the doorbell, the nosy nelly peeks through windows. Moments later, the hysterical busybody phones police, screaming.
SWAT bursts in. They encounter a gut-turning scene… a tortured body hanging from the staircase. Underneath, a chainsaw rests on plastic sheeting. Cops race to track down the owners; the owners race to track down Robbie. He explains, owners explain, disbelief ensues, hilarity does not. Cops go home. Busybody and news trucks go home disappointed no murder occurred.
The Demise of Terror
Terror on Church Street suffered a sad demise. Once the site of McCrory's Ten-Cent Store at 135 South Orange Avenue, the colorful and popular attraction provided employment for numerous students, vendors, and goths who could work in their natural habiliments without drawing personal criticism.
|Robbie Pallard in action|
In violation of the state’s Sunshine Law, the mayor and cronies met after hours in a closed door session. In an after-hours coup, they authorized demolition of the building. Wrecking ball cranes and bulldozers that had been standing by, were already moving into the city. Through the night, they flattened the building to rubble. By dawn, nothing was left of the building but shattered bricks. The Historical Society was furious a protected building had been destroyed in a nighttime fait accompli.
The mayor justified leveling the structure without due procedure by characterizing it as an immiment danger to the public, requiring immediate action. That morning, Code Enforcement was laughing, noting ToCS was one of the most inspected buildings downtown, regularly visited by building department officials and almost daily by fire inspectors.
The Historical Society wrung its hands; the destruction was complete. Within days, construction began on a $20-million tower. Political machinations constituted the real terror on Church Street.
17 January 2017
by Barb Goffman
If the cops ever come banging on my door, I'll know it likely has something to do with a little file I have on my computer. The title: People to Kill.
Sounds bad, doesn't it? Your average Joe might be nodding big time. But my author friends? Nah. They get it. They all probably have lists themselves, though they might not be dumb enough to label theirs People to Kill and leave it right there on their desktop where anyone can spot it.
So who are all these people with a target on their back? One's a teacher a friend had in high school. The guy made my pal's life a living hell, so I told her I'd take care of him for her. Another person on the list is a doctor who made a different friend suffer. So I said I'd off the doc. A third person on the list ... Well, you get the idea. I've got a lot of disgruntled friends.
You'll notice I didn't mention anyone on the list who had crossed me. That's because I don't need to write their names down. They are burned in my brain, and one day, they each will get what's coming.
I know you're waiting for it, so yeah, yeah. On paper. I'm going to get revenge on paper. I'll name a character who's going to suffer after someone's real-life nemesis. Not the full name, of course. The first name or the last name. Enough for me and my friends to know what happened.
I've found I enjoy bringing pain to folks who've been mean--or worse--to people I like. It's cathartic. It's especially soothing when I'm dealing with people who've hurt me. Shall we count the ways?
- In my first published story, "Murder at Sleuthfest," I murder a thief who steals a ring at the Sleuthfest mystery convention. Harsh? Maybe. But In real life, I had a ring stolen at that very convention the year before the story was published, and, ooh, writing that story made me feel good.
- In my story "Compulsive Bubba," an adulterer gets his. I did that job in honor of a childhood neighbor whose husband cheated on her with her best friend. The woman deserved better.
- In "The Wrong Girl," a teacher who humiliates a child in class ostensibly to help her discovers that she picked on the wrong girl. It just so happens that something like that happened to me in the fifth grade--the humiliation, not the revenge. I promise. But, oh, the catharsis was real.
- In "Stepmonster," a woman seeks to avenge the death of her beloved father. Someone could have saved him but simply didn't. The basis for this story comes straight from my life. As is some of the dialogue. Word for word. Writing this story helped me deal with the situation, but it of course could never make up for my father's death, and I will never forgive or forget. Even catharsis has its limits.
Author friends, have you dealt with real-life foes in your stories? I'd love to hear the details in the comments below. And readers, is there someone you'd like added to my People to Kill file? Please share your story. But don't list your nemesis' name. You can send that to me privately.
12 July 2012
I keep hearing there is a dumbing down of America. I don't want to believe it, but I'm reminded that:
- Educators have stopped teaching cursive writing in elementary schools.
- We are relying more and more on spell check rather than knowing how to spell.
- More and more we are using a text-derived shorthand language, which is neither correctly spelled or as a gauge of a good vocabulary.
Editors have said the average language level for our novels and short stories should be written for an eighth-grade reading audience.
Just as I am buying into the "dumbing down of America," I find a spark of hope. The last couple of years, I've spent considerable time with young people on a regular basis. From my new grand daughter and our time with children's programming on television to the college students I've been fortunate to interact with, I can vouch that the reading audience is out there and selectively reading on a better grade level than what we have been told to expect.
Cuddled with my grand daughter, we found on Sesame Street, Eva Longoria presented the word of the day: exquisite.
That afternoon, Word Girl concentrated her energies on the word pensive. These are early school educational programs. It looks like the writers for those programs expect the next generation to have extensive vocabularies. Good for them to recognize the need for quality education for our little ones.
Those books that reach a popularity with the masses that have introduced new words for our dictionaries --like muggles from the Harry Potter series -- and quark from Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce and the word, robotics, from Isaac Asimov, have done a great service to readers. They made reading FUN.
Something about knowing the new "in" words found in a story we love and then sharing them with our friends is a wonderful way writers can ensure readers continue being readers all their lives. I think those authors finding ways to encourage their young reader's to embrace a larger vocabulary with choices like tesserae and apothecary from The Hunger Games, is doing anything but dumbing down American readers.
So what about the adult mystery audience? I don't enjoy novels that force me to head for the dictionary every page, but I do like learning a new term or phrase. It's my opinion if we can keep learning, we grow old slower than those who have given up on additional knowledge.
The idea of being the writer of great mysteries means delivering all the clues in just the right measures to allow the reader to almost guess the outcome.
As a writer, I've read between the lines too much not to usually guess who-done-it and why. That's why when I discover writing that surprises me with its delicate hiding of clues where I should have noticed them like the envelope hidden in plain sight in Poe's The Purloined Letter, that I am in awe and more than eager to read more from the author.
I don't want to be treated like someone without a brain who needs someone to lay the clues all out like a clear blueprint which a child could understand.
As a reader, I want to be entertained and elevated by the language. As a mystery reader, I want to be mindful of the careful plotting and clues being planted and tenderly cared for so as not to be disturbed before they are ready to emerge like tiny buds on a rosebush. Pretty enough to keep my interest and just thorny enough to be dangerous is exactly how I like mysteries.
I adore films and television, but not so much those that are expecting not to know when to laugh so I'm provided with a prompting laugh track. I don't want to know in the first scene who committed the crime. I don't want the detective in a series to deduce the criminal's motives in the initial setup.
That's probably why I was astounded to find how wonderfully written the television series "Revenge" turned out to be this first season.
Good writing is being done everyday all over America. Isn't it nice we still have an audience for such clever authors?
American readers are smarter than they are given credit for being. Thanks for being one of them!