Showing posts with label The Saturday Evening Post. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Saturday Evening Post. Show all posts

20 July 2019

A Saturday Post About The Saturday Evening Post



by John M. Floyd





A few years ago I discovered a new market for my stories--or, more accurately, I was told about it. It wasn't a mystery market (those are the ones I usually look for), but one that is occasionally receptive to mysteries as well. It was a magazine whose name I recognized, but I had never considered submitting a story there.

When I think of The Saturday Evening Post, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Norman Rockwell's covers. But they do publish one short story in every bi-monthly print edition, and the one in the current issue is mine. (I would prefer they make things easier by just using one of my stories in every issue, but they might not agree with that idea.)

A little Post history

Like me, the SEP has been around awhile. It began in the 1820s, and I'm told it did pretty well until the 1890s, and then sank to a circulation of around two thousand. Then--under new leadership--it rose to around 250,000 in 1900 and a million in 1908. Apparently it continued to flourish until the 1960s, reaching a circulation of around seven million. In the late sixties, though, the Post had another downturn, and by 1982 it had become, according to its website, a non-profit entity focusing on health, medicine, volunteerism, etc. In 2013 it underwent a do-over, returning to its original policy of celebrating the storytelling, art, and history of America. I am now a subscriber and I truly enjoy the magazine.

One thing of interest to folks like me is that the Post--as I said earlier--features one piece of fiction in every print edition, and then makes those stories available online about two weeks after their appearance in print. My story in their current (July/Aug 2019) issue became available online this past week. I understand the SEP is also a market for strictly online stories, where a new story is featured every week. I have not investigated or sent anything to that venue, but I know several fellow SleuthSayers who have submitted and have been published there, and I would welcome their comments and information on that piece of the market.

What does all this have to do with mystery writing? Not much. Only three of the eight stories I've had published by the SEP are mysteries--or at least mysteries in the sense that a crime is central to their plots. (That remains the criteria by which Otto Penzler selects the content for his annual Best American Mystery Stories anthologies.) That of course means that more than half of my SEP stories are not mysteries. But most writers like to dabble now and then in other genres anyway.

My Post history

Looking back at the past several years, here are the short stories I've been fortunate enough to sell to the SEP, along with a mini-synopsis of each:


1. "The Outside World" -- 2600 words -- March/April 2013 issue. A mysterious old woman helps a
young man who's been blinded in an accident regain his hope for the future. I remember that I wrote this non-mystery story really fast, after the idea first entered my head.

2. "The First of October" -- 1600 words -- Nov/Dec 2013. Fate brings two college sweethearts back together after many years of hardship and separation. This was sort of a romance story with a twist, and one that I was surprised (but happy) that the Post accepted.

3. "Margaret's Hero" -- 5300 words -- May/June 2014. A white child, her beloved horse, and an African American foreman create an unlikely and strong alliance. This was fun to write because it was done in a familiar southern setting and about the kind of folks I grew up around.

4. "Saving Grace" -- 4500 words -- July/Aug 2015. A grown son estranged from his mother returns to his hometown to find that an unfortunate (and illegal) incident in his past has miraculously affected later events. The plot for this story, which includes some fantasy elements, came to mind after one of my many viewings of It's a Wonderful Life.

5. "Business Class" -- 1500 words -- Nov/Dec 2015. A confrontation between an executive and an employee shows a planeful of office workers what's really important in life. No crime in this story, just issues of professionalism and power and corporate ethics. A few memories of my IBM career in this one.

6. "The Music of Angels" -- 2000 words -- Sep/Oct 2018. A home-healthcare nurse visiting an elderly patient in a rural area makes a discovery that will change the lives of two people. A lot of this story was based on real events, both at the college I attended and in my hometown. Also, not that it matters, I gave the three main characters the first names of our oldest son's three children.

7. "Calculus 1" -- 4000 words -- March/April 2019. A wealthy engineering student convinces his cash-poor roommate to help him cheat on a college exam. Again, no crimes committed here, just dishonesty and deception.

8. "The A Team" -- 2300 words -- July/Aug 2019. A drugstore employee and her five-year-old daughter find themselves in the middle of an armed-robbery attempt. This is one of those "framed" narratives, where everything starts in the present, goes into the past to tell the story, and ends in the present again.


If anyone's interested in this kind of thing, six of those stories were written in third-person, two in first-person, all of them feature very few named characters, and all were written in past tense.

Editorial stuff

One odd thing that I've noticed about these stories: the SEP editors like to use numbers instead of spelling them out. My policy's always been to spell out numbers from, say, one to ten--"I'll pay you five dollars at two o'clock"--but when I do that, they always change it to "I'll pay you 5 dollars at 2 o'clock." From an editing standpoint, I think that's the only thing I've differed with them about. (They won.)

Contentwise, I usually try to send stories to the SEP that are family-friendly. Most of those I've seen in the magazine seem to be geared to a wide audience and have sort of a down-home, "all-American" flavor. If I do a crime-related story and it's at all gritty or controversial, I usually target one of the mystery magazines with it instead.

The SEP also tends to publish accepted stories almost immediately, unlike many other markets.

Questions

How many of you have read the Post lately? Have you ever submitted a short story there? A nonfiction piece? How often do you venture away from mysteries and into the other genres? Where do you usually choose to send those other-genre stories? Do you occasionally try the literary journals? Have you had success there? How often are your stories influenced by novels or movies or other shorts you've read?

Whatever the case, keep up the good work! I'll be back in two weeks.







05 July 2019

Motivations



by O'Neil De Noux

Following up on blogs by Michael Bracken and R. T. Lawton, I am amazed at my similarity to both writers, especially R. T.

I was an army brat who went to a dozen different schools before I graduated from high school. I kept the nomadic way through college, going to three different universities in getting my degree.

I too was drafted into the US military during the Vietnam War but I took the option to enlist before reporting (spending 3 years instead of 2 in the army so I could choose my MOS). I chose photographer, like an idiot, instead of photo lab technician so they trained me as a combat photographer. I was not sent to Southeast Asia – luck of the draw.

I started out as a short story writer, wrote a lot of bad stuff. Became a novelist after I became a homicide detective. As a cop I've always taken notes for stories. George Alec Effinger showed me how to write a short story and I've been writing stories and novels since the mid-1980s. It's been a long road with a lot of rejection and a lot of acceptance.

My novels have all been published with mixed results as for sales. But they are all in print.


It wasn't until the early 1990s did I managed to get stories accepted by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (as well as Asimov's and The Saturday Evening Post) and other top markets and anthologies.



Motivation? I knew in grammar school I would be a writer. It took a long time to learn how. No way I can stop or even slow down. I write every day, even when I doing other things. I always start a novel as soon as I finish a novel. As I write the new book, the characters and the story stay with me, even when the pace is interrupted by work (back when I was working) or a short story which gripped me to write.

I love writing novels and short stories.

That's all for now.


01 September 2018

POSTed, STRANDed, and BCMMed



by John M. Floyd



Situation report: It's been a pretty good summer, writingwise. I worked with my publisher to finish the manuscript of my new story collection coming later this year, I participated in two panels--and moderated one--at our annual Mississippi Book Festival (6400 people attended panels that day), and I've written some short stories, sold some, and had some published. At the moment, I have stories in the current issues of three publications: The Saturday Evening Post, The Strand Magazine, and Black Cat Mystery Magazine. And since I couldn't come up with another topic for my column today, I decided to give you a few "stories behind the stories" for these three shorts.

Of these three, my story in The Saturday Evening Post (the September/October 2018 issue) is the only one that's not a mystery. It's probably more of a drama/romance. It's also the only one that was inspired by actual events. It's called "The Music of Angels," the meaning of which will become clear if/when you read it, and it's short--about 2000 words. (The print edition of the SEP features one piece of fiction in each two-month issue, and so far my stories there have ranged from about 1500 to about 5500 words.)

The first half of this story is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and many years pass. What happens next I won't reveal, here, but since I've told you it's essentially a romance you can probably figure it out. What I hope is entertaining about it is the process, and a surprise or two. I will say that the opening scene, which features two college students who meet at the information desk of their Student Union, happens almost exactly the way it happened to me, in real life. The rest is fictional, but the final part of the story is based closely on my mother, who's 92 and still lives in the house where I grew up.

Another unique thing about this story is that I once promised our oldest son's three children, who all love to read, that I would one day include characters with their names in one of my stories. So the main characters in this one are named Lillian, Anna, and Gabe. It's a small and silly thing, but I think those three kids'll get a kick out of that when they read it.

My story in The Strand Magazine (the June-October 2018 issue) is called "Foreverglow"--original title "The Foreverglow Case"--and was one that I dreamed up while sitting in our backyard swing a few months ago, before the temperature and the humidity and the mosquito population rose high enough to send everyone screaming into their houses. I must've been in a noirish frame of mind that day because the idea that popped into my head was of a blue-collar guy who lets his smarter girlfriend talk him into robbing the jewelry section of the department store where she works. They devise a plan by which she can smuggle a display case of samples of their new Foreverglow collection out of the store to him while she remains inside, and then they can make their getaway the following day after things have calmed down. I hope what happens will be a surprise to the reader, but you probably already suspect that things don't work out exactly as planned. Do they ever?

The third story I have out right now is "Diversions," which appears in Issue #3 of Black Cat Mystery Magazine, alongside stories by my SleuthSayers colleagues Eve Fisher and Michael Bracken. This one is also a mystery/crime story, but it's a western (how could I not want to write a western after watching all those episodes of Have Gun--Will Travel?), and features a bank robber who's been caught in the act and is now in custody in a temporary jail and under guard by a female (and also temporary) deputy. The most unusual thing about the story is that the entire plot takes place in less that an hour's time and inside those four walls, and the fact that the inspiration for one of the characters' names came from a road sign on State Highway 25, about forty miles northeast of where I live. On the sign were--and still are--the names of two Mississippi towns, one above the other: LENA, with an arrow pointing west, and MORTON, with an arrow pointing east. One day when my wife and I were driving past on the way to visit my mother, I noticed the words on that sign, and made a mental note. Now, about a year later, the deputy's name in this story is Lena Morton.

I find myself doing that kind of thing occasionally just because it's (1) fun, and (2) different. Which, now that I think about it, is a good way to describe (1) writing, and (2) writers.

So those are my current publications, and a few facts about how they came to be. Upcoming are stories in AHMM, EQMM, BCMM, Woman's World, Mystery Weekly, Flash Bang Mysteries, The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, and nine anthologies, including one that also features my heroes Joe Lansdale, Bill Pronzini, and Max Allan Collins. Here's the cover of that anthology, Pop the Clutch, which'll be released on November 1.


Do any of you have stories out, or coming up soon, in magazines or collections or anthologies? Any novels recently released, or scheduled? If so, let me know what they are--and keep up the good work. I hope your story ideas--and mine--keep coming.

See you in two weeks.





05 December 2015

Posted and Stranded



by John M. Floyd


Sounds like a soldier abandoned at his duty station, right? Actually, what it means is that this month I'm lucky enough to have short stories in The Saturday Evening Post and The Strand Magazine. And there are three reasons I'm writing on that subject today: the first is a "Look, Ma--see what I did!" thing (otherwise known as BSP, with emphasis on the BS); the second is laziness (nothing is easier than talking about your own creations, since you're the only one who knows how and why they were written); and the third is that I couldn't think of anything else to write about, this week.

Anyhow, those two stories, both of which are fiction, are different in several ways. For one thing, the first is short, around 2000 words (most of it takes place inside a plane parked on the tarmac of an airport), and the second is long, around 8000 words. Also, one is fairly easygoing and the other is violent. Besides all that, the first tries to make an observation about right vs. wrong, while the second is a twisty suspense story about murder, robbery, kidnapping, and a few other heinous deeds. In their own ways, I suppose both are mysteries in that they involve puzzles that the protagonist has to figure out--but only one of the two stories fits the generally accepted definition of mystery fiction, because only one involves crimes that are central to the plot.

The only thing truly common to both stories is a rather unintentional "secondary" theme: One of the best ways to deal with the stressful seas of Corporate America is to hold your nose, jump over the side, and swim for shore. Being somewhat familiar with that theme in real life, I felt qualified to use it as a plot element in these stories.

A tale of two ditties

"Business Class," which appears in the current (Nov./Dec.) print issue of The Saturday Evening Post, is both a Christmas story and a fictional account of ethics and (the lack of) common sense in the modern-day business world. The antagonist, like Mrs. Robinson or Apollo Creed or Smokey chasing the Bandit, isn't really an evil villain--he's just an antagonist. He's there to prevent the protagonist from accomplishing what he needs to do. And the only mystery in the story is the "clue" that the hero discovers that allows him to complete his journey.

This story, published on November 1 (at least that's when I received my contributor's copy in the mail) was also made available online at the SEP's website yesterday, December 4. If anyone's interested, here's a link. FYI, The Saturday Evening Post publishes one piece of fiction in each print issue (six stories a year).

My other story, "Arrowhead Lake," is featured in the current (Oct.-Jan.) issue of The Strand Magazine, and with this one I'm on more comfortable ground: it's a crime story with a lot of action, and it's probably more of a thriller than a mystery because it involves ordinary people thrust into a fight-or-flight, life-or-death situation. In this story, which is actually quite a bit longer than a ditty, a successful businesswoman and her underachieving younger brother face off against a couple of ruthless home-invaders with hidden agendas, who do little to hide the fact that the victims probably won't survive to see the end of the tale. What finally happens comes as something of a surprise to both the bad guys and the good guys--and, if I'm lucky, a surprise to the reader as well.

A most pleasant surprise to me was that this issue of The Strand also contains a never-before-published short story by a fellow (and slightly more famous) Mississippian named William Faulkner. In fact, Strand editor Andrew Gulli has managed to unearth and publish quite a few of these long-lost manuscripts lately, by authors like Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, etc. The first I heard about this one was an interview with Andrew on NPR that aired the other day, in which he talked about the new issue. I picked the magazine up at our local Books-A-Million this past week and just finished reading the Faulkner story--I think you'll like it. And I hope you'll like mine also.

The Strand usually publishes four or five pieces of fiction in each issue, and this one includes interviews with Dean Koontz and A. E. Hotchner.

Bonus material

I was also pleased, during a trip to Kroger the other day, to discover one of my stories in Woman's World. (The contract always names the issue in which they expect the story to appear, but that sometimes doesn't hold true, so I usually find out for sure by hearing about it from one of my e-friends who has a subscription or from spotting it myself on the newsstand when I go to the store for necessities like Oreos or potato chips.) This story, my eighth in WW this year, is called "Strangers on the Block," in the December 7 issue, which went on sale on November 26. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this market, WW publishes one mystery and one romance in each issue. You can probably guess which genre I prefer.

A quick note about Woman's World mini-mysteries. They really are minuscule (700 words max), and since the "solve-it-yourself" format was introduced in 2004 they are always interactive, featuring a puzzle and an upside-down "solution box" that allows the reader to try to supply the answer. In my story this time, the amateur sleuth figures out which of the three suspects is the guilty party, and the reader's challenge is not whodunit but howdidsheknowwhodunit?

Several of my present and former co-conspirators at SleuthSayers--B. K. Stevens, R. T. Lawton, and Deborah Elliott-Upton, among others--have sold to WW, and they'll vouch for the fact that writing those little mysteries is a lot of fun.

Counting my blessings

As I have mentioned before at this blog, 2015 has been kind to me, writingwise. I'm sure the Law of Averages will soon catch up to me, but meanwhile I'm having a great time. One of the best things to happen to me this year, on the literary front, was having three of my writing buddies--B. K. (Bonnie) Stevens, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor--join our infamous group here at SleuthSayers, and the other was getting the chance to finally meet Bonnie and Art face-to-face, along with fellow SSers R. T. Lawton, David Dean, and Rob Lopresti. And to see and visit once again with longtime friends Barb, Dale Andrews, and Liz Zelvin.

Here's to a good year for all of us, in 2016.






01 August 2015

Now, That's a Different Story



by John M. Floyd



As some of you know, I write mostly short fiction. I've done SF, fantasy, romance, Westerns, horror, and all kinds of combinations, but most of my stories are mysteries, and for good reason: that's what I prefer to read. My favorite books, stories, and authors have always been in the mystery/crime/suspense genre.

I have also come to realize that a mystery story can sometimes fit into a non-mystery market. It probably won't surprise you that most of my mystery/crime stories are submitted first to either (1) themed anthologies or (2) magazines like AHMMEQMM, and The Strand. If you're a writer of that kind of fiction, I suspect that you do the same. But occasionally it makes sense to also send mystery stories to other kinds of magazines and anthos.

Post-production notes

A few months ago, I wrote a story called "Saving Grace," that was sort of a sentimental paranormal mystery. In fact I wrote it with the mystery mags firmly in mind, and planned from the start to submit it first to Hitchcock because they sometimes seem a bit more receptive than the others to stories with otherworldly plots. When I finished it, though, it had a "literary" feel to it as well--it dealt heavily with family relationships and the main character changes his outlook on life in the course of the story, etc.--so I decided to send it first to The Saturday Evening Post, which has been kind to me lately anyway. I was pleased to find that they liked it, and it wound up being published in their current print issue (July/August 2015). It will also be released online on August 7 at their web site--I'll try to remember to post a link to it in my next SleuthSayers column.

The idea for that story came to me years ago, from a Sidney Sheldon novel--I can't remember its name--that included what I considered a clever way to emotionally "connect" the reader to a protagonist. In that book, as I recall, an always-reliable female prison inmate had been asked by the warden to watch over his small child each day, out in the off-limits area near the prison gates. As any fan of crime fiction knows, routines can be risky, and sure enough, the inmate winds up planning an escape via the laundry truck that departs through that area every morning. But on that particular day, as she prepares to jump into the truck and hide on its way out of the prison grounds, the child she's babysitting slips and falls into a water tank and is about to drown. The inmate abandons her escape attempt, dives into the tank instead of into the truck, and saves the child. This happens early on and is not really that big a plot point in the novel, but it's one that stuck in my memory. After all, few things are more endearing to readers than the sacrifice of personal gain--the prisoner's freedom, in this case--in order to perform a noble and selfless act.

With that idea in the back of my mind, I built a story that begins with a situation happening in the present, goes back twenty-five years to tell a different story with a different plot, and then flashes forward again to the present for the conclusion. I sort of like that kind of "framed" story-within-a-story construction anyway, where the events of the past connect directly and unexpectedly to the protagonist's current dilemma. That of course doesn't work for every story, but for some it does--and when it does, it creates a "circular" ending that seems to appeal to readers.

The long and short of it

Consider this. My "Saving Grace" story is multi-genre, about 5000 words in length, uses two different storylines, teaches the protagonist a "life lesson," and features sixteen different characters and several different settings. I sold another story last week, called "A Friend in Need," that's a straight mystery, less than 700 words long, teaches no lessons at all (but is, hopefully, entertaining), and uses only one setting and a total of three characters, one of whom is only a voice on the telephone. That second story, not that it matters to this discussion, marked my 70th sale to Woman's World magazine. (If someone had told me, years ago, that I would write 70 stories for a women's magazine, I would probably have asked him to give me some of what he was smoking.) The really strange thing is, both those mysteries--different is so many ways--were equally enjoyable to write. And as it turns out, I was paid almost the same for both of them.

My point is, I think there will always be places to sell mystery/crime stories, short or long, lighthearted or profound, straight or diluted--and not just to the mystery pubs. All good stories need conflict, and I believe one of the two advantages of crime stories is that a degree of conflict is always there, already built in. (The other advantage is that in crime stories justice usually prevails, and readers are attracted to that.) If you don't like that kind of story, if you prefer reading/writing only "literary" fiction, so be it--or, as Arthur Fonzarelli might've said, Go sit on a watchman. Seriously, as for myself, having now read both of Harper Lee's novels, I've decided that one of the many reasons I prefer Mockingbird to its sequel (prequel?) is that TKaM was, at its core, a mystery story. It was of course many other kinds of fiction as well--Southern, coming-of-age, historical, courtroom drama, literary, etc.--but I think the mystery/suspense element involving Boo Radley was what made it special, and enduring.

Let's hear it for crossing genres



All of you are readers, and many of you are writers. To those of you who (exclusively or occasionally) write short mysteries: Do you always have certain markets in mind when you craft your stories? Do you write them and only then think of where they might be sent? Have you tried submitting any of your mystery/crime stories to a non-mystery publication? I'm a firm believer that some mystery stories and novels can be just as "literary" as the Zhivagos and the Cuckoo's Nests and the Grapes of Wraths of this world; in fact I would put crime/adventure novels like Mystic River and Deliverance and The Silence of the Lambs up against any of them, literaturewise. Pet peeve alert: Why should the fact that a crime is central to the plot (the widely accepted definition of mystery fiction) make it any less literary? Over the years, my mystery stories have sneaked in under the wire at Pleiades, Thema, The Atlantean Press Review, and several other so-called litmags.

You might even consider trying your mystery/suspense stories at other genre publications. I've not published any mysteries in places like Asimov's or Analog, but I see no reason you couldn't. Again, the presence of a crime doesn't exclude the elements of another genre as well. Look at the stories that spawned Blade Runner, or Minority Report, or even 3:10 to Yuma. I've sold plenty of crime stories to Western magazines.

The only advice I would presume to give, about all this, is (1) write the story or novel you want to write, without worrying much about the category; (2) submit it to an editor or publisher who'll make you proud if it's accepted; and then (3) forget it and write something else. I've been doing that for twenty-one years now.

God help me, I love it.