10 November 2020
29 October 2020
|It's a long story|
13 October 2020
The book begins with "The Dame and Thadeus Birdwhistle" by Karen Cantwell. In this story, two uppercrust Bostonians learn, to their dismay, that their brilliant and previously polite young son has begun writing a dime detective novel, and he's adopted the lingo and attitudes of his characters. When the boy's mother tries to discover how he's learned the things he knows, she stumbles into a mystery of her own. This is a quirky, delightful story, with dialogue that sings.
"Secrets to the Grave" by K.M. Rockwood. A proper older woman finds herself the victim of blackmail. But just because she's proper doesn't mean she's a pushover. This story has a wonderful tone. While it's not set in England, I think it will appeal to anyone who enjoys Golden Age mysteries set in small English villages.
"The Mysterious Affair at the Escape Room" by Leone Ciporin. Several relatives, most of whom don't like each other, go to an escape room. The room pays homage to Agatha Christie--as do the events that transpire in that room. This story has a clever premise that pays off in the end.
"The Do-Gooder" by Adam Meyer. When it seems a rich woman isn't subject to the same rules as everyone else, a homeless woman takes it upon herself to see that justice is served. Meyer really brought the main character to life. A wonderful example of deep point of view in action.
"The Problem with Open-Ended Invitations" by Cathy Wiley. When a friend needs a place to stay for a little while, Cynthia offers her a room. And then the friend stays and stays and stays. This story's plot twists and turns in deliciously unexpected directions.
"Muggins" by Josh Pachter. Two cribbage players square off in the park, talking about the game and their lives. This story is a great example of using subtext to propel a plot forward.
"The Killing Winds" by Mary Stojak. After someone tries to kill a PI's assistant, he takes the woman on a trip to Chile, hoping to outrun the gunman. Stojak does a great job with the setting, putting the reader right there with the wind and the mist and the danger of hiking in Patagonia.
"Make New Friends, But Keep the Old" by Jane Limprecht. This is a whodunit set at a retirement home. Limprecht's plot goes in unexpected directions while addressing the important social issue of financial crimes involving the elderly.
"Good Morning, Green Leaf Class" by Sarah Cotter. This story is told entirely via emails among parents of a pre-school class whose prior teacher died, seemingly by accident. A wonderfully structured story that shows the importance of reading between the lines.
"The Great Bedbug Incident and the Invitation of Doom" by Eleanor Cawood Jones. A woman goes to London to attend an event, but when her hotel room has bedbugs and she has to get another one, she winds up in the middle of a murder mystery. Jones showcases her amusing voice with witty dialogue and exposition, including her choice of details.
"Guns and Yoga" by Maureen Klovers. When a gun store seeks to open in an upscale neighborhood, activists' tempers stretch beyond a community meeting. Klovers makes good use of multiple points of view to enable the reader empathize with characters on both sides of the debate.
"RFP/RIP" by Britt Alan. A team of government contractors is working night and day to get a proposal ready for submission. That would be enough to drive anyone to murder. And it does ... This is a story with motives as complex as the characters.
"Aumakua" by Maddi Davidson. Two surfers in Hawaii discuss island folklore while one of them tries to discover the location of missing treasure. Davidson brings Hawaiian culture to life by mixing the islands' history and language into her thriller.
"The Color of Envy" by Joanna Campbell Slan. Set in early 1900s Charleston, two teenaged cousins vie for the same man. An interesting take on the Cinderella story, with some cool science thrown into the mix.
"True Colors" by Robin Templeton. The wife of a high-powered politician takes steps to ensure her past remains a secret. Templeton weaves the main character's backstory deftly into the plot so that it pushes the story forward at each step.
"All Tomorrow's Parties" by Art Taylor. A woman with a drinking problem is determined to put her past behind her and lock down a better future--or die trying. This is another story that brings the main character to life through intricate use of deep point of view, as well as the engaging writing style for which Taylor is well known.
"Sunnyside" by Stacy Woodson. After a life on the run from the mob, Michael ends up in the same retirement home as the guy who's been gunning for him for decades. This story has a great voice, especially the contrast between the main character's dialogue and thoughts.
So that's it. Seventeen stories. I hope you're intrigued enough to pick up the book. Chesapeake Crimes: Invitation to Murder is available in trade paperback and ebook formats. If you've already read some or all of the anthology, I'd love your feedback in the comments.
And before I go, this year's Bouchercon will be this Friday and Saturday online. If you've registered to attend, I hope you'll check out my panel, What's a Weapon: Choosing Ways to Murder. I'll be talking about murder methods beyond guns, knives, and poisons with Tori Eldridge, Linda Joffe Hull, and Tessa Wegert, with Alec Peche moderating. The panel starts at 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. PT) on Saturday.
And don't forget to watch the pre-taped opening ceremonies, where the Macavity Awards will be announced. I'm up for best short story--fingers crossed! And then tune in for the Anthony Awards gala Saturday at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT), where I'll be up for the Anthony for best anthology for Crime Travel. Fingers crossed again!
01 July 2020
by Leopold Longshanks
I'm honored to be your guest blogger today. I understand that this would usually be Robert Lopresti's turn, but he is apparently too busy to write something.
Don't ask me what he's filling his hours with. He somehow managed to write while carrying on a day job, but now that he's retired he seems to be too busy to do his duty.
But enough about him. As I said, I am happy to talk to you about my latest adventure, which appears in Low Down Dirty Vote 2, a new anthology of crime stories. It will be published this Saturday, the Fourth of July.
Of course, the date is no coincidence. Voting is basic to what this country is supposed to be about, part of what we celebrate with dangerous fireworks, rowdy parades, and suspiciously undercooked hamburgers every Independence Day.
Each story in this book involves a violation of that most precious right. And Mysti Berry, who conceived and edited this book, is putting her money where her mouth is. The first volume raised more than five thousand dollars to help the American Civil Liberties Union fight voter fraud. Funds from the second book go to the Southern Poverty Law Center for the same purpose. I am proud to be involved in such a good cause.
You may notice I am not on the author's list. Make no mistake: I am a distinguished author of crime fiction, in my world. But in your universe I exist only through the work of that other guy, lazy Lopresti. My story in the book is his 17th effort at recording my adventures, and I admit he got the details right this time. Most of them, anyway. That makes a nice change.
"Shanks Gets Out The Vote" concerns an election for the board of the nonprofit that runs the World Theatre, a beautiful depression-era opera house in my New Jersey town. My wife, Cora Neal (award-winning author of women's fiction), ran for president and, as you no doubt guessed, dastardly deeds were afoot.
This may seem like small potatoes compared to other crimes in the book. I haven't read all the stories yet, but I assume some are about elections to government offices. I am perfectly okay with being on the trivial end of the scale.
First of all, the subtitle of this book is "Every stolen vote is a crime," so my story fits in beautifully. Second, I firmly believe that amateur sleuths should stick to the small stuff. I can modestly admit to helping the police with a couple of murders, but I much prefer the tales in which I solve puzzles too minor for our noble law officers to deal with. I have explained my preferences to Lopresti, but does he listen to me?
Well, I need to get back to my own work. I am told writers at SleuthSayers are not supposed to give the hard sell, so I will merely say that if the second volume of Low Down Dirty Vote is as good as the first you will enjoy it a lot. And it's for a good cause.
If you see Lopresti before I do, tell him to put his butt down and write me something to do.
LEOPOLD LONGSHANKS is the award-winning author of the Inspector Cadogan series, as well as standalone novels such as A MAN OF YOUR AGE. His books are available in the imagination of Robert Lopresti.
09 June 2020
I'm not going to write long today because I'd rather you take some time to read one of the nominated anthologies or short stories. But I do want to say a few things:
First, thank you to all of the authors who heard about my crazy idea to do a cross-genre anthology, mashing crime with time travel, and submitted stories for Crime Travel back in 2018. (Crime Travel was among the nominated anthologies.) I could only accept fourteen stories (plus one of my own). I wish I could have taken more.
Thank you to everyone who has congratulated me today. I love the camaraderie of our industry. This nomination belongs to the authors in Crime Travel as much as it does to me, and I applaud them.
Congratulations to my fellow SleuthSayers Michael Bracken (whose The Eyes of Texas: Private Investigators from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods was nominated for best anthology) and Art Taylor, who is up twice (!) in the short-story category, once for "Better Days," which appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and once for "Hard Return," which I was proud to include in Crime Travel. I'm so proud of you both!
I'd edited anthologies before Crime Travel, but this was the first time I chose the stories. It was a daunting task. One thing I learned from doing it is that while stories about a theme can be wide-ranging, in different sub-genres with varying approaches to storytelling, the best stories--at least to me--are the ones that touch you. The ones that have heart. And I hope that the nomination for Crime Travel today means that the stories in this book touched a lot of readers just as they did me. Thank you to everyone who read it and nominated it.
So, without further ado, here are this year's nominees for the Anthony Award in the best short-story category and the best anthology category. I hope you'll pick up one of them (or all of them).
“Unforgiven,” by Hilary Davidson (appearing in Murder a-Go-Gos: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Gos)
“The Red Zone,” by Alex Segura (appearing in ¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico)
“Better Days,” by Art Taylor (appearing in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2019)
“Hard Return,” by Art Taylor (appearing in Crime Travel)
The Eyes of Texas: Private Investigators from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods, edited by Michael Bracken (Down & Out Books)
¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico, edited by Angel Luis Colón (Down & Out Books)
Crime Travel, edited by Barb Goffman (Wildside Press)
Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons (Wildside Press)
Murder a-Go-Go’s: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Go’s, edited by Holly West (Down & Out Books)
18 May 2020
by Jan Grape
Some of us are a lot better at promoting than others. Many of us sit in our cubical and write and write and never give a thought to promotion, We really don't want to think about that now. We have to finish this book OR our publisher will promote it, right?
Sadly, NO. Unless you're already a best selling author, your publisher sends your book out with very little promotion. I never could understand that reasoning. They'll spend $500,000 on X's book when you have two other very fine books coming at the same time, say one new and one mid-list. Why not spend $400,000 on X and $50,000 on the other two. You get the idea but most publishers don't. Could be why so many indie presses are doing very well, thank you.
Okay, I digress. Back to anthologies. No one is really going to push an anthology you happen to have a short story in so, it's all really up to you.
But Jan, I don't like to promote my short stories and I have no idea how to do it and really could care less about it anyway. Fine, go back to your computer and work on your next story or book. But if you want just a tip or two, please continue reading.
I was blessed because the majority of my stories were in books edited by Ed Gorman and Marty Greenberg (RIP both of you) and books they edited sold very well. Even to markets like Japan and Germany and to audio book publishers. But to promote your own stories in wonderful but somewhat unknown anthologies you have to always include them on your Facebook page or twitter account. And also on your own author page.
Okay, but I already do that, you say. Great, then this is just a gentle reminder for you. But when you do signings for your books, promote the heck out of your stories in an anthology, too.
You will meet people who'll say, "I never read short stories. I'd much rather read a whole book." I really get into the character of someone like Jack Reacher or V.I. Warshawski or Charlie Harris and Diesel. Remind them that an anthology is a great way for them todiscover new writers. Or even to discover their favorite author namely YOU, just happens to write other characters or even in other genres.
The other reason people say they don't read short stories is they don't have time. Everyone is still pressed for time even though they might be working from home now. They have children to teach or occupy them with things to do or meals to cook or laundry to wash. Remind them that short stories are great for them because, each story is only a few pages long and it starts and ends in those few pages. You won't have to stay up past your bedtime to finish. It only takes 30 minutes so so to read a short story.
Tell them the geniuses behind the anthology or behind your story. Time Travel edited by Barb Goffman. If you have a story there, find out why Barb did this anthology or tell why you found the idea so fascinating you just had to write a story for it.
I wrote stories edited by Robert J. Randisi for Lethal Ladies I & II, because they were to be Female Private Eye Stories. For his Deadly Allies I & II, they were stories by members of Sisters In Crime and members of Private Eye Writers of America. Of course, all the Cat Crime anthologies all feature a cat. I loved doing those because I had two cats, Nick and Nora and could relate.
I'm sure each of you can come up with a good way to promote your own short stories in the great way you also promote your books but maybe I've sparked an idea or two with you for your short story.
Now start Promoting.
17 March 2020
A friend asked me this morning how I was dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. I said that since I work from home, I don't go out much anyway. Consequently, self-quarantining so that I don't inadvertently catch this newest strain of the virus and pass it on to someone with a compromised immune system is not a big problem for me. As the joke goes, I'm an introvert, so I've been preparing for this moment my whole life.
I've seen increased focus in the media and social media over the past decade on us introverts. How we do better working solo than in groups, how we need alone time to recharge, how the world is often so oriented toward extroverts that we introverts sometimes are penalized for not excelling at activities geared toward extroverts. I'm grateful for this focus on introverts, which hopefully has helped open some people's eyes.
We don't usually see people worried about extroverts because much of society is geared toward them. Until now, that is, now that people are being asked to self-quarantine the best they can to slow the spread of the coronavirus. I've seen people post on social media that they don't want to self-quarantine because spending more than a day or two at home makes them anxious, that they need to go out and be among people. If not, they get depressed.
Depression is no little thing. It can affect your emotional and physical health. As someone who understands how the need to be alone can suddenly feel urgent and overwhelming, I get how being cooped up might affect someone who needs to regularly be among people, especially someone who doesn't have family or roommates to spend time with at home. It's something I was thinking about last year as I wrote a story called "Man to Man," whose main character is an extrovert who becomes socially isolated.
In my story, my main character, Cecelia, ends up effectively self-quarantined at home. She's not physically ill, and there's no virus at play, but Cecelia is cut off from her social network. So she starts staying home, which makes her depressed. Her lack of connection with others makes her depression grow, and her negative feelings spiral, especially regarding her husband, the only person she sees anymore. It doesn't help that Cecelia is spoiled and self-centered. Here she is, thinking about her situation:
"I had nothing happening in my life. No social groups. No events. No trips I was planning. I could barely pay attention to what was on television. No one ever called me, and I had no one to call.
"It felt like I was in solitary confinement. Sure, I was in an upscale high-rise, but the isolation was overwhelming. And things didn't get better when David came home at night. He made me so angry sometimes, I wanted to scream."
Before I wrote the story I'd been thinking that the world is largely geared to extroverts, so I could understand that if an introvert couldn't get alone time, it might make her feel edgy and unhappy and might result in her acting out. (Not excusing bad behavior, just understanding what might prompt it.) Then I started thinking about the other side of the coin. What if an extrovert lost all her outings and interactions, the things that energized her and made her who she is? How might she react? I thought this would be an interesting approach to a character. That's how Cecelia came to be.
here. Pre-order of the e-book version is available in the usual places. One-third of the royalties will be donated to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation in Joni Mitchell's name, which means you can get a fine book of short stories for you and help a good cause at the same time.
So are you under self-quarantine? If so, how are you spending your time? And to my fellow authors with stories in the book, please tell us about your stories.
26 September 2019
It might seem like a no-brainer.
When I—an author of American historical crime fiction—wanted to write a Me Too-themed short story, a story about crimes against women, retribution, and even, possibly, healing, Miss Evelyn Nesbit was the obvious choice.
You probably know something about Evelyn. Artist Charles Dana Gibson used young Evelyn as the model for one of his most-famous Gibson Girl illustrations. She was the star defense witness in the 1907 “Trial of the Century”, where her exploitation as “the girl on the red velvet swing” was publicly revealed. You might also remember Evelyn from her saucy escapades in E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime or the movie or Broadway musical based on his novel.
But although Evelyn was clearly a victim of sexual and emotional abuse by multiple wealthy and powerful men, she wasn’t my first choice for a historical Me Too-themed short story.
My first choice was Mr. H. H. Holmes.
You probably know something about H. H. Holmes also. During the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, he owned the “Murder Castle” hotel where women and men could check in, but—as the newspapers reported—they could never leave.
I wanted to explore how Holmes preyed upon his female victims and then I wanted to show how one of those exploited women got the better of him. In the final paragraph, she would heroically clamber out of the “Murder Castle” hotel. But characters, crimes, and motivations just didn’t click in my head, and I couldn’t make that story work.
When I finally put H. H. Holmes aside, I returned to Miss Evelyn Nesbit. And she did not disappoint me.
I knew the bones of Evelyn’s story—she worked as a teenage model and chorus girl to support her mother and younger brother, she was raped by New York architect Stanford White, she married the brutal and off-balanced millionaire Harry K. Thaw, and she witnessed the crime that launched the “Trial of the Century”—on June 25, 1906, her husband shot her rapist to death on the rooftop of New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
I went to Wikipedia for details about Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, and Harry K. Thaw. Amongst the sensuous photos of Evelyn, the "masterful" and “burly yet boyish” description of White, and the revelation of mentally instable Thaw’s interest in “the cult of virgin martyrdom”, I found this information about Evelyn’s trial testimony:
It wasn’t hard to imagine Evelyn sitting stiffly on the witness stand, answering questions about the night in her teens when (as she wrote in her 1934 autobiography) she "entered that room a virgin, but did not come out as one”.
My heart broke a little, imagining how painful her testimony must have been. Her rape had been her private pain—until the murder, known only by White and Thaw—and within minutes, it became known to every newspaper reporter sitting in court. Which meant that it was headline news around the country.
In that sorrowful moment of my imagination, I embraced Miss Evelyn Nesbit as my Me Too short story protagonist. I wanted to comfort her. I wanted to shield and defend her. I wanted to escort her out of court, into a waiting motorcar, and drive her as far away as I possibly could.
What’s the worst that could happen?
During their luncheon Evelyn desperately fights to reframe her “girl on the red velvet swing” past and reclaim her future. Will she be successful? Or will she once again fall victim to a man’s manipulation and power? Or will she find that retribution can be just as sweet as revenge?
As Miss Evelyn Nesbit presents her final demands to H. H. Samson, the results seem like a no-brainer to me.
Many thanks to fellow Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology contributor and SleuthSayer Eve Fisher for inviting me to guest post. Me Too Short Stories: An Anthology edited by Elizabeth Zelvin is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. (Link Here)
My other stories of historic heroines include “Kate Chopin Tussles with a Novel Ending” in Fault Lines (Sisters in Crime Northern California) and my debut novel—set in 1889 New Orleans—FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER. (Link Here)
22 July 2019
by Steve Liskow
But sometimes, dumb luck gives you an advantage, and it's true of both contests and submissions to anthologies. If you're in the right place at the right time, there are ways to get an inside track.
Several years ago, I learned about the Black Orchid Novella Award. I had a short story that never sold, and I expanded it into a novella and won. Yes, writing a good story helps, but the Black Orchid Novella Award pays tribute to Rex Stout and his detectives Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. My parents liked Stout, so I read many of his novels and novellas when I was young. We were both raised in the Midwest, so his voice and rhythm and characters influenced my own writing. In other words, writing a story that fit the contest's requirements was definitely in my skill set.
I've entered two stories in that contest, and won both times. Since it's an annual event, the submission dates are standard, which means I know when to have a story ready and have a whole year to come up with an idea (or not) and rewrite until it's worth sending. That means no rushing, important because I can't rush. I've written on demand, but it always takes me several revisions, which means lots of time.
My titles should tell you I like blues and rock and roll. Several years ago, I wrote a blog about plagiarism in rock music. Among other performers, I mentioned Led Zeppelin and their frequent "borrowing" from blues artists. That idea was fresh in my mind when the Mystery Writers of America posted a submission call for an anthology with the theme of "Vengeance," to be edited by Lee Child.
Well, Child's first novel is Killing Floor, a title taken from an old Howlin' Wolf blues classic. Led Zeppelin milked it dry for a song they called "The Lemon Song" on their second LP. Child has another novel called Bad Luck and Trouble, a line that appears in both "Born Under a Bad Sign" by William Bell and Albert King and "Double Trouble" by Otis Rush.
I figured Child was a fan of American Blues. What if I could write a story about a blues songwriter who stole a song and the results caught up with him? I called it "Hot Sugar Blues" and hoped the title would help the story get through the gatekeepers to Child himself. It appeared in the anthology and was later named a finalist for the Edgar Award.
Yes, I think it was a good story, but it still needed the right audience. You can help that happen.
Several years ago, I joined four other writers judging submissions for the Al Blanchard Story Award, sponsored by the New England Chapter of MWA. Let me share what that five-month stint taught me.
The submission time was three months, and we received 142 stories of 5000 words or less. Only a dozen came in during the first several weeks, and only 41 through the sixth week, so I read them all, Because I was used to reading lots of papers, I read EVERY story (even though I only had to read every fourth one) and took notes. (Some people have lives. I'm not one of them). I graded them all from 1 to 10 and made a spread sheet of my comments.
I didn't award any story a 9 or 10, but I gave NINETY-ONE stories a 1 or 2. That's right, nearly 2/3 of the entries earned that score, and for the same reason(s). They started with turgid--often unnecessary--backstory and most of them wallowed in description. They tended to tell rather than show, had little or poor dialogue, and a few had endings that came out of nowhere.
Don't do those things.
A whopping 41 stories came in the last day of the contest. Don't do that, either. By then, judges are in a hurry. They're looking for a reason to dump you and move on, so a typo, a badly-chosen name, or a cliche may be enough to knock you out on page one.
If a contest takes submissions for three months, I like to wait about six weeks. That gives readers time to go through enough entries to establish a personal standard of their own. They still have enough time to be flexible, though, so they'll give leeway to something a little different. When the time crush kicks in (the last two weeks), they may already have their personal favorites locked in and it's hard to dislodge them. Hit them when they're still comfortable.
Keep in mind that judging is ALWAYS subjective, no matter how specific the criteria, and no matter whether it's for a contest, an anthology, or a standard submission. Three of the five stories I rated the highest in the contest I judged didn't make anyone else's short list, but seventeen of the stories I rated a 1 or a 2 DID.
Not long ago, an editor turned down my submission because he liked the story but didn't like the golf that was essential to the plot. He never explained why. I sold the story elsewhere in two weeks. Maybe if I'd used tennis or Jai alai, it would have sold the first time out.
You never know. But some guesses are better than others.
01 January 2019
Persistence means trying repeatedly to reach a goal through the same method, figuring eventually you'll succeed. Tenacity means trying to reach a goal through varying methods, learning from each failure and trying different approaches. For anyone with goals for 2019, tenacity seems the better approach.
How does this apply to writing? First, let's talk about getting writing done. Everyone has their own method. Some people write every morning before daybreak. Others write at night. Some people say they will write for a set number of hours each day. Others say they'll write as long as it takes to meet a daily quota. Some people plot out what they're going to write. Others write by the seat of their pants. It doesn't matter what your approach is, as long as it works for you. So with the new year here, perhaps this is a good time to take stock of your approach. Is your approach working for you? Are you getting enough writing done? Enough revision done? Are you making the best use of your time?
I have a friend (and editing client) who used to be a pantser. But she found that after finishing every draft, she had so many loose ends to address and problems to fix, it took her much longer to revise than she'd like. So she started forcing herself to plot before she began writing each book. Not detailed outlines, but she figures out who kills whom, how, and why, what her subplot will be (again, just the basics), and what her theme is. These changes in her approach have enabled her to be so much more productive. She writes faster now, and she needs less time for revision. That's tenacity in action.
Moving on to a finished product, how do you react to rejection? If you have a rejected short story, for instance, after you finish cursing the universe, do you find another venue and send that story out immediately? Or do you re-read it and look for ways to improve it? And if a story has been rejected several times (there's no shame here; we've all been there), do you keep sending it out anyway or put it in a drawer to let it cool off for a few months or years until perhaps the market has changed or your skills have improved?
If sending a story out a few times without revising after each rejection usually results in a sale for you, great. Then your persistence works, and it means you have more time for other projects. But if it doesn't, if you find yourself sending a story out a dozen times without success, then perhaps you should consider a new approach. After a story is rejected, say, three times, maybe you should give it a hard look and see how it can be changed. Maybe you should let it sit in a drawer for a while first, so when you review it, you'll have a fresh take.
And if you're getting a lot of rejections, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your markets or what you write. I know some writers who started their careers writing science fiction, but it turned out that they were much better suited to writing mysteries. Once they let their true selves out on the page, they started making sales. I know a writer who's been working on a novel for years, but she can't seem to finish it. Yet she's had a lot of success with short stories. If she were to decide to only write short stories and let the novel lie fallow, that wouldn't be a failure; it would be tenacity in action: finding what works for her.
But if you believe writing is the right fit, yet your writing isn't as productive as you want it to be, or your sales aren't as good as you want them to be, then be tenacious. Evaluate your approaches to getting writing done, to editing your work, to seeking publication. Maybe you need to revise how you're doing things. Are you writing in the morning but are more alert in the evening? Change when you write. Is your work typically ready to be sent out into the world as soon as you finish? If you get a lot of rejections, maybe it's not. Maybe you need to force yourself to let your work sit for a while after you finish, so you can review it again with fresh eyes before you start submitting. Do you have a contract, but your books aren't selling as well as you'd like? Perhaps you should find someone you trust who can try to help you improve. No matter how successful you are, there's always something new to learn. The key is to figure out what works for you and keep doing it, and also figure out what isn't working for you and change it.
That, my fellow writers, is my advice for 2019. Be tenacious. Evaluate what you want, and evaluate your methods for getting there. If your methods aren't working, change them. And if in six months your new methods aren't working, change them again. Work hard. Work smart. And be sure to enjoy yourself along the way, because if you're not enjoying writing, why bother doing it?
And now for a little BSP: I usually have one or two of my short stories up on my website so folks can get a feel for my fiction writing style. I just changed those stories. Now you can read "Bug Appétit" (which was published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine) and "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" (from the 2018 Bouchercon Anthology, Florida Happens). For "Bug Appétit"click here, and for "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" click here. Happy reading. And I hope you have a wonderful new year.
16 August 2018
by Eve Fisher
Skip forward 3 years and I read Dangerous Visions, Harlan Ellison's ground-breaking sci-fi anthology. Now, I'll tell you straight up, Harlan Ellison's story in that anthology was perhaps my least favorite - but I loved his introductions and epilogues for each story.
My favorite story was Philip K. Dick's "Faith of Our Fathers", in which the hero discovers that there really are drugs in the water - but everyone in the world is having the same hallucination. It's the anti-hallucinogens that create different realities for everyone. That alone made me sit up and look around. But what really stuck with me was this quote from Mr. Dick in the epilogue:
"The last word, however, on the subject of God may have already been said: in A.D. 840 by John Scotus Erigena at the court of the Frankish king Charles the Bald. "We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally God is not, because He transcends being." Such a penetrating—and Zen—mystical view, arrived at so long ago, will be hard to top; in my own experiences with psychedelic drugs I have had precious tiny illumination compared with Erigena."THAT still rings through my mind regularly, like a deep hum, like the cry of a peacock, like a distant bell.
It also caused me to start reading history. Who were those Frankish kings? What else did Erigena say or write? Who influenced him? Why was a Celt at the Frankish court? All damn good questions that launched me - after a wildly improbable twenty years or so - into becoming an historian.
A good anthology will rattle your cage for years, which is why I don't let go of them when I find them. (My copy of Dangerous Visions is tattered and brown-paged by now, but still readable. It will see me out.)
There's 1962's "The Best From Fantasy and Science Fiction, 11th Series" edited by Robert P. Mills. Among the great stories:
- The fabulously written Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, which introduced me to Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind stories, and the idea of the Underpeople, derived from animals, who are given human form, speech, and intellect but have absolutely no civil rights. If they make any mistake, they can/will be destroyed. Something else that make me look at what was going on around me.
- Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, about a world of enforced equality - to the lowest common denominator of everything.
- And the mystical, fabulously beautiful, The One Who Returns by John Berry, which gave me a new view of what a Yeti might really be.
And then there are the weird collections you find in the antique stores. A Treasury of the Familiar, chock full of poetry from the 19th century, Bible quotations, Washington's and Lincoln's political speeches, Edgar Allan Poe, Victorian songs, Spartan defiances, a little bit of everything.
The Holiday Reader, 1947, edited by Bernard Smith and Philip Van Doren (which instantly makes me think of Dorothy Parker saying, "I put myself to sleep counting Van Dorens"...) This tome is divided into sections: Stories (Hemingway to Hecht), Humor (Beerbohm, Lardner, Benchley, Parker, etc.), Travel (including Thomas Wolfe, Rachel Carson, and both D. H. and T. E. Lawrence), Poetry (everything from sonnets to E. E. Cummings), and Eating and Sleeping (worth it for M. F. K. Fisher's Madame is Pleased) and Mystery Fantasy & Murder.
Especial shout-outs to E. M. Forster's The Machine Stops (which only gets more timely every year), M. R. James Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad, (scared the bejeezus out of me) and Raymond Chandler's I'll be Waiting. Imho, one of the best in this collection is Irwin Shaw's Search Through the Streets of the City, which is about as noir as you can get without a murder.
BTW, long ago I made a grave mistake and gave away a paperback collection of 50 Great Short Stories which included a story about a man whose male friends successively date this woman who is beautiful, intelligent, just amazing... And she cares so tenderly, lovingly, for each of them as they contract this or that fatal illness. And then he gets sick and she comes to take care of him... Does this ring a bell with anyone?
Another great find was the 1957 "A Treasury of Great Mysteries". I don't know how they got the rights to all of these, which include Christie's Murder in the Calais Coach, Du Maurier's Rebecca, Ambler's Journey Into Fear, and Chandler's The Big Sleep. That right there made it worth the $2.00 charge.
Also a number of truly great short stories by most of the icons of 1950s mystery writing, including Inspector Maigret, in Maigret's Christmas, Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason in The Case of the Crimson Kiss (a pretty severe lesson in choosing roommates), and the original short story Rear Window (William Irish).
But my personal favorite is Rex Stout's Instead of Evidence.
"Archie Goodwin," she said. "You think I'm terrible, don't you? You think I'm an awful woman, bad clear through. Don't you?"You can't get much more noir than that.
"I'm not thinking, lady. I'm just an errand boy."
The funny thing was that if at any moment up to then I had made a list of the ten most beautiful women she would not have been on.
14 December 2017
Two weeks ago I related the story of how an anthology which never got off the ground helped launch my fiction writing career. Since my initial foray into Anthology World I have gone on from my role of "contributor" to that of "collector/editor."
Although both projects involved the experience of collecting and editing the content for an anthology of short pieces, the two experiences could not have been more different. And not just because one anthology was nonfiction in nature and the other involved crime fiction.
In this week's entry, I'm going to deal with the first anthology, the one which taught me several valuable lessons about what not to do when editing an anthology.
My initial crack at editing an anthology came about in large part because of my day gig (I'm a teacher). This was also the case with the first book, I published, 101 Things You Didn't Know About Lincoln. In the case of the Lincoln book, I earned my MA partially in 19th century American history, and knew a fair bit about Lincoln. I'd networked with the acquisitions editor (we're both crime fiction writers), and she knew I was a trained historian. So she approached me about writing that book.
It turned out to be a terrific first experience, so when she approached me the following year about collecting and editing an anthology of "uplifting true stories about inspiring teachers," I thought, "What the heck?" The money was good, and I negotiated a healthy lead-time on the project in order to help ensure I'd have plenty of time to see the project through to completion.
It didn't turn out that way.
I beat the bushes looking for teachers/former students with great stories to tell, posted calls to submit all over the web. And I got a pretty fair number of responses.
What I hadn't taken into consideration was the fact that most of these people were not, in the strictest sense, writers.
There were several natural-born storytellers in the lot. Their work I barely touched. In a couple of cases I accepted the story as was. No suggested edits. Both of those writers were a pleasure to read from start to finish and are still friends to this day.
Then there were the rest of them.
I spent months going back and forth with several members of the original group of contributors whose work I'd agreed to publish. Some of them just couldn't polish their story enough to make the final cut. (And not for lack of trying!).
Part of the problem was that although I served as the collection editor, I didn't have final approval on the content. That lay with the editorial team at my publisher. I would accept changes to several of the stories in need of rewriting, and pass them along to my publisher's editorial team, only to receive them back with requests for more changes.
On top of that, I was also tasked with handling all contractual correspondence with contributors. This was before the days of e-signatures. I had to print up each individual contract, get it sent out in duplicate, ride herd on some of the contributors who were tardy getting their contracts back to me, all while teaching a full load, working on the anthology, and doing research for a different writing project I had negotiated with a different editor (same publisher), to commence just as soon as I wrapped up the anthology.
In fact there's one guy who sent back his signed contract copies, but who never got paid by the publisher because he moved without leaving a forwarding address. And then he never responded to any of the many follow-up emails I sent to him after his check and contributor's copies of the anthology came back to the publisher marked "Return to Sender."
when I eventually sent off the final draft of all thirty-three entries and had them all individually accepted by the publisher, I was pretty gassed. And not for nothing, but I was also a solid month behind on my next writing project.
And that second editor? Neither as professional nor as easy to work with as my friend who steered me toward writing the Lincoln book. Turned out I'd been spoiled in my initial foray into writing nonfiction for fun and profit.
The result? I wound up writing eighty thousand words in eight weeks on a ridiculously tight deadline on that next project. And I did it during the months of September and October: the first two months of the school year. Not exactly a couple of months when teachers have a whole lot of extra time on their hands.
But hey, I got paid, and this was before I met my wife/got married/bought a house/had a kid, so it was more instructive than traumatic (at least in the long-term. Short-term? Well...).
Let me begin to wrap this object lesson up by pointing out that this all took place back in 2007. I like to think that I've put all of the following to good use in the years since.
So What did I learn?
1. That soliciting writing from amateurs opens you up to a whole lot of rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting.
2. That collecting and editing an anthology is a shit-ton of work, and if you're going to undertake it, you should make damned sure that it's on a subject near and dear to your heart, and that you've got something close to final approval on what the content looks like.
3. That creative control is worth taking less money for.
4. Don't work with a publisher who makes you do all of the contract wrangling in an age before DocuSign.
5. That part and parcel of being a good editor is being a good listener.
And on that note Happy Holidays to all who celebrate them. See you in two weeks when I'll talk about at least one time when I definitely put these lessons to good use: when collecting and editing West Coast Crime Wave a few years later, in 2011!