Showing posts with label anthologies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label anthologies. Show all posts

19 July 2021

The Changing Landscape


Fifteen years ago, I could send my stories to about thirty potential markets. A few were literary, some were supernatural or sci-fi, a couple were romance. Most of my work was crime/mystery, but I had those other options.

Many of those markets are gone now. The landscape changes more quickly than we can keep track of it, especially since the pandemic, but keep track of it we must.

I currently have at least one submission at each of the mystery markets that still takes stories year-round. I have stories ready to send to the markets that open sporadically, too. I used to write a novel and three or four short stories a year, but, in the last year, I have produced twenty-three short stories and no new ideas for a novel. The changing market is a factor, and I've started paying attention to the territory more than the map.

Fifteen years ago, if I got an idea for a short story--which didn't happen often--I wrote it and looked for a place to send it because there were so many potential markets. Now, I look at the markets and submission calls first and use those submission calls as writing prompts.

Yes, I'm looking for novella markets, too, even though I only write one novella a year, and that's for a contest I have won twice. Are there more anthologies now, or am I simply paying more attention?

In the last year, I have sold twelve stories, five still due to be published. Ten of those twelve sales are to anthologies.

Anthologies often have a specific theme, the idea that I use as a prompt. Last year, one story appeared in Heartbreaks and Half-Truths, about love gone bad.

Another was in Mickey Finn: 21st-Century Noir. A third ws in The Killer Wore Cranberry, a collection of humorous murder stories involving Thanksgiving. There is at least one Christmas anthology looking for material, and one of my unsold stories was rejected by another holiday collection.

I've always been able to write fairly quickly to a prompt. It's no different from the years of essay tests in high school and college, expecially grad school.

But there's another reason I'm paying more attention to anthologies now, too. Time for a brief history lesson.

When the Mystery Writers of America added short stories as an Edgar Award category in 1951, the award went to the best collection of short stories for the year. In 1955, an individual story won for the first time, Stanley Ellin's "The House Party," which appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Before the mid-1970s, "mainstream" magazines often printed the Edgar-winner. The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker, and McCall's all featured a winning story, some of them several times. So did Argosy, Esquire, and Story. Between 1976 and 1998, Playboy published four of the Award-winners, three of them written by Lawrence Block.

After about 1975, the winners seldom appeared in mainstream publications and tended to show up in magazines that catered to the mystery reader. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine printed the earliest individual story to win, and has published 21 winners since then. Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine has published three.

The terrain took another shift at the turn of the century. Since 2000, Ellery Queen has published three Edgar winners, but all the others come from an anthology or a collection of stories by one author (Laurie Lynn Drummond in 2005 and Stephen King in 2016). For mystery writers, this is both good news and bad news.

It's bad news because anthologies usually don't pay much. Generally, the author gets a royalty share divided by the number of writers in the collection. Last year, I made $3.08 from one anthology. Most anthologies don't sell many copies, either, so when you divvy up the take, there's not much to go around.

One glaring exception is the Mystery Writers of America anthology Vengeance, published in 2012. I received a roylty check last December, and that story– nominated for an Edgar but losing to Karin Slaughter's story in the same collection– has made me more money than all except two other stories, and they both won contests. My story appeared between the covers with stories by Alafair Burke, Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, and other big names. It's the best exposure I've had since Border's Books went under. The local store displayed mysteries alphabetically, so my novels were on the same shelf with Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard, and Laura Lippman. Man, I miss that store…

Exposure matters. Yeah, it's hard to pay the bills with exposure, but it beats being a complete unknown.

Some new anthology calls lean toward my music background. Over the last couple of years, we've ssen books of stories inspired by the songs of Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, the Ramones, or hits from the 1960s. There are more music-themed collections taking submissions as I post this. Now maybe I can write off all those records I've bought as a business expense.

Yes, you have to hear abut the submission call somehow. Maybe you're in a writing group (Short Mystery Fiction Society, for example. Rob Lopresti is the reigning President) that passes the word along. Maybe you're Facebook friends with someone or on a blog site.

The MWAS anthologies have produced the Edgar-winning story four times since 2002. But you have to be an active member of the group to submit a story. The Akashic NAME YOUR CITY Noir series, now numbering several dozen books, is by invitation only. This may be true of many others, too.

But as anthologies proliferate, they give me more writing prompts. Not only are ten of my last twelve sales to anthologies (including next year's MWA collection, Crime Hits Home, edited by SJ Rozan), but I have sent five other stories to submission calls. And I'm working on two others.

12 April 2021

Anthologies, Pro and Con


When I started taking writing seriously, I aimed to produce a novel every year or so, along with three or four short stories. When I published my first novel, I had five more in my files and I revised them and built off those early ideas for the next decade. In late 2019, I finally exhausted that back inventory, and in the interim, I published 15 novels, but seldom more than two or three short stories a year.

For reasons I've discussed before, that changed in 2020. I haven't even considered writing another novel, but I wrote about fifteen short stories in the last half-year and sold five of them, more than usual. Right now, I have a dozen stories under submission at some market or another, and I owe that to anthologies.

Looking over my records, I see that over half my sales have been to anthologies, which I never realized before. In fact, five of the submissions currently out there are either at anthology markets or were inspired by an anthology call.

What happened?

Well, sometimes I write a story and it turns out to be a perfect match for an anthologoy that appears later. That happened with "Ugly Fat." I wrote the story years ago and many markets turned it down, but I knew it would find a home eventually. Sure enough, Heartbreaks and Half-Truths sought stories about love gone wrong, and "Ugly Fat" was perfect. When I sent it, I was sure it would sell.

I like anthologies more and more now because the guidelines serve as a writing prompt. The general premise and a context generate enough of an idea to get me started. If I get an idea right away, it tells me it's too obvious and other people will think of it, too. If that happens, I usually write a couple of pages and put the story in a file until I find a better idea or a new twist that will make it stand out. Having that basic plan gives me a more specific understanding of where to look for that difference.

For example, Michael Bracken is editing an anthology that will appear next year. "Groovy Gumshoes" showcases PI stories set in the 1960s, and the guidelines encouraged authors to use an historical event from the period. I thought of Woodstock; Vietnam; civil rights; the British music invasion; and the assassinations of the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Medger Evers and Malcolm X. Two other events spoke to me more personally, though. The Detroit riot erupted less than 30 miles south of where I was in a summer session at Oakland University. The following year, the Detroit Tigers became the first team to come back from a 3-1 game deficit and win the World Series. The riot suggested urban grit, and I used that setting. The story sold.

I have submitted stories to seven Mystery Writer of America antholgies because their themes are concrete enough to generate an idea but open enough to provide wiggle room. So far, only one story I wrote made the anthology in question, but all the others eventually sold somewhere else. I can live with that.

Yes, many anthologies pay a royalty share instead of a flat rate, and that share may be tiny, but anthologies have a longer shelf life than a magazine. Last December, I received (another) royalty payment for an MWA anthology published in 2012.That means the book and my name are still out there, and the exposure builds cred for the next story I submit somewhere else. 

As anthologies proliferate, there are more potential markets...and more potential ideas.

It's all about keeping the keyboard warm.

07 March 2021

Murder Books, Blogs, Bullets, Buffett


The Great Filling Station Holdup anthology colourful cover

You’ve been hearing about Josh Pachter’s Jimmy Buffett anthology, The Great Filling Station Holdup, released mere days ago. SleuthSayers is represented by three of your favorites– John Floyd, Michael Bracken, and Leigh Lundin. But one blog scored four crime writers in the anthology’s lineup, Murder-Books.com . Since we’re modest to the extreme (ahem), we invited Murder-Books to introduce themselves within our hallowed pages.

Of their stories, I confess a favorite, M.E. Browning’s ‘Einstein Was a Surfer’. Its vengeance is proportional and appropriate. James Lincoln Warren pointed out I tend to write about justice. That and Micki’s lateral, trail-along-with-me storytelling technique no doubt color why I particularly enjoy her story. It’s also why she leads off today’s perp walk.

(Non-geeksters: In her story, Browning’s casual reference to a “man in the middle” might sound contrived, but MiM is an actual network hacking technique. The lady knoweth something whereof she speaks.)

— Leigh

And now, Murder-Books

The Music Fits the Crime

Music has always played an important role in crime fiction — both in the lives of authors and the characters they create. Hieronymus Bosch, the eponymous detective of the Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly, enjoys jazz. Legendary blues guitarist and singer Robert “RL” Johnson inspired both author Walter Mosley and his character Soupspoon Wise in the novel RL’s Dream. Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes—a character with a penchant for German operas and a facility for playing the violin (a Stradivarius acquired at a pawnshop, no less). Alexia Gordon built an entire series around her classical musician protagonist in her Gethsemane Brown Mysteries. The list goes on.

The nexus between crime fiction and music isn’t surprising. Music, much like story, is built on a foundation of conflict. The dissonance and consonance of music is akin to the disruption and resolution of story. One never knows exactly when inspiration will strike or where it will take you.

M.E. Browning Einstein Was a Surfer [ music | lyrics ]
M.E. Browning

I was a Jimmy Buffett fan long before I lived in the Florida Keys. When I learned that Josh Pachter, author and editor extraordinaire, was rounding up a group of crime writers to submit stories to an anthology inspired by the songs of Jimmy Buffett, I knew I wanted to be included.

Each story in the anthology shares a title with one of Jimmy Buffett’s original songs and each song had to come from a different one of his seventeen albums. My first and second choices had already been claimed by two of my cohorts. So, I did what any self-respecting Parrothead would do. I flipped on Radio Margaritaville.

The first song that played on the radio, I heard in its entirety. The opening stanza refers to a photograph of Albert Einstein standing on the beach in Santa Barbara staring across the waves. I knew immediately this was the song for my story. Not only was I familiar with the photograph, but I’d spent fourteen of my twenty-two-year law enforcement career as a cop patrolling the streets of Santa Barbara. By the time Jimmy sang about the Channel Islands where I used to scuba dive, my mind was racing. When he mentioned surfing, well, I was all in. “Einstein Was A Surfer” comes from the 2013 album, Songs from St. Somewhere and is the song that inspired my short story of the same title. The somewhere is Santa Barbara, the song comes from the sea, and Einstein is a surfer. The rest? I hope you’ll read for yourself.

Lissa Marie Redmond If I Could Just Get It On Paper [ music | lyrics ]
Lissa Marie Redmond

I chose the song ‘If I could just get it on paper’ because it was vague and open to so many possibilities. Who hasn’t had an unexpected, wonderful night and wanted to remember every second of it?

I got the email about the anthology on Super Bowl weekend and a group of us had rented a house. Most of the guys were more worried about their football pools than who won the game and that got me to thinking. And we all know what happens when crime writers get to thinking.

The whole way home from the rental house my husband and I listened to music and I threw ideas at him. I know that out of every short story I’ve ever written, this one was the most fun to write. Jimmy Buffett is more than a musician. He’s a storyteller. And his stories inspire other stories. I can’t wait to read what his music inspired in all the other authors in this book.

Isabella Maldonado Smart Woman (in a Real Short Skirt) [ music | lyrics ]
Isabella Maldonado

I never use music to facilitate my writing because I’m too easily distracted by the lyrics, or even the melody if there are no lyrics. Each piece tells a story that sometimes conflicts with the one I’m trying to build. I do, however, listen to white noise while I write. Being at home with my family means loud noises and other distractions that I must tune out!

Regarding the anthology, I chose “Smart Woman (In a Real Short Skirt)” from the 1988 album, Hot Water. Buffett’s lyrics describe a man in search of his ideal woman: one possessed of both beauty and brains.

I decided to create a story about a man named Donovan Snell, a weapons smuggler based in Miami who laments that he cannot use a margarita shaker to blend his gorgeous girlfriend with his brainy female accountant to create the perfect woman. Snell’s hubris–and his contempt for the law–ultimately land him in very Hot Water indeed!

Bruce Robert Coffin Incommunicado [ music | lyrics ]
Bruce Robert Coffin

I chose the Jimmy Buffett song “Incommunicado” as the impetus for my short story of the same name largely because I fell in love with the references to mystery author John D. MacDonald, his famed character Travis McGee, and Cedar Key. Also mentioned in the lyrics is the Duke, John Wayne. How could I have chosen anything else?

While I do listen to music while writing, generally I stick to instrumental artists like Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, or the occasional symphony soundtrack. I’ve even been known to put Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Riviera Paradise on repeat. Basically, anything melodic, sans lyrics, works for me.

A Finny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bookstore

The Great Filling Station Holdup contains fiction by sixteen highly regarded mystery authors edited by Josh Pachter. Released on 22 February, the anthology represents the literary world's tribute to the musician's evolution.

If you love Jimmy’s music or crime fiction or both, you’ll love The Great Filling Station Holdup. Mix yourself a boat drink, ask Google Home to put on a buffet of Buffett tunes, kick back, and enjoy!

21 February 2021

A Buffett Buffet


Why get stoned when there’s rock? Stone crabs and rock shrimp, of course, boiling in sea water seasoned with Old Bay, served outside a rusted beach shack. Delicious.

Unless you’ve been living under a conch shell, you probably heard Margaritaville has a new criminal element in town. Disreputable word-slingers have been spotted skulking amongst the happy drunks at beachside bars, gathered around a piratey privateer, Josh Pachter. This disreputable lot call themselves anthologists. Book 'em, I say, in fact, it’s already booked: The Great Filling Station Holdup.

The Great Filling Station Holdup anthology colourful cover

Let’s face it. Jimmy Buffett is a damn good lyricist. If he’d migrated from Nashville to Tin Pan Alley, he’d reside among the best of Broadway songwriters.

While Buffett is known for lighthearted, cheerful tunes, scratch many a surface and you’ll reveal more serious strata. Take as example the lyrics of Margaritaville:

But there’s booze in the blender
And soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on.

Wasted away again in Margaritaville,
Searching for my lost shaker of salt.
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame,
And I know it's my own damn fault.

A reviewer at AZLyrics.com opines:

The song is about a man spending an entire season at a beach resort, enjoying carefree Caribbean lifestyle with margarita cocktails. There is some lyric confusion about words ‘Wasted away’ in the chorus of the song.

Whut? Seriously? Are we listening to the same song? You can’t hear the tone of forlorn desperation? Sir, put down the rum and step away from the bar.

While many of Buffett’s songs carry a serious secondary layer, a few like ‘Southern Cross’ will break your heart, and some of his early work is downright dark and dangerous. And I like it. But, when Josh Pachter invited me to sail the Buffett brigantine, I was immensely flattered and simultaneously panicked. What the hell could I possibly come up with? Then parts fell into place.

I find it difficult to write about myself. Talk about my work, okay, fine, but talk about me, not so easy. To deflect scrutiny, I hatched the notion of writing about my SleuthSayers colleagues and their stories appearing in Josh’s latest and greatest anthology. Good excuse. And why not include Pachter’s headlining story as well? Let’s begin.

Spending Money
Beach House on the Moon
[musiclyrics]
John Floyd



John sent me his story first, so we’ll start there. Jimmy’s song, ‘Spending Money’, is a light-hearted, whistling ditty. Part of the chorus subtly hints at skullduggery,

A little spending money, money to burn.
Money that you did not necessarily earn.

John has molded his story into a morality play. Greek playwrights could recognize the plot. Russian authors might embrace such a protagonist.

In John’s story, a hint of a pending train wreck hovers in the air, a force that can’t be stopped. The main character has an issue with honesty, a shortcoming of which a rare friend, a waitress, tries to disabuse him of his wayward ways.

To tell you more would tell you too much. I’ve read many of John’s stories and haven’t encountered one like this. Enjoy it.

Tampico Trauma
Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
[musiclyrics]
Michael Bracken



I’ve read Michael Bracken over the years, but I hadn’t absorbed what a master of atmosphere he is. From the beginning, you feel like you’ve been dropped into Tamaulipas– no, not a Taco Bell menu item, the Mexican Gulf state. In Michael’s story, you can smell aromatic herbs seasoning the broth, you can hear a touristy guitar.

Buffett’s song is barely 150 words, fewer than twenty lines. In contrast, Michael has fleshed out a complete story, a simmering plot spiced by the kind and compelling Hernández hermanas. I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t borrow a refrain from another song:

First you learn the native custom,
Soon a word of Spanish or two.
You know that you cannot trust them,
Cause they know they can’t trust you.

Trust me, Bracken has smuggled a lot in a small packet.

The Great Filling Station Holdup
A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean
[musiclyrics]
Josh Pachter



Josh Pachter shuttles us through the dimensions of space, time, and sound, back to a Jimmy country song. Both artists convey an old-fashioned tone, a feeling when informal policing could accomplish more than modern day school resource officers and zero-tolerance policies.

We got fifteen dollars and a can of STP,
A big ole jar of cashew nuts and a Japanese TV.
Feelin’ we’dd pulled the biggest heist of our career.
We're wanted men– we’ll strike again!
But first let’s have a beer.

Josh delivers a surprisingly gentle story. He pays considerable attention to characterization, so by the time the story wraps, you’re glad to witness a happy ending.

And for enquiring minds who want to know, he’s a damn fine editor. He’s also donating a third of the royalties to two Buffett charities, Singing for Change Charitable Foundation and Save the Manatee Club,

Truckstop Salvation
Down to Earth
[musiclyrics]
Leigh Lundin



After Josh’s invitation, I sweated, coming up with zero ideas. As the acceptance deadline approached, I feared having to decline.

One evening, my scalpel-tongued brother Glen mentioned one of his ironic descriptors– dirty, furrin’ lovin’, commie, pinko, hippie, peace queers (considerably cleaned up for our refined audience). I tossed out, “Long-haired, greasy-looking ape,” and immediately wondered where that came from.

Googling found it in a song on Jimmy Buffett’s first album, Down to Earth. The lyrics of ‘Truckstop Salvation’ hinted at an off-camera not-so-pleasant ending.

A silly ditty floated in my brain to the tune of ‘Harper Valley PTA’ (written here in awkward pentameter):

I want to tell you about a valley in Eastern Tennessee.
Good folks and bad struggle in a place called Suwannachee.
No McDonalds, no mall, no factory, no future, no pay,
Then along comes a notice from the local valley TVA.

Those in Washington know you love your rustic neighborhood,
But Congress tells you to give it up for the greater good.
Though eminent domain puts your family in a jam,
Those vacate orders on your doors mean they don’t give a dam.

Once my brain juxtaposed my brother with his Tom Petty hair and live-by-his-own-rules attitude, a Southern gothic began to sketch itself in dark, dark tones. What if Edgar Allan Poe engaged in a forbidden romance with Bobbie Gentry? You know, Deliverance without all the fun and frolic?


Those rock shrimp and stone crabs are rolling to a boil. Beer tub in the sand, nutcrackers at the ready. Pick up the hammer and tongs, have at them.

Florida’s Broward College is sponsoring the launch party. It’s virtual. It’s Zoom. It’s free. It’s 11 March, 2021 at 07:30p. Sign up here!

And yeah, the Jimmy Buffett anthology has lots of damn good stories. Don’t be a crusty crustacean, pre-order at a discount. Do it quickly– it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

10 November 2020

The Best American Mystery Stories


November 3, 2020, was the official release date for The Best American Mystery Stories 2020, the last edition with Otto Penzler as series editor. Beginning next year, Steph Cha will be the series editor of the renamed The Best American Mystery & Suspense, and Otto Penzler will helm The Mysterious Bookshop Presents: The Best Mystery Stories of the Year.

My relationship with The Best American Mystery Stories began with the 1998 edition—the second—and I read it and every subsequent edition upon release. A few years ago I found a used copy of the 1997 edition, so I’ve now read every edition save for the current one, which, as I write this, has yet to arrive.

Through email, John Floyd and I recently shared some thoughts about those early editions of BAMS. We discussed how we read in them the work of our literary heroes, imagining what it must be like to have one’s work selected as among the year’s best, and only dreaming of our own work someday being included.

To say that BAMS has since made our dreams come true is an understatement. Including the current edition, John has had three stories included in The Best American Mystery Stories (2015, 2018, and 2020) and another five listed among the “Other Distinguished Stories” of the year (2000, 2010, 2012, 2016, and 2017).

The Best American Mystery Stories has also been good to me, with one story included in 2018 and three listed among the “Other Distinguished Stories” of the year in 2005, 2019, and 2020. It has also been good to me as an editor: The 2020 edition includes a story first published in an anthology I edited, and four stories from anthologies I edited have been listed among the “Other Distinguished Stories” of the year (two stories in 2002, and one each in 2005 and 2020).

TOO MANY BEST-OFS?

The science fiction/fantasy/horror genres are awash with annual best-of-year compilations, but for the past several years BAMS has been the mystery genre’s only best-of-year anthology, and some writers have questioned whether we can support more than one.

I think we can because we have in the past.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch and John Helfers edited The Year’s Best Crime and Mystery Stories 2016, and, beginning in 2000, Ed Gorman (alone at first but later with Martin Greenberg) edited twelve editions of an annual best-of series, originally as The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories but with later editions under various titles. (One of John’s stories was named an Honorable Mention in the 2001 edition and a story from an anthology I edited was named an Honorable Mention in the 2002 edition.)

Other best-of-year compilations pre-date these, including The Year’s Best Mystery and Suspense Stories series edited by Edward D. Hoch 1982-1995, and Best Detective Stories aka Best Detective Stories of the Year, edited, at various times, by David C. Cooke, Ronald Knox, Brett Halliday, Anthony Boucher, Allen J. Hubin, and Edward D. Hoch.

So the mystery genre can clearly support two annual best-of-year collections, and maybe the new writers of today will read them and have the same dreams John and I had. With any luck, twenty years from now a few of today’s new writers will share with readers how they saw their dreams come true when they had their work recognized in one of the annual best-of-year anthologies.


Publishing has been good to me the past month:

“Woodstock” was published in the November/December issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Bicycles” was published in the October 21 issue of Pulp Modern Flash.

“Bet Me” was published in the second issue of Hoosier Noir.

Today is the official release date for Peace, Love, and Crime (Untreed Reads), edited by Sandra Murphy, which contains my story “Jimmy’s Jukebox.”

And “The Town Where Money Grew on Trees” (Tough, November 5, 2019) was named one of the “Other Distinguished Stories” in The Best American Mystery Stories 2020.

29 October 2020

So This Happened....


It's always gratifying to be able to announce the publication of a new work. We writers work damned hard, and as a rule we toss more than we publish. So, yes, it's nice when you can add something new to your existing body of work. It's even nicer when you can announce the publication of something on which you've toiled for a long, long time, and of which you're (hopefully justifiably) proud.

So it's with no little pleasure that I announce that on Monday, October 19th, 2020 Down and Out Books published my three-novella collection Suicide Blonde. It was the culmination of an insane amount of work over a roughly eighteen-month period, during which time I also collected and edited a pair of crime fiction anthologies inspired by the music of jazz-rock legends Steely Dan: Die Behind the Wheel, and A Beast Without a Name.

Each of the novellas in my new collection started life as a short story. Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine published the original "Suicide Blonde" way back in November of 2006. The short version of "Paper Son" found a home in the Akashic Books anthology Seattle Noir in June, 2009. And "Bragadin's Skin" was commissioned by the upstart webzine The Big Click (that rarity of rarities: a webzine that paid, and well, too!) in 2013.

So I guess you could say that these characters have lived with me for a while.

Each of these original stories managed to garner many variations of the same feedback from my loyal first readers: "I wanted to know more." "I didn't want the story to end." "I would have liked to learn more about this (or that) character." "You ought to expand it into a novel."

I decided to start smaller.

It's a long story
Crime fiction has a long tradition of writers publishing stories in the shorter form, only to expand them at a later date. The most famous example of this is probably that of Raymond Chandler, who developed his early writing chops by publishing in the pages of the storied Black Mask, the same magazine which helped launch the career of Chandler's idol (and mine), Dashiell Hammett. Chandler later cobbled several of these stories into longer novels which became The Big Sleep and The Lady in the Lake. In 1929 Hammett himself wrote his first novel Red Harvest as a collection of  four related novellas ("The Cleansing of Poisonville," "Crime Wanted — Male or Female," "Dynamite," and "The 19th Murder") for initial serialization in Black Mask before appearing in book form later that same year.

So I resolved to try my hand at something similar: turning short stories into novellas. 

I've written in this space before about the process of expanding the first of these, the title story, into a longer work. I was (and am) quite pleased with the final result. And Down and Out publisher Eric Campbell liked it too, and agreed to publish it. He just wanted more word count in order to be able make the production costs balance out. So one novella became three.

Like Hammett I also initially intended to generate several related novellas which could be read together as a single long work. I talked about that idea here. However, I eventually abandoned the notion of expanding "Suicide Blonde"'s initial premise that far. I wanted to enhance the story, not pad it. And I was concerned padding it would be precisely what I'd have wound up doing.

And that's when I decided to give "Paper Son" and "Bragadin's Skin" the "Suicide Blonde" treatment. And a lot of writing and rewriting, sweating, proofing and swearing and starting over ensued. And now, lo these many months later, you see before you the cover art of the end result.

And I gotta say, as was the case with my other two recently published long-term crime fiction projects, it's really satisfying to finish something this long in the works. The sense of completion is hard to put into words, but tangible and no less enjoyable in spite of remaining hard to quantify.

I've got other irons in the fire: a really long-term project (a novel) I'm putting the finishing touches on; and a couple of short stories due soon to the editors who've asked for changes to them. Got a couple of other projects in the early drafting stages. And I'm going to get rolling on them pretty quickly.

But not before I take a little time and savor this achievement.

See you in two weeks!



13 October 2020

You're Invited to Check out Chesapeake Crimes: Invitation to Murder


Last week the ninth volume in the Chesapeake Crimes anthology series, Invitation to Murder, was published by Wildside Press. Donna Andrews, Marcia Talley, and I have been editing these books together since volume four, when I joined the team. The series, showcasing stories from the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, has had remarkable success: twenty-six nominations for major short story awards (thirteen Agathas, four Anthonys, three Derringers, five Macavitys, and one Thriller) and eight wins (four Agathas, one Anthony, one Derringer, and two Macavitys). Donna, Marcia, and I are hopeful that readers will enjoy this newest volume just as much. With that in mind, I'm going to talk about the stories in their order of appearance in the book, with a brief description of each and what I think makes it special. 

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

Steal This Vote


STEAL THIS VOTE

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.

And I am not alone. Among the authors contributing are Gary Phillips, Travis Richardson, Sara Chen, and James McCrone, to name a few.

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?

Seldom.

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

Some thoughts on the short-story-related Anthony Award nominations


While we talk about many things that are writing related here at SleuthSayers (and many things that aren't), our primary focus is crime short fiction. So it's wonderful timing that today, a few hours before I sat down to write this column, the Anthony Award nominations were announced, including for best short story and best anthology/collection published last year.

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).

BEST SHORT STORY
“Turistas,” by Hector Acosta (appearing in ¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico)
“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)

BEST ANTHOLOGY OR COLLECTION
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)

Happy reading!

18 May 2020

Promoting Anthologies


Jan Grape So many of my fellow SleuthSayers are appearing in anthologies I thought it might be a good time to talk a bit about promoting them. It's been many years since I owned a bookstore and promoting has changed a lot but maybe a few tips here can help.

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

When Extroverts Must Stay Home


Sometimes current events coincide with stories you've already written. This is one of those times.

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.

This story is coming out in a new anthology, The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, which will be published on April 7th by Untreed Reads. The anthology, edited by Josh Pachter, has all of Joni Mitchell's albums represented. My "Man to Man" story is inspired by the song of the same title from her 1982 album, Wild Things Run Fast.

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.

I never imagined that my scenario might be playing out all over the world around the time the story was being published. I hope all the Cecelias out there can safely resume their regular lives soon. In the meanwhile, for all of you looking for something to do while stuck inside, you can pre-order The Beat of Black Wings. It will be coming out April 7th in e-book, trade paperback, and hardcover. Pre-ordering of the paper versions is only available from the publisher. You can do it by clicking 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.