Showing posts with label anthology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label anthology. Show all posts

07 April 2020

The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell


I'm delighted to turn my column over today to author and editor Josh Pachter, who has something special to share. Take it away, Josh!

— Barb Goffman

The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell

by Josh Pachter

Today is pub day for The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, which I edited, and which is being released in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats by the good folks at Untreed Reads.

I came up with the idea for this book about two years ago, and was blown away by how eager the authors I contacted were to contribute. I could go on and on about the project, but I’d rather turn the microphone over to the writers and let them tell you about their choices, their challenges, and their triumphs.

Given the opportunity to pick a song from one of Joni's seventeen studio albums, why did you pick the one you picked?

Marilyn Todd (“The Pirate of Penance,” from Song to a Seagull): The lyrics, pure and simple. “She dances for the sailors / In a smoky cabaret bar underground / Down in a cellar in a harbor town.” As soon as I heard those lines, the story wrote itself.

John Floyd (“Bad Dreams,” from Shine): This song is a look at the way we’ve managed to screw up our world, and it got me to thinking about the fact that even the worst dreams sometimes do turn out well. That kicked off the idea of having someone see a terrible vision that might not only come out okay but might even work to his advantage.

Alison McMahan (“Harlem in Havana,” from Taming the Tiger): Not many people know this, but this song is about a real revue, Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana. I was fascinated by everything I read about it. Also, I’ve been lucky enough to visit Cuba a couple of times; the first time, I took my husband on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday to fulfill a bucket list item: his great-uncle, who lived a fascinating life, is buried in Havana, and we were able to visit the grave and pay our respects. By picking this song, I had the opportunity to write about the actual revue and my husband’s great uncle.

Adam Meyer (“Shades of Scarlett Conquering,” from The Hissing of Summer Lawns): This song jumped out at me because it’s so character-driven. It paints a portrait of a beautiful Southern woman who is “dressed in stolen clothes,” feels “dark things” and has “blood-red fingernails,” is trained in Southern charm but also cruel, burns with passion but is ice cold at the same time. She was perfect for a crime story.

What was your biggest challenge in writing your story?

Edith Maxwell (“Blue Motel Room,” from Hejira): The story is set in Atlanta, where I have never been—but, hey, that’s what friends and the Internet are for. My writer pal Jim Jackson has lived around there, and he helped me out with a well-known jewelry store and a classy old-school restaurant. Online maps, photos, and my imagination got me through the rest.

Donna Andrews (“Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire,” from For the Roses): This has always been one of my favorite Joni songs, maybe the favorite. Once Josh told me that I could have it, I re-listened to it, loved it as much as ever, and realized—with a frisson of alarm—that any story that did justice to it would have to be light years away from the humor I usually write. I had to write from a place that was very different from my usual inspiration, someplace much darker. Not the first time I’ve done that, but one of the rare times lately that I’ve had something like this published.

Tara Laskowski (“Both Sides, Now,” from Clouds): My husband, Art Taylor, and I were excited to try to write a story together, as we’d never done anything like that before. We decided we’d write it as a series of letters back and forth between the main characters. However, we were surprised to find just how difficult it was to collaborate. Our methods of writing are very different. I tend to be a faster, get-it-on-the-page kind of writer, while Art—well, he’s very careful and good at what he does and it takes him a little longer. At first, we worried we weren’t going to be able to pull it off, but once we got into a rhythm, the story was actually quite fun to write.

Emily Hockaday and Jackie Sherbow (“Talk to Me,” from Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter): Emily says, “I am primarily a poet, so the actual plot was the biggest challenge for me! I’m used to extremely short pieces that aren’t driven by plot but rather image and metaphor, so keeping a plot tight and compelling was something new and different.” And Jackie adds, “The biggest challenge might have been the story’s biggest asset, too, which was working collaboratively. Emily and I work very well together, so it was fun and fruitful to work with her—but we did need to plan out the methods we’d use.”

What about your story makes you the happiest?

Sherry Harris (“Last Chance Lost,” from Turbulent Indigo): It was fun to write something so different than the cozy mysteries I usually write. Getting out of my own head and convincing myself I could write a short story worthy of being in an anthology with such amazing writers was a treat!

Mindy Quigley (“Taming the Tiger,” from Taming the Tiger): All the cats! My story features real cats, literary cats, decorative cats, metaphorical cats, cat-like people, and even Cats, the musical. Unfortunately, it’s set in a time when Cats, the movie, didn’t yet exist. I can’t recommend hate-watching that movie highly enough, by the way. Sit back, consume your favorite hallucinogenic drug, and prepare to marvel at utter debasement of some of the silver screen’s most talented entertainers.

Barb Goffman (“Man to Man,” from Wild Things Run Fast): I loved being in the head of an unlikeable person and still finding ways to make her fun. Word choices. The reactions she has. The way she says things. Writing the character of Cecelia was so enjoyable. I aimed to create someone readers will love to hate, and I hope I’ve succeeded.

Greg Herren (“The Silky Veils of Ardor,” from Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter): The goal of my story was to illustrate how our memories of an important time in our lives are different from the way other people remember the same event—sometimes so completely different that the memories seem to belong to different occasions—with reality lying somewhere in the middle. Memory fascinates me, and I was very happy with how playing with that idea turned out in the final story.

We were originally planning a big multi-author launch event for The Beat of Black Wings in Reston, Virginia, close to where many of the contributors and I live, but of course COVID-19 knocked that plan right off the calendar.

Instead, we’ll be doing a Zoom launch tonight, April 7, starting at 7 PM Eastern Time. If you’ve got the free Zoom software for your computer or tablet or the free app for your phone—and, if you don’t, did I mention that they’re free?—all you have to do is click on this link to join us. Please disable your webcam and microphone, so the focus stays on the authors, but you’ll be able to ask questions via chat. (In case the above Zoom link doesn't work, try this one: https://zoom.us/j/7953912062.)

If you haven’t already ordered the book and would like to have a copy, you can get the hardcover or paperback directly from the publisher (with a 15% discount!) at this link and the e-book from the ’Zon here; the authors and I have agreed to donate a third of our royalties to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation in Joni’s name, so you'll benefit a worthy cause at the same time you provide yourself with some awesome quarantine reading!

And if you’ve got an Apple Music subscription and would like to listen to the songs that inspired the book’s twenty-six stories, check out this playlist.

Thanks, Barb, both for your own contribution to the book (“Man to Man,” from Wild Things Run Fast), and for turning your SleuthSayers slot over to The Beat of Black Wings today!

07 October 2019

West of Hollywood


Libby Cudmore
Libby Cudmore
In this world, you have to ask for what you want.

In some cases, you have to pick a lock and break in.

When I heard that Brian Thornton was putting together a pair of crime-themed anthologies based on the music of Steely Dan, I knew I had to be part of it. It didn’t matter that the slate was already full.

Over the past several years I have positioned myself as the Queen of the Dandom, a mighty figure in the realm of Steely Dan Twitter, and as the author of the critically-acclaimed mixtape murder mystery, this was the project I had been waiting for.

I emailed Brian this:


Hi Brian,

I just saw your article about your Steely Dan anthology and I think it is the GREATEST IDEA EVER IN THE HISTORY OF ALL IDEAS. I was wondering… room for one more? I am a huge huge HUGE Steely Dan fan (I've seen them six times; am wearing my "The Dan Who Knew Too Much" tour shirt as I write this) and I know I could write you an amazing story… plus I'm quick!

Please and thank you!


Brian told me he liked my enthusiasm and my Dan credentials (since then, I have seen them another four times, bringing the grand total to 10 shows, plus The Nightflyers / Dukes of September) and although he initially told me he couldn’t make any promises.

I told him that if not this one, I’d love to collaborate on another. A few days later, he responded with this:


All that aside, I value passion, especially when it comes to music, and doubly so when it comes to GREAT music. I have no doubt that this collection will be the stronger for your participation.

So congratulations, kid. You’re in! I’ll make it work.


I was ECSTATIC. If the first lesson is shoot your shot, the second is to always be gracious and forward-thinking. Being a jerk gets you nowhere.

Settling on a song was the difficult part. So many of the good ones were taken – including “The Second Arrangement” – but I wanted to go with something a little off-beat. I’ve found a lot of fans underrate Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go, so my initial thought was to write a stalker story around “Lunch With Gina.”

A Beast without a Name
But the story wasn’t coming together, and with the deadline clock ticking down, I switched over to “West of Hollywood” from Two Against Nature. There’s a cold undercurrent of broken passion there that fascinated me, something wild that had since crumbled to dust. I based it around a pair of con artists and former lovers who reunite for one job in the Hollywood Hills.

As soon as I settled on the concept, the story came together in almost one draft. I like to think it was guided by the spirit of the late Walter Becker.

But never one to keep all the good stuff for myself, I was also able to recommend that Brian bring in my friend/fellow Steely Dan fanatic Matthew Quinn Martin in, and he wrote a devastatingly good story based on “Pretzel Logic.” Both stories will appear in the second volume, titled A Beast Without A Name, available from Down & Out Books on Oct. 28.

Libby Cudmore
It never hurts to ask for what you want. Be prepared for a no, which makes celebrating that YES even better. I am forever grateful to Brian for making space for me in this anthology, and I’m really looking forward to sharing “West of Hollywood” with all of you when it comes out.

13 April 2019

Robots, Hatred, and Tentacles


I had a conversation with a robot the other day. Well, I think it was a robot. I have a Facebook page (for me "as a writer," separate from me the person), and every now and then, via the writer page, I get a message from someone I don't know. Sometimes the messages are casual: "Do you go for Father Brown mysteries?" Yeah, love him. Sometimes, they're kind of odd: "Are you feeling okay?" To which I rely, Yes, I am. Thanks! To which the guy replies, "That's wonderful!" and, I'm not kidding, sends me about 30 photos of himself hiking in forests with his friends.

Huh?

Last week, I got a "Hi" from a girl; her user photo was blurry. I said hello. Blurry girl asked me, "How are you?" I asked her if I knew her, had we met at a recent writing event? She didn't answer; instead, she asked me if I really was a writer, like my Facebook page said. She asked: "Is that really a thing?" I replied that being a writer really was a thing. I asked her how she had found my page. She didn't answer. She asked several more random questions (with increasing randomness), writing in perfect English, with perfect punctuation (writers notice these things). Do I like where I live? How tall am I? I asked her if she randomly picked me to start talking to. I added a smiley face.

Blurry girl got defensive. She said I was hurting her feelings and she was starting to feel uneasy; she asked if that was my intention.

My face, staring at the monitor, was the raised left-eyebrow version of WTF? It then occurred to me... Was I right there, right then, taking a Turing Test?

This is not a real person (and not blurry girl, either), Photo computer-generated by https://thispersondoesnotexist.com/
Years ago, for amusement, I made a website. You could ask it a question and it would give you an answer. It was a rudimentary chunk of logic programming (in Perl), picking up on words entered and matching them to "answers" in a database of possible responses:
Q "How are you, today?"
A "Today is another day, much like yesterday."
Garbage in. Garbage out.

I replied to blurry girl by entering in a line of random gibberish, then a message in German about how I love jam donuts (Ich liebe Berliner!), and then a string of my best expletives in English, German, and Spanish. And a smiley face. She ignored all of it, forgot about feeling hurt and uneasy, and asked me if I preferred red wine to white.

Yeah, baby. I got your number. And it's ones and zeros.

I checked out her Facebook profile. She had been on Facebook for three weeks. She had fifteen friends. All guys. Her posts consisted entirely of reposts of articles about wrestling and gridiron. Fake? Almost certainly. Robot? Almost absolutely.

I blocked her.

And right after blocking her, I remembered that she hadn't been the first. I had had several odd encounters of similar stripe in the past: random, odd conversations that came out of nowhere, went nowhere, where I wasn't being contacted because I was a writer, or because I knew the person in any way, I was being contacted because I was simply someone who would type in a reply and engage in conversation.

I disengaged my Facebook page's message facility.

The internet is a weird place, and lately, a laboratory for A.I. testing. To quote John Lennon, Nothing is real (and nothing to get hung about).

The internet is also a very angry place. This post was originally going to be about negativity on the internet, but I got sidetracked by the robot. And then, negativity isn't a fun thing to write about. The point of this article was going to be about how I have a new story coming out this month, and how it took a cue from all the negativity that exists on the internet.

In short, to quote William Carlos Williams, There are a lot of bastards out there. One of the internet's greatest virtues is the connectivity it provides: We all have access to the electronic playground. We can all come out and play together, regardless of our physical location. Sleuthsayers is an excellent example. However, that same connectivity also provides a certain type of persons, shrouded in near anonymity, with a medium to open the sewer of their souls to freely pour out their bile.


Anyway. Last year I wrote a Lovecraftian tale about how someone taps the negativity of the internet and uses it as a power source. The story is called The Tall Ones, and it appears a new anthology titled The Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods. I read a lot of Lovecraft when I was a kid; I was delighted to be asked to write a story for the book.

***

And in other news, I also have a story coming out this month in the new Mystery Writer's of America analogy, Odd Partners (edited by Anne Perry). That story is called Songbird Blues, it's noir, and there's a movie-type trailer for it below...

I'm thrilled to be in both books!

:)





stephenross.live/

facebook.com/stephen.ross.writer.etc/

03 July 2018

Manuscript Janitor


I’m a manuscript janitor. I get paid to clean up electronic manuscripts to prepare them for editing and eventual publication. I’m the guy who removes all the extraneous junk writers and their word processing programs insert into files, and I’m the guy who takes all the inconsistent formatting and makes it consistent before editors begin the arduous task of turning word vomit into publishable copy.

Sometimes I hate writers for making me do all this work, but I would earn significantly less if they didn’t, and I earn more per hour cleaning up these messes than some writers earn creating them. Want to take food out of my mouth, save publishers money, and make editors happy? Learn to submit clean manuscripts.

THE FIRST GO-ROUND

Some of the many things I correct while cleaning up electronic manuscripts:

Extra Spaces. Don’t put extra spaces between words, between sentences, at the beginning of paragraphs, at the end of paragraphs, or on otherwise empty lines.

Tab Characters. Don’t randomly insert tabs. (Note: Many editors prefer you indent paragraphs using the Format Paragraph drop-down menu. More important than whether you do this or indent paragraphs by pressing the tab key once at the beginning of each paragraph is that you indent paragraphs exactly the same way each and every time throughout the entire manuscript. And don’t ever indent paragraphs by pressing the spacebar multiple times.)

Manual Line Breaks Instead of Paragraph Marks. Always end paragraphs by pressing the return key. (Note: Holding down the shift key and pressing the return key inserts a Manual Line Break. Don’t.)

Improperly Used Dashes. Know the difference between the hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash, and use them properly. (Note: House styles differ on whether or not there should be a space before and after the em dash. If in doubt, choose one style and be consistent throughout your entire manuscript.)

Sadly, the design department at my alma mater
does not know the difference between
an apostrophe and a single opening quotation
mark, leading to errors like this.
Quotation Marks (single and double) and apostrophes. Any text that will be professionally published will require the use of proper quotation marks (commonly referred to as curly quotes or typographer’s quotes), so use them. Do not use a single opening quotation mark when an apostrophe is the proper symbol.

The above problems appear in so many manuscripts that I do a series of search-and-replace passes through every manuscript to find and correct these problems.

THE SECOND GO-ROUND

Some of the changes I make address the requirements of individual publisher clients, and some of what I clean out of electronic files prior to beginning the editorial process is unique to individual writers, so I have developed search-and-replace procedures specific to them.

For example, one publisher’s house style requires a space before and after all em dashes, another requires that all author bylines be typed in caps. I address these and many other house style issues during the second go-round.

I have also learned the foibles of several writers whose work I regularly see. For example, one writer consistently misuses a word, using instead a sound-alike word, so when cleaning up that writer’s manuscripts I search for and replace the misused word with the correct word. Another writer consistently fails to put the comma after the state in statements such as “I went to Waco, Texas, to visit the Silos.” So, I search for state names and insert the missing commas as appropriate.

Then I format every manuscript to look identical. For one client this means 14-point Times New Roman, double-spaced, with a .5” indent on the first line of every paragraph.

THE THIRD GO-ROUND

The third go-round is the actual editing phase. After I have performed my janitorial duties, I pass the manuscripts on to the publishers’ editors. Depending on the client, it may be a single editor or it may be a team of editors, each tasked with a different responsibility. Some editors are subject matter experts, ensuring the accuracy of the information presented, while others edit for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Regardless of how many editors touch the manuscripts, sooner or later the manuscripts come back to me for a final pass. This is when I make last-minute tweaks before sending the manuscripts into production.

Production imports the electronic manuscripts into page layout programs such as InDesign, and the cleaner the electronic manuscripts, the less effort it takes production to format text and lay out pages.

ROUND AND ROUND

Not all publishers use manuscript janitors (which isn’t even a real title). In many cases, the janitorial duties fall to copyeditors, who perform these tasks as part of the editing process rather than separate from it. Regardless, someone has to clean up the messes writers make.

In fact, right now there’s a manuscript janitor somewhere working her way through one of my manuscripts and shaking her head in dismay at the extraneous junk I failed to remove prior to submission.

Speaking of editing, I’ll soon be reading submissions for a new anthology series: Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir isn’t watered-down mysteries for dilettantes; it’s a crime-fiction cocktail that will knock readers into a literary stupor. An annual anthology of hardboiled and noir crime fiction to be released each fall beginning in 2020, contributors will be encouraged to push their work into places short crime fiction doesn’t often go, into a world where the mean streets seem gentrified by comparison and happy endings are the exception rather than the rule. For complete details, visit www.crimefictionwriter.com/submissions/html.

07 October 2017

Writing for the Record


Like many of my fellow writers, I've had my share of unusual experiences. I once had three stories in four months in AHMM (the March, May, and June 1999 issues); I once did a signing at a flea market, right in there among the T-shirts and yard ornaments and velvet paintings; I've twice had stories in Woman's World that listed someone else's byline; I've published poems in places like Volcano Quarterly and Appalling Limericks; one of my short stories was rejected twelve times before it finally sold; I've had stories published in Braille and on audiotape and translated into Russian; and I once drove 150 miles to do a library presentation where only two people showed up (and both of them worked for the library). Etc., etc., etc.

But something happened recently that was even stranger than any of those. A writer friend from Los Angeles named Eric Guignard, who has also edited several anthologies I've appeared in, contacted me with information about an opportunity. He began his email with "There's this little project I stumbled across that you might be interested in . . ."

The project was an attempt by a publisher in South Africa to--again, in Eric's words--"create the biggest book of short stories ever for The Guiness Book of World Records."

Here's the deal:

CEA Greatest Anthology Written, published by Celenic Earth Publications, will include 111 original short stories, each between 3000 and 8000 words, written by 111 different authors around the world. The book is an attempt at a Guiness World Record for the most authors contributing to a single volume of short fiction.

Shaun M. Jooste, a writer/publisher from Cape Town, South Africa, began working on the project in April. He applied to Guiness World Records, challenged the existing record of 50 writers, and stated that he could double that number in an anthology that he would then publish. After GWR granted him permission for the attempt and sent him a truckload of requirements and guidelines, Shaun put out a call for contributors, read all the submissions, and categorized them by genre. The book will then be "authenticated and verified" according to specifications by Guiness. To attain World Record status, 1000 copies of the book must be printed and at least 500 print copies and 500 e-book copies must be sold. (For anyone who's interested, it is available now for pre-order here and will also be sold via Amazon.)


The anthology, which will be about 600 pages, will feature authors from South Africa, the United Kingdom, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hungary, Nigeria, Mexico, Bolivia, and Switzerland. The main genres included are mystery/crime, fantasy, science fiction, horror, and romance (with about 2% children's, 4% LGBT, and 4% historical).

Eric and I received word last month that our stories will be included. Mine, which is called "The Tenth Floor," is a 4000-word fantasy tale about a teenager who buys an artifact from a pawn shop as a gift for his grandmother and then finds that it's also a portal to another world. Not a mystery, but it contains several plot twists, and one of my favorite endings. And the timing of the anthology call was perfect: when I found out about the opportunity, this story was already completed and sitting here in my to-be-submitted stack.

Everything about this project is a little unusual--including the five-page contract I received a few weeks ago. It stated that authors will retain reprint rights but will not be offered royalties; their payment will be the permanent inclusion of their names in The Guiness Book of World Records. I decided I could live with that.

Eric, a Bram Stoker Award winner, agrees. In fact he told me that inclusion in Guiness World Records has always been one of his bucket-list items. I had honestly never thought about it--but now that it's a probability, I'm pretty excited.

Maybe if I talk about that at one of our libraries, more than two bored employees will show up.

Or maybe not.

22 August 2013

Going to Great (or Short) Lengths


Kwik Krimes
Appearing in a volume of short mysteries, Kwik Krimes has gotten me thinking about writing lengths. Although some of my SleuthSayers colleagues will surely disagree, I am convinced that most writers have a favored length or lengths. Lengths in my case. The Anna Peters novels rarely ran more than 240 pages in typescript; my latest straight mystery, Fires of London, was about the same length and with the new, smaller modern type, printed up to 174 pages. My stand alone novels, on the other hand, are in the 350 page range, while my short stories cluster between 12- 17 pages in typescript, with most in the 14-15 page range.

Why this should be so, I have no idea. I just know that beyond a certain length lies the literary equivalent of the Empty Quarter. The Muse has decamped and taken all my ideas with her. As for the very short, I find it intensely frustrating as the required word limit looms when I’ve barely gotten started.

Bradbury
It seems that the big, multi-generation saga, the weighty blockbuster thriller, and the thousand page romance are not to be in my repertory, nor, at the other end of the spectrum, is flash fiction. I’m not alone in this. Ray Bradbury wrote short; Stephen King writes long. Ruth Rendall is on the short side of the ledger, though the novels of her alter ego, Barbara Vine, run at least a hundred pages more. Elizabeth George’s novels started long and are getting steadily longer; the late, under-rated Magdalen Nabb wrote blessedly short, while my two current personal favorites, Fred Vargas and Kate Atkinson, are in the Goldilocks Belt: moderate length and just right.

Vargas
Classic novels show a similar pattern. Lampedusa’s great The Leopard is short. So is Jane Austen’s work, although most of the other nineteenth century greats favored long. Except for the Christmas Carol, Dickens’ famous novels are all marathons, as are works by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and most of the novels by George Eliot and Charlotte Bronte, although the latter’s sister Emily produced the great, and compact, Wuthering Heights.

Bronte
Would Emily Brontë have gone on to write the triple decker novels beloved of the 19th century book trade? One hopes not, as changing lengths is not always a happy thing for a writer. Dick Francis, whose early mysteries I love, started out writing short and tight. Novels like Flying Finish and Nerve were not much over 200 pages in length. Alas, with fame came the pressures for ‘big novels.’ I doubt I’m the only fan who has found his later work much less appealing.

King
Other writers have had a happier fate. Both P.D. James and John Le Carre produced short early books then hit their stride with the longer and more complex works that have made their reputations. In a reversal of this trajectory, Stephen King has profitably experimented with some short works on line.

Still, my own experience has been that I do my best work within fairly strict lengths. I’ve tried a couple of times to manage Woman’s World’s 600 word limit. Neither was a happy experience, although I recycled one story and sold it to Sherlock Holmes Magazine – but only after I’d expanded the material to my favored length.

So why am I now appearing in Otto Penzler’s Kwik Krimes, a little volume of 1000 word mysteries, along with 80 other people who are perhaps more in touch with brevity than I am?
The answer lies in Samuel Johnson territory. The good doctor, himself, a working writer who had to grub for every shilling, famously said that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” However idealistic a writer is and even however unbusinesslike she may be, the Muse leans to Dr. Johnson’s opinion.

There is something about being asked for a story – how often does that happen!– with the promise of a check to follow that lifts the heart. Most writers’ short stories are composed on spec. They emerge from the teeming brain and are sent on their way with a hopeful query, most likely to be returned with a note that they are “not quite right for us at this time.” One can be sure that they will never will be right at some future time, either.

So, a firm request is a great inspiration. I said I’d give it a try, and voila, an idea presented itself. I proceeded to steal an strategy from one of the greats– only borrow from the very best is my motto– and turned out the 1001 words of “The Imperfect Detective.” A thousand words? Close enough.

26 October 2012

It Lives !!!


According to the old story written by Mary Shelley in the early 1800's, Dr. Victor Frankenstein stitched several body parts together in order to make his creation a whole being. Then to give it life in his laboratory, he jolted it with bolts of lightning on one dark and stormy night. At that pivotal moment (in the movies) as his creation began to stir, he cried out, "It's alive." How great to see one's creation live. Hey, it's five days to Halloween and I needed a theme, so hang in here.

I, for one, don't have a laboratory, only a study where I write. However, I have on separate occasions, in the not too long ago, taken two very dead short stories into my study and laid their little rejected carcasses out for autopsy in the dead of night. After much contemplation, and perhaps a jolt of Jack Daniels (sorry, but that's as close as I can get to white lightning in furtherance of this Frankenstein analogy), I went to work on resurrecting their possibilities.

The first corpse was a reject from Woman's World magazine. Because of the strict structure for these 700 word mini-mysteries, a second paying market is rather difficult to find for these creations. I poked it here, prodded it there, and tried to slide a whole new skeleton underneath the flesh of the story, but it just wasn't working. In the end, I left the old skeleton in place for the structure, massaged the body a little and spruced up the outside for appearance's sake. I then, surprise, surprise, sold it to an editor named Dindy at a little known market, Swimming Kangaroo, for the grand sum of $25. Yeah, I know, $25 is quite a come down from the $500 that Woman's World pays, but at least this was better than having the little monster running around loose in inventory. Amazingly, this editor liked the WW structure, plus I would now be published internationally. Think Dindy. Think Swimming Kangaroo. Had to be Australia. Right? I was gonna be an internationally published author! Time to get out the bubbly.

And then the check came. Turns out the return address was in Texas. So much for the international part. Even so, I was preparing to send Dindy another one of these resurrected mini creatures, when Swimming Kangaroo evidently lost a stroke (or had one) and went under.

My next attempt at bringing life to the recently deceased came when Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine rejected one of my standalone stories. It was one which Rob had critiqued approximately nine months earlier and had made some good suggested changes. I thought we had it made after my 2011 re-write, but nope, here it came back in a body bag during the middle of February 2012. It may have been cold outside, but the timing for the deceased' toe-tagging and autopsy turned out to be quite fortuitous.

A few months before, when the call for submissions to the 2013 MWA anthology came out, I had not been able to brainstorm any ideas for the anthology's theme of something mysterious in a box. And then at the last moment, right here on the autopsy table in front of me was laid out a corpse named "The Delivery." Oddly enough, it was about something mysterious in a box, a story written long before MWA's call for submissions. Kismet was obviously knocking at my door. Who was I not to answer?

I gave my dead creation another jolt. It stirred, so I packed it up along with five of its clones and shipped them back to New York City just before deadline. And waited. And waited. And waited, just like any anxious mad scientist would whose creation had gone off to the Big City.

At last, notice arrived back through the ether. My creation had been accepted. It was then that I knew for sure and cried to the heavens, "It lives, it lives!"

Coming to a book store near you, the Mystery Writers of America anthology The Mystery Box, April 2013.