Showing posts with label awards. Show all posts
Showing posts with label awards. Show all posts

25 July 2020

The Best Thing about Writing Short Stories (and it's not the money...)


Beyond the delight of creating a story that swings on a single plot point/twist...

Beyond the excitement of putting together a really professional product in just a few weeks...

Beyond the satisfaction of mastering the craft of the short story in another tautly written tale that speeds along with the impact of a runaway commuter train...

Here is the real reason I love writing short stories.

My 17th book is done.  Sent to agent in New York.  I sit back, awaiting the inevitable comments, rounds of edits, during which I will alternately cry, fume and laugh hysterically.

Then off to the publisher it goes.  After which there will be more edits, more crying, fuming, and possibly, more drinking.  (Okay, that's a cert.)

Which is why I love writing short stories.

To Wit:
I've been a novelist for over 15 years now.  My 16th book came out this February (yes, possibly the worst timing in the history of the human race, with the possible exception of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, but I digress.)

So I've had two traditional publishers and three series, but believe it or not, I got my start writing short stories.  In fact, I have over 50 of those published, and 24 of those were in print before I even gave a thought to write a crime novel.

Why do I love writing short stories so much?  Short stories come with less stress than a novel because...

Short stories are all mine.

In order to get a novel contract with a medium to big house, you really have to keep the audience in mind.  Sure, you write what you want to write, but with the publisher's audience always in mind.  Then your agent gets hold of it, and makes comments and suggestions.  Next, your house editor will be asking for changes to the manuscript, and possibly even to the story to make it most appealing to their audience. 

All good.  All with the purpose of increasing sales, which I'm sure it does.  All tedious as hell.

Yesterday, I sent my 17th book to my agent.  She really liked the first 30 pages sent months ago.  I probably won't sleep until I hear she likes the next 200.

If she does, it's a sparkling vino moment.  If the publisher does too, then break out the Bolly.  (I do love Ab Fab, by the way.  Just call me Eddie.)

But then the fun starts.  I have to wait for the inevitable tinkering.

I can see now that one of the great joys of writing a short story is there is no interference.  It's MY story, just the way I want to tell it.  I've been published in AHMM, Star Magazine, ComputorEdge, Canadian Living Magazine, Flash Fiction, and others, and no editors have ever suggested substantial changes to the stories they've published by me, or even requested minor changes.

Writing a short story is a more independent project than writing a novel.  I love that.

But back to the title (and it's not about the money):  I have actually made more per word with some short stories, than I have with some novels.  Mind you, if I'm making a dollar per word for short stories, that would translate to $80,000 per novel, and I don't reach that with every book.  

So although we say you can't make a living writing short stories anymore, it is possible to make some Bolly money.  Usually hobbies cost you money.  This is one that allows you to make some!

I've always said that when my novel career wanes, I will continue to write short stories with gusto.

It's true what they say:  you never forget your first love.

Melodie Campbell has won the Derringer, the Arthur Ellis and eight more awards.  She didn't even steal them, which will be explained if you look up her wacky Goddaughter books...
www.melodiecampbell.com








06 July 2020

Second Best


Anybody remember a golfer named Craig Wood, big in the 30s and 40s? He was the first golfer--maybe still the only one, in fact--to come in  second in all four major championships (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship) by losing a play-off. He eventually won two of those tournaments, too, and finished with 21 career victories.

He once said, "It takes a pretty good guy to come in second."

Besides bartenders, who remembers the guy who comes in second?

Writers do.

In 2006, my daughter told me about a short story contest she heard about from, of all people, her ex-mother-in-law. I'd never heard of the Crime Bake Writers Conference or the Al Blanchard Story Award, but mere days before the deadline, I sent them a story.

A few months later, Leslie Wheeler, the coordinator of the contest, emailed to say my story placed in the top 10. She urged me to send it to Level Best Books the following year because that fledgling publisher, which featured the Al Blanchard winner in their annual volume, would surely take it. I did, and after 356 rejections for various novels and short stories, that story became my first published work.

In 2007, I entered another story in the contest and won Honorable Mention. That meant neither money nor publication, but I attended the conference and got my picture taken holding the cool certificate. Over the next year, I sent that story to 21 other markets that turned it down. Then I sent it to Level Best again and they grabbed it.

I hate the way I look in pictures, especially when they shoot before
I even know they're going to do it.  
 In 2008, I entered another story in the contest and won another Honorable Mention. I sent that  second-best to 22 markets, and they all turned it down again.

Are you sensing a trend here?

I sent it to Level Best (again) and they took it (again). At that year's awards ceremony, Leslie announced that I'd placed in the top ten three years in a row. Level Best published my first four works to see print. Since then, I've sold stories and novels elsewhere, but the consistent close calls show how subjective judging is for prizes, or even for regular sales. Once you get beyond basic grammar and formatting, it's all a matter of taste.

Fourteen years later, I have published three stories that won Honorable Mention for the Al Blanchard, the third appearing in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. That story was also accepted for an anthology that I withdrew from because the contract rang alarm bells. Everyone liked that story, but most of them not quite enough. Go figure.

I've had other near misses. Last winter, I got a letter telling me my third entry in the Black Orchid Novella Award competition (My first two both won) earned--you guessed it--Honorable Mention. I didn't get a certificate (How is that a mention?) and was left with a story nearly 17,000 words long. That's going to be a hard sell somewhere else, but who knows? Opinion and taste, right?

In 2013, Blood on the Tracks won Honorable Mention for the Writer's Digest Self-Published Novel Award. It finished in the top ten of over 1500 entries, but all I received were the judge's glowing comments. No money, no mention in the magazine. I did sell four copies of the book over the next two months, though.

That same year, MWA named me a finalist for the Edgar for Best Short Story. At the banquet, I met Dennis Lehane and Karin Slaughter, who were in the anthology with me, and they both autographed my copy of the book, which made the trip worthwhile all by itself. Lehane, whom I'd met before, won the Edgar for Best Novel that year. Slaughter turned out to be even more fun than Lehane, even though she beat me out for the short story award. There are worse fates than losing a writing award to Karin Slaughter.
I hate this picture even more than the other one, but Karin Slaughter
was fun to talk to. So was Teresa Soldana, who lost to her, too.

The following year, I asked Laura Lippman for a blurb and mentioned my near miss. She told me that my Edgar nomination was "huge" and that I would surely find someone who was in a position to help me out.

The next year, I was a finalist for the Shamus Award for Best Indie Novel, a category that no longer exists. I lost there, too, but that book sold three copies in the next two weeks.

Since 2006, I have been short-listed for nine awards that I have not won. Seven of those stories sold somewhere else eventually, and the other two are still floating around in submission purgatory. One is that Black Orchid novella.

I currently have stories entered in both the Al Blanchard and the Black Orchid contests. I need one more certificate to fill the top of my book case. And, who knows? Maybe Laura Lippman or Karin Slaughter is dropping my name somewhere...


29 October 2019

Bouchercon Bound!


Though I am writing this more than a week before it posts, the day after it posts Temple and I will head to Dallas for Bouchercon 2019, our fourth consecutive Bouchercon, which, as a point of reference, occurs less than a month before our fourth anniversary.

Michael with Rebecca Swope at the 2002 Shamus Awards Banquet.
(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Swope.)
I’ve attended science fiction conventions off-and-on since the first Archon in St. Louis, Mo., forty-three years ago, but the 2002 Bouchercon in Austin, Texas, was my first mystery convention. I was lucky to be a panelist (discussing my private eye novel All White Girls), I met and spent time with several writers I had only known online or via snail mail prior to the convention, and I attended my first Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards Banquet that year. Unfortunately, financial constraints prevented me from fully experiencing the convention. I commuted each day from Waco because I could not afford a hotel room, my food budget was negligible, and I had no money to spend in the dealer’s room.

My second mystery convention was the 2011 Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe, N.M., where I participated in a short story panel, met more writers I had only known online, and met one editor to whom I’ve since sold several short stories. Unfortunately, I spent much of my time in Santa Fe suffering from altitude sickness, and I thought my head was going to explode the entire time I was there.

My experience with mystery conventions took a positive turn in 2016, with Bouchercon in New Orleans. Less than a year earlier I had the good fortune to marry a mystery fan born in New Orleans, so I had no difficulty convincing Temple that we could combine a mystery convention with sight-seeing. Receiving a lifetime achievement award at the convention was a bonus.

In addition to meeting many of my writing friends during the convention, Temple had a book signed by Michael Connelly (she claims Connelly’s her second-favorite mystery writer named Michael, but I’ve seen the gleam in her eye every time a new Connelly novel is released or a new season of Bosch airs), and she had a close encounter with Sara Paretsky at the Shamus Awards Banquet. Before the convention ended, Temple was making plans to attend Bouchercon the following year in Toronto.

We added Malice Domestic in North Bethesda, Md., to our convention schedule in 2018 and had hoped to attend Left Coast Crime in Vancouver earlier this year. (Unfortunately, the unexpected need to replace my car saw us using our travel savings for a down payment on a new vehicle, causing us to cancel our trip.)

But Temple fangirling over her favorite mystery writers and us spending time with friends both old and new are only a few of the many benefits of attending mystery conventions together. I’ve walked away from each of the last three Bouchercons and two Malice Domestics with writing or editing opportunities I likely would never have had had I not attended.

At Bouchercon this week, I’ll be participating in “Short and Sweet but Sometimes Dark,” a short story panel at 4:00 p.m. Thursday, moderated by Barb Goffman and featuring panelists Mysti Berry, John M. Floyd, R. T. Lawton, and James Lincoln Warren.

I will also be presenting a brief introduction to Texas private eyes at the Shamus Awards Banquet Friday evening.

And, though there’s no formal event scheduled, Murder By The Book will have copies of The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books) available for sale and many of the contributors and I will be wandering around the convention ready and willing to sign copies.

I can’t predict what else may come from this week’s convention or from future mystery conventions, but even before this year’s Bouchercon has begun, Temple and I are already making plans to attend both Bouchercon and Malice Domestic next year.

My story “A Cling of Koalas” appears in A Murder of Crows (Darkhouse Books).

My story “Sex Toys” appears in Knucklehead Noir (Coffin Hop Press).

My essay “Lifecycle of a Fanzine Fan,” about how I now do professionally all the things I did as a teenaged fanzine editor, appears in Portable Storage Two.

22 June 2019

Ten Minutes of Comedy at the Arthur Ellis Awards Gala (and they even let me stay on stage...)


by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)


The Crime Writers of Canada went loco, and asked me to emcee the Arthur Ellis Awards this year.  Somehow they learned I might have done standup in the past.  Or maybe not, because they even paid me.  It may be more than my royalties this quarter.

I dug back into my Sleuthsayer files to decide what might appeal to a hardened (read soused) group of crime writers en mass, with an open bar.  This is what resulted, and I’m happy to say the applause was generous.  You may remember some of this. 



Arts and Letters Club, Toronto, May 23, 2019, 9PM



Hello!  Mike said I could do a few minutes of comedy this evening as long as I apologized in advance.



My name is Melodie Campbell, and it’s my pleasure to welcome here tonight crime writers, friends and family of crime writers, sponsors, agents, and any publishers still left out there.



Tonight is that special night when the crime writing community in Canada meets to do that one thing we look forward to all year:  which is get together and bitch about the industry.



Many of you knew my late husband Dave.  He was a great supporter of my writing, and of our crime community in general.  But many times, he could be seen wandering through the house, shaking his head and muttering “Never Marry a crime writer.”



I’ve decided, here tonight, to list the reasons why.



Everybody knows they shouldn’t marry a crime writer.  Mothers the world over have made that obvious: “For Gawd Sake, never marry a marauding barbarian, a sex pervert, or a crime writer.” (Or a politician, but that is my own personal bias.  Ignore me.)



But for some reason, lots of innocent, unsuspecting people marry authors every year.  Obviously, they don’t know about the “Zone.”  (More obviously, they didn’t have the right mothers.)



Never mind: I’m here to help.



I think it pays to understand that crime writers aren’t normal humans: they write about people who don’t exist and things that never happened.  Their brains work differently.  They have different needs.  And in some cases, they live on different planets (at least, my characters do, which is kind of the same thing.)



Thing is, authors are sensitive creatures.  This can be attractive to some humans who think that they can ‘help’ poor writer-beings (in the way that one might rescue a stray dog.)  True, we are easy to feed and grateful for attention.  We respond well to praise.  And we can be adorable.  So there are many reasons you might wish to marry a crime writer, but here are 10 reasons why you shouldn’t:



The basics: 



1  Crime Writers are hoarders.  Your house will be filled with books.  And more books.  It will be a shrine to books.  The lost library of Alexandria will pale in comparison.



2  Crime Writers are addicts.  We mainline coffee.  We’ve also been known to drink other beverages in copious quantities, especially when together with other writers in places called ‘bars.’ 



3  Authors are weird.  Crime Writers are particularly weird (as weird as horror writers.) You will hear all sorts of gruesome research details at the dinner table.  When your parents are there.  Maybe even with your parents in mind.



4  Crime Writers are deaf.  We can’t hear you when we are in our offices, pounding away at keyboards. Even if you come in the room.  Even if you yell in our ears.



5  Crime Writers are single-minded.  We think that spending perfectly good vacation money to go to conferences like Bouchercon is a really good idea.  Especially if there are other writers there with whom to drink beverages.



 And here are some worse reasons why you shouldn’t marry a crime writer:



6  It may occasionally seem that we’d rather spend time with our characters than our family or friends. 



7  We rarely sleep through the night.  (It’s hard to sleep when you’re typing.  Also, all that coffee...)



8  Our Google Search history is a thing of nightmares.  (Don’t look.  No really – don’t.  And I’m not just talking about ways to avoid taxes… although if anyone knows a really fool-proof scheme, please email me.)



And the really bad reasons:



9  If we could have affairs with our beloved protagonists, we probably would. (No!  Did I say that out loud?)



10  And lastly, We know at least twenty ways to kill you and not get caught.



RE that last one:  If you are married to a crime writer, don’t worry over-much.  Usually crime writers do not kill the hand that feeds them.  Most likely, we are way too focused on figuring out ways to kill our agents, editors, and particularly, reviewers. 

Finally, it seems appropriate to finish with the first joke I ever sold, way back in the 1990s:

Recent studies show that approximately 40% of writers are manic depressive.  The rest of us just drink.

Melodie Campbell can be found with a bottle of Southern Comfort in the True North.  You can follow her inane humour at www.melodiecampbell.com



27 April 2019

Murder at the Crime Writing Awards (With the usual 'pee first' warning - see bottom)


Someone slipped up and made me a finalist in two categories for the Arthur Ellis Awards for Crime Writing this year (The B-Team, Novella, and A Ship Called Pandora, short story.)  Naturally, I’m up against some of the best (here’s looking at you, yet again, Twist Phalen.) 

By strange coincidence, I’m also emceeing the awards on May 23.  Which goes to show how truly confusing we can be in Canada.  Because you see, in days of yore (ten to three years ago) I was the one organizing the gala, along with a team of truly wonderful but sweetly innocent individuals who had no idea what they were signing up for. 

The short list announcement yesterday got me thinking about my first time organizing the event.  I believe this may have also been my first post on Sleuthsayers.  Yes, that many years ago.  Time for a revisit.  Warning: This is nonfiction. I swear. 

MURDER AT THE CRIME WRITING AWARDS
Okay, I haven’t done it yet.  But I may soon.

I’m the Executive Director of a well-known crime writing association.  This means I am also responsible for the Arthur Ellis Awards, Canada’s annual crime writing awards night, and the resulting banquet.

I’ve planned hundreds of special events in my career as a marketing professional.  I’ve managed conferences with 1000 people attending, scarfing down three meals a day.  Usually, we offer a few choices, and people choose what they want.  They’re pretty good about that.  People sit where they want.  Simple.

Granted, most of my events have been with lab techs, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. 

It is not the same with authors.  Nothing is simple with authors. 

THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT
A can’t sit with B, because A is in competition with B for Best Novel.  C can’t sit with D because C is currently outselling D.  E can’t sit with F because they had an affair (which nobody knows about.  Except they do.  At least, the seven people who contacted me to warn me about this knew.) G can’t sit with H because G’s former agent is at that table and they might kill each other.  And everyone wants to sit with J.

THE MENU
The damned meal is chicken.  This is because we are allowed two choices and we have to provide for the vegetarians.  We can’t have the specialty of the house, lamb, because not everyone eats lamb.  We can’t have salmon as the vegetarian choice, because some vegetarians won’t eat fish.

So we’re stuck with chicken again.

P writes that her daughter is lactose intolerant.  Can she have a different dessert?

K writes that she is vegetarian, but can’t eat peppers.  Every damned vegetarian choice has green or red pepper in it.

L writes that she wants the chicken, but is allergic to onion and garlic.  Can we make hers without?

M writes that her daughter is a vegan, so no egg or cheese, thanks.  Not a single vegetarian choice comes that way.

I am quickly moving to the “you’re getting chicken if I have to shove it down your freaking throat” phase.

Chef is currently threatening the catering manager with a butcher’s knife.  I am already slugging back the cooking wine.  And by the time people get here, this may be a Murder Mystery dinner.

Postscript:
Nobody got murdered, but a few got hammered.  


Melodie Campbell’s caper novella The B-Team has been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award.  You can pick it up for a steal (sic) at Amazon, B&N, Chapters, and all the usual suspects.  Even Walmart, because we’re a class act.  Sometimes even Zehrs.  I’ll stop now.

 The 'pee first' warning is given when humorous material follows.  'Nuf said.
 

25 August 2018

It Gets Harder (Praise and Imposter Syndrome)


by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl...in which we admit that praise comes with a nasty side dish)

"the Canadian literary heir to Donald Westlake" EQMM, Sept-Oct 2018 issue
How the HELL will I ever live up to this?



A while back, I was on a panel where the moderator asked the question,
"Does it get harder or easier, with each successive book?"

"Easier," said one cozy writer, a woman I respect and know well.  "Because I know what I'm doing now."

I stared at her in surprise.

"Harder.  Definitely harder," said my pal Linwood Barclay, sitting beside me.

I sat back with relief.  The why was easy.  I answered that.

"Harder for two reasons," I said.  "First, you've already used up a lot of good ideas.  I've written 40 short stories and 18 novels.  That's nearly 60 plot ideas.  It gets harder to be original."

Linwood nodded along with me.

"Second, you've already established a reputation with your previous books.  If they were funny, people expect the next one to be even funnier.  It gets harder and harder to meet people's expectations."

"The bar is higher with each book," said Linwood.

This conversation came back to me this week, when I got a very nice surprise (thanks, Barb Goffman, for pointing me to it!)  Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine reviewed my latest book, and called me "the Canadian literary heir to Donald Westlake."

At first, I was ecstatic, and so very very grateful.  Donald Westlake was a huge influence on me.  I still think his book where everyone on the heist team spoke a different language to be one of the zaniest plots of all time.  To be considered in his class is a wonderful thing.

And then, the doubts started.  I'm now looking at my work in progress with different eyes.  Is this plot fresh?  Is it as clever as I thought it was?  Am I still writing funny?

Would Donald Westlake fans like it?

Or am I the world's worst imposter?

So many authors on Sleuthsayers are award-winning.  All of you will, I'm sure, relate to this a little bit.  Was that award win a one-off?  Okay, so you have more than one award.  Were those stories exceptions?  You haven't won an award in two years.  Have you lost it?

Will I ever write anything as good as that last book?

I'm dealing hugely with imposter syndrome right now.  It's a blasted roller coaster.  I know I should be spreading that EQMM quote far and wide, on Facebook, Twitter, blog posts, etc.  Possibly, I should be buying ads.  And at the same time, I'm stalling in my WIP, with the feeling of 'never good enough.'

Luckily, the publisher deadline will keep me honest.  I work pretty well under pressure.  Next week, for sure, I'll get back to the book.

This week, I'll smile in public and suffer a little in silence.

What about you, authors?  Do you find imposter syndrome creeps into your life at times when you should be celebrating?  Tell us below. 



The book causing all this grief:  on Amazon

24 June 2017

How I Became an Overnight Success in 26 years


Three years ago, I wrote a crazy little book that won two crime writing awards. (Okay, not three years ago. It won the Derringer and Arthur Ellis three years ago, which means I wrote it two years before that. Trad publishing takes time… but I digress.)
That year, I also won a national short story contest, with prize money of $3000. The year after, I was shortlisted along with Margaret Atwood, for another fiction award. (That was the year pigs learned to fly in Canada.)

The Toronto Sun called to interview me. They titled the article, “Queen of Comedy.”

“You’re famous!” said an interviewer. “How does it feel to become an overnight success?”

“That was one long night,” I said. “It lasted 26 years.”

This blog post was inspired by Anne R. Allen

Not long ago, Anne had a post on her Top 100 blog: 10 Reason Why You Shouldn’t Publish that 1st Novel

(It’s terrific. Check it out.)

But that got me thinking about my own “overnight success.”

Here’s the thing. I started writing fiction for money in 1987. (Nineteen Eighty-Seven!! Big shoulders and big hair. Wasn’t that two years before the Berlin Wall came down?)

I won my first award (Canadian Living Magazine) in 1989. By the time my first novel hit bookshelves, I already had 24 short stories published, and had won six awards.

Plus The Goddaughter’s Revenge – the book that won the Derringer and Arthur – wasn’t my first novel published. It was my fifth.

My Point:

I’ll drill down even more. It wasn’t even my fifth novel written. It was my seventh. The first two will never see the light of day. One has gone on to floppy disk heaven. Although if God reads it up there, he may send it to hell.

I would never want ANYONE to read my first two novels. Writing them taught me how to write. I got rid of bad habits with those books. I learned about the necessity of motivation. The annoyance of head-hopping. And the importance of having a protagonist that people can like and care about.

Yes, my first novel had a TSTL heroine who was naive, demanding, and constantly had to be rescued. (For those who don’t know, TSTL stands for Too Stupid To Live. Which may occur when the author is too stupid to write.) Even I got sick of my protagonist. Why would anyone else want to make her acquaintance?

In my first two novels, I learned about plot bunnies. Plot bunnies are those extraneous side trips your book takes away from the main plot. Each book should have an overall plot goal, and ALL subplots should meander back to support that one plot goal in the end. My first book had everything but aliens in it. All sorts of bunnies that needed to be corralled and removed.

Speaking of bunnies, I’m wandering. So back to the point:

IN 2015, some people saw me as an overnight success. I was getting international recognition and bestseller status. One of my books hit the Amazon Top 100 (all books) at number 47, between Tom Clancy and Nora Roberts.

But that overnight success took 26 years. I had one long apprenticeship.

I tell my students to keep in mind that being an author is a journey. No one is born knowing how to write a great novel. You get better as you write more. You get better as you read more. You get better as you learn from others.

Being an author is a commitment. You aren’t just writing ‘one book.’ You are going to be a writer for the rest of your life. Commit to it. Find the genre you love. Write lots.

And you too can be an overnight success in 26 years.

(The Goddaughter. She’s a much more likeable protagonist, even if she is a bit naughty.)


On Amazon

13 May 2017

When Murder Is a Family Business


  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the fifteenth in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!

by B.K. Stevens

one of our bat mitzvah invitation covers
Like most parents, my husband and I wanted to create a close, loving family with our children. So we had long, chatty dinners around the kitchen table and made reading out loud at bedtime a nightly ritual. We went on lots of outings, too, from picnics in the park to a Beach Boys concert at the county fair, from frequent visits to the public library to trips to national monuments ranging from the Lincoln Memorial to Mount Rushmore. And we always made a big deal about birthday and holiday celebrations.

My husband, Dennis, and I cherished all those experiences, and I know our daughters did, too. When I think about the times that really made us into a close family, though, I think about times when we all worked on a project together. For example, when our older daughter, Sarah, had her bat mitzvah, we decided to do all the cooking and baking ourselves, and we also decorated homemade invitations, using a string-painting technique our younger daughter, Rachel, had learned in kindergarten. Everyone enjoyed working together so much that we did the cooking, baking, and invitation-making again for Rachel's bat mitzvah.

When I was volunteering as principal of the religious school, we all worked on costumes and props for the annual Purim plays. And, of course, we also plotted the occasional murder together.

my first published story
I didn't start writing mysteries until Sarah was about three, and at first I didn't take it seriously. One idea for a mystery plot had been gnawing away at me for a while, and I decided to play around with it for a few weeks before getting back to more serious pursuits such as grading freshman compositions and tracking down AWOL My Little Ponies. If Dennis had said one discouraging word to me during those early days, if he'd made one snide remark about mysteries or one comment about the amount of time I was wasting on a novel I'd never finish, I'm positive I would have given the whole thing up immediately, embarrassed I'd ever attempted something so out of character for me. But he didn't.

From the first moment, he was encouraging and enthusiastic. He had ideas about how to develop characters more fully, about how to add twists to the plot and depth to the themes. And every evening, he wanted to read what I'd written. I finished the novel. Naturally, nobody had any interest in publishing it, but by then I was hooked on writing mysteries, and I decided to give short stories a try. The first few went nowhere, but in 1987– the same year our younger daughter was born– Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine accepted "True Detective."

Dennis continued, and still continues, to read everything I write– usually, several drafts of everything I write– and to make suggestions that always improve those drafts immeasurably. For a while, though, I didn't tell our daughters much about the stories I was writing. After all, they were so young, so innocent, so vulnerable– I wanted them to be daydreaming about rainbows and kittens, not arsenic and blunt instruments.

When Sarah was seven, Woman's World accepted a story I judged tame enough for her to read. It centered on a jewel theft, not a murder, with no trace of violence either described or implied. She liked the story and rewarded me with the lovely note you see here. (Of course, since this was a Woman's World story, it wasn't published under the title I'd given it. Woman's World chose to call it "Baby Talk"– why, I'll never know.)

As the years went on, I began letting the girls read more of my stories– first Sarah, then Rachel– and mysteries became a frequent topic of family discussions. When I ran into a plot snag or some other problem, I'd bring it up at the dinner table, and everyone would offer suggestions.

Once, when Rachel was nine, I needed to think of a place where a character could hide a small camera. Rachel said she could sew it up inside a stuffed animal. Good idea. Rachel was thrilled when the May, 1996 AHMM came out, and the illustration for the story showed an oversized stuffed bunny propped against a bed pillow. A couple of years later, Sarah mentioned an old Jewish folk custom she'd read about, and I thought it might make an interesting clue. That inspired the first story in my Leah Abrams series for AHMM. To acknowledge my daughters' contributions to that story and others, I gave Leah clever young daughters named Sarah and Rachel. When I wrote the second story in that series, I was stuck for a closing line. Rachel helped out by suggesting a witty, subtly snarky remark a character could make. Naturally, she assigned that remark to her namesake. It did sound like something Rachel would say, so I honored her choice. And both girls helped out eagerly when I wrote a story set at a high school, bringing it to life by supplying plenty of examples of disciplinary absurdities and letting me know when my slang was out of date.

Rachel
Even after the girls went to college, the consultations continued– they continue to this day. I e-mail drafts of every story to them, and they respond with criticisms, compliments, and suggestions. No one could ask for sharper, more perceptive beta readers. They've contributed story ideas, too, and sometimes told me about nasty people they've met, people who have ended up as victims or murderers. (People should think twice before being mean to one of my daughters.) And, as they've developed new areas of expertise, I've often consulted them for information.

If I had to pick one work that truly was a family project, it would have to be my first published novel, Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books, 2015). Sarah has always been fascinated by American Sign Language– while she was still a teenager, she took evening courses at the local community college and earned her state certification as an interpreter before graduating from high school. She continued her study of ASL during and after college and is now a nationally certified interpreter.

About eight years ago, she suggested I write a story about an interpreter working at a murder trial. She helped me develop the plot and devise clues related to sign language, and she gave me plenty of background information to make the story more realistic, everything from examples of ASL idioms to details about how interpreters dress. The story appeared in AHMM and won a Derringer. (Well, half a Derringer– it was a tie.) It's now also self-published as an Amazon single, under the title "Silent Witness." (Rachel took charge of the self-publishing process, since I lack the technical expertise to do it myself; she also handles the technical side of my blog, The First Two Pages. Anyway, I finally got to use the title I'd chosen for that first Woman's World story.)

I liked the protagonist of "Silent Witness," Jane Ciardi, so much that I began thinking of writing a novel about her. The project involved a number of challenges, but luckily I had family members who could help with every one of them. I wanted Jane's profession to be integral to the plot, not just a job she goes to from time to time while investigating crimes as an amateur sleuth. The whole family helped generate ideas, and Sarah recommended books I should read and provided helpful examples from her own experiences. Once I started writing, she scrutinized every page, checking to make sure the book provides readers with genuine insights into Deaf culture and ASL interpreting.

Other challenges involved setting. Our family was living in Cleveland when I wrote the AHMM story, so I set it there; I wanted to set the novel in Cleveland, too, but Dennis and I had moved to Virginia. Rachel was living in Cleveland, though– she went back there after graduating from college to spend a few years with old friends while studying interior design and working part-time. So Rachel became my consultant on all things Cleveland, checking out locations when my memory and Google came up short.

For example, I needed a semi-spooky setting for a tense confrontation between my protagonist and a volatile, sometimes violent suspect. Rachel suggested Squire's Castle, an abandoned shell of building that's now part of the city park system. It's supposed to be haunted, and that, of course, adds to its charm. Perfect. Also, Rachel's part-time job was at an upscale fitness center. When Dennis and I visited the center and listened to Rachel's stories about the people she met there, I decided a fictionalized version of it could play an important role in the novel, as a place some characters suspect to be a front for shady goings-on. Rachel helped me with the layout of my fictionalized center and supplied many details to make descriptions of it more realistic.

Squire's Castle
But I also had problems with my protagonist. In the AHMM story, Jane Ciardi is perceptive but passive. She's intelligent and observant enough to realize something is amiss at the trial, but when she has a chance to try to set things right, she loses her nerve, hoping the jury will reach the right verdict even if she does nothing. The story ends with her decision to stay silent. I thought that made Jane an interesting, believable character for a stand-alone story. But readers expect amateur sleuths in mystery novels to be made of sterner stuff. I had to toughen Jane up. So I made her into someone who's learned from her mistakes and resolved she'll never again let fear keep her from doing what's right. As a concrete way of underscoring the idea that Jane is now someone who fights back, I decided to make her a martial artist.

Dennis
Luckily, I had a resident expert to help me describe the martial arts class Jane is taking and her occasional run-ins with hostile sorts. Dennis is a fifth-degree black belt in sogu ryu bujutsu and has also studied over half a dozen other martial arts. He'd helped me with action scenes in several stories– for example, in the Iphigenia Woodhouse stories, Harriet Russo is a black belt who sometimes tosses a suspect aside– but this was by far our most ambitious project to date. We were determined to describe every class, every confrontation in realistic detail.

Since I'm not a martial artist– not by a long shot– we decided we had to act scenes out so I could understand them well enough to describe them. The process sometimes got uncomfortable. Dennis is the expert, so he always played the role of the person who twists arms and lands kicks, forcing the other person– that would be me– to the ground. He was always careful and never delivered full-force punches; even so, I received frequent reminders of why I'd long ago decided I never, ever wanted to study martial arts. We usually had to act moves out several times, pausing often so I could jot down notes about how to describe something.

my husband clobbering kid
It was a lot of work and not always a lot of fun, but we were pleased with the way the scenes turned out– so pleased I decided to write a novel in which martial arts would play an even more central role, a young adult mystery called Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen Press, 2015). This time, the featured martial art was krav maga, the Israeli self-defense system Dennis was studying at the time.

Dennis beats up another little kid
Once again, he took charge of the choreography, and after the book was published, he visited middle schools and high schools with me to promote it. I talked about elements of characterization, and he demonstrated krav maga techniques.

Guess which part of the presentation students enjoyed more. I'm happy to say that when he demonstrated those techniques, Dennis used student volunteers as his victims, nor me.

Dennis also comes to conferences with me, to help force bookmarks on passersby and give me pep talks before panels. Our daughters have gotten involved with promotion, too.

Rachel and guests at the Agatha banquet
For example, when I gave an Authors' Alley presentation about Interpretation of Murder at Malice Domestic in 2015, Sarah came to Bethesda to do some on-the-spot interpreting and answer questions about sign language.

The next year, Fighting Chance was nominated for an Agatha, and so was an AHMM story, "A Joy Forever"– and the day before I planned to leave for this once-in-a-lifetime, double-nomination Malice Domestic, I had a bad fall, breaking my right arm and seriously injuring my right leg. The doctor declared surgery essential and travel insanely reckless, so Malice was out of the question. Dennis, of course, stayed with me to help me through. We called Rachel, and she stepped in to host our table at the Agatha banquet. (Like Sarah, Rachel lives in Maryland now, so we're all within a few hours of each other– we're close geographically, as well as in other ways.) Several guests wrote to me later to say what a charming hostess Rachel had been. She even got a list of names and addresses, so we could mail guests the table favors we'd planned to bring to Bethesda.

where it all began

So if you want to create a close family, here's my advice: Put your kids to work. Work alongside them, all striving to reach a common goal. Sadly, I'm not sure of how well this approach works if the goal is cleaning out the garage. But it works fine if the goal is something everyone will enjoy, such as string-painting invitations or plotting the murder of a rigid, unreasonable high-school principal. Seriously, though, I think writers who are parents often worry that their work will pull them away from their families, that their children will resent hours spent toiling at the word processor instead of playing in the park. If we find ways to involve our children in our work, though, I think that brings us closer. Playing together is important– we always need to find time for that. But working together may be an even more potent way of creating deep, lasting unity.



Midwestern Mysteries, the current issue of Mystery Readers Journal, contains my article about the role Cleveland plays in Interpretation of Murder. I hope you get a chance to check out "Cleveland: Drownings, Ghosts, and Rock and Roll."

26 September 2016

Bouchercon 47 Blood on the Bayou



Down in New Orleans

by Jan Grape

    If you have never attended a Bouchercon before,please listen to me and plan to attend one in the next few years. The one in New Orleans was number 47, Number 48 will be in Toronto, Canada, Number 49 will be in St Petersburg, FL and Number 50 will be in Dallas, TX. Just remember all of these events are run totally by Volunteers.

   If you want to register for Toronto, the cost is $175, cost will go up on Jan 1st. Dates are October 12-15. At Sheraton Center Toronto Hotel. PASSPORT  TO MURDER Guests of Honor: Canadian: Louise Penny, American: Megan Abbott, International: Christopher Brookmyre, BCon for Kids: Chris Grabenstein, Fan: Margaret Cannon, Ghost of Honor: John Buchanan, Toastmasters: Twist Phelan & Gary Phillips.

     If you want to register for Dallas, Bouchercon 2019, DENIM, DIAMONDS, DEATH. 50th year anniversary. From now through Dec. 2016, $135: From Jan 2017-Dec 2018: $150, Jan 1, 2019 (till What are you waiting for?)  $175 at the Hyatt Regency-Dallas.

   If you've never heard of Bouchercon until recently, it is a World Mystery convention in honor of Anthony Boucher, the distinguished mystery fiction critic, editor, and author whose real name was William Anthony Parker White. It brings together all parts of the mystery and crime fiction community attended by Authors, editors, agents, publishers, booksellers and fans. There are about 2000-2200 attendees. I know in the past 2500 have attended and yet in the early days there were 100-150 attendees.

   I hate to tell you who the Guests of Honor in New Orleans were because it's over and I'm sorry you missed it, however just want you to know you missed. That way you will see all the wonderful people you didn't get to see and perhaps entice you to sign up for one of the upcoming BCons. This year: American Guest of Honor: Harlan Coben, Lifetime Achievement: David Morrell, BCon 4 Kids Guest of Honor: R.L. Stine, International Rising Star Guest of Honor: Craig Robertson, Local Legend: Julie Smith, Toastmasters: Harley Jane Kozak & Alexandra Sokoloff, Fan Guests of Honor: Ron & Ruth Jordan.

    One of the major happenings is panels every day pretty much every day. Mostly authors are on these panels but there are special panels with editors and booksellers, etc. There is even a special event for first time authors and there were 25 new authors listed in my pocket program. After each panel and there are 5 or 6 people on each panel, there is a mass book signing for each panel member. And there are 5 or 6 tracks of panels going on at the same time. Which gets to be frustrating because almost every time the panel you really want to hear is running at the same time of that other panel you want to hear. Soon it comes down to you will sit in the bar area, hoping to meet an author you really wanted to meet. You don't have to drink alcohol to sit in the bar, you can drink tea or soda. Usually you can even order food, Most of the guests of honor will come into the bar once or twice a day to meet people. Of course you can always meet them at their signing time.

    The Anthony Awards are given out and other awards are also presented like the Mccavity, the Barry, the Derringer and probably others I have not mentioned. The Shamus award given by the Private Eye Writers of America at the PWA Banquet. There is a charge to attend this and it usually is at a different location from the host hotel.

    There is a hospitality suite where you can go and get a snack and a drink often at no cost. Often sponsored by publishers or a group like Sisters in Crime. There are also parties hosted by publishers in the evening that attendees are invited to attend. There are a few events that are by invitation only but those are listed.

    There are also free books....FREE BOOKS. Donated by publishers hoping to gain readers of their authors. The attendees of Bouchercon this year were each able to pick up 6 free books each. They gave out 6 raffle like tickets with your registration goodies which also this year included a free book bag, a T-shirt, your big program book and a pocket program booklet, your name that is placed in a nice little lanyard pocket holder.

   One important event is a silent auction that benefits things like adult literacy and children's programs. Each host Bouchercon will have their charity partner listed.

    The most fun thing to me is to stroll down the street and find little nooks or diners or hole in the wall cafes that serve the most amazing food, And naturally great sight seeing in whatever city you are spending time in. I used to always try to go a day or two early in order to see the city. New Orleans was great for that and there are also tours to special places in each city. I personally had a bit of trouble walking the first day in New Orleans due to my old bones but by the second day was better. Next time I will do some walking at home first to get my hiking legs up to speed.

    Okay, I hope this gets you in the mood to attend a Bouchercon in the next three years. I am already signed up for Dallas in 2019. Hope to see you there.

By the way on August 31 in a general note to everyone replying to Leigh's Calendar and SS list I wrote a note correcting Leigh that Susan and I were attending BCon in New Orleans not Toronto and suggesting that all SS members who were going to be in NOLA plan a little get together while there so we could meet fave to face. In that note I said we were staying at Courtyard by Marriott but at the last day...actually after I arrived in NOLA I was able to book us in at the BIG Marriot where the convention was being held.

It didn't matter because I NEVER heard from anyone. No one let me know anything. I just assumed you didn't want to get together or maybe you just didn't want to meet me.  But it seems like no one happened to read that note. In fact, John Floyd wrote me that he was really sorry not to have met Susan or I. I told him about my invitation and he said he never got a note. I suppose my mistake was in just adding it on the note about the SS calendar. But I didn't think that far ahead. At any rate I'm sorry we didn't get to have a little meet and greet while in NOLA. I doubt that I will go to BCon again until Dallas.

I did see and talk with Deborah Elliott-Upton. She found me and came over and said, "hello." I had only met her once years ago but since I always wear "GRAPE" earrings that's probably how she found me.  

DON'T FORGET EVERYONE INVOLVED IN BCON ARE VOLUNTEERS. NO ONE IS PAID.