Showing posts with label criminal brief. Show all posts
Showing posts with label criminal brief. Show all posts

17 November 2017

Moderating a Short Story Panel


James, Alan, Janet, Travis, Angel, and Barb
At the Bouchercon in Toronto a few weeks ago, one of the highlights was a panel on the short story moderated by my friend James Lincoln Warren. He wrote a long piece on FaceBook about it and graciously gave me permission to edit it and put it up here.

James says he feels like the Godfather of SleuthSayers, and he's right about that. He founded a website called Criminal Brief in which seven writers took turns talking (mostly) about short mystery fiction. When he decided to shut it down several of us grizzled survivors started SleuthSayers.


James is the author of many short stories that have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazines. Perhaps his best known works are ahe tales of 18th century insurance investigator Alan Treviscoe but he won the Black Orchid Novella Award with a contemporary private eye story. His "Shikari" is, in my opinion, the best Sherlock Holmes story ever written that does not include Sherlock Holmes.

Without further ado, here we go. Any mistakes below can be blamed on me.

— Robert Lopresti



Moderating a Short Story Panel

by James Lincoln Warren

The panelists and I have received comments from the audience that this was their favorite panel at the convention. People have also mentioned how well attended it was—it was SRO, which is very unusual for a short story panel at a crime fiction fan convention.So I decided I'd explain how I structured it and my theories for its unusual success.

First, I think its success was largely due to the wonderful panelists: Alan S. Orloff, Janet Hutchings of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Travis Richardson, Angel Colón, and Barb Goffman, all of whom are greatly respected in the crime short fiction community. Kudos is also well-deserved by Janet Costello, the Bouchercon Programming Chair, for scheduling such a panel.

But let me begin by explaining why I at first dreaded having it assigned to me.

My working rule as a moderator (and I always prefer to moderate rather than contribute as a panelist) at a fan convention is first and foremost, "Connect the author with the reader." In other words, I want to get at least one person in the audience to read the work of each of the panelists.

The themes for panels at fan conventions usually key on elements relative to a particular subgenre, or things that particular works, in a variety of subgenres, have in common, e.g., a panel about private eyes, a panel about hard-boiled female detectives, a panel on detectives with pets, and so on. Usually on such panels, one of the panelists will be a prominent star writer with a big fan base---those are the folk who are going to come to the panel. In so doing, they will discover lesser known writers whose work is previously unknown to them, but whose stuff they are guaranteed to enjoy. Everybody wins!

Short stories are not a subgenre, like hard-boiled, cozy, police procedural, fair play, romantic suspense, etc. The short story is a form, not a thematic genre, and the subgenres represented by it cover the whole spectrum of crime fiction. This means that other than length, short story writers' works may have very little in common with each other. On top of that, writers like me, who work almost exclusively in the form, are not likely to be stars, because crime fiction has been dominated by the novel since the 1930s. Likewise for the panelists---no matter how wonderful their work, it is bound to have less exposure than the works of novelists. The upshot is that it's unlikely that an audience will be drawn to the panel on account of the names assigned to it.

As I said, my goal is usually to connect every writer on the panel to someone in the audience. But I noticed that on every short story panel I've moderated, when we get to the Q&A, the questions are never about the authors whose work I've tried so hard to expose. Instead, the questions are always about "How do I get published? What are your secrets?"

So I proposed to Janet Costello that for this short story panel, we'd go all the way and make it about writing short stories. I proposed that we'd come up with a list of simple concepts the panel could agree upon, or if they disagreed on the concept, at least recognize its importance, and illustrate how that concept worked by reading examples of it from the short fiction written by the panelists, along with other observations and suggestions from short fiction editors.

But then I ran into some trouble, because I couldn't figure out how to structure the panel, or whom to assign to which nugget of advice. And then it hit me.

Aspiring writers have entire libraries of sound advice available to them on how to write: Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard, Steven King, and divers others, have all written very good books on it. For access to markets, there's the venerable Writer's Market---every writer I know has bought one at sometime or another. So what's different about asking published writers these questions face to face? We're not going to dispense more wisdom in an hour-long panel than you can get from any of those books.

The answer is, of course, that there is personal interaction. The rookie wants to pick the brains of the veterans. And that's when I realized that the way to run the panel was to make it consist of questions from the audience, and not the questions that I thought should be asked. I had the audience members write down their questions on a leaf from a small tear-out notebook, restricted the questions to one or two, and had them collected and given to me. I would then read the questions, pick the most interesting or generally applicable ones, and get the best of both worlds: the audience would get answers to their personal questions, and I would remain in control of the panel.

To open the panel, I listed five pieces of advice everybody agreed on, and read from the works of the panelists to illustrate each one. This also gave the audience time to phrase their questions and turn them in while we were still able to dispense some basic advice, while also establishing the bona fides of the panelists.

That took about fifteen minutes. The rest of the panel consisted of questions from the audience.

Robert states that I dispensed with several questions on my own with the mantra, "There are no magic bullets." This is true. I did this because, well, there are no magic bullets, no perfect formulas, no foolproof techniques, and aspiring writers must understand this. But there were lots of very interesting questions that were directed individually to the panelists, and some directed at more than one panelist. And as I had encouraged the panelists to speak up when they had something to say about a question pitched to someone else, there was a lot of stuff that got covered from more than one angle.

The personal touch is why everybody loved the panel so much. Now, you can't teach someone to write a commercial crime fic short story in an hour, but a frequent comment was, "I learned so much!" The important point here is that they learned not what any of us wanted to teach, BUT WHAT THEY WANTED TO KNOW. Respect your audience!

All right, that explains why the panel was a success, but it doesn't explain why the house was packed.


I think there are two essential reasons: (1) Janet Hutchings, the editor of the world's leading crime fiction magazine, was being honored at Bouchercon, and people from the audience thought that maybe they'd learn how she picked stories for the magazine; and (2) the subject of the panel, "how to construct the short story", was something they had always wanted, but never before had offered to them. Bouchercon is not a writers conference. It's a fan convention. But we sometimes forget that writers usually start as fans of other writers.

(Now, I don't think that Janet told them exactly how she picks a story, although she gave them some very good advice---be in control of your narrative, do not fixate on the opening but on the whole narrative, and that she could use a lot more fair play detective stories featuring a crime and its solution. I should also mention that I gave a shout out to Janet's colleague Linda Landrigan at EQMM's sister mag, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, who once told me she likes stories that seem to be about one thing, but are really about something else.)

I was extremely fortunate to have so much expertise on the panel, and for Janet Costello allowing me to have my own way with it. It was a helluva lot of fun.

17 September 2014

Three Years Later...


Three years ago this web site and blog went live with John Floyd’s column “Plots and Plans”. Readers who have been with SleuthSayers from the beginning know it was spearheaded by former members of Criminal Brief, an influential web log devoted to mystery short fiction. CB, as it was affectionately known, had run its course. In 4½ years, it had covered a broad range of topics and insight in the realm of crime-writing. In the same month that Criminal Brief closed shop, September 2011, Leigh, Rob, John, and Deborah - as well as Janice Law, who had just joined CB seven months earlier - launched SleuthSayers. And what a great three years it has been.

Today we celebrate the third anniversary by bringing back all of the regular weekly columnists from Criminal Brief to provide brief updates of what they've done and where they've been during these three years. Let me say I’m glad to be back among old friends once again. So now I welcome to the stage Deborah, John, Melodie, Janice, Rob, Leigh, and Angela. It also seems fitting - we couldn't have it any other way - that Criminal Brief founder James Lincoln Warren will have the final word.

Thank you. And Happy SleuthSayers Anniversary!
— Steve Steinbock


Deborah Elliott-Upton
Deborah Elliott-Upton.  Criminal Brief arrived at a pivotal time of my life. I had finished teaching a series of writer’s workshops and longed for a new challenge. A weekly blog fit perfectly. I enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow CB writers, some were new acquaintances, amid some I’d known for a while.  This allowed enough familiarity to be comfortable, enough new to make me strive to do my best. I think we learned from each other as much as we shared our knowledge and experiences with the readership.

My favorite columns to write for Criminal Brief during the four years were one on Nick Carter (great time researching that one!) and two that complimented the other: “Good Bad Guys” and “Bad Good Guys.” Of course, I have fond memories of my very first experience with CB with “Take a Seat” – my entrance to the blogging arena.

When James decided Criminal Brief should end, many of us immediately signed on as SleuthSayers. We met some new writers as columnists and also reached many new readers, too. Personally, I was most grateful for those that traveled with us from old to new blogs.

Taking a sabbatical from SleuthSayers, I went back to school, majoring in psychology. After all these years, I am still curious about what makes people tick and why they do or say or act like they do. These differences make life much more interesting. I plan to never stop learning and I can’t stop writing; both are addictions. I am so happy to be among people who feel as I do.

John Floyd
John M. Floyd.  There’s nothing special going on in my world, which is exactly the way I like it. I still teach fiction-writing classes in the Continuing Education department of a local college, I still carry out my wife’s every order (well, almost every order), and I still read or watch all the mystery/suspense books and movies I can get into my hands or my Netflix queue. In the summers I mow our yard once a week whether it needs it or not, and in the winters I spend a lot of time wishing we lived even further south. Since retiring, most of my traveling has been to visit our children or my mother, or to attend the occasional (but not often enough) Bouchercon.

On the writing/publishing front, I have two novels currently out with an agent who (bless his soul) remains excited and encouraging about them both, but--as always--most of my time is spent writing short stories. Over the past year I've been fortunate enough to place stories at AHMM, The Strand, Woman's World, and The Saturday Evening Post, and unfortunate enough to add a lot of entries to my stunningly long list of rejections. At the moment I have new stories upcoming at both AHMM and EQMM, and my fifth book will be released next month. This one is another collection of shorts, appropriately titled Fifty Mysteries.

Melodie Johnson Howe
Melodie Johnson Howe.  I miss blogging and my blogging buds. But I have been busy, busy. My new Diana Poole novel, City of Mirrors, has been received with raves and I have a contract for the second in the series. I’m writing away and pop my head up to go to Bouchercon, and speaking engagements. City of Mirrors has come out in the UK in e-book, so you Brits out there take a look at it.

I’m looking forward to the Bewitched Fanfare later this month. They will be showing ‘Generation Zap’, the episode I starred in. I will be interviewed afterwards. Who knew there was a Bewitched Fanfare?! It’s in L.A. at the Sportsmen’s Lodge. This should be fun. My long ago acting career is alive!

We have a new puppy called Satchmo in honor of Louis Armstrong. The attendant at the vet thought Satchmo was named after an action hero. I told her he was. Which reminds me of a black standard poodle we had called Madame Bovary. And people kept calling her Ovary. But I digress.

We have a great granddaughter, Addison, who just turned one. Beyond adorable. Bones and I will be married for 50 years in March. What’s in a number? Many years of living, adjusting, talking, laughing, arguing, passion, and always love and respect.

I must leave now to get my roots blonded. I find it’s good for the soul and creativity.

Janice Law Trecker
Janice Law.  Since Criminal Brief shut down, I spent a year writing bi-weekly blogs for Sleuthsayers and discovered that I do not have an endless supply of clever ideas and interesting activities. The SS gang has been kind about allowing me an occasional space.

I have published the three volumes of my trilogy featuring Francis Bacon, painter, as the detective, which is not as impressive as it might sound given that I sent The Fires of London to my then agent in 2006 and did not find a publisher until Otto Penzler accepted it for mysteriouspress.com in 2011. Because I had ignored the hint that the publishing world was uninterested in both me and Francis, I already had the second novel, Prisoner of the Riviera, written by this time. The publishing mills grind exceedingly slowly in my case.

I have also published a volume of short stories – don’t ask me how long Blood in the Water looked for a publisher – and thanks to a suggestion by Rob Lopresti, there have been numerous outings for Madame Selina and her assistant, Nip, in AHMM. I think it is about time Nip acquired a legitimate trade or profession and Madame retired to Newport or Saratoga.

Lately, I have been trying to market some novels close to my heart but apparently not to the demands of the market. As a result, I’m spending a lot of time painting, with quite happy results.

Robert Lopresti
Robert Lopresti.  What have I done in the last three years? Gotten much more than three years older, I think. Sold ten stories, more or less. Won two awards.

The future looks exciting. My first collection of short stories will be self-published quite soon. A new novel will be out next year. (Can't tell you about it yet, but I wrote a lot about it in the first year of SleuthSayers.) And, speaking of blogs, I have a new one starting next year. No, I won't be leaving SS, but I hope a lot of you will enjoy it. Read all about it here on January 7. In fact, I hope all you good folks will keep reading what we turn out here. You make it all worthwhile.

Leigh Lundin
Leigh Lundin.  In comparison with my colleagues, I submit very little but work a lot. I know, I know; I actually have to send things in!

The problem with ADD is that too many things interest me. Not long ago, I helped edit math textbooks and wrote a few chapters for one. More recently I’ve been editing novels of new authors who’ve turned their backs on the self-pub short-cuts and want to present at a professional level.

A couple of stories are wending their way to editors’ desks and I’ve been working on a couple of novel-length projects. Well, one's a novel and one isn't, but more on that later.

In the meantime, SleuthSayers keeps me occupied, albeit with considerable help from my cohorts, especially Rob. And did I mention I spent the better part of a year in South Africa? And would love to again?

Steve Steinbock
Steve Steinbock.  For a fuller disclosure of what I've been up to since the days of Criminal Brief, take a look at my recent guest post here on Sleuthsayers. The short version: Last year I attended a large number of mystery conventions and events - Bouchercon, Bloody Words, The Edgars, and Malice Domestic - as well as, on a lark, a Dark Shadows gathering in Tarrytown, New York. I continue to write my regular Jury Box colum in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

On the personal side, my youngest child just began his senior year of high school. After he graduates, I plan to relocate to Washington State, just a few hours from Sleuthsayer and former Criminal Briefer Robert Lopresti. I spent most of this past summer in the desert region of Eastern Washington as well as in Seattle. I also took my son on a college exploratory trip to California, where we were able to catch up with old friends James Lincoln Warren, Melodie Johnson Howe, and Murder She Wrote and Columbo creator William Link.

Angela Zeman
Angela Zeman.  Hello! It’s been forever since I’ve checked in on SleuthSayers, thanks, Leigh for the invitation. When browsing your blogs, I detected that nobody here has been idle. (Elementary, heh heh.)

Life is good. I'm still attached to the amazing Barry Zeman, who Leigh thinks would make an ideal Mickey Spillane.

Since appearing in the Mystery Writers of America anthology, The Prosecution Rests, I've continued to write and developed a high-end web site. Most of you know that for several years, disk/back issues have disrupted my writing and my life. But tah-dah, it’s over. Well, I’ve had to stop leaping tall buildings. But I’m content with short hops. So, friends, to all directly concerned with my production (you know who you are) whatever I promised you… it’s going to arrive late. But I’m on it, no worries.

Oh yes, I'm 30,000 words into a thriller with a touch of horror. I'm so excited to be writing again!

James Lincoln Warren
James Lincoln Warren.  By 2006, I had tried at least twice (two-and-a-half times, if you count my short-lived Diction City Police Department attempt) to establish a presence on the internet as an author with his own blog. Can you say crash and burn? Running a personal web log takes a hell of a lot of work and a monstrous amount of discipline—that, or a pathological graphomania, and I’m a slow writer. Frankly, it isn’t possible to keep such a website completely current, and since new posts were generally erratic, it was also hard to keep it fresh. A blog really needs to be updated every day.

Several of my novelist friends had solved the necessary-update-every-day problem by joining rotating blogs, i.e., they shared the same blog, but each author posted on a regular schedule once a week. So I thought, why not a rotating blog for short story writers?

I pitched the idea to Rob Lopresti, who was enthusiastic, and after both of us had worked in putting together a regular list of contributors, Criminal Brief was launched on May 7, 2007. It was a resounding success.

The “Mystery Short Story Web Log Project” lasted for four and a half years. It was a very different website from SleuthSayers in a couple of ways. First, it had an extremely specific goal, to wit, promoting the crime short story, although other peripherally related topics were tolerated. Secondly, I was the editor and ultimate authority regarding what could be posted. (This latter condition caused some friction now and again.)

But toward the end, its content had gotten so broad that it was no longer even remotely sticking to the topic. Since it had pretty much become a non-paying full-time job for me, this made me unhappy. I was working very hard on something I did not really have a passion for.

Was CB still relevant to its primary purpose? The answer was clearly no. But then I realized that CB had actually accomplished its purpose. I wasn’t willing to let what had been so lovingly been crafted turn into just another author blog, not that I have any objection to such blogs, but the reason Rob and I had founded CB in the first place was because we wanted something unique. Regretfully, I decided to shut it down. That pretty much made everybody unhappy.

So I suggested to the others that if they wanted to continue to write posts, that they establish a new blog among themselves with a broader mandate. The indefatigable Leigh Lundin picked up the gauntlet, and three of the seven authors from CB joined him, which I thought was absolutely grand, and the SleuthSayers shortly thereafter began to pronounce their auguries. Look at them now!

SleuthSayers is a much bigger project than CB ever was. From the short story acorn has grown a mighty oak of crime fiction contributors. Here’s Criminal Brief’s swan song. That will tell you what I think we achieved, and explain my pride in the project. One thing at the time I didn’t suspect was what would happen to that acorn, though—I only left it on the ground. The SleuthSayers themselves are the ones who nurtured, pruned, and watered it into what it is now, and they’re the ones who should be justifiably proud of their accomplishments.

05 March 2013

No Goodbyes


by David Dean

Before I go on with my last regularly scheduled posting, I have the honor of introducing the gentleman that will be stepping into the Tuesday time slot in my stead--Terence Faherty.  Actually, unlike the entirely necessary intro to my first posting, Terry probably has no need of one.  He is a winner of two Shamus Awards and a Macavity, as well as a nominee several times over for the Edgar and Anthony Awards.  All this by way of being the author  of two long standing and popular series featuring seminarian-turned-sleuth, Owen Keane, and Hollywood detective, Scott Elliot.  His short stories appear regularly in all the best mystery and suspense magazines.  Terry is prolific, talented, distinguished-looking, and shares many other traits with me, as well.  I'm looking forward to reading his postings and want to offer him a warm welcome to our little family.  I think he's gonna fit right in.  Oh, did I mention that he's a leading authority on the late, great actor Basil Rathbone?  Well, he is...but I'll let him explain about all that.  Look for Terry's first post two weeks from now.

I may have mentioned in my last posting that I'm determined to attempt another piece of long fiction--I call such things, "novels".  In fact, it was the august opinions of SleuthSayers' readers and contributors that helped me to decide which storyline to pursue.  As I am a simple man, not much given to multi-tasking, I feel the need to clear the deck in order to do so.  In other words, this will be my last posting for the foreseeable future.

My time with SleuthSayers has been truly wonderful.  I have enjoyed contributing my thoughts every two weeks, and greatly appreciate the kind consideration that each of you have given them.  Beyond the obvious breadth of knowledge exhibited daily by my fellow writers, I think a wonderful tolerance and greatness of mind has been a cornerstone of our site.  It has been a privilege to be amongst your numbers.

It would be wrong of me to slip away without acknowledging a few of you specifically, beginning with our mentor and leader, Leigh Lundin.  Have you ever dealt with a kinder, more passionately concerned man?  His guidance has been invaluable, his heart as big as the Stetson he wears so jauntily in his photo.  Leigh, you're the best.

There is also the erudite and always interesting, Rob Lopresti.  It was Rob that reached out to me years ago to do a guest blog on the, now legendary, Criminal Brief site.  There are few people better versed in the field of short mystery fiction than Rob, and he's a damn fine practitioner of the art, too.  It seems he intends to expand his literary horizon by entering the novel writing biz, as well.  Did I mention that he is also versatile?--librarian, critic, writer, blogger, musician, and probably other talents that I have yet to learn of.  He has also been a gentle guiding hand for me from time to time. 

My thanks also to the warm and wise, Fran Rizer.  She has been both an advisor and unstinting supporter to me, and her long-distance friendship has been a welcome surprise and an invaluable benefit to my membership here.  I've also become a great fan of her funny, sassy, vulnerable, and altogether intriguing literary character, Callie Parrish.  Fran has much to be proud of in her series.

John Floyd, through the magic of the internet, has come to feel like a personal friend rather than a virtual one.  His warmth and kindliness have touched me on several occasions via unexpected email messages.  He is a true gentleman, as well as a dauntingly talented and prolific writer.   

But as I said in the beginning, I have been in good company with all of you, and benefited from the relationship no end.  As the title of this blog states, there will be no goodbyes--I intend to read SleuthSayers daily and offer my usual array of pithy, sage comments.  If not altogether barred from doing so, I might even write a guest blog from time to time.  I can already envision the topic for my first: Why is it so difficult for me to write another novel? Or possibly, Why in God's name did I ever begin another novel? Or finally: Why won't anybody buy this damn novel that I've written?

Thanks everyone and God bless.

18 September 2011

Criminal Debriefing


by Leigh Lundin

For me, it started with a short story called 'Swamped'. To my shock, Ellery Queen not only published it, but 'Swamped' went on to win the Readers Choice award, a first for a first-time writer.

That resulted in my first MWA conference where I met *real* authors who, as a friend put it, climbed off the bookshelves and strolled around like they were people, not just authors.

Debriefing

At that conference, James Lincoln Warren invited me to join Criminal Brief. I'm not sure my colleagues understood they'd invited an occasionally irrelevant, often irreverent rookie, but they were kind, helpful, and tolerant.

Since then, I've written 228 articles. Tomorrow, CB completes an amazing 4½ year run. Five of us, including Deborah Elliott-Upton, Janice Law, John Floyd, and Rob Lopresti, decided we still had something to say, and that brings us to SleuthSayers.

Shades of Dorothy L

To be sure, I've mispronounced SleuthSayers' name more than once and Melodie Johnson Howe complained we chose a name that made her sound like Daffy Duck. But all five of us liked the title with its multiple plays-on-words.

Next came several decisions. At least three people asked that the look of the site not be too dark ("not as dark as the inkiness of thy forlorn disconsolate soul," they said). However, I wanted something classy and distinctive, subtle– no guns, guts, or guck. The look should be unique where unique isn't exactly blogging software's forte. A primary goal was a design that could represent multiple subgenres.

Criminal Conspiracy

Even with the fabulous pay, weekly articles can be emotionally draining and sometimes hard-earned, when other priorities compete. It didn't take us long to decide we wanted to share the burden, er, honor. We began a talent search.

Think of each day of the week as a mini-blog where two great writers choose their theme and manage their day, month in and month out, likely alternating articles. For example, Fran Rizer and Jan Grape really hit it off and tomorrow, they'll be off and running about cats, cosies, and chick-lit mysteries– clever commentary from two feminine powerhouses.
red rose
The Crime Fighters

The present line-up looks like this:

Mon
Fran Rizer / Jan Grape
Tue
Dale Andrews / Susan Slater
Wed
Rob Lopresti / Neil Schofield
Thu
Janice Law / Deborah Elliott-Upton
Fri
RT Lawton / Dixon Hill
Sat
John Floyd / Liz Zelvin
Sun
Leigh Lundin / Louis Willis

So there you have it.

Writing Wrongs


What can you expect from me? I'm notoriously shy writing about my own work.

My home state of Florida, the only state with its own Fark tag, is a constant source of bizarre material. Hey, we made Casey Anthony an industry.

Before I began writing fiction, I wasn't much interested in true crime, but in a quest for verisimilitude, I found I couldn't write crime stories in a vacuum.

Sometimes I share tips from great writers. If you're learning to write, why not draw from Elmore Leonard or George Orwell?

Finally, as James Lincoln Warren pointed out, I often write about injustice. And it will be an injustice if you miss a single article from SleuthSayers. We're glad you're with us.