Showing posts with label guest post. Show all posts
Showing posts with label guest post. Show all posts

16 May 2020

Let's Get Cozy


Welcoming Kate Fellowes…
I'm pleased today to welcome my friend Kate Fellowes as a guest blogger. Kate is the author of six mysteries, most recently A Menacing Brew. Her short stories and essays have appeared in several anthologies, as well as Victoria, Woman's World, Brides, Romantic Homes, and other periodicals. She recently won the San Diego Public Library's Matchbook Short Story contest, meeting the challenge to craft a story only 50 words long. (I mentioned this in my column Super-Short Stories a couple of months ago.) A member of the national organization Sisters in Crime, Kate is a founding member of the Wisconsin Chapter. Her working life has revolved around words--editor of the student newspaper, reporter for the local press, cataloger in her hometown library. A graduate of Alverno College in Milwaukee, she blogs about work and life here and shares her home with a variety of companion animals. Kate, it's great to have you here at SleuthSayers!

— John M. Floyd

Let's Get Cozy

by Kate Fellowes

Working in a public library is the best day job for a writer, if you ask me. Every hour of every day, I'm surrounded by inspiration, in the form of successful authors, past and present. Each writer offers me a lesson on craft, character, and structure, and I'm an eager student.

When our book deliveries arrive and I slit the tape on each box, I wonder what new treasures I'll find to add to my to-be-read list. What have our patrons requested? What's on the bestseller list? Or the Book Club's?

Only one thing is guaranteed.

Every fiction order will contain a host of cozy mysteries.

Time was these were usually paperbacks but more and more authors are being published in hardcover now, a permanent commitment to life on the public library shelves. And almost always the books are part of a series. Indeed, publisher and distributor catalogs sometimes have multiple pages filled with nothing but listings for the newest installments in cozy series. I've dried up more than one yellow highlighter circling selections, especially wanting to try the entries that say "first in a series."

What was it, I wonder, about the manuscript that made an agent take on the author? What made a publisher extend a contract? What brought the book to the marketplace?

And will it be a hit with readers?

From my years at the Reference Desk, I know mystery readers are a loyal bunch when they find a favorite author. Thanks to authors' newsletters, patrons frequently know the next title and release date before I do. Their requests help us determine what to purchase, and their desire to read series books in chronological order helps point out holes in our collection.

A year ago, my library won the Sisters in Crime "We Love Libraries" contest and received $1,000 to put toward the purchase of books. We bought cozy mysteries and plenty of them, including many new-to-us authors and firsts in series. They made a dazzling display with their colorful spines and intriguing covers. It was an interesting exercise to see which authors took off and which languished on the shelf. Some authors who might write multiple series had one series prove popular while another did not. This phenomenon especially interested me.

Cozies have specific hooks related to the story's geographical location, main character's occupation or hobby, presence of cats and/or dogs. Which of these most influence readers? I will always reach for the book with a cat or dog. If it's set on an island or seashore, even better. Add a bookstore or a library to the mix and that title goes to the top of my stack. Every reader has a similar list of requirements, I'm sure.

I can only hope I manage to tick off a few of their boxes when my own first cozy mystery joins the new bookshelf in May. There's a library, but no bookstore, a river but no island, and the cat won't show up until Book #2.

A Menacing Brew (Fire Star Press, May 2020) introduces Barbara York and her daughter Amy, the most amateur of sleuths. If Barbara hadn't found her old friend from college dead when she and Amy arrive at his house upstate for a visit, these two women as different as chalk-and-cheese would never have relied on or trusted one another. But knowing the police think the death is murder and that Barbara, the heir to the estate, is in the picture as prime suspect, they set aside their differences and work together to solve the mystery.

During their investigation, they meet many residents of the small town, Kirkwood. (Small towns are a cozy staple, of course.) Some of the citizens are happy to talk, while others remain tight-lipped.

Does the mysterious death of a student decades ago factor in to this latest crime? Does another death a century ago also play a part? And will Amy's parents, divorced for years, reunite in their grief over their lost friend?

Eventually, all these questions have answers, and finding my way to those answers was a joy.

I have sometimes read irritating articles about authors who have had plots spring to them complete, in a dream. Why does this never happen to me? I always think.

It still hasn't, but with A Menacing Brew, I can honestly say both Barbara and Amy showed up fully formed. They are so different from each other and so different from me that every writing session was an entertaining revelation. Having finally overcome my pantser instincts, I had actually made an outline. Even so, we were soon off track, and I was reduced to watching the action unfold while I took dictation.

Does writing get any better than that? Those magical, aha moments when some incidental little something added on a whim is revealed thousands of words later as a linchpin. The twists in a plot I swear my conscious mind never produced. The spark of life created by characters interacting in genuine ways, like real people I know. This is why I write, and why I always will.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of Barbara and Amy as I give them a second puzzle to solve. It will be fun to see who joins them, there on the shores of Pulaski Lake, and how their lives unfold in their new hometown.

When I began my job at the library, newly graduated from college with a degree in English and several failed novels in a box under my bed, I dreamt of the day the library shelves would hold my own work.

A Menacing Brew is my sixth novel, following five romantic suspense titles, so my books have actually been in our stacks for a while now. But to me, every book feels like the first one. In a way, this one really is. My first cozy will be there beside those of my own favorite authors on the new book display!

Then, before we know it, the publishers' catalogs will arrive, full of fall releases, ready for librarians to order and patrons to read. I'll wear out another highlighter circling titles of cozy adventures, wishing I had time to read them all. Could there ever be such a thing?

16 March 2019

And the Winner Is . . .


by Herschel Cozine


NOTE: I'm pleased today to welcome my friend Herschel Cozine as a guest blogger. Herschel has published extensively in the children's field, and his stories and poems have appeared in many of the national children's magazines. His work has also appeared in AHMM, EQMM, Woman's World, Flash Bang Mysteries, Over My Dead Body, Orchard Press Mysteries, Mouth Full of Bullets, Great Mystery and Suspense, Mysterical-EWolfmont Press's Toys for Tots anthologies, and many other publications. His story "A Private Hanging" was a finalist for the Derringer Award, and his flash story "The Phone Call" won a Derringer in 2017. Herschel, it's great to have you here at SleuthSayers again! -- John Floyd


It's that time again to take a break from the meaningful and helpful blogs and just relax. I promise that there is nothing in this blog that will help you in any way. But if you have a few minutes to spare and don't care how you spend them, I encourage you to read on.

Winning the Derringer Award is indeed an honor and I am unashamedly proud of it. In the writing community such an accomplishment is one which we all struggle to achieve. But it is not a bed of roses. The experience, at least MY experience, was fraught with angst and tension that at times defied description.

Let's start at the beginning. One writes a story, finds a publisher, sits back and considers its future. Is it good enough for an award? The only way to find out is to submit if for consideration.

So I did. In January of 2017 I sent it in to SMFS (Short Mystery Fiction Society) for consideration in the Flash category. Then I waited. Two months. An eternity.

I woke up one morning and found an announcement that my story had been chosen as one of the finalists for the Derringer. My euphoria was tempered by doubt. I quickly looked at the source of the announcement. I have a cousin who is fond of practical jokes. He once entered my picture in the Ugly Dog Contest. It was a rotten thing to do. (I finished right behind a snaggle-toothed Pomeranian with one eye.) This, I thought, was his doing. But further research proved that this was genuine. Still, I was a little dubious. I had learned of this honor on April 1, another reason for being uncertain of its authenticity. Was this on the up and up?

I finally accepted the news and shared it joyfully with my wife. My excitement was tempered by another sodden thought. Perhaps there had only been five stories submitted. That would explain it. I checked the entry list and saw that some thirty-odd stories had been entered. Encouraging. I had beaten at least thirty (one, by the way, of my own among them). So far so good.

Then I saw my competition. I was familiar with three: O'Neil. Craig. R. T. Lawton. I was also familiar with their writing. As far as I was concerned, the game was over.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. The judges had spoken. Now it was up to the members: fellow writers, some of whom were already upset that their entries had not made it. Was that good or bad? I wasn't sure. They would judge with a critical--and professional--eye.

I read the stories carefully, putting aside personal prejudice and desire. It was depressing. All of the stories were worthy of the award. I cast my vote and went to bed. My entry now had at least one vote. It was a start.

I steeled myself for a month-long wait. April has only thirty days. As you can see, I always look for a silver lining. Still, it was going to be a tension-filled month. I worked in the yard until it was the showpiece of the neighborhood. I cleaned out the garage. One could now eat off the floor. (My wife asked me to get the names of the judges so she could send them a thank-you note.)


May first finally arrived. I hurried to the computer and navigated to the SMFS website.

There it was!!! "Winner in the flash category . . ." I rubbed my eyes and looked again. It was surreal.

A thought immediately came to mind. Fake news! The polls had been rigged. There must have been millions of illegal voters. I was certain there would be a call for a recount. The Russians must have had something to do with this.

Congratulatory messages started appearing on the SMFS site and in my personal email. I finally--and happily--accepted the good news. I had won!


Now this sobering thought: I had to wait six months to claim my award. Not only that, but it would be given in Canada. If I wanted to accept the award in person, I would have to endure a cross-country plane trip (I live in California), hoping I would not be dragged from the plane in mid-flight (I would be flying United). In order to enter the country one must provide valid identification, such as a passport or birth certificate*, and a notarized statement that you did not vote for Donald Trump. My passport expired in 1973 and my birth certificate is so old it is illegible. Back in those days they only recorded "live" births, and it wasn't clear that I was eligible. It would be my luck that Canada would build a wall (which the U.S. would pay for), and keep the "undesirables" out of the country. Thankfully, there wasn't enough time for that.

(*I learned that birth certificates are no longer accepted. Fortunately, I updated my passport.)

When I made my reservations, in May, I hoped that nothing would come up to prevent my attending. Sure enough, two days before I was to leave, the city of Santa Rosa started to burn and I lived in an area that was dangerously close to the fires. My first inclination, of course, was to cancel the trip. But cooler heads prevailed (i.e., my wife's). "Sitting around here without electricity or gas is not going to help," she said. "I will be well taken care of by the kids."

"But what about our house?"

"What will you do about it? Wave your arms and make the fire go away? Leave it to the pros."

It was her way of saying I would only be in the way. I got the message.

I went.

The ceremony itself was impressive. However, I almost missed my big moment due to the fact that I didn't hear Melodie call my name. I am eternally grateful to Rob for getting me to the podium on time.

I was, and still am, honored and humbled by this award. My heartfelt thanks to all who voted, regardless of their choice. A big turnout made the award that much more meaningful.

NOTE: I have a flash story published this year that I plan to enter in next year's contest. With any luck I won't win. (Just kidding.)






21 October 2017

One More Time, From the Top






Please join me in welcoming my friend Michael Bracken as a guest blogger today. For those of you who don't know Michael already, he has written several books but is better known as the author of more than 1,200 short stories. He's recently had stories published in, or accepted for publication by, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery MagazineEllery Queen's Mystery Magazine, SnowboundNoir at the Salad BarPassport to Murder, Tough, Weirdbook, and other anthologies and periodicals. He is currently reading submissions for The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of private eye stories that Down & Out Books will release at Bouchercon 2019. You can find the submission guidelines here.

One more thing: Michael will be officially joining SleuthSayers next month as a regular columnist. All of us at the SS asylum are of course thrilled about that, and hoping he doesn't come to his senses in time to back out. (As for me, I'll return in two weeks.) --John Floyd

_______________________________________________________

by Michael Bracken


I've had a good run. Since my first professional sale in the late 1970s, I've sold more than 1,200 short stories, and through October 2017 I've had one or more short stories published each month for 172 consecutive months. This long streak of good fortune may soon end.

In an October 23, 2013, guest post for John Floyd here at SleuthSayers, I wrote about the ladder a short-story writer climbs from being a "write-first, market-second" writer to becoming a "market-first, write-second" writer, and I gave several examples of how I had reached a point where most of my short fiction was written to order, to invitation, or for repeat markets.

I also noted that "[p]ublishing is changing and everything I know about it may be obsolete before the year ends." I was only off by a few years.

During the past two years, the foundation of my writing career crumbled beneath me. Anthology editors who often invited me to contribute are no longer editing anthologies, and magazines I counted on for multiple sales each month have ceased publication. Some genres in which I had established myself have disappeared or are clinging to life only in low- or non-paying markets.

In many ways, I am starting over, rebooting my career by once again becoming a "write-first, market-second" short-story writer. The only advantage I have over a beginning writer is that past sales prove I can write publishable fiction. What I do not yet know is how well I can write publishable fiction in new or long-neglected genres. So, for the first time in years, I am actually nervous when I submit stories, and each time I receive a response I have a moment of trepidation just before I open the email.

I'm not taking my situation lightly, and I have a plan. Following are the key steps I'm taking to restart my writing career:


FINISH WHAT I SET ASIDE

Over the years I left many stories unfinished because there were no discernable markets for them. Rather than let these stories continue to languish, I returned to several of them, finished them, and sent them into the world, following the traditional path of submitting to the best market first and working my way down the markets as rejections roll in.

Outcome: Since the reboot I have sold a handful of newly finished stories.


WRITE WHAT INSPIRES ME

Relying on inspiration as motivation is degraded as the amateur's approach to writing because perspiration creates more work than inspiration. Even so, a working writer should never dismiss inspiration. Occasionally, a story idea comes unbidden, and I am so taken by it that I find myself driven to write. In the past, I set these inspired stories aside in favor of sure-bet sales. Now, I let inspiration take me where it will.

Outcome: Since the reboot, I have sold five inspired stories.


WRITE TO SPECIFICATIONS

This is what I advocated beginning and early career writers do back in 2013 when I laid out the steps for transitioning from a write-first, market-second writer to a market-first, write-second writer.

I spend time surfing the Internet seeking anthology open submission calls and submission guidelines from publications with which I am not already familiar. I study guidelines, read publications when they exist, and then, as best I can, write stories that fit the guidelines.

Outcome: Since the reboot, I have sold three stories written to open-call anthology specifications.


REPURPOSE OR RESUBMIT UNSOLD WORK

In addition to seeking markets to which I might send completed but unsold stories, I also continually compare submission guidelines to finished work to determine if anything I have could be revised and repurposed. Occasionally, I can.

Outcome: Since the reboot, I have sold one repurposed story and one story that had been languishing in my files before I discovered a new market.


EXAMINE THE RESULTS

Without detailing every sale and rejection since the beginning of my career reboot--and, trust me, rejections outnumber the sales--let's examine my experience with a single periodical: Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

Five years passed between my previous rejected submission to AHMM and the first submission after my career reboot, and I've submitted eight stories since the reboot. Three are awaiting a decision, two have been rejected, and three have been accepted.

The first acceptance, published last year ("Chase Your Dreams," AHMM, June 2016), is a repurposed story originally written in another genre. The first third and last third are essentially as first written, but I extensively revised the middle third before submitting to AHMM, and then revised the middle third again at Linda Landrigan's suggestion to move it even further from its original genre.

The second story accepted by AHMM is an inspired story, one that came to me as an opening image with a character facing a life-altering loss.

The third story accepted by AHMM is one I began, set aside, and returned to several years later.

Outcome: Were any of these three written to specifications? Other than representing various sub-genres of crime fiction and fitting within the magazines's length requirements, no. I have yet to find strong commonalities among the stories AHMM publishes. On the other hand, the three stories AHMM accepted share something the two stories rejected do not, so I am developing a profile of which stories are more likely and which stories are less likely to be accepted if submitted to AHMM.


CHANGE MY ATTITUDE

There is a fine line between being confident and being cocky, and it was easy to cross that line when almost everything I wrote sold to the first editor who saw it. I'm still confident, but my wife tells me I'm not so cocky.

Previously, I would submit and forget, but now I fret about each submission, and I sweat rejections in a way I haven't for at least a decade. When rejections are more common than acceptances, they carry more weight, and that weight forces me to examine my stories and my marketing efforts to determine if rejected stories are flawed or if my submission targeting is flawed.

I am working harder than before because I want to regain my status as a market-first, write-second short-story writer. Alas, that may never happen. I worked for thirty-plus years to reach that point, and I enjoyed the ride for nearly ten years. Having just turned 60, I might not have another thirty years of writing left in me, and, having done it once, I know there is no shortcut back to that level.

On the other hand, I think I've written some of my best work since the foundation of my writing career crumbled beneath me. I've been forced to examine the market for short fiction from a different perspective, and I've been forced to reexamine how and why I write. While I still have my eye on the markets, I'm producing more work aimed at pleasing myself first and then hoping I find editors to publish it.

And I have a plan. If I follow it, maybe--just maybe--it won't take thirty years to climb back to the top of the ladder and once again be a market-first, write-second writer.