Showing posts with label magazines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label magazines. Show all posts

26 March 2019

Can You Hear Me Now?


Thanks to the fine folks at Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, a recording of me reading my Agatha Award-nominated short story "Bug Appétit" will be available online at the EQMM website beginning April 1st. (It's true. No April Fool's here.) When they asked me to make the recording, my biggest concern was technical. How could I get a good version of me reading my story in Virginia up to New York, from where it would get uploaded to the EQMM podcast site? That may sound like a no-brainer to many of you, but for me, well, let's just say I'm not really great with new technology. I'm still waiting for someone to teach me how to use the Bluetooth in my car.
Eventually things got worked out technologically speaking (thank you, Jackie Sherbow), so I was able to focus on my next worry: I have five speaking characters in my story. How was I going to make them sound different enough that the listener would be able to tell them apart? If you're reading the story on paper (or on a screen), you can see when a speaker changes, even without a dialogue tag, because you'll see a closing quotation mark, then a change in paragraph, and the next line of dialogue opens with an open quotation mark. You're not going to have those visual signals with audio. My friends told me not to worry--ha!--and said that surely it would all be fine.

"Bug Appétit" was in the
Nov./Dec. 2018 issue
Skeptical, I realized procrastinating was doing me no good. So I put those worries aside and moved on to the next ones: Was I properly pronouncing all the words in the story? Would I talk too quickly?--something I've been accused of in the past. Would I insert verbal tics (umms, etc.) without realizing it? To address these concerns I looked up the words I was unsure of, including researching regional pronunciations, and practiced reading out loud. Then I recorded the story, sent it off to New York, and now I wait anxiously for April 1st to arrive for the recording to be posted so I can see (or more precisely, hear) if I did an okay job.

In the meanwhile, here are some things I've learned from this experience:

(1) Even if you think you've written a funny story, you can't laugh at your own jokes while you read the story aloud. This is tougher than you'd think when you're a hoot. (Just saying.)

(2) While Alexa may be good at a lot of things, pronunciation isn't one of them. When I asked her how to pronounce "sago" (as in sago grubs), which I spelled out for her, she pronounced it for me--the same way I would have said it instinctively. Woo-hoo! But then she said that she's not often good at pronouncing things and while she's always improving, maybe I shouldn't rely on her. So much for technology.

(3) "Pecan pie" is one of those terms that is pronounced differently in various parts of the United States. Where I grew up on Long Island, it's pronounced PEE-can pie. (Every time I say it or think it, I can hear Billy Crystal saying it over and over in When Harry Met Sally. "Pee-can pie. Pee-can pie. Pee-can piiiiie." But on the West Coast, where my story is set, many people pronounce it pih-KHAN  pie. I had to practice to say it right.





(4) Practice doesn't always make perfect. When you read aloud, you instinctively say a word the way you've always said it, no matter how much you practice. Or at least that's what happened to me, which is why I had to stop and re-read that part for the recording. Twice. That pih-KHAN pie was hard fought.

(5) No matter how hard you try to remove background noise, when you're recording something, there will always be a plane flying overhead.

(6) And when you have a dog named Jingle, he will become velcro right when you want to start recording and then he will live up to his name, moving and scratching and jingling over and over and over, so you have to stop and restart the recording over and over and over. And over.

(7) Eventually you'll get so frustrated you'll tug his collar off and tell him to be quiet (perhaps with some expletives mixed in). When he finally does it and falls asleep, you'll sigh in relief, but beware: your bliss will be short-lived. Because within a few minutes the dog will start to snore. Of course he will.

(8) Effecting five different voices plus the one saying the internal monologue is not easy. I found that I physically tried to embody each character, stretching tall with my nose raised whenever the mother spoke, tilting my head sideways to get the amused dad's voice right, and internalizing the narrator's voice from season two of Fargo when I read the exposition. The only voice that came really easily was the grandma's--a woman who spoke her mind. Go figure.

(9) Reading a story aloud takes much longer than you'd expect. Much longer than reading it silently. Let's hope that means I read it slowly enough without any verbal tics. And, um, if I, um, included some tics, um, please don't tell me.

(10) If the fine folks at EQMM ever ask you to record one of your stories for their podcast, jump at the chance. It was a lot of fun. But first, arrange for your dog to go on a long walk before you hit record. The last thing you want listeners to hear while you're reading your story is someone snoring in the background.

01 July 2017

Mags and Anthos


The other day R.T. Lawton and I were e-chatting about the new issue of AHMM--this isn't the first time he and I have been fortunate enough to be featured together in those pages--and we got onto the subject of submitting stories to mystery magazines and anthologies. And it occurred to me, also not for the first time, that these days I seem to be focusing as much on anthologies as on magazines.

Names and titles

There are probably several reasons for that. One: There aren't a lot of mystery magazine markets to submit stories to, lately. The longtimers are AHMM, EQMM, The Strand, Woman's World (they publish one mystery and one romance in each issue), and electronic zines like Mysterical-E and Over My Dead Body. (Am I leaving anyone out?) More recently, we also have Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, BJ Bourg's Flash Bang Mysteries, the upcoming Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and a few others.

And there seem to be more anthologies out there now than there were in the past. Either that, or I'm now more aware of them. Besides regulars like the annual MWA antho, the Bouchercon antho, etc., there are a lot of anthologies from places like Down & Out Books and Level Best Books. As has been mentioned before at this blog, there are some excellent websites (Ralan.com and Sandra Seamans's My Little Corner are two that come to mind) that allow writers to stay up to date on which anthos are out there and which are issuing calls for submissions. Occasionally I've been lucky enough to be asked to contribute a story to an upcoming anthology--and I have yet to turn one of those invitations down.

NOTE: This discussion does not include the annual "best-of" anthologies like Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, etc.

Assets and liabilities

What are the advantages of magazines over anthologies, and vice versa? Well, for one thing, the leading magazines usually give a writer more exposure and (sometimes) higher pay than an anthology. Also, since some of the magazines have been in place for a long time, most mystery writers are already familiar with the kind of submissions those publications want and don't want.


Another point: When you publish in a well-known magazine, whether it's print or online, your story will probably be in their archives forever, like an episode in a TV series. Magazines, like newspapers, are periodicals; an anthology is more of a one-time event, there and then gone, and its individual stories are possibly not as easily retrievable in the future. The flip side of that argument, of course, is that anthologies give the aspiring writer the chance to have his or her work appear in a "real" book, and sometimes alongside big-name authors.

Another item on the plus side of the ledger for anthologies is the fact that, in some cases at least, the response time for stories submitted to anthos is less than for stories submitted to magazines. Also, you might face less competition that you would at the leading magazines, because of the often-tight submission windows for anthologies. Some writers don't find out about these "calls" until it's too late, and even if they do, there might not be enough time for them to write or re-vamp a suitable story. Besides, most anthologies are themed, and that alone can thin the herd. If you can't write (or find in your inventory) a story that fits the theme, you're out of luck.

There are at least three things that I've heard about anthologies that are sometimes considered to be advantages, but aren't. One: Anthos are more likely to accept reprints. Well, some are, and some are not. There are a number of magazines, especially e-zines, that will consider reprints as well. Two: Anthologies, since they sometimes pay via royalties, are a better financial opportunity for the writer. Untrue. As mentioned earlier, this depends solely on the publication--and on how well the book sells. Three: An anthology's editor is often a fellow author, and might be a friend or acquaintance and therefore more apt to squeeze your story in. That's certainly possible--but I consider myself a friend to several magazine editors, and I assure you that doesn't guarantee publication. The best editors, regardless of the kind of market they oversee, are more interested in acquiring quality stories than granting their buddies a free pass.

Questions and answers

I haven't gone back and studied the statistics, but I suspect that I now submit about the same number of stories to anthologies as to magazines. My question for you short-story writers is, how about you? Do you actively search out antho submission calls? Are you ever invited to submit? Do you usually stick to the tried-and-true magazines instead? Do you ever target non-mystery magazines with your crime stories? Do you use either of the market-listing sites I mentioned, and maybe some others also? What has your success rate been, for both magazines and anthologies?


One market we haven't talked about is collections of your own short stories. Have any of you tried publishing collections of your shorts, either at big or small traditional presses? Any successes there? If so, did those books consist mostly of your reprints or of your original stories? Has anyone self-published a collection, maybe via Amazon? Any experiences you'd be willing to share with the class?

Thanks in advance. And meanwhile, keep writing!

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

01 December 2016

Loaded Magazines


This is the last in a series about broad-range magazine writing. Thanks to all my colleagues who’ve chimed in these past several days.

Milking a Story

When I was 15, the American Dairy Association sponsored a youth conference, inviting a hundred boys and girls for a weekend in Indianapolis. The symposium represented a lot of firsts for many kids: first hotel stay, first formal dinner, first formal dance, and first time adults seemed to take us seriously.

It was marketing, of course, but on the side of the angels. It focused on micro- and macro-nutrition, from food on a personal scale to feeding a burgeoning population. The upshot was that the ADA and its partners (Wonder Bakeries, Kraft, Green Giant, etc) sponsored an outreach competition, encouraging participants to propagandize civilization through our teenage charm.

In my case, they knew not what they were unleashing– a mad scientist bent on world domination through robots, alligators, and power-hungry computers. And eventually crime stories, but that would take a while.

That summer, I wrote articles for newspapers desperate to fill vacant space, The Shelbyville News, The Indianapolis Star. Mainly I wrote speeches. Radio WSVL (now WSVX), set literally in the middle of a corn field, gave me broadcast time. I shudder to think how awful those radio chats might have been. But, community presentations became my thing. At small gatherings, I gave talks using props like Albert my alligator or sometimes taking along my robot. Amazing when I think how tolerant adults were back then. Possibly I stunned them into submission.

The feminine participant of our county, Susan DePrez, grew up in a neighboring town and was a year ahead of me in school. We vaguely knew one another. In other words, she was a pretty, sophisticated, teenage older woman and I was the kid dweeb. There’re makings for a movie here, Hollywood.

Documenting everything, I clipped the articles from the newspapers. With luck, they’ll never again surface to embarrass me, but as it turned out, Susan and I won the respective girls’ and boys’ divisions of the competition. Another dinner and a check, followed by glory, fame and fortune.

The Art of the Article

In school, I didn’t get it. How could I be a writer? I had nothing to say. How could I? I lived in a boring time in a boring school in a boring place… It took a while for matters to *click*.

In the meantime, I had desultory articles published here and there: a New England sailing periodical called OffShore specializing in photographs of tall ships, articles for a zoo newsletter, and occasional articles for Datamation and InfoWorld magazines for those of us in computing. This last brought about my first experience with a heavy-handed editor who chopped a manuscript into unrecognizability, completely altering the meaning of the article. Fortunately, editors since have been kind and applied a much lighter touch.

Mr Strangebottom

Occasionally in movies you’ll see some computer guru who peers at multiple screens as he madly types away. In real life, that’s seldom seen these days but 20-25 years ago, multiple monitors were much more common. The alternative for users who wanted more than one terminal session was a physical switch to bounce between screens.

Ta-da! I wrote a package that allowed such super-users to switch via software… no extra hardware required. Unfortunately, salesmen had no clue how to market it, let alone describe it. In response, I wrote a fictional introduction to the manual describing how Mr. Strangebottom and his programming staff might use the product. After an initial “you can’t put humor in a tech manual” objection from the sales people, the fictional introduction achieved a modest cult following. Fame and glory followed.

I wrote similar introductions for our other software products, including a backup-restore package, an email encryption routine Oliver North should have bought, and a couple of others. The writing was possibly passable, but now I realize creativity was bursting in my veins.

First Contact

Two things happened about the same time. I sent a story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine way before my writing skills were ready. The editor at the time, Eleanor Sullivan, found minor humor in the cover letter and sent the manuscript back with an encouraging personal note. That was kind of her.

Meanwhile, I proposed an idea for an article to ComputerWorld, the daily newspaper for computing professionals. In fact, I pitched an interview of an unusual fellow who wanted to legally change his name to a number. The editor said, “We don’t do interviews especially of non-notable people.” I pointed out (a) national news outlets were trending with this story and (b) I happened to know this guy, without explaining how vague and tenuous my acquaintanceship was.

The editor grew interested but expressed doubt I could pull off an interview while television and national magazines were vying for his attention. I expressed 90% confidence in landing an interview, about sixteen times my actual estimate given sunny skies and a good wind.

“Okaaaaay, sonny. If you think you can. we’ll take a look at it.” I considered that a sale.

Then I had to convince Mr 1069 (One-Zero to his friends) to sit down with me. As it turned out, he desired recognition by computing professionals, the curators of information numeric. As I would discover, professional acceptance or at least cognizance lent validation and perhaps legitimacy to his quest. Interviews by the networks and major publications like Time Magazine were nice, but ComputerWorld offered something kindred to his digital soul.

Perhaps because I wasn’t a professional interviewer, he felt comfortable as we chatted late into the night, barely pausing for food intake. To my surprise and possibly ComputerWorld’s, they ran my article on page two.

I stumbled upon that long ago interview on-line. Google had indexed it as part of their Google Books project. To my surprise, it reads a little better than I remembered. It’s not prize-winning journalism, but I had persuaded one party to grant an interview and convinced a newspaper to publish it. That has to count for something!

Here now is the outcome of 1069's mission to change his name:


And the saga continues and continues and continues… (Thanks to ABA for these links.)

27 November 2016

Writing for WW & Other Mags


Here we are in theme week and it's my turn to relate any experiences of writing for Woman's World and other magazines. Since my experiences tend to be on the meager side, I'll count on the true masters of this craft, Michael Bracken and John Floyd to tell the full story when it's their turn.

My first three published stories for any market went to biker magazines; two to Easyriders and one to Outlaw Biker. Easyriders paid $250 each and Outlaw Biker paid $50. At the time, I was working undercover on bike gangs and reading those magazines for background information. Upon finishing a certain story in the first magazine, I decided it was so bad that I could create a better story. So, I sat down, wrote out a story in long hand, typed it and snail-mailed it in. Easyriders bought it and I became a professionally paid author. In a move to CYA, the byline on the story was one of the nicknames I used on the street, the check came in one of my undercover aliases and my wife worked in the financial arena where the checks had to be cashed.

One small problem. Agents weren't allowed to have outside employment, to include writing short stories. However, the agency had spent several weeks teaching us how to go undercover, essentially how to lie to criminals, how to acquire another persona and in general how to survive as a fake person. And, I will give credit to their excellent training, because no one found me out, to include the agency.

I also wrote several children's stories for the South Dakota Lung Association who put the stories in Time Out and Recess, two newspapers which were handed out to 3rd and 4th graders and to 5th and 6th graders. The majority of these stories had an underlying theme such as bicycle safety or don't smoke or don't bully other kids, that sort of thing. The director of the organization would give me a list of potential topics I could choose from and we went to press statewide to all elementary schools four times a year. Ah, when I think of all those little minds I was influencing. These stories were written under the phonetic alias of Arty and were strictly for charity work, although I did get the occasional doughnut and coffee in their office.

Later, I went on to write fiction and non-fiction for Deadwood Magazine, a colorful, slick-paper magazine dedicated to the promotion of the gambling town, Deadwood, up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This editor wanted some fiction, but mostly she wanted articles about historical sites in the area that might be of interest to tourists and/or about old time characters who had lived in the Deadwood area. I gave her a short story about gambling, an article about the hanging of Lame Johnny (a stagecoach robber and Texas horse thief) and one about Arch Riordan (the marshal of Buffalo Gap who didn't abide the nonsense of criminals). Deadwood Magazine went under a few years ago, but before they did, they converted their files to digital, thus you can find those two articles on the internet. Surprisingly, even though I hadn't written for them for years, they left my name on the masthead as a contributing writer and it was still there for their last edition.

And now, we come to Woman's World magazine. As a member of Short Mystery Fiction Society, I was reading one of their chat posts years ago for various writing markets when Woman's World popped up as a possibility. At the time, they were paying $500 for a thousand-word mini-mystery. Later, the maximum word count dropped to 900 words and now it's down to 700 words. You had to write sparse. I usually started with about 1,200 words and then pared it down. Adjectives and adverbs were the first to go. There wasn't much room for character development and yet you had to create a character who made a strong impression on the reader, which was usually a female. To write that short was like writing in the format for a joke. You did the setup (the mystery) and then the punchline (the solution). The mystery portion was printed right side up in the magazine and the solution was printed upside down in order to give the reader a chance to guess the solution. They published ten of my mini-mysteries with my acceptance rate coming in at about 30%. Some of the rejections were a result of me feeling around to find the outside parameters of what they would accept, some submissions were rejected by their first reader, some by the column editor and every so often one would be rejected by the chief editor of the whole magazine. Never knew the reasons for the latter rejections, they just were.

But, never throw away your rejected stories. Keep looking for a market, even if it doesn't pay much. One of my $500 WW rejects went to Swimming Kangaroo, an e-newsletter. Between the newsletter's title and the editor's aborigine name, I thought I'd finally broken into international publishing. Thought I was now published in a foreign market. And then the $25 check arrived in the mail with a Texas return address on the envelope. Oh well, I did get paid in U.S. currency. Two other WW rejects went to Flash Bang, an e-zine for flash fiction, at ten dollars each.

What can I tell you other than never say die. The writing game is a hard mistress. Good thing that Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Woman's World paid me well, not to mention the recent reprint market.

Ride easy, until next time.

26 November 2016

Want Street Cred? Write for Magazines!


Many readers here know I teach Crafting a Novel at Sheridan College in Suburban Toronto.  (I started teaching fiction writing there before the wheel was invented.  We had to push cars uphill both ways to get them to campus...okay, I'll stop now.)


Students often ask me how to get a novel published.  I say: "Walk out of this classroom right now and become a media personality."

Everyone in the class laughs.  But it's no laughing matter, really.  Most of the bestselling crime authors in Canada were media personalities first.  It's no coincidence.  Being a newspaper or television 'name' gives one a huge visibility advantage.  You leap the slush pile.  And chances are, you know someone who knows someone in publishing.

But launching a new career doesn't work for all of us, particularly if we are mid-career or soon to qualify for senior's discounts.  (Of course, you could still murder someone and become a celebrity.  I have a few names handy, if you are looking for a media-worthy victim...)

In order for a publisher to buy your book, they have to read it first.  I know at least one publishing house that receives 10,000 manuscripts a month.  How in Hellsville can you possibly get noticed in that slush pile?

Here's how:  Develop street cred by publishing with magazines!

How I got my start:

In 1989, at the tender age of twenty plus n, I won a Canadian Living Magazine fiction contest.  (Canadian Living is one of the two notable women's magazines in Canada. Big circulation.)  After that, I pitched to Star Magazine (yup, the tabloid) listing the Canadian Living credit in my cover letter.  They said, "Oh look.  A Canadian.  How quaint.  See how she spells humour."  (I'm paraphrasing.)  Anyways, Star published several of my short shorts in the 90s.  The Canadian Living credit got me in the door.

With several Star Mag credits under my belt (weird term, that - I mean, think of what is under your belt) I went to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  They liked the Star credits and published some of my stories.  Then I got a several-story contract with ComputorEdge.

So ten years ago, when I had a novel to flog, I already had 24 short story publications in commercial magazines.  That set me apart from everyone else clawing to get in the door.

Writing for magazines worked to launch my author career.  I'm now with two traditional publishers and my 11th book (The Bootlegger's Goddaughter - phew! Got that in) comes out in February.

Writing for magazines tells a publisher several things:

1.  You write commercially salable stories.  This is important for book publishers.  If you have published in commercial magazines, it tells a publisher that someone else has already paid you for your fiction.  They deemed your obviously brilliant stores worthy of a wide enough audience to justify putting their money into publishing them.  It's much like the concept of 'peer review' in the academic world.

2.  You accept editing.  A magazine writer (fiction or nonfiction) is used to an editor making changes to their work.  It's part of the game.  If you have been published many times in magazines, then a novel publisher knows you are probably going to be cool with editing.  (Okay, maybe not cool, but you've learned how to hold back rage-fueled comments such as "Gob-sucking fecking idiot! It was perfect before you mucked with it."

3.  You work to deadline.  Magazines and newspapers have tight deadlines.  Miss your deadline, and you're toast.  Novel publishers are similarly addicted to deadlines.  Something to do with having booked a print run long in advance, for one thing.  So they want authors who will get their damned manuscripts in on time.

Here's something to watch out for if you are going to write for magazines:

Kill Fee
If you are publishing with a major magazine, negotiate a 'kill fee.'  (This doesn't mean you get to kill the publisher if they don't print your story.)  A kill fee is something you get if the mag sends you a contract to publish your story or article, and then doesn't publish it.  Usually a kill fee is about half the amount you would be paid if they had printed it.

Why wouldn't they print your story after they agree to buy it?  Sometimes a publisher or editorial big wig leaves and the new big wig taking over will have a different vision for the mag.  Sometimes a mag will go under before they actually print the issue with your story.  That happened to me with a fairly well-known women's mag.  I got the kill fee, and the rights back. I was able to sell the story to another magazine.

Which brings me to a final point:  Note the rights you are selling.  Many mags here want "First North American Serial Rights."  This means they have the right to publish the story for the first time in North America, in all versions of their magazine.  (For instance, some magazines in Canada publish both English and French versions.)  But what happens after that?  When do rights return to you?  Two years after publication? (Very common.)  Or never?  Are they buying 'All Rights?"  It's good to get rights back, because then you can have the story reprinted in an anthology someday.  Make sure your contract stipulates which rights they are buying.

Of course, I always say, if they pay me enough, they can keep all rights, dress them in furs and jewelry, and walk them down Main Street.  I have the same attitude re film companies that might want to swoop up my novels for movies.

Melodie Campbell writes the multi-award-winning Goddaughter series of mob comedies, starting with The Goddaughter.  It features a different kind of 'kill fee.'

 On Amazon

27 May 2016

Update: Raymond Queneau


As I've mentioned a few times before, I often start a writing session with a little bit of reading—most frequently from a writing guide of some kind, to ease me into thinking about craft. In a column earlier this year, near the start of the semester, I talked briefly about Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, which I had begun delving into a page or two a day. Here's what I wrote then:
Though I'm only partway into the Queneau, I'm already fascinated by the project—which reminds me of the Giacometti anecdote but also takes things a step further. Exercises in Style presents a very short story about a man on a bus—an argument, and a chance encounter later the same day, the whole thing barely a half a page in length—and then retells that story 99 different times, determined in each case by certain approaches. "Notations" is the headline of the first version, which presents the story as fragmented notes. "Litotes" tells the story in understatements. "Retrograde" tells it backwards. "Metaphorically" tells it... well, you can see where this goes. In addition to underscoring the fact that there are many, many, perhaps innumerable ways to tell any story—and tell it well each time—Queaneau's project also reminds us that writing is or can be or should be fun, playful even, which is something that I sometimes forget, I'll admit. That's a lesson for my students as well there, some of whom might be as fretful as I often am about my chosen craft.

That page or two every day or so has continued intermittently over the semester—as has my writing, I'm sad to say (too intermittently)—and there's still a good chunk of Exercises in Style left to go. But I've finally decided to put the book away without reading it in full.

As even a quick glimpse at the book's cover reveals, Exercises in Style has its champions. Italo Calvino said that the book "gives rise to a whole range of wildly diverse literary texts," for example, and Umberto Eco compared it to "inventing the wheel."And while that back cover quotes the original Washington Post review, the Post review of this new edition declares the book simply a "revolution."

I'll agree. There's something exciting about the variety of approaches Queneau employs in telling the story, the range of storytelling techniques and tones, the way that all of it opens up a little wider the world or writing, our understanding of that world. "Apotrophe" begins "O platinum-nibbed stylograph, let thy smooth and rapid course trace on this single-side calendered paper those alphabetic glyphs which shall transmit to men of sparkling spectacles the narcissistic tale of a double encounter of omnibusilistic cause." A few pages later, "Telegraphic" offers something drastically different: "BUS CROWDED STOP YNGMAN LONGNECK PLAITENCIRCLED HAT APOSTROPHISES UNKNOWN PASSENGER UNAPPARENT REASON STOP...." In between are brief exercises in the senses, among them "Olfactory" ("In that meridian S, apart from the habitual smell, there was a smell of beastly seedy ego, of effrontery, of jeering, of H-bombs, of a high jakes, of cakes and ale, of emanations, of opium, of...."), "Gustatory" ("This particular bus had a certain taste. Curious, but undeniable."),  and "Auditory" ("Quacking and letting off, the S came rasping to a halt alongside the silent pavement").

All these are terrific and provocative. But then I hit several sections of "Permutations" including "Permutations by groups of 2, 3, 4 and 5 letters," which begins "Ed on to ay rd wa id sm yo da he nt ar re at pl rm fo an...." And I'll admit I'm not sure what to do with it—or more to the point, how reading such passages might help boost my own writing, though I'm sure even these specific passages might well have sparked other writers' imaginations.

After hitting that section, I found myself browsing ahead rather than reading straight through. And now I've found myself putting the book aside.

A couple of questions for others here:
  • What craft books (I use that term very loosely) have successfully sparked your writing?
  • And how often do you put aside books—any books, not just writing books—without reading them in full? 
I'm curious particularly on that latter question—since readers tend to have very strong opinions about whether a book once started absolutely needs to be finished.

#

IN OTHER NEWS: I was very pleased that my fellow SleuthSayer Rob Lopresti chose my story "Restoration" from Crime Syndicate Magazine's debut issue as the "best mystery story I read this week" over at his blog Little Big Crimes. "Restoration" was a real departure in many ways for me—a quick foray into more speculative fiction—and it struggled for a while to find a home, both in more traditional crime fiction publications (too much science fiction) and in the few science fiction magazines I submitted to (not enough for them). Given all that, I was thrilled when it found a home at the edgy and excellent Crime Syndicate and especially pleased now that it's gotten such a kind reception at Little Big Crimes. Thanks so much, Rob!

And finally, a quick plug for an upcoming event between now and my next column here—a very special one for my wife and me. On Monday, June 6, at 6 p.m., my wife—Tara Laskowski—and I will be giving a joint reading at the Easton branch of the Talbot County Free Library in Easton, Maryland. Tara will be reading from her new story collection Bystanders and I'll be reading from On the Road with Del & Louise. While it's not entirely uncommon for Tara and I to appear on the same program, what makes this event special is that June 6 is our seventh wedding anniversary! At least we'll be together for the evening, right? Anyone who's in the area, please do come out to help us celebrate. :-)


01 September 2015

Introducing Sleuth Magazine


There’s a new mystery magazine in town. Comes from that country with just two seasons, winter and mosquitoes.  Got some scorching hot writers who already won some awards, like them Derringers, Arthur Ellis Awards, Hugos and Nebulas. Thought I’d go check it out.

First I caught the editor. 

What made you decide to start Sleuth Magazine?

Editor Constantine Kaoukakis: I am a mystery fan, and I realized there isn't a mystery magazine published in Canada.

Publisher Diane Walton (President of the Copper Pig Writer's Society): Canada needed a magazine that could showcase home-grown writing talent.

Constantine:  However, our magazine accepts and publishes stories from any country as long as it is in English.


What kind of stories are you looking for? How did you choose the authors and stories for the first issue?
Constantine: I am looking for interesting stories that are original yet have some sort of mystery element.

Diane:  For the first issue, we invited authors that we knew could deliver a good story, but if and when we open to new submissions, it will be to anyone who wants to send us something.
Basic need is for a compelling tale of mystery or suspense, with engaging characters.

Do you have any funny/challenging stories about putting together the first issue?

Constantine: It was more work than I imagined, but I love it. I am proud of the first issue. I would like to thank our sister magazine On Spec for help.

Diane: We were fortunate to have a great designer to put the final product together in time for our launch.

Subeditor Barb Galler-Smith: I was very impressed with the two stories I helped to edit. Made me think I should try reading and writing some mysteries, which I haven't read since I was a callow youngster! It was a joy!

How will future issues be different?

Constantine: We could be including artwork. Hopefully, we will have a print version of the magazine depending on sales. At this point, I am hoping that there will be future issues. 

Diane: We want Sleuth to be self-supporting--without depending on grant funding. So we'll need revenues from subscribers, advertisers, and generous benefactors to make this happen.

How can we help Sleuth Magazine and other mystery markets thrive?

Constantine: We need to get the word out. We need more exposure. The more people buy and read our magazine, the better chance we have to continue publishing.

Diane: Word of mouth is our best friend, so when you read something you like, simply tell all the like-minded people in your network.

Constantine: Our first issue is in digital form, only $2.99 and filled with mystery short fiction by mystery writers. Please go to sleuthmagazine.ca to buy a copy of the magazine in pdf, mobi or ePub.


I hunted down a few of them writers. Not too hard. They like to talk.

Give me a few words about your story.
Melodie Campbell: I decided this was the perfect opportunity to introduce a concept for a humorous new series. To quote Del, the protagonist: "You've heard of The A Team? Vietnam vets turned vigilantes? They had a television show a while back. We're not them. We're The B Team. Maybe not your first choice, but dammit, we could be your best choice. We're women with a mission. We deal in justice, not the law. Sometimes the law lets you down. We try to rectify that."

Melissa Yi: Whenever I write a mystery, I’m always asking the question, Could I commit murder? And if so, why?
Edgar-nominated author Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith asked me to write a story about janitors as a class assignment. They were trying to shake me up because superficially, maintenance doesn’t have much in common with my day job of emergency medicine. But we’re alike under the skin. The title THE WAR OF THE JANITORS sprang to mind, and I immediately fleshed out a story about janitors trying to sabotage each other in a school seething with jealousy.

SG Wong: My short stories are all set in fictional Crescent City, and they always centre on a character other than Lola Starke (the protagonist of my novel series set in the same world). THE FIX takes place years before the action in DIE ON YOUR FEET (Lola’s debut) and revolves around her father, Butch Starke, and his beginning as a studio fixer.

Axel Howerton: It just so happened that I was looking for an excuse to try something with a new character, mixing true crime and hardboiled/noir elements in a short story set in early 50's L.A.—so I gave it my damnedest and GOODNIGHT IRENE is the result. I wanted to do something dark and nasty, in the noir mold. It's kind of an homage to James Ellroy.
My story’s main character, Moe Rossi, is the oft-mentioned grandfather in my book, HOT SINATRA. Moe is already dead by the events of the book. I really wanted to do something with him to flesh out his legend.

Tony Stark: In my tale, Watson must find his son's Afghani mother when the boy shows up on the doorstep of 221B Baker St. In the course of the story, Watson reveals in more detail the circumstances of his military service in Afghanistan. He and Holmes also crack a ring of antiquities smugglers and human traffickers to boot.

Would you recommend working with Sleuth Magazine?
Melodie: A new, paying market for mystery fiction? And it's Canadian? What's not to like? (grin) I'm delighted and honoured to be in the first issue.

SG: Full disclosure: I’m friends with many of the editors who work on Sleuth, as well as the publisher. Even so, I absolutely recommend working with Sleuth. They are intelligent, seasoned editors who have a real passion for mystery/crime writing, and work respectfully on accepted submissions. Also, they pay decent rates for stories and are unstinting cheerleaders for their authors. What’s not to love?

Melissa: I had a terrific experience with Sleuth Magazine. They paid promptly and worked hard to edit the story. I’m excited to join the inaugural issue with my fellow interviewees, as well as Mike Resnick, EC Bell, and Tyner Gillies. The cover is bang on its genre. I even like the POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS kind of font for the title and the page footers. I only wish I could’ve joined the launch in Calgary!

Tony: Yes, I would thoroughly recommend Sleuth magazine. The editors are first rate and everyone at the publication is dedicated to the art of mystery writing.

Axel: I loved the experience in working with Sleuth, especially with my amazing editor Barb Galler-Smith. In fact, I'm hoping to be able to help out a little more behind-the-scenes to help keep Sleuth alive and kicking. There are precious few venues left for Canadian crime fiction, or crime fiction in general, so something new like Sleuth needs to be protected and given space to grow and mature into its potential—and with people like Melissa Yi, Melodie Campbell, S.G. Wong, and Mike Resnick gracing the pages, it has tremendous potential indeed!


Huh. I get it.
Dark and nasty women.
Ghosts.
Holmes.
Grandpa.
Killer janitors.
But mostly dark and nasty women.
For just $2.99.
I better go track it down.



14 August 2015

Minotaur and Mystery


I'd like to welcome any aspiring writers who've stumbled across this post.

Pull up a chair.

Sit a while.

We like your sort here.

SleuthSayers can be thought of as the online home (or maybe "watering hole") for a collection of published writers and authors.  While we're all joined by the fact that we've published crime or mystery fiction, the fact is:

SleuthSayers writers have been published in a myriad of genres: Science Fiction, Romance, Historical and Young Adult, just to name a few.This blog provides an outlet where we share tricks of the trade, useful habits, and even gripes about what we've encountered while stumping through the publishing jungle.

For aspiring novelists or short story writers, the effluence from this literary wellspring can sometimes prove pure gold.  I've gleaned just the info I needed on more than one occasion, myself.  And I've read comments from many others who have too, in past posts.

You'll find How-To ..., How I did it ..., How I DO it ..., What went right?, and What went wrong? articles written by folks who've published numerous short stories in national magazines and several novels that did (or are doing) quite well out there on bookstore shelves.  In fact, some of these articles are written by people who owned bookstores, or worked as editors in the publishing industry. Other contributors teach (or have taught) college writing classes, but here on this website you get to tap their knowledge and experience for free.

And, that publishing jungle can be rough: the size of the challenge crushing the unwary, while the glacial pace of the industry forces long waits and grave doubts upon even the most active or the bravest of souls.  It can be easy to let your work become derailed.  God knows, there are a lot of writers' souls lost in that jungle out there.

The aspiring writer can find consolation here, however, written by successful folks who still have to deal with the dreaded Rejection Letter, editorial "black holes" that seem to simply swallow manuscripts for eternity, or even the drudgery of endless rewrites.  We've been there.  We ARE there.  We feel your pain, and commiserate.

One other useful item:  We occasionally post info about writing contests (or, at least, I do).  Minotaur Books (a division of St. Martin's Press) has teamed with the Mystery Writers of America, for instance, to sponsor the:

First Crime Novel Competition  If you're an unpublished novelist and can manage to submit a manuscript of at least 40,000 words, featuring a murder or other serious crime, by December 14, 2015, then you might like to enter.  The winner gets a contract and 10 Grand advance against royalties.  You'll find the publisher's details here. 

Good luck out there, to all who enter!

See you in two weeks,
--Dixon

09 June 2014

The Good Old Days


Jan Grape
Today is June 9, 2014. How did it get to be half a year so quickly. We just had Christmas last week, didn't we? No, that was Valen...no, my birthd...no, Mother's Day. Man time flies when you're having fun and even when you're not.
Never really thought I'd like to be a writer, particularly, but I always liked to write and always made perfect grades writing essays or stores for English classes. But I decided to be an X-ray technician when I was about 12. I started to X-ray School on Monday morning after I graduated from high school on Friday night.  I enjoyed my career of diagnostic x-ray and radiation therapy. But after kids were almost grown, I began writing mostly for myself. Eventually, I thought I'd write a book.

Guess I wrote about half of a novel before I realized I had no earthly idea how to write or complete a novel. My late husband, Elmer and I lived in Houston, think this was about 1980, and were fairly close to a library. So I got myself over there and checked out an armload of books to How To Write, mostly how to write a mystery. Oh, yes. Always knew it would be a mystery and it would be a female private eye book.

 The book was titled, April Anger and my main character was Jenny Gordon, P.I.
John D. MacDonald had books with color in the titles. This was just before Sue Grafton came out with "A is for Alibi." Someone else had numbers, don't remember who, but just thought months would be a good take. After I read Sue's Alibi and the "B is for Burglar" was on it's way, I still felt that months would be the way to go.

After studying the how-to books and following as many directions and tips as I could cram into my brain, I completed my first novel. This was written mostly in long-hand on a yellow legal size tablet, then transferred to print with my electric typewriter. If I'm not mistaken, I had managed to acquire an IBM Selectric.  Some of you may remember it had a print ball than danced around as you typed the words.

One of the Houston TV stations did a little news story about a writing conference held at Rice University. It was a two day event and I could stay at the University's Hotel college. The cost was something like $80. Right then I didn't have the extra money to attend. I was really upset but, I saved my money for a whole year and then registered for the Southwest Writing Conference. In the meantime I kept writing.

It was a great conference, featuring a number of editors and agents from New York. They held classes and gave great advice and the main thing you were networking. These editors and agents would pull your book or story from the slush pile once they got back to NY because they had met you in Houston.

I remember an agent from Avon paperback books telling us a story about going to conference after conference and aspiring writers asking for the secret to getting published. She said they wouldn't believe that you had to write well and write a different and intriguing story. We all nodded, more or less believing that it was true, that there had to be some magic formula or some magic answer to getting published.

Finally, she asked someone in our class to check to see if anyone was standing outside or around our door. Someone checked then she said, in a hushed voice, "I'm telling you all the secret. But you can't ever, ever let anyone know I told you because I'll get fired."

In a voice, barely above a whisper, she said, "When you sent your manuscript in to me, put the stamps on  upside down."  We laughed a bit and realized she'd been putting us on. "You'll never know how many envelopes full of manuscripts I got that year with upside down stamps on them." Of course, these were the days when you sent a full printed copy of your manuscript to an editor. But only after you sent a query letter and they responded yes, you may send your mss in to me.

At that time, there was another way, if you didn't have an agent to send your mss to an editor and that was to send it in cold 'over the transom'. In the very early days, an editor's room had a door with a small window that could be opened for air circulation. Supposedly someone could throw an mss over the transom into what was called a "slush pile." The slush pile continued but it came from the mail room and a pile of opened manuscripts were put on the editor's desk. Every so often the editor would go through that pile and for one reason or the other, interesting title or great first paragraph and
on this rarest of occasions the editor would find a manuscript they liked and would buy it. A few years after that an editor told me, she once had to buy a mss because it had too many coffee stains on it where she had placed her mug and she was too embarrassed to return it in that condition. Take that statement with a grain of salt. It could be true, I knew the editor fairly well and I could see her doing something like that.

I wound up attending the SW Writing Conference three years, they were held in August. An editor from Wichita Falls City Magazine greeted me and we discussed a short story I wanted to send to her.  In December, she called me and said she wanted to publish my story. In fact, it had already been published and she was sending me copies and a $100 check. I was thrilled to say the least. A couple of months later, another editor I had met published a humorous article in a little magazine that went out all over the country to be local businesses magazines. I got a check for $85 for that.  Neither of these were mysteries but they were publications. I was sure I was on my way.

Good thing I didn't quit my day job because I didn't sell anything else for five more years. I did have two mystery short stories published both in small subscription magazines. The first was in Detective Story Magazine and featured my private eye investigators, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn, titled "Kiss or Kill." In fact, the story was chosen for the cover. I looked in my bookcase and found a copy of the magazine and hope I'll be able to put them at the end of this article.

The second story was published in Dark Starr, "A Friend To Remember." Also found that one in my bookcase. And guess what I had forgotten the story so I had to reread it.  Both stories were published in 1989.

Those all really are some of my good old days as an aspiring writer.



26 October 2012

It Lives !!!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 March 2012

Stablemates


Two weeks ago John Floyd wrote about which authors he had appeared in magazines with.  I said I had been thinking about writing on the same subject, and -- hey presto!  -- I have done so.  My predictive abilities amaze even me.
I was not surprised to find out that the author I have shared the most mags with is Michael Mallory.  We have graced no less than 6 issues together (and he sometimes had more than one story in them, the glutton)..  This is because we used to share a mutual admiration club with Margo Powers, the editor/publisher of Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, and were found there, it seems, more often than not.  Michael used to write wonderful stories narrated by Dr. Watson's second wife. 

Next, with 5 stories is Toni L.P. Kelner. We have shared pages in MIMM, Alfred Hitchcock's, and Ellery Queen's  -  the latter being surprising, since I have only made it there once. 

I have shared the shelf with Ron Goulart 4 times.  I consider than an honor because I remember his hilarious stories in Twilight Zone Magazine,  where I got some close-but-no-cigars.  I fell in love with a story of his called "Groucho," which was about a Hollywood mover-and-shaker who was reincarnated as a cat.

Dick Stodghill was in three issues with me, including the very first issue I ever appeared in, in the late not-very-lamented Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.  Some of you may remember Dick as one of our most faithful and interesting commentors. on Criminal Brief.

A few more of my friends and favorites: Gary Alexander, Richard Lupoff (3 stories each), John D. Floyd, Edward D. Hoch, Martin Limon, R.T. Lawton, Leigh Lundin (all 2 stories),  and Jon L. Breen, Herschel Corzine, Brad Crowther, Loren D. Estleman, Ed Gorman,  Steve Hockensmith, Janice Law, Jack Ritchie, and James Lincoln Warren (all 1).

But let me end with my favorite story on the subject.  Not long after I started getting published I attended one of the Edgar Symposiums run by the Mystery Writers of America.  A woman saw my name tag and introduced herself.  It turned out we had shared the pages of an obscure magazine called P.I.

S.J. Rozan and I have been friends ever since.  Of course, not all writers have equally successful careers and I am sorry to report that she has not had quite as many short stories published as I have.  I hope her string of bestselling novels is some comfort to her.



And wishing you the same.