Showing posts with label southern mysteries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label southern mysteries. Show all posts

31 October 2016

At Last


By Fran Rizer

Today is October 31, 2016--Halloween.  Also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows Eve, and All Saints Eve, Halloween begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembrance of the dead.

To most of us, Halloween is a holiday characterized by the dispensing of candy to costumed young people who threaten, "Trick or treat."  Other traditions include costume contests and parades.  When I taught elementary school, teachers and parents worked together to hold Halloween carnivals for students.  Before my retirement, these changed to Fall Festivals, and scary costumes (such as vampires, werewolves, skeletons, zombies, and this year--clowns) were forbidden because some people felt that Halloween was a celebration of witchcraft.

The traditions of Halloween include decorations such as black cats and pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns as well as activities like apple bobbing, pranks,  bonfires, and divination games.  In some parts of the world, Christian observances include church services and lighting candles on graves.

What accounts for the popularity of the non-religious aspects of Halloween? I believe it's because humans like to be scared--so long as what frightens us isn't real.  We might think that fall and Halloween would amplify the appeal of spookiness, but horror is a genre that transcends season.

How does the title "At Last" relate to Halloween and the horror genre?  Recently I've been doing a lot of writers' workshops in South Carolina libraries.  One of my most popular is entitled "A Late Start." The topic is writing as a second career after my retirement including disadvantages of waiting so long to begin writing fiction as well as the obvious advantages of greater maturity and vaster experiences. The workshops include tips on speeding up the process of successful writing and publishing.  The story of my first horror book proves that I don't always follow my own advice when it comes to fast writing and quick publication.

"At Last" would work as well if this blog referred to my first novel in 2007 as it does now to my tenth book released this month, but Leigh Lundin didn't invite me to return to SleuthSayers to summarize the workshop.  I'm here to tell you about my newest book and why "At Last" is a perfect title for this column.

The HORROR of JULIE BATES began several years ago as A Midnight Dreary and morphed into Something to Fear.  Both David Dean and Dixon Hill critiqued the manuscript during one of those phases, and I incorporated several of their suggestions. After numerous rewrites, my agent accepted it, but held back a year before pitching it.  Berkley was interested and made two suggestions.  Pardon my unladylike expression, but I busted my butt to work out the changes and dashed it off back to my agent in two weeks.  I didn't hear anything.

Sure, I wanted to push for a response, but we all know that it's not a good idea to put pressure on agents or editors.  After months and months, I asked the agent to touch base with the interested editor at Berkley.  I almost had another heart attack when I received an apology from my agent because he had forgotten to send her the manuscript revised to her requests.

Meanwhile, there had been major changes in the publishing world. To make a long story short (literally in this case), it was too late.

I began querying new agents and received some requests for the complete manuscript, but when Darren Foster at Odyssey South Publishing said, "Let us have it," I jumped at the chance.  And so, ladies and gentlemen, at last, my first horror novel is now available.  Here's the back copy:

                                 Who knew Columbia, South Carolina, could be so scary?

Julie Bates discovers a corpse in front of the Assembly Street post office.  Arson destroys her home the same day, but Julie's story is not a mystery.  It's horror--southern style.  Police officer Nate Adams thinks the killer who raped and murdered Julie's mother the year before is stalking Julie, but Julie's tormentor is not human.  The well-known ghosts of South Carolina barely skim the surface of the evil that awaits Julie Bates.  Move over, Amityville.  Columbia, South Carolina, is right there with you on the scale of terror.

How does a writer transition from cozyesque to horror? The preface explains:

When a red-haired woman approached me at a book-signing, I expected her to ask me to autograph one of my own cozy mysteries.  Instead, she asked me to write a book for her.  I went into my usual spiel that she could do a better job of putting her story on paper than I, but we agreed to meet in the coffee shop after the signing.  Writers are frequently approached to write or co-write someone else's story. Most of the time, we decline politely, but there was something about this mysterious stranger that made me hesitate to dismiss her so quickly,

The HORROR of JULIE BATES is that woman's story.  I spent many, many hours recording Julie Bates' tale and many more days and nights scaring myself as I wrote her story from her point of view, changing only names. The occasional third-person chapters were added after I was fortunate enough to obtain Richard Arthur's journal.

I have already received several emails questioning, "Did you make up this story or did a red-haired woman really tell it to you?"  I can honestly say the story came from a red-haired woman.

Long-time SleuthSayer readers know that I've jumped genre from cozies in the past when I wrote the thriller KUDZU RIVER.  I have no idea where I'll land next, but in the meantime,

Until we meet again, take care of . . .  you!
                                                                     

06 August 2016

Southern Mysteries



by John M. Floyd



This past week, Akashic Books released another anthology in their award-winning series that began in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir and that has since included Boston Noir, Miami Noir, New Orleans Noir, and many others. According to the publisher, "Each book comprises all new stories, each one set in a distinct location within the region of the book." This one, Mississippi Noir, contains (insert drumroll, here) one of my stories.

Tom Franklin, the editor of this anthology, did an outstanding job of putting the book together. For those of you who don't know him, Tom--who was a Guest of Honor at last year's Bouchercon--is a great guy, an excellent writer, and a teacher in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi. I first heard of him when his short story "Poachers" won an Edgar Award in 1999 and then appeared in that year's Best American Mystery Stories. Since that time, he's had five books published: Poachers (a collection containing the title story); Smonk; Hell at the Breech; Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter; and The Tilted World. He and his wife Beth Ann Fennelly, also an author and also an MFA teacher at Ole Miss, co-wrote the latest novel.

The anthology, which had its launch signing this past Thursday at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, features stories by sixteen writers, including Ace Atkins, Megan Abbott, William Boyle, Michael Kardos, Mary Miller, and Michael Farris Smith. Here's a link to it on Amazon.

NOTE: Also released this week was St. Louis Noir, which contains a story ("Deserted Cities of the Heart") by my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Paul D. Marks.

A pit stop in kudzu country

My story in Mississippi Noir is a bit different from the others. For one thing, it's the longest story in the book--10,000 words and 33 pages; also, it's a little more . . . optimistic, let's say, than some of the other stories. Kirkus Reviews, which spent awhile discussing the despair and poverty and heartache that accompany most of these tales, said, "And every now and again, there's a lucky soul who does manage to triumph over the trouble she gets herself into, like Anna in John M. Floyd's 'Pit Stop.'" Whether that's a good thing, in a book of noir fiction, is another matter--I'll leave that to the reader to decide. But I liked the story, and had great fun writing it. (Not that it matters, I guess, but I liked all the other stories too--and as always, it was fun to meet the other authors, at the launch on Thursday.)

A quick word about my story: Its original title was "Route 25," because the entire piece is set in a section of that highway, between Jackson and the town of Starkville, some 120 miles to the northeast. Later, though, after it was accepted for inclusion in the book, I was told that since each story would reflect a different region, and since State Highway 25 would be listed in the Table of Contents as the area where my story takes place, I was asked if I could come up with another title for the story itself. I decided on "Pit Stop" because it has a double meaning: most of the action takes place near a gas-station/convenience-store on the road trip that the main characters take, and the plot also involves an abandoned well. And yes, somebody winds up in the well. I don't think that's revealing too much; according to Anton Chekhov, "If you show the reader a gun in Act 1, it better go off in Act 3."

A good story is hard to find

My inspiration for this tale, by the way, came from the opening paragraph of one of my favorite shorts, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," by Flannery O'Connor. That opening features a man from Atlanta proposing a family road trip to his mother, who tells him they shouldn't be traveling in that direction (Florida) because of a killer that the newspaper says is on the loose there. Immediately after finishing that paragraph, any savvy reader knows that before the end of the story those poor vacationers will almost certainly meet up with the killer. I think it's a great example of the art of foreshadowing. Or maybe of setting expectations.


I try to do the same kind of thing in this story. Here's the situation, in "Pit Stop": a young lady and her date are headed out on a two-hour drive to a college football game, after which they plan to stop and hike awhile in the autumn countryside. They already know that the section of highway they'll be traveling is the site of several recent killings, and that whoever committed the murders is still at large--but they're young and they're invincible, right? Well, as you might imagine, they meet some unexpected folks along the way, and things quickly grow complicated.

The book's first review on Amazon, received a week ago, says "Pit Stop" is a fun and satisfying read, and "is a story that likely would have warmed the heart of Alfred Hitchcock." That extremely kind statement warms my heart as well.

Neither south noir north

I recently spoke with a fellow writer who said one of the items on her Bucket List was to someday appear in Akashic's noir series. I had hoped that one day I would also, and I'm truly grateful for this opportunity.

Strangely enough, I had already sampled a few of the books in the series, including New Jersey Noir and Los Angeles Noir, and I enjoyed them. (Have any of you read some of these?) This one, like the others, seems to have a little something for every taste. Greg Iles, author of The Bone Tree and a native of Natchez, says, in a cover blurb, "So kick back, pour yourself a drink, and find out whether Mississippi Noir may be the darkest of them all."

I hope it's also the most fun to read.




BY THE WAY . . . two weeks from today, on Saturday, August 20, my old friend and former SleuthSayer Elizabeth Zelvin will post a guest column in this time slot. I assure you that her post will be both shorter and better than this one, and I hope you'll join me in welcoming Liz that day. Meanwhile, best to all of you, in your writing AND your reading.