10 July 2018

Writers: Their Rooms and Pets


One of the things I really enjoy is seeing other writers’ offices/work spaces. I’m curious about how other people go about their work—it’s like looking into someone’s eyes, seeing into the soul of the writer (sort of). Or maybe it’s just the writer-voyeur in me. But I’ve always found it fascinating. Some people have pristine offices that look like they’re out of Architectural Digest, while others look like that picture of Einstein’s cluttered desk.

It’s like going to visit someone’s house and seeing what books they have on their shelves. I like seeing what writers have in their workspaces, what art work, what books, awards, photos, tools of the trade, etc. I’m also curious about writers and their pets.

To both these ends, I asked all the SleuthSayers to contribute pictures of their offices and pets. Here goes (and I hope I haven’t missed anyone who responded, if so it’s purely unintentional):

***

MICHAEL BRACKEN

When Temple and I married a few years ago, I sold my home and moved into hers. The most difficult part of the process was determining how to arrange my new office space after more than twenty years in my old office space.

A four-bedroom home, our home has two bedrooms on the right and two on the left, the bedroom pairs separated by the living room, dining room, and kitchen. The two on the left are of approximately equal size, separated by a bathroom, and have a short hall connecting them. I put my primary office—the one with my desk—in the front bedroom of the pair and my filing cabinets, supplies, and most of my library in the rear bedroom. Awards and publication covers adorn the shelves and wall space in the hall.

In addition to my desk—a traditional office desk with secretarial arm—for my computer and printer, I have a trio of bookcases crammed full of books, toys, and music (LPs, CDs, 45s, and cassette tapes, along with the appropriate technology to play all of them). My wife had my first professionally published story framed and it hangs on the wall to my left. Immediately in front of me is the movie poster for Pulp Fiction, and a pair of Pearl Jam posters also adorn the walls.

By surrounding myself with books, music, and toys I’ve created the optimum writing environment.

Ellie, a Border collie, sleeps under my desk when I write. Jenny, a gray tabby, sometimes sits behind my computer monitor, but mostly wants to spend time in my lap. Because she won’t remain still, I have to encourage her to move along after a few minutes. Kiwi, an orange Manx, rarely visits my office while I write, but the moment I sit down in the living room to watch television, he beelines it to my lap.


About the photo: Ellie is under the desk. The gray blur in the middle is Jenny exiting the scene.


***

MELODIE CAMPBELL

I have a giant Frankenpoodle, who is a St. John Ambulance therapy dog, going into nursing homes and schools to provide therapy. If Dr. Frankenstein were creating a dog, this is what he might end up with. Standing 30 inches at the shoulder, Frankenpoodle is a giraffe in a dog suit.

I got my start writing comedy. Frankenpoodle got his start as the klutzy giant of the litter. No breeding for him. Instead, he became a canine muse. Together, we have slogged through fifteen novels; me at the keyboard, him on the worn brown chaise beside me.  Both of us snarfing snacks and looking forward to walk time. Damn straight, this dog inspires me. Toker, the big black poodle-cross with the Mohawk hairdo in The Goddaughter’s Revenge, steals the show. Ollie, “They gone and done it, Stella…crossed a poodle with a grizzly bear,” is the star of The Crime Club, out in 2019. When Frankenpoodle isn't beside me, he's doing his St. John Ambulance Therapy dog thing at the local high school special needs class. He's an old guy now, at twelve, but what a joy, still.

***

O'NEIL DE NOUX  

Here are a few photos of my work space and helpers.

Charley in 2007, helping me after Hurricane Katrina. We’re temporarily relocated in Lake Charles, LA.

Charley again. Same place.


Stella as we’re living in Covington, LA now.



Harri as a kitten, same work place.


Full grown Harri at my current workspace in Covington.



Jeffty in my current workspace. He’s helping with my new computer.



***

MARY FERNANDO

My study works for me because I get to write on walls. In my study, one wall is painted with dry erase paint, where I can both scribble ideas and rub them out. There are also two glass mounts where I can insert plot pics and scribble some more. The old typewriter reminds me to be grateful for my computer—even though it hates me and misbehaves constantly. My Bouviers, Kai and Tiffany, refuse to help me write. However, they demand constant walks, so that help me walk off a crucial component of my writing: chocolate.



***

RT LAWTON

[This photo] was taken of one wall of our study. It shows a loaded down old style computer desk and hutch that I've had for at least 25 years, my computer screen and tower, magnifying glass for small print, a few piles of papers that only I can understand their organization, colored files, a mass of reference books (ranging from dictionaries to agent's manuals to how-to books to The Anarchist's Cookbook to Reservation Law to foreign language dictionaries, etc.), my first badge set in acrylic, photos of grandkids, a calendar, bush hat, spurs, Ukrainian officer's hat, and a painting of Hueys which hangs on the wall over the hutch.


There haven't been pets at our house since a series of German Shepherds decades ago. The two local grandsons we do daycare for pretty well fill that emotional slot ever since Grandma cut the cord on the oldest in the birthing room 15 years ago. Over time, I come to think it was easier training dogs, although I did co-write a short story with the oldest for one of the MWA anthologies. Unfortunately, that story didn't get picked, but he and I are getting good grades in 9th grade social studies.

***

ROB LOPRESTI

I have three cats but the only one who takes an active part in my writing is Charlie. Here he is sitting on the desk in my office, urging me to concentrate on my work.  How could I do it without him? And when can I start?




I have included three pictures of that office, without Charlie. One shows the cramped quarters where I created my early masterpieces. The second shows my lovely current ergonomic stand/sit desk. The photos on the left wall are two grocery stores in Plainfield, NJ, one owned by my father’s father, and the other owned by my mother’s grandfather. The photo on the right, taken in Russia, shows my wife’s grandfather. And on another wall I have my proudest trophies: four AHMM covers!






***

LEIGH LUNDIN

I don't have a photo of Valentine, my goffin cockatoo, without someone other than me in the picture. The attached isn't Valentine, but an identical stand-in, an understudy when his voice grows hoarse at operatic performances. His Wagner is… painful.



When I had a desktop computer (and a desk), he enjoyed sitting between my wrists staring at the screen. Valentine is usually good… if he has to dump, he flies back to his cage. Except… He gets jealous if I speak on the phone.

One day I received a call and went to another room to chat without interruption. When I returned, defiant Valentine had surgically snipped both the mouse cord and the keyboard cable in two. That’ll show me.

He stayed a few days at my friend Thrush’s house. After Valentine’s departure, Thrush tried to make toast. He discovered Valentine had snipped the live toaster cord in half. I’m still gobsmacked.

Here are photos of my favorite workspace moments before demolition started. A couple of deck planks in my dock had rotted, and it must be rebuilt. The variety of birds is extensive– heron, egrets, gallinules and moorhens, shovelers and mallards, anhingas (snakebirds), kingfishers, osprey (fish eagles), and one season, a flock of pelicans.



In late summer / early autumn, I buy citronella candles by the bucket, literally, to combat mosquitoes that carry off unattended toddlers and small dogs. My wifi signal stretches to the dock making it easy to read or write. As this dock is being rebuilt, I plan to run power to it, providing permanent lighting and keeping the laptop battery charged.

In good weather on the dock shaded by an overarching tree, I put my feet up and write or read Paul’s SleuthSayers article. I may enjoy supper on the dock. In poor weather (which includes August temperatures and humidity of 100%), I live in an easy chair, the papa bear chair in the living room.

***

PAUL D. MARKS

My favorite place to write these days is in my home office. Not very romantic, but it's got everything I need close at hand. Probably more than I need. I know some people say you shouldn't have a TV or phone in your office. I do. But I can turn them off. And I have a nice view. Pictures on the wall that inspire me.  Mostly album covers and movie lobby cards, some other things. And, of course, my picture of Dennis Hopper flipping the bird from Easy Rider. When I was younger I had a full-sized poster of that shot, now it's just a little 8x10.  Oh how we change as we get older.

And my desk is a cluttered mess. Oh hell, the whole office is a cluttered mess. I keep talking about organizing it but who has time? There’s something comforting about the clutter (well, I have to rationalize the mess, don’t I?), though I would like to reorganize and put out some other mementos or unbury the ones that are already here.



And, of course, I have my assistants to help out. Over the years there’s been a variety of them. They’re really good company and help alleviate one of the banes of a writer’s existence: being alone much of time.

Here’s my office pretty much as it looks today. And in the photo on the right Curley, who with his littermate Moe, both used to like helping me write and tap on the keyboard. Unfortunately, neither is with us anymore.



And here are Curley (cat) and Audie (dog):



Missing are some earlier buddies, as I don’t think their pix are scanned. But here’s my current crew: Buster and Pepper.



***

JANICE TRECKER

This is my office and painting room, complete with Marcel Proust, who turned 25 this month. He is now too old to assist in any composition whatsoever but retains his affection for typing chairs, and he spends part of every morning trying to acquire either mine or my husband’s.


The room upstairs in an old farm house is quite small for a big desk, a file cabinet, a full sized easel, paint cabinet and bookcases but it has nice light with everything close to hand. That and a cat—what more would a writer want?

***

So there you have it. See how the other half lives. Thank you everyone who contributed. I really enjoyed getting a peak into your writing lives.

***
And now for the usual BSP:



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

09 July 2018

DCS (Dumb Cop Syndrome)


by Steve Liskow

Not long ago, I was critiquing a manuscript and found myself making the same comments over and over.

"Check Police Procedure."   "Check Crime Scene Procedure."  "Check Legalities."

The story was a thriller that relied heavily on two homicide detectives as supporting characters because they suspected the protagonist of a series of murders. That's been done before, and it still works...if you make the details believable. Unfortunately, the writer seemed to base her knowledge of police procedure on Mack Sennett films and Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.

Maybe the idea of the dumb cop started with Lestrade, the bumbling Scotland Yard officer in the Sherlock Holmes series, or the ineffectual Surete officer in Poe's stories starring C. Auguste Dupin, both of whom would make a rag doll look smart.

Remember the Keystone Cops? Lots of running and jumping and high-speed chases, but not much to show for it. The police in the early Hardy Boys books had names that showed they were the comic relief: Detective Smuff (I almost wrote "Smurf"), for example, and Chief Collig. They both exhibited epic laziness and slightly less impressive stupidity, but little else. They needed the teenagers to drag them in the right direction and hand them the solution to the case they didn't want to investigate in the first place.

Alas, the trope of the dumb cop has become a tradition more admired in the breach than in the observance. Too many contemporary stories still portray the police as idiots, and I stop reading when I encounter the first instance in a MS. Sometimes, I continue reading and suspect that these guys will turn out to be working with the bad guys. That still happens a lot, too, and it's legit if you do it well. But I will only keep reading if the writing up to that point is good. If the prose and the hackneyed idea seem to be a matched set, Sayonara Kid, have a nice day.

If the power of your story comes from the strength of your antagonist, it's no less true of the police as supporting characters. If they are going to be adversaries, major or minor, make them worthy ones. If they overlook major clues, contaminate crime scenes, fail to follow up on conflicting testimony and perform illegal searches, they undermine both your plot and your credibility. Your protagonist deserves better.

If the police are this stupid, how brilliant does your sleuth have to be to solve the case for them (See Holmes and Dupin, above)?

Remember the film version of The Fugitive with Harrison Ford? Tommy Lee Jones was the cop pursuing him after the train wreck, and I wouldn't have wanted him chasing me. Jones was smart, thorough, patient and funny. He looked at everything and missed nothing. We hear his admiration when Kimble (Ford) jumps off the dam into the roiling water hundreds of feet below to escape his pursuers. He even gets a funny sidekick who asks, "Can we go home now?"

He kept his mind open and recognized more and more evidence suggesting that maybe Richard Kimble didn't kill his wife. And he helped the innocent man clear himself.

Jones's character strengthens the story in several ways. First, he adds another layer of tension because Kimble is caught between two forces, the strong and capable law enforcement officers and the hidden evil of the real killer. He gives the story more credibility, too. If a smart cop like this guy thought Kimble was guilty, the evidence that convicted him had to be pretty damning, didn't it? That strengthens the real killer again. Kimble, an escaped convict looking at a death sentence, still doesn't kill anyone to escape, and that makes him look more noble, too.

Imagine how different the story would be if Detective Smuff or the Keystone Cops were on the case.

08 July 2018

Rapists are Criminals: Why do they live among us?


by Mary Fernando, MD

This is my second interview with the Clinical Forensic Medical Examiner, Dr. Kari Sampsel, the only Canadian physician with a fellowship in Clinical Forensic Sciences. She is a Staff Emergency Physician and the Medical Director of the Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program at The Ottawa Hospital. 

When victims of  sexual violence come into the emergency room, she is in charge of the rape kit, assessments of sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy. She is also responsible for setting up long-term physical and mental health care for these victims.

In the last interview, she stated that one in three women will be assaulted in their lifetime, but less than 20% of victims report the rape immediately. Many suffer with increasing symptoms and then are seen. Some never speak up at all.

There is no other crime that I can think of where the victims are so reluctant to report the crime. Further, a society that believes in the rule of law is poorly served when so many criminals are allowed to commit a serious crime and yet are not held accountable. Imagine, for example, how emboldened car thieves would feel if they knew less than 20% of the thefts would be reported. 

Rape is rarely a crime committed in dark alleyways by strangers. In fact, 85% of rapes are committed by people who know the victim. This suggests that the poor reporting of rape emboldens rapists to assault women they know, largely without fear of any legal consequences. While children are most commonly raped by family members or friends of the family, adult are most often raped by current or past partners, or acquaintances and friends. 

One of the rapes with a great deal of stigma is the rapes by present partners. Many don't see how a present partner can be a rapist. To explain, Dr Sampsel says: “Think of cake. You like cake. But if someone shoves it in your mouth and forces you to keep eating until you feel sick, that would not be OK.” 

The other way to look at this is that rape is assault. If a partner, past or present, or a friend beat a person till they were bloody, breaking their nose and perhaps a few limbs, this would be considered unacceptable in civil society. Assault that is physical, but not sexual, is viewed as unacceptable. Sexual assault should be equally unacceptable. 
When a victim reports a rape, or a series of rapes, the response they encounter can make them walk away and not finish the report. Dr. Sampsel explains that there is often a stereotype of how a rape victim should behave: upset and crying.  

However, the reality is that victims display many behaviours. Some are so upset that they are closed off, unable to make eye contact or articulate what happened. Others, will be angry and in ‘protester’ mode, trying to get justice. Some can even look fairly normal, reporting as factually as they can about the incident or multiple incidents.

Add to this the fact that trauma can make victim forget details, the report itself can appear incoherent and less trustworthy. 

Dr. Sampsel points out that, “People are pretty savvy about when they are not believed. If you give someone the ‘I don't believe you vibe’ then they can be done with the process.”
Which brings us to the process itself. It is long and difficult. Completing the evidence kit takes about 2-4 hours. Every sample must be labeled, dated and gathered in a way that maintains the chain of evidence. Also, many of the samples are gathered from places that we think of as private and, if there are lacerations, this can also be painful.

After the history is taken and the samples are gathered, the victim is often faced with the reality that it isn’t safe to return home. If the rapist was a present partner or past partner with access to the victim’s home, either going to a shelter or staying with family or friends helps. Even if the rapist is a friend or acquaintance, their knowledge of where the victim lives could make it unsafe for them to return home. 

Many cities have a victim service, which provides everything from cell phones to volunteers - who will drive victims to their own home to pick up personal belongings, and help them get to a shelter.

If charges against a rapist are laid, they often get 12-18 months in jail. If a weapon was used or there was an attempt to murder the victim, the jail term could be longer. When the rapist is released from jail, the victim is vulnerable to retaliation from the rapist and may get a restraining order.

Does the punishment for rape fit the crime? Jail is certainly punishment. And the rapist must register as a sex offender and this limits the jobs they can get. Perhaps the biggest part of all this is that the rapist learns that they cannot rape with impunity. Rape is a crime. Punishing criminals is not merely about each individual criminal, it is also about deterring future criminals. If every rapist truly feared jail time, the stigma of being a registered sex offender and limited employment opportunities, perhaps one third of women wouldn't face the ordeal of being raped in the first place. 

07 July 2018

Unsung Heroes



by John M. Floyd



Today I'd like to talk about two deceased writers whose stories still delight and inspire me. One of these authors I heard about from an agent I had long ago and the other I discovered when I happened to stumble across one of his stories in an anthology. Both wrote mostly short fiction and were widely published, but almost no one seems to know their names.

The first is Jack Ritchie (born John George Reitci, in 1922, the son of a Milwaukee tailor). Over a period of 35 years Ritchie wrote and published almost 500 short stories, almost all of them mystery/crime/suspense tales, and--like O. Henry--his endings often had a diabolical twist. His fiction appeared regularly in Manhunt, Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine, The New York Daily News, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and many other publications. (He once had two stories in the same issue of AHMM.)

The only book I own by Mr. Ritchie is Little Boxes of Bewilderment, a collection of 31 of his stories--but I think I've found and read most of the stories that he published. As I've said, a lot of them were featured in mystery magazines, but many can also be found in anthologies, including more than fifty Alfred Hitchcock anthos.

One of Ritchie's stories, "The Green Heart," was adapted into the feature film A New Leaf, starring Walter Matthau and Elaine May, and another of his stories, "The Absence of Emily," has been filmed twice and won the Edgar Award in 1982. Several of his stories were also adapted for TV series iike Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales of the Unexpected.

I actually have a connection, of sorts, to Jack Ritchie. His longtime agent, Larry Sternig, was also my agent for several years, until Larry's death in the late 90s. He was one of that rare breed of literary agents who represented short stories, and was in many ways a mentor to me back when I was just getting started in all this. (Larry once told me he talked Robert Bloch, another Milwaukee native, into writing Psycho.) Soon after agreeing to represent my stories, Larry said to me, "One of the things you should do to become a better writer is to read the stories of a guy named Jack Ritchie," and he mailed me two of Ritchie's collections, with an additional note telling me to send them back to him when I was done. I binge-read them both and returned them as requested, and it was only years later that I located a copy of Little Boxes of Bewilderment on Amazon and snapped it up. Ritchie's collections--and his only novel, Tiger Island--are mostly out of print and hard to find.

The other short-story writer I dearly love to read--and whose work has taught me a lot--is Fredric Brown. I had no idea who he was before finding one of his stories, "Voodoo," in an anthology years ago. That story, like many of Brown's, is only about 300 words in length--but it's brilliant.

Fredric Brown was born in Cincinnati in 1906, the son of a newspaperman, and worked as a journalist himself for most of his career. He wrote many novels and hundreds of short stories, and--oddly enough--his work was almost equally divided between mystery and science fiction. (His first novel, The Fabulous Clipjoint, won an Edgar Award in 1948.) I own several collections of his, including Miss Darkness (31 mystery/suspense stories), From These Ashes (116 science fiction and fantasy stories), and Nightmares and Geezenstacks (47 short-short stories, which Stephen King called a "particularly important work"). Interesting note: Brown seemed fond of punnish titles, like "Nothing Sirius," "A Little White Lye," and "Pi in the Sky."

Fred Brown's short story "Arena" was used as the basis for the episode of the same name in the original series of Star Trek, and was voted by Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the top twenty SF stories written before 1965. His short story "Naturally" was adapted into Geometrics, a short film by director Guillermo del Toro, and another story, "The Last Martian," was adapted into "Human Interest Story," an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His novel The Screaming Mimi became a 1958 movie starring Anita Ekberg and Gypsy Rose Lee.

These two writers had one thing in common, besides their love of the short form and their talent with mystery/crime stories: both had a minimalist style that was long on dialogue and humor and short on exposition and description, and almost always included surprise endings. In their stories, things started out fast and never slowed down. I love that.

If you're interested in trying new authors, here's a list of some of my favorites stories by these two writers:

Jack Ritchie:

Shatter Proof
Traveler's Check
The Absence of Emily
The Green Heart
For All the Rude People
Play a Game of Cyanide
The Best Driver in the County
Memory Test
Number Eight

Fredric Brown:

Nightmare in Yellow
The Laughing Butcher
A Little White Lye
Rebound
The Arena
Voodoo
Answer
Placet Is a Crazy Place

I encourage you to find some of these stories--reading them won't take long. I think you'll like their authors.




06 July 2018

Joy of Writing (Groups)


I'm too old to play in a sandpit anymore with my toy cars, toy gorilla, and action man. And if I did, people would think it odd; at best, eccentric. Some might even alert the authorities. However, as a grownup, I can let my mind wander freely, letting my stories and characters flow (action man, gorilla, et al.). And so long as I do it on paper, no one will bat an eyelid. My joy of writing is creation; the joy of making things up. For me, a blank page of paper is like the sandpit of my childhood. 

I wrote the above, more or less, in about three minutes today (Saturday, May 12). I wrote it from scratch. It was a short writing exercise answering the question: What is your joy of writing?

I belong to a writing group. A bunch of us meet once a month at the local library, and we do things such as talk about writing, discuss competitions, hear from guest writers and speakers (today we had a comprehensive tutorial on social media for writers), and occasionally we undertake short, on-the-spot writing exercises, as above.

The group is delightfully informal (behind the scenes, it is a fully incorporated society). I'm not sure how many people belong, maybe upwards of 40-50, as attendance for some is delightfully casual. There’s a fairly wide range of ages among members, and a fairly wide range of writing experience: published, self-published, not-yet-published. Everyone in the room is a writer. Everyone has a WIP: a book, short story, play, poem, or piece of journalism.

I believe I am the only mystery writer in the room. But I’m not the only former teacher. It seems almost every second member of the group is, or has been, a school teacher… Apropos of nothing.

Children's Writing Workshop with Stu Deval
(Photo ©2018 Becky Carr)
I came late to joining a writing group. I've been writing all my life, but I only went along and joined one two years ago. The gateway drug was a post I chanced upon on Facebook about a guest speaker (Frances Housden) who would be giving a crime/mystery fiction workshop. Visitors welcome. Tea and cookies provided.

    I liked the atmosphere.
    It was local.
    (I took in a cappuccino.)
    I've kept going back.

I’ve said it often: Writers are the friendliest people you’ll meet (and I'll add that mystery writers are the friendliest of the friendly).

The writing of fiction is a solitary pursuit and an unsociable practice. By god, it is the very definition of unsociable. And even if you’re sitting in a crowded cafĂ©, slamming out chapter 27 of your usurper to the Harry Potter franchise, you’re probably wearing headphones and ignoring everyone... except for the waiter bringing more coffee.

Writing is on the list of unsociable occupations along with IRS employee, jail warden, lone astronaut stranded on a hostile planet, and ascetic cave hermit. So, once a month, it's nice to go along and meet up with others who also do the writing thing, and to talk shop.

Sidebar: I bow to those rare literary pluralists who can truly write in tandem with another.

I work days in an office (software company). If I started randomly talking to my colleagues about first person omniscient, writer's block, word count, page formatting, current submissions, or who was nominated for or won a Derringer Award this year (claps and cheers for Elizabeth, Brendan, Rob, and John), their eyes would glaze over.

I suppose, it's a little bit therapeutic in that respect. A writing group is like an AA meeting. “Hi, my name is Stephen. I'm a writer.  I haven’t written a paragraph since 9 A.M. this morning.”

Sleuthsayers is an online version of a writer's group, with the advantage that it's open 24/7, and we can all be anywhere at all: Florida, Seattle, Canada, down here at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, or at the Stork Club (Thelma?).

The bottom line is: Belonging to a writer group, be it at the local library, or in cyberspace, is a chance to learn stuff (big or small); to plug into the collective writer mind and soak up new and interesting things. To hang out with fellow travelers.

Did I mention competitions? My writing group has a bunch of them, and one of them this year is a trophy-prized, short-story comp: "Crime and Mystery." I've not yet entered any of the group's competitions, but I plan to (pardon the obligatory pun) give that one a decent stab.

SR


Links:
Frances Housden
Stu Deval

www.StephenRoss.net

05 July 2018

The Wrong Books


I have a DVD set of the 1972 BBC production of War and Peace starring Anthony Hopkins as Pierre, and I asked my husband if he'd like to watch it sometime.  He declined: "I'm not up for Tolstoy."  And what he meant by "Tolstoy" was War and Peace.  He'd tried to read it, decades ago, and stalled out pretty quickly, which I think happens to a lot of people.  A lot of people complain about its length, and at over 1,200 pages, it's long enough to complain about.  But then, Outlander is half that length, and then you've still got 7 more hefty books to go in that series.

But I think that reading War and Peace is a classic example of the wrong book.  I think one of the reasons why people avoid "great literature" is that
(1) they're told that it's great,
(2) there's this illusion that great = dull / hard to understand / heavy (ie., depressing), and
(3) they're started off with the wrong book.


L.N.Tolstoy Prokudin-Gorsky.jpgSo, with Tolstoy, start with Anna Karenina, and make sure it's the old Constance Garnett translation:  Anna, about to go into the major midlife crisis in literature, her cheerfully cheating brother Stepan, her pompous irritating husband Karenin, her soon to be lover Vronsky (a/k/a the man who isn't worth it), future soccer mom Kitty, bewildered Levin (only a few jokes away from being played by Seth Rogen), Countess Lydia (think Texas cheerleader mom), and other classic characters all presented with wit, verve,  heartbreak, and amazing insight. As the British poet and critic Matthew Arnold said, "A novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life."


George Eliot.  Forget Silas Marner, (ESPECIALLY in schools).  Start the kids off with Adam Bede, with its amazing portrait of Hetty Sorrel, whose beauty is "like that of kittens, or very small downy ducks making gentle rippling noises with their soft bills, or babies just beginning to toddle and to engage in conscious mischief—a beauty with which you can never be angry."
No one knows, no one can believe, that such an obviously childlike, innocent young thing like Hetty could be an egoist of the highest caliber.  And from that comes all the rest.
(NOTE:  My major problem with every production of Adam Bede is that the actresses cast as Hetty have been, so far, always sophisticated 20-somethings so that you can't get the essentially transgressive tragedy of Hetty:  it's the fact that she looks like a child that turns her seducer on.) 
Or Dostoevsky.  Don't start with Crime and Punishment.  Unless you're a huge Cormac McCarthy fan.

Start with The Brother's Karamazov, which is about one of the most dysfunctional families on the planet.  The Karamazovs are led by Fyodor, an absolute horror as a man and a father, whose constant womanizing and drunkenness never stand in the way of trying to ruin his sons' lives.  Dmitri's a sensualist, Ivan's an atheist, Alyosha's a novice monk, and Smerdyakov is illegitimate.  One of them kills Fyodor, and while we all say good riddance, the question is who and why and how...  Incredible writing, and even the saints are human.

Speaking of who killed Fyodor, what about mysteries?

Which Sherlock Holmes story should you try to start someone off with?  First off, a heresy:  I think the novels are inferior to the short stories.  The Hound of the Baskervilles, frankly, has too much padding for me, and as for A Study in Scarlet...

Me, I'd start someone off with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which contains "A Scandal In Bohemia", "The Speckled Band," "The Copper Beeches," and "The Red Headed League", among others.  The collection ranges from hilarious to deadly serious, and are what hooked me as a child.  After you read that collection, chances are you'll read all the rest.  I did.

Which Agatha Christie?  Personally, my favorite is Nemesis, which always seemed to have less mechanical plot (although the plot is very good) and more atmosphere.
"Miss Marple remembered saying to her nephew, who was standing her this Shakespearean treat, "You know, Raymond, my dear, if I were ever producing this splendid play I would make the three witches quite different. I would have them three ordinary, normal old women. Old Scottish women. They wouldn't dance or caper. They would look at each other rather slyly and you would feel a sort of menace just behind the ordinariness of them."  — Nemesis
And then Miss Marple looks around to the three Bradbury-Scott girls...

Dashiell Hammett:  The Maltese Falcon, of course, but Red Harvest is fast and furious.
Ellis Peters:  An Excellent Mystery (my favorite of the Cadfael Chronicles)
E. X. Ferrars:  Frog in the Throat 
Josephine Tey:  The Daughter of Time, with a special shout-out to Miss Pym Disposes
Rex Stout:  Death of a Doxy  
Dennis Lehane:  Mystic River 
Liza Cody:  Rift  

Oh, and if you want to try some poetry, try Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book - written in 1868-69, about a real-life Italian murder trial of 1698. Count Guido Franceschini, impoverished nobleman, despite professing his innocence, has been found guilty of the murders of his young wife Pompilia and her parents. They were all stabbed; he's admitted he suspected Pompilia of having an affair with a young cleric, Giuseppe Caponsacchi.  Each canto is a monologue from the point of view of a different character, including Count Guido and Pompilia on her death bed.  Multiple viewpoints, multiple voices, multiple excuses:  What's the truth?  Read it and decide for yourself.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning

Speaking of the Brownings, here's a story for you.  Elizabeth Barrett, of course, was a well known poet in Victorian times, perhaps the best known poetess.  Her father - a Jamaican plantation owner who'd made his money off slaves and sugar - raised his family in England.  He was a family dictator, micro-managing his children's lives, and disinheriting each and every one of them as they married.  Elizabeth and Robert's courtship had to be done mostly by letter and only occasional meetings, because Edward Barrett would never have approved it.  In fact, when the 40 year old Elizabeth married Robert Browning in 1846, she literally had to escape while Daddy was out.  It worked, and they were married and moved to Italy.  

There have been some theories about Mr. Barrett's possessiveness:
(1) There was African blood (from Jamaican slaves) in the family tree, and Mr. Barrett didn't want it perpetuated.
"For the love of God,
Montressor!"
"Yes, for the love of God."
(2) He was simply a control freak, who wanted to keep his children under his control forever, and almost succeeded entirely.  He certainly seemed determined to keep Elizabeth confined as an invalid for her entire life.  
(3) The Barretts of Wimpole Street flat-out said that he wanted Elizabeth, and perhaps her sister, to be more ( ahem ) than a daughter to him...

BTW: Edgar Allan Poe greatly admired Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poetry. Poe reviewed her work in the January 1845 issue of the Broadway Journal, saying that "her poetic inspiration is the highest — we can conceive of nothing more august. Her sense of Art is pure in itself." In return, she praised The Raven, and Poe dedicated his 1845 collection The Raven and Other Poems to her, referring to her as "the noblest of her sex". 

I think that Edgar Allan Poe would have cheerfully made Mr. Barrett the object of my favorite Poe story, The Cask of Amontillado.  Who knows?  Maybe he did.  

Read the classics - it will take you to places you never thought you'd go.  Just make sure to start off with the right book.  

04 July 2018

Patriotic Gore



by Robert Lopresti


This being the Fourth of July I would like to say a few words about one of our country’s most successful exports. We didn’t invent it, but we have certainly helped spread it around.

In fact, this product has become so popular that even countries which objectively seem to be lacking in it will claim to be rolling in the stuff.


I am referring to democracy.

You may be thinking: well, sis boom bah, but what does this have to do with mystery fiction?

A lot, as it happens. I’m not the first to say this but it bears repeating: mystery fiction only becomes popular in democracies.  (Ahem.  Jeff Baker pointed out that ancient China, not known for its polling stations, brought us Judge Dee.  Okay then.)

I think I know why this is the case. If you live in a country where the laws themselves are secret (as used to be true in the Soviet Union) or the King/Ayatollah/Dear Leader can arbitrarily decide who is guilty, then what’s the point of reading about detectives? If trials are just public theatre to reveal what has already been decided behind the scenes, what use are crime novels?

The author of a cozy mystery believes (or pretends to believe) that he is describing a society in which justice can be done, and therefore investigation matters.

The hardboiled hero lives in a more cynical world, but even she believes that there is some possibility of justice that is worth fighting for. And the hardboiled author believes that she lives in a society in which she can get away with writing so cynically.

One of the earliest proto-detective stories is Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. (It has a detective, a Watson character, interrogation of suspects, and a most unlikely killer.) And it is a product of Athenian democracy.

Yes, I know Athens wasn’t such a great democracy, allowing only male citizens to vote. On the other hand, ancient Athenians might argue that a country that only votes every few years and lets representatives decide all the specific issues is a funny kind of democracy, too.

Another play from that era is Aeschylus’ The Eumenides, which shows the punishment of crime moving from the realm of direct vengeance or divine punishment to the decisions of impartial juries.

I wrote most of what you see above a decade ago and it appeared then at Criminal Brief.  I can't say I have as much faith in democracy as I did back then.  Terms like collusion, emoluments, and interference may have something to do with that.

The last few years have shown us so many things that no fiction writer would dare to put in a novel.  As someone said authors have to be believable but God doesn't.  

Have sales of paranoid thrillers been rising while crime novels have dropped? Expand this to 300 pages and you can get a Ph.D.

But in the mean time, go ahead and wave a flag if you feel like it. It’s the mysterious thing to do.

03 July 2018

Manuscript Janitor


I’m a manuscript janitor. I get paid to clean up electronic manuscripts to prepare them for editing and eventual publication. I’m the guy who removes all the extraneous junk writers and their word processing programs insert into files, and I’m the guy who takes all the inconsistent formatting and makes it consistent before editors begin the arduous task of turning word vomit into publishable copy.

Sometimes I hate writers for making me do all this work, but I would earn significantly less if they didn’t, and I earn more per hour cleaning up these messes than some writers earn creating them. Want to take food out of my mouth, save publishers money, and make editors happy? Learn to submit clean manuscripts.

THE FIRST GO-ROUND

Some of the many things I correct while cleaning up electronic manuscripts:

Extra Spaces. Don’t put extra spaces between words, between sentences, at the beginning of paragraphs, at the end of paragraphs, or on otherwise empty lines.

Tab Characters. Don’t randomly insert tabs. (Note: Many editors prefer you indent paragraphs using the Format Paragraph drop-down menu. More important than whether you do this or indent paragraphs by pressing the tab key once at the beginning of each paragraph is that you indent paragraphs exactly the same way each and every time throughout the entire manuscript. And don’t ever indent paragraphs by pressing the spacebar multiple times.)

Manual Line Breaks Instead of Paragraph Marks. Always end paragraphs by pressing the return key. (Note: Holding down the shift key and pressing the return key inserts a Manual Line Break. Don’t.)

Improperly Used Dashes. Know the difference between the hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash, and use them properly. (Note: House styles differ on whether or not there should be a space before and after the em dash. If in doubt, choose one style and be consistent throughout your entire manuscript.)

Sadly, the design department at my alma mater
does not know the difference between
an apostrophe and a single opening quotation
mark, leading to errors like this.
Quotation Marks (single and double) and apostrophes. Any text that will be professionally published will require the use of proper quotation marks (commonly referred to as curly quotes or typographer’s quotes), so use them. Do not use a single opening quotation mark when an apostrophe is the proper symbol.

The above problems appear in so many manuscripts that I do a series of search-and-replace passes through every manuscript to find and correct these problems.

THE SECOND GO-ROUND

Some of the changes I make address the requirements of individual publisher clients, and some of what I clean out of electronic files prior to beginning the editorial process is unique to individual writers, so I have developed search-and-replace procedures specific to them.

For example, one publisher’s house style requires a space before and after all em dashes, another requires that all author bylines be typed in caps. I address these and many other house style issues during the second go-round.

I have also learned the foibles of several writers whose work I regularly see. For example, one writer consistently misuses a word, using instead a sound-alike word, so when cleaning up that writer’s manuscripts I search for and replace the misused word with the correct word. Another writer consistently fails to put the comma after the state in statements such as “I went to Waco, Texas, to visit the Silos.” So, I search for state names and insert the missing commas as appropriate.

Then I format every manuscript to look identical. For one client this means 14-point Times New Roman, double-spaced, with a .5” indent on the first line of every paragraph.

THE THIRD GO-ROUND

The third go-round is the actual editing phase. After I have performed my janitorial duties, I pass the manuscripts on to the publishers’ editors. Depending on the client, it may be a single editor or it may be a team of editors, each tasked with a different responsibility. Some editors are subject matter experts, ensuring the accuracy of the information presented, while others edit for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Regardless of how many editors touch the manuscripts, sooner or later the manuscripts come back to me for a final pass. This is when I make last-minute tweaks before sending the manuscripts into production.

Production imports the electronic manuscripts into page layout programs such as InDesign, and the cleaner the electronic manuscripts, the less effort it takes production to format text and lay out pages.

ROUND AND ROUND

Not all publishers use manuscript janitors (which isn’t even a real title). In many cases, the janitorial duties fall to copyeditors, who perform these tasks as part of the editing process rather than separate from it. Regardless, someone has to clean up the messes writers make.

In fact, right now there’s a manuscript janitor somewhere working her way through one of my manuscripts and shaking her head in dismay at the extraneous junk I failed to remove prior to submission.

Speaking of editing, I’ll soon be reading submissions for a new anthology series: Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir isn’t watered-down mysteries for dilettantes; it’s a crime-fiction cocktail that will knock readers into a literary stupor. An annual anthology of hardboiled and noir crime fiction to be released each fall beginning in 2020, contributors will be encouraged to push their work into places short crime fiction doesn’t often go, into a world where the mean streets seem gentrified by comparison and happy endings are the exception rather than the rule. For complete details, visit www.crimefictionwriter.com/submissions/html.

02 July 2018

Recognition


by Janice Law

I’ve been thinking about recognition lately, although not in the form so close to writers’ hearts as great reviews, editorial interest, and large checks. I’ve been considering it in connection with inspiration, the most mysterious part of the creative process. In particular, I have been trying to figure out the relationship between the two arts that interest me a great deal, namely writing and painting.

The Big Y florist who tripped the switch
It is not uncommon for people to be serious in more than one art. At least two of our Sleuthsayers colleagues are active in both music and writing. Recent Nobel laureate Bob Dylan paints respectably, while an older laureate, Gunther Grass, did really fine etchings. Going the other way, Vincent Van Gogh wrote some of the world’s best letters, while the term renaissance man (or woman) reflects the wide interests and capabilities of what were often primarily visual artists.

On the other hand, if I have a spell of painting, where I am finishing a picture every week or every other week, I have no ideas for anything creative in writing. PR releases for the local library are fine, but anything requiring imagination as opposed to craft is simply absent.

The change from one to the other is abrupt and apparently not under my control. This makes me think that while writing is basically an auditory art, and painting, a visual one, the roots are the same, and at least in my case, there is only so much of the right neural stuff available for work in either one.
That leads to the question of what inspiration in writing and painting have in common, and that
brings me to recognition. In both cases, I seem to recognize something useful. For example, recently I noticed one of the florists at our local supermarket wheeling out a cart of plants. A little mental click and I knew this was a painting. Why not any one of the dozens of other people in the store that day? That remains mysterious.

But that recognition of the pictorial possibilities had a further effect. I painted a whole series of images of the Big Y store personnel, so that recognition triggered a spate of painting and cut off any literary inspiration. Seven or eight paintings down the road, that impulse dried up.
Then various news stories about the Alt Right led me to revisit a story I had begun a number of years ago and abandoned. Again, I recognized something I could use and the result was the completion of that story and at least two more. The verbal switch is apparently now on. How long will it remain? I have no idea, but at some point I hope to see something that says ‘paint me’ and the cycle will start over.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? I would love to know if painter/ musicians or musician/ writers have similar experiences.

Having two arts is lovely, although there is one drawback. Instead of worrying about a lack of inspiration in one field, one gets to worry about two.

01 July 2018

Digital Desert


Arizona
Before departing southeastern Arizona…

The ’salsa trail’ forms a gastronomical trek between Gunsmoke and Sunstroke, Arizona. Tex-Mex influences all things edible. Families don’t say, “Let’s eat Mexican tonight.” That’s a given unless stated otherwise.

Roadside diners list tamales and enchiladas alongside guacamole burgers. Asian restaurants offer Chinese chimichangas and Japanese burritos. Restaurants might be known for Taco Tuesdays, Fajita Fridays, Salsa Saturdays, and Maalox Mondays.

It affects the whiskey, Fire and Fireball. Overly hot isn’t a problem– guests can pack as much or as little heat as they wish.

Digital Desert

As you know from past dispatches, Gunsmoke’s phone and internet service has varied from non-existent to barely readable. The majority of computer users I met still use Windows 7, including a Tucson hospital. They don’t necessarily want Windows 7, but they’re stuck with it because of lack of internet bandwidth. A Windows 10 upgrade at available speeds could extend from ten to thirty hours.

Based upon library access of about 512 megabytes per hour, I calculated a local bit rate of 1.1-Mbps… reportedly the same ‘speed’ all of Holyshiteitshot County government uses, a tiny percentage of ordinary personal hotspots. If utility lines become too hot, electricity and internet shuts down. Lack of power means the county government shuts down as well.

Hot Spot

It’s not their fault. As everywhere, large cities and heavily populated counties suck up the majority of resources and benefit from economies of scale. While rural roads appear in good repair, lane markings haven’t been painted since the WPA. In the intense Arizona heat, reflective paint temperature differences deteriorate asphalt and cause ‘raveling’. A county that paints lines and turn arrows also means the county must budget for pothole repairs.

Perhaps small electorates vote against their own interest. A library patron felt free internet represented creeping socialism. This sentiment echoed arguments when city water and sewage first appeared.

In previous articles, I teased about Gunsmoke and Sunstroke, Arizona, but residents haven’t strayed far from their pioneer roots. They are deserving people doing their best to eke a living from an unforgiving desert. Doing so in 110° heat takes a lot of damn guts. They put up with haboob sand storms and dust storms, dry rivers, monsoons and flash floods. Why the hell should they put up with poorer communications than Third World countries?

Despite accusations of New Deal communism, REMC brought power and phones to rural America, building an unrivaled infrastructure for its time. Possibly an REMC scheme might work for the Internet. Certainly customers clamor for connectivity and a few are lobbying for it. More power to them.

30 June 2018

100 and Counting




A few weeks ago I reached a milestone, of sorts: I sold my 100th story to Woman's World magazine. Allow me to mention, here, how grateful I am to both their editors and their readers, for allowing me to keep spinning these tales. I hope they'll want to buy a hundred more.

I'd also like to thank Dan Persinger, Jacqueline Seewald, Teresa Garver, Kevin Tipple, and others whose recent mentions of my WW stories on Facebook and elsewhere prompted me to write this piece. Woman's World is a market that is often overlooked by mystery writers, but if you enjoy--and have a knack for--creating very short stories, it's probably a market you should try.

Background info

As some of you know, Woman's World publishes one mystery story and one romance story in every issue. The magazine has a circulation of around two million readers/subscribers, they operate under the Bauer Media Group, they're based in New Jersey, and they've been around since 1981. I'm told they receive about 4,000 short-story submissions a month.

When I started submitting stories to WW almost twenty years ago, their mysteries were 1000 words in length and paid $500 each and their romance stories were 1500 words and paid $1000 each. Now, mysteries are 700 words max and pay $500 and romances are 800 words max and pay $800.

In January 2016 Patricia Riddle Gaddis replaced Johnene Granger as Fiction Editor of the magazine. I can't say enough about these two ladies: both of them are smart, professional, and talented, and both have been very good to me.

Although WW's mystery stories are often referred to as mini-mysteries, the correct term is now "solve-it-yourself" mysteries. More about that later.

Observations

Almost all the stories I've sold to WW have been mysteries--but two were romances, published years ago. I think those 1500-worders were much easier to write than the current 800-worders, and I have a lot of respect for those who can consistently write those short romance stories. It didn't take me long to figure out which genre was easier for me.

My first WW stories appeared in 1999, in their April 20, July 20, and July 27 issues. Afterward, I sold them one story in 2000, one in 2001, three in 2002, one in 2003, three in 2004, six in 2005, four in 2006, three in 2007, four in 2008, two in 2009, four in 2010, six in 2011, seven in 2012, ten in 2013, six in 2014, eight in 2015, ten in 2016, thirteen in 2017, and (so far) five in 2018. More than you wanted or needed to know, right?

In 2001 I began featuring two recurring characters in my WW stories, which has worked out well. For one thing, since readers are now relatively familiar with the two protagonists and their quirks (my characters have a lot of quirks), I don't have to waste much time "introducing" them in each story. That allows me more words to devote to the plot.

Not that it matters, but 62 of my 100 stories sold to WW involved either a robbery or a burglary. Only 21 involved murders. The rest were a mix of kidnappings, arson, fraud, jailbreaks, assault, blackmail, embezzlement, forgery, etc. I think there's a reason for that, although I doubt I was aware of it at the time: WW has always liked lighthearted tales, and non-lethal crimes like theft and trickery and property damage are a bit less traumatic than homicides.

Still on the subject of statistics, 92 of my 100 sales have been series stories, the rest of them standalones. And only 19 were whodunits. Most were howdunits. I've often heard that to write mysteries for WW you should have three suspects, and the guilty person must be one of those three. That's bad advice. You can do that if you want, but you don't have to. The main goal should merely be to put together a crime puzzle of some kind, not necessarily a whodunit, and make it entertaining.

In 2004 the top brass at WW decided to move to "interactive" mysteries rather than mysteries with traditional storylines. Hence the new name "solve-it-yourself" mysteries, where a question is introduced in the story and the answer is provided in a solution box at the end of the piece. I confess that I lobbied against this idea--I liked the freedom and variety of the traditional storytelling format--but they'd already made up their minds. And, as I think I've said in the past, when the train you want to ride comes blasting through the station, you can either (1) climb onto it, (2) get squashed, or (3) get left behind. I hopped aboard.

As part of WW's transition from regular mysteries to interactive mysteries, I was invited by the fiction editor to write several experimental stories that would help to ease readers into the new format. The first of these ("Customer Service," Dec. 14, 2004, issue) included--get this--six clues that were not only highlighted in the text but were designated as "CLUES." (Did I mention that this was a "trial-and-error" transition?) Anyhow, i happily wrote the story, but I told them I didn't like the "announcement of clues" approach, and WW agreed. Afterward, the solve-it-yourself mystery became just a story and a solution box, and it remains so today.

Here's something crazy: On two different occasions, my stories were published under another writer's byline. (How did this happen? Who knows.) Both times editor Johnene Granger phoned me afterward to apologize, and I think she was relieved to find that the mistake didn't bother me at all. The checks came on time, the bank cashed them with no problem, and my ego survived the ordeal.

At one point, after WW had published eight of my standalone stories and 23 installments of my "series," I decided to try sending them a story with two different main characters. The editor bought and published that story ("The Quilt Caper," May 17, 2010, issue), but then sent me a note saying she preferred I go back to my tried-and-true cast. Since Mama didn't raise no fools, I saluted and obeyed. My other two crimesolving characters, Fran and Lucy Valentine, did survive, though: they've now appeared in 56 stories, most of them in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Flash Bang Mysteries, Mysterical-E, Kings River Life, and several anthologies--but they've never appeared again in WW.

One of the best things about Woman's World is its professionalism. They've always gotten the contracts to me on time and paid me on time. Always. And they've been easy to work with, on proposed changes. They've also twice paid me "kill fees" (twenty percent of the full rate) when they found they were unable to publish stories that they'd previously accepted. (This happened in 2004, during the trial-and-error transition from one mystery format to the other.)

Another good thing is that the editor sometimes asks me to write a story--especially if there's a holiday coming up and they don't have a story in hand that they want to run. Several years ago, for example, the editor contacted me and said she needed a Fourth of July mystery. "And I need it by tomorrow," she added. I came up with an idea that night, wrote the story, sent it to her the following morning, they published it, and everyone was happy. That doesn't happen often, but when the editor asks me for something, I try really hard to deliver it. (I feel the same way about invitations to anthologies: if someone thinks highly enough of me to invite me to contribute a story, I'm not going to say no.)

A final observation, more about me than about WW: I don't write only short-short stories. Most of my stories these days seem to run between 3000 and 8000 words--several of those are upcoming in AHMM, EQMM, Strand Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, etc.--but there's something about the little mini-mysteries that's always been fun for me. Part of it's probably because I actually enjoy the re-writing and self-editing phase, the whittling away of all the extra and unneeded stuff that most of us plug into our stories. As you flash-fiction writers know, stories of less than 1000 words require a lot of this.

A word about editing

I must tell you, WW does like to edit my manuscripts. Usually just a word or two, but sometimes more. Example: In my story "Fun and Games," which was published a few weeks ago in the June 11 issue, my Sheriff Jones character and his amateur-sleuth partner Angela Potts have arrived at the local college library, where Professor Harriet Pinskey informs them that a golden statuette of a regal woman in Roman attire--presented to Pinskey's organization by a European billionaire--has been stolen from a display case. The following is some dialogue between the sheriff, Angela, and the professor:

    "What organization?" the sheriff asked.

    "An all-female academic society," Pinskey said. "MOLTH. It means: Move Over--Ladies Thinking Here."

    The sheriff grinned. "Why not 'Women'? That'd be appropriate: MOWTH."

    "You better shut yours," Angela said. "You're outnumbered."

Yes, I know it's silly, and certainly not necessary to the plot, but I love this kind of idiotic humor. Alas, the editors did not: that exchange didn't appear in the final, printed version.

On one occasion (in my story "The Train to Graceland," June 30, 2014, issue) my robbery victim was a young Chinese lady. For some reason, the Powers That Be at WW didn't like that, and I was asked to change the woman's nationality. I made her British instead, and all was well. I'm still trying to figure that one out.


Sometimes titles get changed, as well. Out of the 100 stories I've done for WW, 49 of my title choices were overruled. A few of their new titles, I must admit, wound up sounding better than my originals--but some didn't. I truly loved one of my titles, to a story involving the robbery and kidnapping of a guy named Ron. My suggested title was "Take the Money and Ron," which in all modesty I thought was pretty clever; their title, the one that made it in to the magazine, was "Candid Camera." Big sigh.

Tips

Here are a few things I would suggest a writer do, if he/she wants to write mystery stories for Woman's World:

- Include a lot of dialogue.

- Don't use strong language or excessive violence.

- Avoid politics, religion, social issues, or anything else that might be controversial.

- Don't put pets in jeopardy. Go ahead and whack Professor Plum on the head with the candlestick in the parlor if you like, but do NOT dognap his poodle. Around that corner lies immediate rejection.

- Inject some humor. Sometimes it gets edited out, sometimes it doesn't--and it usually helps.

- Be fair with the clues.

- Keep the solutions short.

- Lean toward cozy. About six months ago WW decided to focus more on lighter subject matter and less on murder mysteries. As a result, all the stories I've sold them so far this year involved domestic, non-violent crimes. Just saying.

Questions

Have you ever tried sending a story to Woman's World? Have you been published there? (Several of my fellow SleuthSayers have been.) If so, what were some of your experiences? Do you find these very short mysteries easier to write than the typical mystery tales--or harder?

If you've never tried it, give it a go. As I mentioned, most of my stories are longer rather than shorter--I honestly enjoy writing those, and we all know a longer story offers the writer a lot of working-room for the plot. But there's something I also like about trying to tell an entire story in a matter of only two or three pages.

You might find you like it too.