07 April 2021

Get Under the Kanopy

 What I am about to tell you will probably delight a few people and annoy a lot more.  That is the risk you take in the hard-hitting world of bloggery.

I recently discovered that I have free access to Kanopy, a web-service that bills itself as "Thoughtful Entertainment."  I had known about it from my days working at the university, but I didn't realize that my public library had purchased access to it.

Hence the delight/annoyance I mentioned in the first sentence.  Some of you have access to a library that offers Kanopy.  Probably more of you don't. Sorry about that.  You can find out by clicking here.  If your library doesn't offer it you can try emailing them the suggestion.  They probably won't fine you for it. 

So what does Kanopy offer?  Movies and documentaries that are not found in the usual places.  And you can watch ten a month for free.  Here are a few crime related ones I found there.




06 April 2021

Killing Dreams One Rejection at a Time

At the time I wrote “Rejected!” in 2018, I had received 2,552 rejections. I have no idea how many more I’ve added since then, and I don’t feel brave enough to count them.

Because I now edit Black Cat Mystery Magazine for Wildside Press and various anthologies for Down & Out Books, I’ve lately been sending far more rejections than I’ve been receiving. Along the way, my attitude toward rejection has changed. I once viewed rejection as evidence of editors’ inability to recognize genius. Now I realize how small a role one’s writing ability plays in rejection.


160 submissions spread over
31 days, with the greatest
number arriving on the
first and last days of the
submission window.

As I write this, the end of the submission period for Black Cat Mystery Magazine Presents Cozies—a special themed issue that follows up on last year’s private eye-themed issue—is four days in the past. I received 160 submissions and will accept approximately 10 for inclusion in the issue. As I did with the private eye issue, I may accept a few additional stories for use in non-themed issues.

Of the 160 submissions, I held 60 stories for a second reading, which means 100 have already been returned to writers. Some of these were great stories, as evidenced by their acceptance elsewhere.


There are many reasons stories didn’t make the first cut and others may not survive the second cut. Among the reasons:

Not following guidelines. I was seeking a specific subset of cozy stories, as specified in the guidelines, and I received several stories that did not fit that specific subset. Additionally, BCMM has guidelines—likes and dislikes—that apply to all submissions, and some submissions did not take those guidelines into account.

Identical protagonists. Many of the submissions had a protagonist who was a mystery writer/wanna-be mystery writer/voracious mystery reader. Because so many stories shared the same generic protagonist, few of these stories stood out.

Theatrical settings. Many of the submissions had a theatrical setting, which made me think—right or wrong—that I was seeing all the stories that didn’t make the cut for Malice Domestic 15: Mystery Most Theatrical (Wildside Press, 2020). Because so many stories shared the same setting, few of them stood out.

Before submitting a
ms. created in Word, press
the paragraph symbol on
the menu bar to examine
all the weird coding you’ve
inserted. Then clean it up.
Weird Formatting. Past experience has proven that a writer unfamiliar with the fundamentals of Microsoft Word is going to be difficult to work with. To be accepted, a manuscript with weird or inconsistent formatting must be so good that I’m willing to risk the pain I will suffer when I prepare it for publication.

All the Usual Reasons. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are important.


The 60 stories I’m holding for a second reading have survived the initial cut. How do I decide which will make the final cut and which won’t?

I wish there were a magic formula, but there isn’t. There are, however, three key elements that play a role in the next round of cuts:

Amount of work required. The less work required to prepare a manuscript for publication, the better its odds of acceptance.

How well the stories work together. The stories selected for inclusion need to work together. Stories that don’t play well with others won’t make the cut.

Editorial taste. This is the purely subjective element of editing. Every editor has likes and dislikes that play a role in decision-making. They are not always obvious, even to the editor.


I remember what it was like as a new writer, sending my submissions into the void and hoping that someone, somewhere would publish something I wrote. I remember how much I appreciated the personal notes I sometimes received with my rejections, and I wondered why every editor didn’t take the time to do the same.

I now know why. There just isn’t enough time in the day to send a personalized response to every submission.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that editors aren’t trying to kill your dreams.

So, don’t let rejection stop you. Learn whatever you can from a rejection—whether it’s a form letter or a detailed personal response—and move forward.

Send your story to another market. Then write a new story and send it out.

It may be a cliche, but every rejection puts you one step closer to an acceptance. And once you have an acceptance, you’ll know that dream killers like me didn’t win.

Jukes & Tonks, co-edited with Gary Phillips, is coming April 19 from Down & Out Books. This anthology includes one dozen crime fiction short stories set in and around juke joints and honky-tonks from some of today’s hottest writers, including Trey R. Barker, Michael Bracken, Jonathan Brown, S.A. Cosby, John M. Floyd, Debra H. Goldstein, Gar Anthony Haywood, Penny Mickelbury, Gary Phillips, William Dylan Powell, Kimberly B. Richardson, and Stacy Woodson.

My story “Fading Memories” appears in Unnerving Magazine #15.

05 April 2021

Nuts Is Not A Diagnosis - Unless A Shrink Is Making A Joke

Every time I think surely everyone knows what schizophrenic means, I hear someone in a novel—or in life, for that matter—say, "I'm schizophrenic," meaning anything from, "I'm in two different minds about this," ie ambivalent, to, "Sometimes I'm like two different people," ie, metaphorically variable in mood and/or behavior. The origin of the psychiatric term, "schizophrenia" is indeed "divided mind," but the disorder today's mental health professionals diagnose as schizophrenia has nothing to do with that.

According to DSM-5, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, schizophrenia is "a severe and chronic mental disorder characterized by disturbances in thought, perception, and behavior." It comes with delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and/or "grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior." To keep it straight, remember it's a thought disorder rather than an affective or, in lay terms, emotional disorder. Before cell phones got popular, most of the people talking to themselves on buses were probably schizophrenics conversing with their auditory hallucinations. "Ideas of reference"—thinking the person on the TV is talking to you personally—is something a schizophrenic might think.

While the closest I think a person gets to what most of us think of as crazy is people with thought disorders and psychotic symptoms, such as chronic schizophrenics, many of them, even while they're being treated, don't think they're crazy. In fact, I've met many who were afraid the medications doctors gave them would make them crazy. They also thought that street drugs would make them better, a fantasy too many writers romanticize.

Now let's talk about "being two different people," or that "rare disorder," "split personality." First, it's not a rare disorder. It stopped being rare as soon as people started believing the people who reported having been sexually abused is children, which is how it usually starts. When helpless people, especially the very young, experience trauma they can't cope with or comprehend—sexual abuse and torture—they survive by dissociating. Their minds take part of them to another place, where what's happening to their bodies has nothing to do with them. This dissociation takes root and becomes a powerful coping mechanism. In extreme cases, it becomes what's now called dissociative identity disorder (formerly split personality disorder). Typically, there's a main personality who's unaware of the existence of alters, ie from a couple to dozens of personalities that coexist in the adult's mind.

Writers and, unfortunately, some therapists may romanticize the alters, wanting to grant them "freedom" rather than understanding that they are truly parts of a single person and that the therapeutic goal must be integration. While the main personality may be a competent, conventional adult with an ordinary job and a family, one alter might be a brawler, another a prostitute, another the frightened four-year-old who was molested. Not all the alters may have the same sexual orientation. Some alters may want help, others may not. But even if it's not apparent, that main personality is missing some important aspects of wholeness.

I've come in contact with DID a couple of times in the course of my career as a mental health professional. The first time, I was working in a hospital alcoholism treatment setting in which most of the medical and psychiatric team didn't "believe" in DID. The patient seeking treatment for alcoholism had been convicted for molesting his ten-year-old daughter. He said he had no recollection of doing so but believed he must have done it and was filled with remorse. He came from an extremely strict religion, community, and family. After ruling out memory loss due to drinking and working with him for a while, I suspected that he had been severely abused as a child and was suffering from DID. My guess was that an alter he was unaware of had committed the abuse.

In my online practice, a woman with a very chaotic family life came to me for therapy. My antennae went up when she signed her email with one name and paid from the Paypal account of someone with the same last name but a different first name. As she told me more about her history, she revealed she'd started an affair with an uncle at age ten, but assured me it was not abuse because they "really loved each other"—one of the fantasies with which predatory adults "seduce" children. When a pedophile successfully cons a child, it's still child molestation. At other times, she wrote letters that seemed to come from different alters, refused to take certain actions in her marriage because "it wouldn't be fair to the others," and admitted she'd been told before that she had DID, but that she didn't believe it. When she stopped coming to treatment, I emailed her, gently encouraging her to return. She wrote back, saying, "We don't need therapy." That "we" spoke volumes.

Dissociation isn't always so extreme. You've experienced it yourself if you've ever been lost in a good book or gone into road trance. Schizophrenia, on the other hand—well, if you hear Rachel Maddow say, "Leigh, that's you I'm talking to!" you may want to get yourself checked out.