Friday, February 24, 2006

Reading John H. Dirckx

Dirckx's name is not one easily forgotten. Or spelled. I recently got hold of some back issues of AHMM . Don't ask how. I had not read a Dirckx mystery before, but man are they good. For those who don't know his work, they are top notch police procedurals with Cyrus Auburn as the protagonist. Auburn is a detective in what I think is supposed to be Boston or at least that area.

The two stories I've read so far are Body English and What the Cat-Man Did. Both stories present fair play puzzles but the puzzles, rather than being solved through brilliant intuitive leaps or a chance admission, Auburn solves these problems through dogged determination and by what looks to me like some of the most realistic police work in short story form.

Body English concerns an Englishman stuffed into a motel closet upside down. A wallet with Irish money is found nearby and, well, mystery ensues.

What the Cat-Man Did involves a man murdered in the woods and the defilement of some lawn mowers. The only thing that's clear at the start is that the two events are related.

The prose is smooth, the puzzles real. The solutions are well worked out. This is good reading and I now have another author whose name I will seek out. Luckily I have several more of his stories on hand.

All this and it's not like Dirckx is sitting home all day playing solitaire between bouts of writing. He's an M.D. with a practice and medical articles to his name as well.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Short Story Composition - A Myth

Here I am composing short stories all wrong. I wish I had known. I'm told, by Kurt Vonnegut I think, that stories should all begin as close to actual turn, the heart of the matter if you will, as is humanly possible. Don't lead up to the crux of the tale, start at the crux if you can. Perhaps a few sentences to ease the reader into the story, but In Media Res is even better.

Yet one of my stories starts with the birth of the hero. Like a Charles Dickens novel but only half as long. No wait, make that one one hundredth as long. This story got published.

How about a variation on this rule? Start where things get interesting.

*** *** ***

Writing three short stories now (along with three novels for balance). One of them is flash fiction. No idea where to get that published. I want to submit it for an award eventually. Not because it's that good, just because if a few hundred words are going to cause me that much trouble, then I should get something out of it. Are there paying markets for flash fiction? That'd be cool.

Two other stories have to do with New England. Putting together the story seems easy enough. Making it clear that the location is important is a little more difficult. We'll see if any of this pans out.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Thought I'd mention that my first ever contest (grand prize being copies of CrimeSpree ) has gone off without a hitch and five winners have already been notified. Many thanks to Jon Jordan for sweetening the pot to include copies of the current issue. Congrats to all who won condolences to those who didn't.

The next giveaway will be this summer with copies of the paperback edition of my first book up for grabs. This spring will see a contest for writers. Prize - a free critique of 50 ms pages. Look for it to be announced and explained later on the website.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Writing Like a Madman

My very best writing is like lightning. I'm not the fastest typist (I do alright) so on my best stretches I'm typing as fast as I can to keep up with the prose as it forms in my mind. I correct on the fly. Whole chapters have been written this way. The good chapters. My best stories have been written this way. One or two nights of writing and I have a 4k story.

The trick, of course, is all that went before I sat down. I don't plan any of it, not even the novel length stuff, if by planning one means making outlines and writing up character profiles. Can't do that. It is torture to me to teach prewriting to students - brainstorming, freewriting, etc. I wind up confessing that none of that has ever worked for me but it might for them. Hey, anything might work. (I also went through college and beyond without being a serious notetaker. Most of my notes were reminders of when assignments had to be handed in...which I promptly lost :-)).

I'm more of a starer. I used to sit on the benches in the Bronx Botanical Gardens (one of the more beautiful spots on the planet) and stare. There's this one bench in particular facing the Peggy Rockerfeller Rose Garden that was always very productive for me... When I had the voice for the story, the general shape of the plot, I'd get up and go into the rose garden or get on the bus to go home.

So do you count those hours of sitting and staring as writing hours?

I've been writing like a madman the last few weeks. Of course, since the semester began I don't have all that much time so it hasn't been as productive as I'd like. Still, the words are flowing and soon enough, I'll let you know what I've been writing. Think Noir. Bronx Noir*.

* Not the forthcoming anthology from Akashic .

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Crider! I'm coming after you...

I've given myself a little project. I'm going to interview Bill Crider. I asked him during the last Bouchercon and he said yes. Whether he remembers it or not I'm going to hold him to that. Here's my connection, then I'll talk about the project.

I first met Bill Crider in Houston (Texas :-)). Ben Rehder, Bill Crider and I did a booksigning at Murder by the Book (unless that's the one in San Antonio). After it was all said and done, my wife and I were going to call a cab for a ride back to the hotel, but Bill and his wife were gracious enough to drive us. Since then, I've run into Bill at a couple of conventions and I've followed his blog which you should do too... after you've finsihed with this post.

Now the project. Bill has published far too many books for me to ever read in order to interview him based on all that. So I'm trying to read a book from each of his series - Truman Smith, Dan Rhoades, Sally Goode, and Carl Burns. I sure as hell hope there aren't any other series out there. That would just about kill me. Now, as anyone who has read this blog knows, I'm a terribly slow reader. This may take a while, but I've made a good start on my first book When Old Men Die a Truman Smith mystery. Good writing so far. I'll report when I'm done.

I'm thinking this will be fun. I think (but I don't yet know for sure) that a Crider mystery is the type I like most - heavy on character, a small story that one can easily believe and that seems to have more relevance than some thrillers where the Earth hangs in the balance. We'll see. If I find that Truman Smith has to thwart the KGB to avert nuclear disaster...

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Year of Selling Stories

Coffee Cramp Magazine took one of my stories. It's a work of speculative fiction called "Chaos, 2099" that will see the light of day in March. I haven't written very much spec-fic (as we spec-fic writers like to call it) and this is my first sale in the genre. I'll link again when the story is up.

This reminds me that JA Konrath wrote about short stories being the best form of advertising because it's free to the writer (heck, sometimes you even get paid) and it builds your credit list/name recognition and it puts real writing (as opposed to advertising copy which is precious difficult) in the hands of readers. If they like your short story, there's a chance they'll go for the novel. I agree. This year, I'm going for broke in this department.

Demolition Magazine run by Bryon Quertermous has also taken one of my stories (which I've blogged about before). The lovely and talented Jen Jordan at CrimeSpree has taken another of my stories (though I'm no longer quite sure which :). Jon Jordan at the same magazine has said yes to an article I'm writing.

AHMM has also taken one of my stories. I'm putting two more in the mail tomorrow. More spec-fic. And I'll be emailing Sarah Weinman about a story for SHOTS later today.

This is the year for getting serious about getting a bunch of stories before the reading public. These are stories already written (I've got about twenty or varying quality just sitting around doing nothing for me. It's time to put them to work.) The literary stories are going to be the hardest ones to find a home for, still, I'll be trying.

PS Many thanks to Bryon Q. as I used his list of links to put together most of the ones in this post. Any errors are, of course, mine.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Please Stand By...

I'm about 25k words into three different novels. One of the novels is a first person crime novel based on a series of true stories. Another is a multiple POV thriller (although the thrill part may be a matter of opinion). Another is a kind of 3rd person literary novel (here the literary aspect may be open to debate) that has a crime in it.

I've also got a science fiction short story (maybe 10k+) that I've just about finished except for the tricky part about putting it on paper.

And I'm trying to sell a novel already written and containing my best work so far (yes, I know what you're thinking - how good is that?)It is the infamous goatsucker book. My people are talking to somebody else's people and all of them sedulously avoid talking to me. I kid.

And then there's the fact that last year was the year of the short story for Quertermous but for myself as well. I have a bunch of them - some of them quite good, some a bit more middling, but all of them must go. They need homes. I've been invited to send things to places (I'm trying to be vague here). But I haven't gotten around to doing what needs doing. Namely sending things off.

Oh, and I've got to write a story for an anthology I've been invited to contribute to (yes, my first anthology story invitation). Sorry, mum's supposed to be the word on that project. Believe me, if I could divulge the secret, it would lead off the news on my webpage . I can't. Oh wait. Maybe I should contact the editor about this.

As you see, there are too many things on my plate. In fact, there are so many things on the plate, I'm not even sure the plate's still there.

This year is the year of writing books and selling the stories (or otherwise placing them). It's also the year in which I make the biggest effort of my career to promote my works. I've got a paperback and a hardcover coming out this year. I'll be everywhere trying to remind everyone about all of this. I'll spend the summer visiting independent bookstores trying to get them to carry my titles. I'll be going to at least four different conferences. I'll be placing ads, writing articles, interviewing authors, and being interviewed in turn. (I've three interviews lined up so far. One is on a hip show run by former rappers. Frankly, it scares me a little.)

All that, and, oh wait, I'm the new president of the Mystery Writers of America. No... Hold on... Oh good, that's Janet Evanovich. Thank God.

Whining? Yes! Tired? Maybe! Ready to quit? Rather!...Er...That is... NEVER! (Or at least not soon.)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Up Next...

I finally got contact information for Martin Limon. Haven't tried it yet, but if it's good I'll be bringing him in for questioning. I love his short stories for AHMM. I've ordered a copy of his Slicky Boys which I think is his first novel. Maybe not. I'm also getting his latest novel, maybe from Black Orchid .

I've also ordered a Kevin Wignall novel People Die. (Unless I'm thinking of someone else.) I've got a couple of his short stories in old AHMMs.

Next up is Rebecca Pawel . Hopefully I get that interview up before the end of February.

Also on my list: Bill Crider , IJ Parker , Jim Doherty (round two), and others.

Among the others might be these two guys whose writings appear in the sister mags all the time: Robert S. Levinson and Robert Lopresti. I'm trying to develop a short story theme for the most part in these interviews. Anyway, haven't contacted either one yet. They may say no. We'll see.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Fumes"

A new author and a welcome one to me. (She apparently publishes under several names and she's written a lot of Star Trek novels so actually, I might have read her before.)

"Fumes" deals with the aftermath of a fire. The writing is subtle, and what happened develops over the course of this three page story. The center of attention is a little boy, and I think his reactions to the fire and its aftereffects are about dead no. It is a small work, but effective. There is a longer work by Rusch in the newest issue of EQMM . "Fumes" was in the most recent AHMM.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Steve Hockensmith...

He's here! He's here! No, he's here! Steve Hockensmith has agreed to sit with me and answer my questions. Actually, since it was all done by the magic of email, I'm not sure he sat.

Interestingly, he paraphrases an earlier interview I did with Sarah Weinman , so that my interviews are beginning to become self-referrential. Spooky. In any event, Steve's a great writer as witnessed by his Best American Mystery selection in 2001 and his Derringer award from... I don't recall. And one of his tales is soon to be anthologized in an Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine joint. And his debut novel Holmes on the Range is taking the mystery reading world by storm. Or at least I assume so. I mean... that's what he told me...

Take a look. Oh, and enter my contest on the homepage: click!