Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Short Story Success

Had two of my stories accepted, one each at The Summerset Review and at FireFox News . The first is a literary short story that I think is quite fine. Not really a crime story, though I suppose there might actually be a crime in it. It's an American Abroad story, and I don't know if U.S. laws apply in that situation. The story goes live September 15th (unless I misunderstood the email) and I will surely provide the link to all and sundry.

The other story isn't quite as fine, I think, but still good and serviceable. "What service?" you might ask. Entertainment. You won't learn about the meaning of life (unless, perhaps if you've only just started yours) but you will have some fun. Not sure when that goes live, but I've been paid already, so that's nice.

There are still abotu six stories out and about looking for homes. Some will undoubtedly come back to me without success, but they'll be turned out again as soon as they do. They do me no good sitting in the computer, pouting.

All of this because...well, I like writing short stories and do it reasonably well. And... JA Konrath pointed out that selling short stories is one of the best ways to advertise your abilities. For one thing, it is cost effective. A lot of places take your submission via email which even saves on postage.

For another thing it puts more people in your corner. The editors and readers of a new forum may actually be interested enough to look up other things you've done, find your website (a lot of venues add a brief bio with web link) maybe look up one of your books.

The new people in your corner may even be people who will never have heard of you otherwise. For instance, these two stories are outside of themystery genre and to be published outside the normal venues you might look for my work. I don't know how many people read these two e-zines, but it's quite possible that many of their readers are not normally mystery readers...but if they like my stuff, they might make an exception.

Also, if you have a series like I do, then you can introduce readers to series characters this way. My story in the October AHMM is probably the best way for people to enter my series.

Lastly, you even have the chance of being paid. Both of these sales are for cash money. Not much, mind you, but it's still something to put in the plus column.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Drive by James Sallis

What can one say about this book? I got it at the Black Orchid Bookshop a short while back and read it in the last few days. It was good. The prose was crisp, the story was complex and interesting. I think the book may have been overhyped. Without ruining the plot, I think it lacked some of the emotional impact I thought it could have had, and there were, at the end of it, a few loose ends that I couldn't figure out whether they'd been tied up and I missed it or if they were dangling.

Would I read another book by Sallis. Definitely, but as a noir novel, I think Sara Gran's Dope was more satisfying. Since I'm getting back into teaching mode, I'd give Gran an A and Sallis an A-. I also have Sallis's Cripple Creek from the same store, but Reed Farrel Coleman's The James Deans is next.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

If You're Looking for Viktor Petrenko...

Tribe has graciously accepted a Viktor Petrenko story: click here. In it, Viktor helps out a young family with a bit of dirty work. Hilarity ensues.

I've had the idea for this story kicking around in my head (along with a lot of other stories) for a couple of weeks now. I sat down at 1am to write it and was finished by 3am, but I was 142 words over Tribe's limit. The next forty minutes had me trimming it down. I was surprised because I thought I had written it lean in the first place. I had. But there are always those little pockets of fat that can only be taken out with liposuction. Hopefully the prose is leaner and meaner for the extra care.

In any event, if you like it leave a comment. Heck, leave one even if you don't like it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Black Spartacus by James Lincoln Warren

This is an awesome story and the first one by Mr. Warren I've ever read. Since reading it a week or two ago, I've done a bit more reading, but first things first. The story concerns a 18th century British slave put to boxing for his owner's purse winning purposes. But what happens when the owner winds up dead? The slave is arrested and about to be hanged, that's what. Enter the indagator for Lloyd's, Alan Treviscoe. There is no doubt (certainly not in Treviscoe's mind) that he'll get to the bottom of things, but will the bottom of things reveal that the slave did it or was there a third party involved? Or was it suicide? Okay, once you come across the corpse, you'll rule that one out, but everything else is fair game.

The writing puts you in an 18th century frame of mind quickly and smoothly, and the clues are subtle enough that it was a real puzzler for me. The ending was a pleasant surprise for me (I mean the actual end, not the revelation of the killer although that too).

The story, which first came out in 1999 is a good reason to buy the Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense anthology edited by Linda Landrigan of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Pick up a copy. It's a classic.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sunset by SJ Rozan

Bleak House Books has come out with Hard Boiled Brooklyn, and one of the first stories I read was SJ Rozan’s Sunset Park set gambling themed “Sunset.” In it, Lucas Chen, a young, downwardly mobile Chinese American starts losing money to all the wrong people and, at the same time talking about how much his aunt’s house is worth. No amount of talk can get him out of his slide, and it is not too long before Mr. Wong has left half a shoe on the doorstep – a reminder of what part of you he’ll take if you can’t pay your debts. Will Lucas’ aunt get to keep her house? Will Lucas get to keep his toes? Will Mr. Wong be happy?

The story is told with Rozan’s fine ear for dialogue and, in particular, a fine ear for the cadences of the speech patterns of NY’s Chinese-American population. There is also a fine ear for the nuances of interrelations among the many groups that make up this population. It is the same ear that is in evidence in Rozan’s Bill and Lydia novels. If the story is representative of the collection, then I am in for some good reading.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The People that You Meet, When...

You're walking down the street depends on which street and when. If it's during Black Orchid's anniversary and you're on E. 81 Street in Manhattan, the people you'll meet include all sorts of luminaries of the mystery world. Here's a sample:

First, I met the man of the hour Stuart MacBride who was signing and illustrating books at a furious pace. I told him Sandra Ruttan sent me and that he owes her some sort of comission. he was non-commital.

Then, I met my editor on Bronx Noir SJ Rozan . We talked about my story for that collection and she liked it. Thank God.

There was Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime and a great writer in his own right. Better known as the author of Little Girl Lost for HCC.

There was also Rebecca Pawel one of the finer writers in the biz. And there was Reed Farrel Coleman and Jason Starr and Sarah Weinman and Harlan Coben . And many, many others. This is a pretty good sampling of who I spoke with though I'm missing Andrew Martin, Rachel Eckstrom and Brooke Borneman.

A good time was had by all. Thanks Bonnie and Joe.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Don't Forget...

There's still time to enter the contest to grab a copy of my first book. May have entered. Deadline is today. Hurry!

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Mammoth Murder by Bill Crider

Okay. I know you’ve been asking yourself this for a while. “Where can I get a book with a murder, another murder, another murder, a wooly (or not) mammoth, and Bigfoot. And feral hogs. And a serious discussion of the merits of Dr. Pepper.” I just finished reading Bill Crider’s A Mammoth Murder. Talk about your hoots and hollering. Sheriff Dan Rhodes is back patrolling the mean back roads of Blacklin County, Texas. Hack, Lawton and Ruth are with him. It all starts when a native of the county brings a giant tooth for safekeeping at the station house. This seems harmless enough though it’s possible the tooth-bearer is also carrying a concealed weapon. Why this would bother the sheriff is beyond me*.

Pretty soon, a guy (I won’t say which) is murdered in the woods. Big Woods, no less. Did his friend do it? Did one of his ex-wives do it? Did one of his ex-wives’ husband do it? And when you take a picture of the corpse, is there something missing? Then someone else turns up dead. And there’s a search for Bigfoot. It turns out that when Bigfoot hunters come to Blacklin, they’re not the refined, sophisticated intellectuals in tweed that you might have imagined for yourself. Instead, they’re…uncouth. And then there’s the hunt for a mammoth. It turns out the tweedy types you thought might be looking for Bigfoot are, in fact, digging up bones with trowels and brushes. Not the rowdy trucker types I had imagined. Go figure.

In any event, Big Woods contains more than one mystery to be solved and Sheriff Rhodes puts up with his staff just long enough to solve them. And get shot in the process.

Now, the big question is whether there will be more Sheriff Rhodes mysteries. You’ll have to wait for my interview with Bill to find out. Unless, he makes something be known otherwise, of course.

*Whenever I’m in Texas (four visits, zero incidents of violence) I assume the Texans are packing. Whenever I meet Bill, I make sure not to startle him with a backslap or by shouting his name for this very reason.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

What I’ve Been Up To…

So far this summer I’ve plugged away at a bunch of short stories. I want them out there working for me. Preferably earning me money though I’ll take fame and glory as well. Here’s a list of what is currently out of my hands and in slushpiles around the country:

A Smile for the End of the World - (science fictiony) a young man with a crush brings does something that might just annihilate all mankind, but his memory is too faulty to help stop the process – This story is currently at a webzine called Firefox News (not to be confused with anything else called Firefox).

The Way Mike Saw It – (Mystery) A murder on campus and a professor investigates. Hilarity ensues. – Sitting with the good people at EQMM.

Fiesta – (Mystery) Two men drive into town in a pickup, but what’s the cargo they don’t want people to see? Priginally written for the Junk in the Trunk blog anthology, but never posted because...well, I wasn’t invited. This one’s been sitting at Shred of Evidence since February.

Taking the Van der Flieder Star – (Mystery) Three friends go into the woods to find a meteorite, but will they find it or will they all die trying? Or, alternatively, will they quit and go home before someone gets hurt? This one is at AHMM.

Firefly – (Science fictiony) A man struggles with the idea that he is slowly turning into a firefly. Hilarity ensues. This one is at Strange Horizons.

Murder at DynaCorp – (Sci-fi/Mystery) One of the employees at a research and development company has been murdered in a most Star Trek fashion. Who done it? Why? No hilarity. This is at Oceans of the Mind. They had a call for science fiction mysteries.

The Dean – (Science fictiony) What if a man turned into an equal weight in roaches? Normal roaches, not one big one like that Kafka crap. Hilarity ensues. This one is in the hands of editors at Asimov’s, and I expect it to be back in my hands very shortly.

Long Distance – (science fiction) A con man claims to be able to conjure the voice of the dead. But do the living want to hear what the dead have to say? This one is at Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Desert People – (literary) An American in a desert country witnesses the sale of women into slavery and decides that he must act. Poignancy ensues. After kicking around at the biggest literary venues (The Atlantic got my rejection ready in record time) this one is at Summerset Review.

There are a couple of other stories I’ve started writing and hope to get done in the next couple of days: two Sheriff Gonzalo stories and a follow up to the Murder at DynaCorp story.

Of course, I rank my stories by the chances they have at being published wherever I send them. I think four of the ones out there have a good chance of being accepted – Desert People, Long Distance, Murder at DynaCorp, and The Way Mike Saw It. These sales would make me very happy, since they represent submissions to venues or to fields that I’d like to get into. The other stories have varying chances of being published where I’ve sent them, but I continue to hope.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Dollars and Sense by Daniel Hatadi

Daniel Hatadi's entry into the latest issue of SHOTS marks, if I understand correctly, the first of what will likely be many short story publications. The reason I say this is as follows: I liked his story. Not just the man himself - he's a nice enough 'bloke'. But the story had me thinking one thing and it gave me something unexpected. The basic premise is that two friends plan a heist. The title quickly tells you one flaw their plan has, but there is much, much more that can go wrong and in the end, I have to admit, I didn't see it coming.

The prose smoothly propels you to the ending and the characters are engaging. Nice work.

I do have to say, however, though the main characters came through as completely real to me (a big plus in so short a space) the story is written in Austrailian so that you have to keep in mind south of the Equator sensibilities about weather. Thirty degrees centigrade is hot.* And if it's hot, then it must be what we in America call 'Winter'.

* (30x1.8)+32=86 farenheit

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Maids – G. Miki Hayden

G. Miki Hayden is one of my favorite writers. This should be no secret to those who have been faithful readers. There are two reasons that I love her writing. First, whether it’s action or description or dialogue, she’s always pitch perfect. Flawless. The stories I’ve read so far have been polished to a high sheen in every aspect. Anyway, enough. I’m a fan. The second reason...keep reading.

The Maids is found in one of the Year’s Best anthologies (5th edition with Edward G. Robinson on the cover in my version). It tells the story of two maids on a plantation in the Haiti of slavery times. The conflicts are multi-layered (wouldn’t expect less from Hayden) – slave/master, Catholic/Vodou, European/African, even male/female. One of the slaves, a devout Catholic who, however, has not really been taught much about Catholicism except what will benefit the masters, is tempted by another of the slaves to rebel against her masters. Whether she will rebel and what form her rebellion will take make up the crux of the story.

This is the hallmark of a Hayden story – you will be introduced to a world different than anything you will have imagined before and it will seem that the world you’ve entered is at least as real as the world you inhabit. The lead characters view of the world will become yours. That's a trick and a half.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Twenty-Five Large – Jas. R. Petrin

The September 2006 AHMM has this story. It’s an ingenious caper crime, but the caper actually comes after the crime. Two men decide to steal a huge amount of money, but what they do with the money…Well, that’s the ingenious part. The characters drawn here are well rounded and the story is fun.

There was one problem though. If I do my math right (and there is never a guarantee of that) then the loot is counted up wrong. This is important for the story as it becomes a major plot point. Still, there is a good chance I’ve simply done my math wrong. If there’s a mathematician out there who’d like to contact me, well, you know where I am.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


I failed to mention that the inimitable Sarah Weinman has taken one of my short stories. It's available now in the current edition of SHOTS.

The story centers on a character who will become Sheriff Molina in the Precinct Puerto RIco novels. In fact, he has a big role in the forthcoming book Missing in Precinct Puerto Rico where the penchant for violence he shows in the short story as a young man is only refined in later years.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

The River Market Murders – Kevin Prufer

First off, this is the first AHMM story I’ve read with the F*** word in it. Twice. The times, they are achanging. That aside, the story is a winner. This is in the September 2006 issue.

The plural “murders” in the title will tell you this is a serial killer story, but there’s a heck of a lot more going on than just that. First, there is a tortured detective, and I really get the sense of torture, it’s not tacked on. That’s hard to do in a short story that is concerned with other things as well. I mean, a real sense of torture takes time and space to build. Or an amazing amount of skill as Prufer has poured out here.

But then, there is also secondary plot line that turns the story into something more noir than the usual serial killer story. I can’t say much about that or I’ll give things away. Anyway, the atmosphere is perfect here, the characters believably drawn. I’ll read more Prufer when it’s offered.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Princess and the Pirates - John Maddox Roberts

My goodness, what a good read. John Maddox Roberts* was the moderator for one of the panels I was on at ConMisterio last month. Then ConMisterio died. I'm not sure there's a relation, but anyway, I bought one of his books. I wasn't sure it would be my cup of tea -- I've never read a novel set in Ancient Rome. Well, this one was great. No, better than that. It was GREAT!

The hero is a guy named Decius. The thing is, Decius is one of those instantly alive characters that you can listen to all day even if he's talking about a trip to the grocery store. He has a wry sense of humor and an appreciation of his fellow man that I would call deeply cynical if it weren't for the fact that he's just about always right in what he thinks about them. Not, mind you, that he thinks over-much about himself either.

Maybe just as good as the narrator/protagonist is the fact that I feel I've learned a lot about Ancient Rome and the Romans. Roberts whips up a whole ancient world to go with his ancient characters and by the end of the book you feel like you've learned about Ancient Rome because you've encountered real Ancient Romans. I'm assuming his books get taught to Classics majors in college. This is an education wrapped in a fascinating story. Screw Dan Brown**, if you want to feel like you've learned about the past, read this stuff.

Anyway, I can't say enough about Roberts' ability to draw life-like characters who you actually want to spend time with. Let me say that the murder and the Pirates of the title are cleverly interwoven. The plot is intricate, but never gets in the way of itself. The reader is pretty much carried along joyously on the wine that flows so free throughout the story.

I have other things on my TBR pile, but when I see Mr. Roberts in Madison, I will definitely be buying another book.

* No website that I could find.
** Not an actual suggestion. And please don't tell him I said that. I have a wife and a small dog to protect.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Death on Denial by O'Neil De Noux

This is the second De Noux story I've read. It was in one of those "Best American" anthos. It is a funny thing that De Noux does here. He juxtaposes the Agatha Christie* story punned in the title with a main story filled with only nasty people doing nasty things. This contrast is, of course, a stroke of genius as we see how none of the characters can live up to the simple codes of conduct and honor that we're getting snippets of as one of the charcters spends his days watching and re-watching Death on the Nile.

The three main characters (a gangster, a hitman, and another killer) in the story are fleshed out and even given backstories which is impressive in so short a work. The prose is smooth and the plotline is oddly compelling though you can't imagine this is the way the real underworld works. No wonder so many are in prison.

It's in the 2003 edition of the "Best American Mystery Stories." Pick it up is you've got the chance. Well worth reading.

* No website still? How will she ever catch on?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Short Stories - Do They Matter?

Years ago, I read a newspaper article by a TV critis. The critic shocked me by saying, essentially, that TV didn't matter. The jist of the argument was that TV shows, even the greatest ones, were ephemeral. Was there an episode of any TV series you might care to mention where you could faithfully recount the plot? Let alone was it a story that touched you deeply. Let alone whether there was a single episode that you could honestly say changed your life. A TV episode was simply too short, too formulaic, too...well, ephemeral to make a serious impact on a viewer. Movies and plays were a different matter. The same way with novels?

Now, I seriously question whether the critic was on to anything. Certainly there were plots I could remember faithfully,(plots are often the only thing I can remember faithfully) there were episodes that touched me, and there were probably some that changed my life. Perhaps not in drastic ways (nothing has yet made me consider joining the French Foreign Legion, for instance) but subtly. And this was all before TV series had a second life on cable (does that date me?) and a third life on DVD. In fact, this was before DVD at all.

Also, this doesn't take into account the cummulative effect of a series -- one episode may not havea profound effect, but no TV writing staff would want to be known for just one episode. There'd be no point in calling it a series if you're going to judge it based on a single episode.

Now to short stories. Are they ephemeral? Do they disappear overnight, forgotten when the next short story is read, or can they have a lasting impact? Did you read Araby in high school? Or Young Goodman Brown? Or maybe Hills Like White Elephants. Memorable, no? Here are two short stories that have never failed to leave me less than devastated: Tillie Olsen's I Stand Here Ironing and Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff. Hey, that last one is even a crime story...They both have an effect on me that I can't even begin to describe let alone explain and I have a Ph.D. in describing and explaining literature. Seriously. These are stories that cannot be called ephemeral, I think. You can probably devise your own list of stories that have a similar effect.

Okay, okay, so those would all be considered literary story, and I'm a crime writer so... we're getting to crime stories. Stories about crime are very often stories about core human emotions and behaviors - revenge, jealousy, love, hate, justice, the list goes on. The subject matter, therefore cannot preclude them from being of lasting value. And the prose stylings of some writers is at least as fine as many a literary writer, so that also does not set the stories apart. (I'm thinking of Steve Hockensmith's story Erie's Last Day or Thomas Lynch's Blood Sport among many others.) So what is the difference?

I think the difference is the attention that is paid. The field of short story writing is huge. Even the subset of mystery/crime stories is unwieldly. I have a brief list of links on the right hand of this blog that will take you to places where you can get fresh fiction in this genre. Don't go yet, I'm not finished. New e-zines keep popping up. Even a new paying print market has promised to show itself soon. It is difficult, therefore to stay abreast of the field, and harder still to seperate the wheat from the chaff. Because I think if you read nothing but short stories and found one (of any genre) each month that truly moved you, that would be great, no? And if a writer in his or her entire career came up with a half dozen stories that you thought were top notch, that would be one hell of a career, no?

That's why I think paying attention to short fiction is so important. If you don't pay attention, you won't find anything at all and you'll think the short story field is a wasteland of forgettable prose without a single oasis to slake your thirst and as a reader you'll die without having noticed the spot or two of water you could have otherwise found. The spot or two that could otherwise have saved you.

And so I review the stories I like here on my blog for the seven of you that stop by on occasion. This is my way of pointing out some of the good stuff and raving about the great stuff and paying attention overall. Because otherwise, the stories are, of course, ephemeral if we let them be.

Now, I must point out how lonely a job I have. I'm the slowest reader I know. Others, like Hockensmith and Simon Wood have tried to take that title, but I have a firm grasp on it. I think one of the biggest services done to the mystery short story genre in recent years was the advent of Bob Tinsley's blog where he reviewed fresh fiction daily. When you're done here, go check it out. It hasn't been added to in a long while, but it's a great archive. He even disliked one of my stories enough to write about it. Cool.

I'll be paying even more attention to the form and to the writers in months to come. Keep coming back for mini-interviews, reviews, and a roundtable. That's right. A ROUND-TABLE.