Tag Archives: Mysteries

Panels, panels, panels

Panels are the mainstay of fan conferences.  They’re typically five authors,  one moderator, and a topic.  Bouchercon has almost 100 panels, but the most you could go to is about 20 since there are five going on at any one time.

I’m not getting to 20, that’s for sure – my goal is three good ones a day.  What makes a panel good?  If it sounds like it would apply to my own writing, it goes to the top of my list.  If I particularly want to hear one of the authors on the panel, it goes in the middle.  Never heard of the authors and don’t get the topic?  Never mind.

So Comedy in Crime Fiction with Jerry Healy, Gary Alexander, Allan Ansorge, Jack Frederickson, Alan Orloff and (the lone female) Robin Spano was a winner for me – my Paula books are ostensibly funny and it would help to get some tips and ideas.  Needless to say these were funny people.  Key findings:

  1. How do you know something is funny?  You laugh.  It’s nice if other people laugh, too.
  2. Got something that’s hilarious but somewhat distasteful?  Don’t give it to your protagonist, give it to another character.  Is it really terrible?  Your main character may disapprove.  This falls into the eating your cake and having it, too, category.
  3. Mean humor?  Sparingly.  Self-deprecating humor?  Good but don’t overdo this either.

The Mermaids are Singing (a Taste of Magna Cum Murder, the Muncie conference that happens annually around Halloween) was on the list because it featured Val McDermid, Caroline and Charles Todd, and Parnell Hall.  Also on the panel was John Gilstrap, Stuart Neville, and moderator Kathryn Kennison.  Did I learn anything?  Yes, that Magna Cum Murder would be a ton of fun to attend and that Parnell Hall is a big ham.  See the proof here.

A Clear Cut Case of Murder was back to the “I will learn something good here” mode.  It featured moderator Leslie Budewitz, Jan Burke, Jonathan Hayes, Stefanie Pintoff, Doug Starr, and former O.J. prosecutor Marcia Clark.  Highlights:

  1. The history of forensic science is long and Europe was way ahead of us.  The late 1800’s, early 1900’s was when it all began.
  2. Jan Burke is involved with The Crime Lab Project, raising awareness of the lack of funding for forensic science – huge backlogs of rape kits, DNA testing, etc., caused entirely by a lack of resources.   Now I want to work this my work.  Perhaps a short story.
  3. Marcia Clark shared that you have to push detectives into requesting forensic analysis.  OJ’s socks had his blood on them.  And Ron and Nicole’s.  And she had to nag a storm to get the analysis done.  Side note – when forensics isn’t enough.  If you don’t believe the chain of custody and you think the whole thing is faked, then you don’t care what the tests show.
Needless to say, more to come.
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So hilarious!

I am just getting around to reading yesterday’s newspaper, and Mr. Boffo is boffo this week.  As I am writing a mystery and my writing group are all doing the same, we have been discussions related to reader expectations.   This cartoonist captures some of the more common identifiers of the noir subgenre… as applied to an appliance manual.  Rich.

Hope you can read it.  The type is a little tiny for me!

Desperately seeking … writers’ group success

I’m now on my third writers’ group.   Finding the right group of people, a process that works for everybody, and maintaining it through all the ups and downs is tough.

My first group included several published mystery writers.  They’d been together forever (or at least many, many years) and, looking back, they could not possibly have been nicer to me, the eager newbie.  But the group included a couple of people who were “not currently writing” and they spent a good part of each get-together catching up on personal stuff.  Plus, they used the “reading aloud” method, which wasn’t really the way I liked to do things.  So, I bid them adieu with good wishes and moved on, deciding to take a couple of courses in creative writing, instead.  Looking back, I could have really learned a great deal from this group!  Plus, having gone through a number of distracting issues at work and at  home, as well as being diagnosed with breast cancer (that’ll give you writer’s block for about a year!), I’m now a lot mellower about the idea that the ability to focus on writing is not necessarily the most important quality I should be looking for.

After taking a couple of courses at The Writers’ Studio at the University of Chicago, I ended up in a writers’ group made up of people who had been in class with me.  Tom, Julie, Stephanie, and Matt were all pretty successful people with interesting lives and writing talent.  We built up a good level of trust, a process that worked well, and genuinely enjoyed reading each others’ work.  What happened?  Tom got married.  Stephanie went to law school.  Julie enrolled in a low-residency MFA program.  In other words, we put the group “on hold for now,” but it’s not likely we’ll ever get together again.  I still see Matt, and I run into Julie on the street every now and then.

As I’m now feeling antsy and wanting that connection again, I put a listing in the Sisters in Crime Chicagoland newsletter; coincidentally, so did other people who were also interested in starting a writing group.  We’ve met twice so far, still working out our process.   The group includes several new writers, including one who hasn’t written anything yet and has skipped the first two meetings – I hope she’s not too ambivalent to come next time.  My old friend Matt, from my previous writing group, went to the organizational meeting but not the most recent one.  One bright spot is that one of the folks in the new group has a really interesting premise and I like the way she gives feedback and takes it.  We’ll have to see how the next few meetings go to see if we will gel or not!

Putting it out there: the potentially humiliating world of short story submissions

I write short stories.  (I also write novels, but they take a long time, and we’re not talking about that right now.)  Some of the short stories are heart-warming and touching, full of insight into the human condition, and may make you start reading them over again within one minute of finishing. Then there are the fun ones – mystery short stories.

Let’s just say that the market for mystery short stories is very, very, tiny.  Sure, you can go ahead and send them to the Paris Review.  Or Tin House (they published a great story by Stephen King last summer, not a mystery, but still – Stephen King!).  Or if you want to scrape up a $15 reading fee, Glimmer Train.  And so on.  But really, the two biggies for mystery shorts are Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen.  Oh, to break into the publishing world through AHMM or EQMM!  I imagine myself at my MWA-Midwest Chapter meeting, suddenly one of the in-crowd.

I figure it isn’t likely.  As a subscriber to both mags, it seemed to me that there was a lot of stuff that was set in the 40’s.  Or was translated from another language.  Or featured cowboy detectives.  Or was written by Ed Hoch (well-deservedly famous, Ed was in every issue of Ellery Queen for the last 35 years!). But it sure feels like the stuff I’m writing is just as good as what they’re publishing.   So after doing an analysis of both magazines’ contents for a few months, I sent three stories featuring a Chicago cop to EQMM and one story – a moodier, thoughtful one – to AHMM. And now we wait.  Bad news:  Might take a few months to get an answer.   Good news:  They do read everything you send in.  More bad news:  If they say no, awk!  Rejection time.

But as they say, no pain, no gain (credit: Jane Fonda).

So I am once again out there. either a salmon swimming upstream or a lemming leaping off a cliff, depending upon your choice of metaphor.  And in another bold move, I am including a pdf of one of the stories I sent out – Since He Left Her.   This story has an interesting backstory: Tom, in my old writing group, had written a section of a new novel that had lots of flashy stuff.  (He was big on magical realism, etc.)  But he had one line in the section he’d sent out for comment to the group – it read “Since he left her, his only pleasure in life is bowling with Jimmy Lerkowitz.”

Well, dang.  I liked that line.  And Jimmy Lerkowitz!  What a great Chicago name.  So I asked for permission to steal the line.  And I’ve used it several times. (Once in a really bad poem.)  So this is the short story featuring Detective Kathy Martinez that starts out “Since he left her, his only pleasure in life is bowling with Jimmy Lerkowitz.”  Read it to find out why he left her, what the bowling alley has to do with anything, and how she ended up dead!

Since He Left Her