People are exercising their brains these days, trying to maintain the health of the gray matter. One suggestion I have is to read puzzle mysteries.
My short story review this week is one such example. Author Kate Fellowes created a fun puzzle story with Arson at Al's Auto Parts. The reader is given two suspects and a couple clues. In less than a thousand words, readers can try to solve the mystery before Officer Packard.
Doesn't every mystery short story involve solving a puzzle? True, but what I'm calling a puzzle mystery has these parameters: the point of the story is to guide the reader to a solution, little is wasted on setting or character development, and the story reaches the solution by the end.
Kings River Life is an e-zine that includes a section called Mysteryrat's Maze. Here you can find book reviews and short stories. You can test your mystery solving skills by reading Arson at Al's Auto Parts. KRL is free.
Other short puzzle stories are published in the Woman's World feature, Mystery Minute. You have to buy the magazine to read the story, found at the grocery store checkout.
Test your detective skills and exercise your brain. Read more puzzle mysteries.
My newest story in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is a little more dark than typical for me. Dark, relatively speaking. Unrepentant Sinner is the humorous tale of an Oklahoma granddaughter dealing with her Grammy's surprising secrets.
The Turnip Junction Community Center looked like an Oklahoma cotton field just before harvest. Puffy crowns of white topped the sun-weathered faces of elderly citizens filling three rows of molded plastic chairs. Toenail clipping day never failed to bring out a crowd.
Grammy surveyed the waiting room. She placed her gnarled hands at the thick waist of her polyester going-to-town muumuu, a shapeless pullover dress covered with daisies.
“Belinda Mae, I told you to drive faster.” Grammy punched my arm, just below the elbow because she’s too stooped over to reach higher. Even so, she still packs a wallop. “Now I’ll be waiting for hours.”
Call your bookstore or newsstand to see if they carry Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, or order online.
Atonement, by Michael Bracken, is a good example of an author packing a big story into a short format. Not a single word is wasted in the telling of this tale.
The setting is the Blue Bonnet Cafe, a barely-hanging-on restaurant in a dying small town. The owner, cook, busboy and dishwasher are one and the same, surviving only because he owns the building and lives on his Social Security checks. Am I painting a picture of bleak?
The story starts with the vivid image of the town's only traffic light having been shot out decades ago. By the end, you learn why. As with many of the stories I have reviewed, if I say too much, I'll give away the ending. Suffice it to say, Atonement begins with a bang, and continues relentlessly to a powerful closing.
You can find this story in the April issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine.
Writing is a solitary endeavor. When the writer finally works up the courage to share his or her work with the world, rejection is rampant. Eventually, mingling with the downside are the good moments. Acceptance (by an agent, publisher, magazine editor), glory (a signed contract, holding the published work), and acknowledgement (sales, award nominations, good reviews).
On April 8, I attended the Mountain of Authors event hosted by the Pikes Peak Library 21c. Dozens of authors sat at tables, displaying their work. Writers attended, hoping to glean information and enlightenment from the speakers. Readers wandered through, some purchasing books.
I have a theory about library events. Readers come to libraries to use free materials. I do it myself. I can’t afford to purchase Sue Grafton’s entire mystery series on cd, but I check it out from the library to listen to on my work commute. I know Ms. Grafton will make a few bucks from library sales of her audio books, and hope she doesn’t begrudge my budgetary discretion.
So I did not mind that readers picked up my bookmarks, but didn’t purchase books. Hopefully, they will either buy my e-books, and if not, at least check my books out from the library. Either way, I gain readers. I came to the event knowing what to expect.
At some point that day, I remembered the excitement of my first library event four years ago, after the release of my first novel. Sitting in Library 21c, I rekindled the joy of being a writer. What an honor, to be included among the dozens of published authors! Occasionally, I have to remind myself of how far I’ve come.
Fun things I have gotten to say in the past 4 years:
Low Tide at Tybee is the final novella in the anthology, Low Country Crime. Author James M. Jackson creates an amusing tale with unexpected red herrings and plenty of twists.
The protagonist is the star of Jackson's Seamus McCree novel series. In this story, he is trying to enjoy a relaxing vacation with his six-year-old granddaughter and his mother, who is a spry 81. In keeping with the theme of the anthology, they have a rental near the beach on Tybee Island, off the coast of Georgia.
That may sound like a laid-back setting with characters who can't possibly get in any trouble, but McCree is a retired financial crimes investigator. He believes his past has followed him to Tybee, and threatens his granddaughter and mother.
The greatest tension for me was worrying about the six year old, followed closely by fears for McCree's dart champion mother. There are surprises at the end, as all the loose ends are wrapped up in ways I didn't anticipate.
Low Tide at Tybee was a fun read, as were all the stories in this anthology with a Southern setting.
I had a great time at the Pikes Peak Library event Saturday, Mountain of Authors. My top five highlights are:
1) Hanging out for an afternoon with writing friends.
2) Meeting readers and aspiring writers.
3) Hearing author Sean Eads give his explanation of the difference between writing short stories and novels.
4) Being entertained by Mark Lee Gardner, as he embellished his talk about historical fiction and non-fiction with a few old cowboy and outlaw ballads.
5) Supporting my local library.
Below is a slideshow with photos of just a few local authors in attendance. Wish I'd taken more pictures!
Thursday is my day to post a short story review. I spent my time reading Derringer finalists. The Derringer is awarded annually by the Short Mystery Fiction Society. With five stories in four categories, that makes twenty terrific stories. Reading the entries was like reading a very eclectic anthology.
I am honored that my story, The Chemistry of Heroes, is a finalist in the Novelette category. To learn more about the story, you can read my interview on Gerald So's website.
I don't think it would be fair for me to review the finalists, so there will be no review this week. If you are an SMFS member, please vote! Your opinion is important, and the stories are great fun to read.
Good luck to all the finalists!
Advice to new writers: write a short story and get published in a prestigious fiction magazine to catch the eye of agents and editors for your real writing - novels. WRONG!
Financial Reality: Although that is exactly why I started writing short stories, I quickly fell in love with the art form for it's own sake, not for what it could do for my long fiction. Five years later, I discovered that I was earning more from my short fiction than my novels. Not that short stories pay that well. Quite the opposite. For the gritty economic details, read an article by R. T. Lawton, who writes short stories exclusively.
For the hours some of us put into creating fiction, we should be earning what Fortune 500 CEOs are making. Again and again I read that even many NYT bestselling authors are barely making their bills.
Writing Rewards: So why do we authors persist? There are rewards beyond the minuscule paycheck. First - the act of writing itself, which is the therapy some of us need to cope with reality, economic and otherwise. Second - knowing we bring entertainment to readers who may need momentary relief from the stresses of their own realities. Third - the acknowledgement by our peers that we belong to the unique community of writers.
The Derringer: One reward for short story authors is being nominated for the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Derringer Award. Both R. T. Lawton and I are finalists, in different categories. It's an honor to be recognized by our peers as having written a worthy story. Until I make buy-an-island money, I'll be content to bask in the glow of being a Derringer nominee.
If you go to the Derringer Award page, you can click on "An Ill Wind" to read R. T.'s flash fiction story. If you want to read my story in the novelette category, you'll need to hunt down a May 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
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