Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Issues

A bunch of new reading material is hitting the virtual streets as the New Year opens its door. Here is a listing, the links are to the left.

Already up are:
Mysterical E and Crooked - this zine can be found at Eastern Standard Crime.
The Back Alley and Thrilling Detective are set to launch their new issues tomorrow.

Happy reading!

And a quick update - The Back Alley has gone live today.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Big Pulp opens for submissions on January 1 for a month long reading period. Also Crooked is still looking for submissions for its February issue. And don't forget Flash Fiction Offensive is still looking for flash submissions. Sharpen your pencils and polish your words, my friends, then submit - submit- submit.

Another Closed Zine

I believe we've lost Grim Graffiti and its sister zine Pen Pricks. The pages have vanished from the web and I've tried contacting both Elizabeth and C.M. Clifton, who publish and edit the zine, with no response from either. If I hear anything to the contrary, I'll let you know.

Also the Crimson Highway zine is on hiatus but will hopefully return in 2009. The archives are still available here and their press is still open to longer short stories and novellas with a link at the zine site.

New Contest

Jason Evans has just announced his newest contest at his Clarity of Night blog. This is the tenth contest and I'm looking forward to writing a flash and entering. This contest has prizes but those aside, this is one of the best web experiences for writers. The stories are posted as they come in and comments are open and everyone shares their thoughts and ideas about writing and the stories. It's great fun. Pasted below is the announcement, you can find the contest picture here

Past Contest Participants and Friends:

I'm kicking off 2009 with a new Clarity of Night short fiction contest! Since my last contest was in the summer, I'm pumping this one up! More and bigger prizes!! First place will earn an Amazon gift certificate of $50. Also, I'm adding additional prizes for second and third place winners of the Readers Choice Award.
The contest will open on Tuesday, January 6th and will be open for just over one week. As with past contests, the limit is 250 words. Any genre or form is welcome so long as it is inspired by the "Ascension" photo. Rules will be posted when the contest opens, but they will be the same as the last contest posted here:
I'm giving everyone an early peek at the picture so participants can start thinking of what they'd like to write. I've attached a copy. Also, if you'd like to post an announcement on your own blog/site to spread the word, it would be greatly appreciated!!

See you all soon,

--Jason Evans

Monday, December 29, 2008

Balancing Acts

So, I've returned from the other side of my life. What? You didn't notice that I was gone? Of course, you didn't, you have another life, too. Sometimes our writing lives and our real lives clash and one has to take precedence over the other because life is a balance -- a ying for every yang, so to speak.

This was brought home to me in a very real way this year. My father passed away in August and December brought me a new grandson. Balance, life and death, the old passing the torch to the new. And life carries on.

Writing is a balance, its work but it's also joy. Stories come pouring out of our keyboards combining moments of humour with the darkest of crimes, or spilling a bit of romance into a thriller, tossing in whatever provides balance to make a story unique.

Last year, I submitted stories everywhere as soon as they were written, not caring where I was published, so long as I was published. This year, I took my time, let the stories simmer in their file folders, dragged them back out and rewrote them until they gleamed. While I still tend to be over-eager sending out my stories, I learned to be a little pickier in selecting markets this year. And the greatest joy in doing this was finding my stories published in zines I'd only dreamed about before.

Last year, all I wrote was flash fiction. This year, I've learned to let a story go where it chooses, adding in more character and setting and emotions. This year I spent over a month on one story, every day cutting and adding and polishing until I had a 4500 word story that is out on submission right now. And I loved writing this story. It's, perhaps, one of the best stories I've ever written. Again, balance. Learning to stretch from the known into the unknown, letting go of the old to embrace the new.

Last year, writing a blog was just a dim thought, something I might do in the future. This year, My Little Corner was born, and I can't imagine not doing it. I've found this a wonderful place to share my thoughts on writing, markets, and stories and books I've read. A diary of my writing life, but also a diary for those writers who share their writing life with me.

And so, I'm learning to find a balance in my writing life, learning when to let go and when to hold fast, learning new writing tools, then using them in my stories, and last, but most important, learning how to share what I've learned, then listening and learning from those who share with me. Life is a balancing act, my friends, and may you always find that yang for every ying that touches your life.

And a quote today from Isacc Bashevis Singer
"The waste basket is the writer's best friend."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Got A Story?

Crooked is now open for submissions to their second issue. You can find the details at Eastern Standard Crime.

Remember, you can't be published if you don't submit. Write - Submit - Write - Submit. Repeat until you're fingers are worn to a stub, then start again, because that's what writers do.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Finding Life in the Words

It doesn't take much for writers to start doubting themselves. This past week I got blindsided by three stories that made me question why I bother writing. The stories? First, Patti Abbott's "The Instrument of Their Desire" at Beat to a Pulp. Second, "A Little Harmless Fun" by Jake Hinkson over at A Twist of Noir. And third, also at BTAP, "Hard Bite" by Anonymous-9. Wow! These stories leave you breathless.

But as I took a step back, I realized that even these three stories were different, all powerful in their own special ways. And it struck me that voice is what makes them unique. Each author has their own special voice, which makes each writer unique.

Finding your voice is one of the most difficult lessons for a writer. I remember writing dialogue like Robert Parker, trying to create prose like James Burke, and action scenes like Robert Crais, only to realize that hey, that's not me. So, I've spent this last year searching for my own voice, finding it in the world I grew up in, trying to paint a picture of the people and the county where I live. Trying to fill my characters with some of my fears and beliefs. Am I succeeding? Only time will tell.

What about you? Have you found your unique voice yet or are you still searching through the words?

And a quote today from Virginia Woolf:
"Each has a past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart and his friends can only read the title."

Friday, December 19, 2008

An X-rated Snoopy Dance

Editor, Rey Gonzalez, at the new flash site, The Flash Fiction Offensive has just published my story "Loaded Guns". Every once in a while, I like to cut loose with a really nasty story and this one fills the bill. It has the F-bomb and a lot of sexual innuendo. If you don't mind being offended you can read it here:

Mr. Gonzalez asked me to spread the word that he's looking for submissions, so get writing, guys. Also the stories are eligible to be picked up for Out of the Gutter's flash section, same as Muzzle Flash.

Just a little addition here: I feel like Christmas came early, Christopher Grant has accepted and posted a Christmas story I wrote at A Twist of Noir. Snoopy's in overdrive today :-) I posted the link to "A Mulberry Street Christmas" in the Sampler column if anyone cares to read it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Times Gone By

Our county historical society submits a column to the local papers called 100 Years Ago. They use clips from the old newspapers that were published around the county by the various small towns. The columns are always interesting, full of a variety of crimes like stealing chickens or horses from the local farms. A woman shoving her husband down the cellar steps. Robbers breaking into stores and stealing food. Kids stealing teams and wagons to go for joy rides. Such a different world but still the same basic human nature.

But this NEWS BRIEF, as it was titled, made me realize how difficult it must be for writers of historical fiction to get things correct:

"Every young lady may mark it down as a fact that if she flirts and associates with "pick ups" she will soon have no others for associates. No matter how unjust it may be there will always be a suspicion that those who are not above making acquaintances in this way are not as pure in heart and mind as they ought to be. It would be unjust to say no pure minded girls flirt. They do and many of them lose their purity by so doing. Others, though not so unfortunate, are subject to suspicions, which every woman should be above."

Wow! Talk about your moral high ground. Those people would be shocked if they were dropped into today's world. I remember when I was growing up they still stamped BASTARD on birth certificates and the women who had children out of wedlock were shunned by other women and thought easy prey by the men.

Just some odd thoughts to keep in mind if you write stories that take place in the past. It's not just the clothes and cars and foods that are different, but the moral attitudes also.

And a quote from Thomas Hardy:
"The business of the poet and the novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things, and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

John Steinbeck on Short Story Writing

I'm a regular reader of the Criminal Brief blog. The writers there are all short story writers and always share great information about writing shorts. Today's post is one of their Master Class series. It's a letter to writers essay from John Steinbeck. Here's the url Enjoy!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Beat to a Pulp

has hit the streets with a most excellent story from Patti Abbott to kick things off. Do yourself a favor and pop on over for a read. Here's the url and since this link doesn't want to work no matter how much I threaten to beat it to a pulp, you can use the one to the left in the zine column.

Hitting the Right Notes

It always amazes me where I find those little tidbits of knowledge that take me one step further on my writing journey. Yesterday my lesson came from Meatloaf, the singer, not the meal.

I was watching Private Sessions on the Biography channel yesterday and Meatloaf was the guest. He started talking about the different singers out there explaining that some of them, like Linda Ronstadt, hit every note perfectly for a wonderful song but he said, singers like Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra didn't just hit the notes, they sang the emotions. They brought the lyrics to life. He said that when he sings, he sees the song in his head, like a movie and tries to bring that vision alive with his voice by tapping into his emotions.

Writing is like that. Many writers can hit all the right notes and their stories are great, but there's no emotional connection and the story fades from our mind as soon as we’re done reading. But the truly great stories strike a cord inside of us, touching us on a deeper level and those are the stories that stay in our memories forever.

There’s an old saying that to write, just slit open a vein and bleed onto the page. Many writers believe that refers to the hard work involved in the writing process. But, for me, it means more than that. It means slitting open a vein and letting my heart pump its secrets and truths onto the page. Do I manage that with every story? Of course not, nobody does. But that’s what I strive for. The more I write, the deeper I dig into myself, into the memories that make me the writer I am, and the one I strive to be.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Another New Market

Stopped by the Out of the Gutter blog to see what was going on and found that they're starting a new flash site to replace Muzzle Flash. I posted their guidelines below but here's the url if you're looking for more and if the links don't happen to come through. I'll post their link to the right in the zine column. Pass the word.

This site is here to fill the vacuum left by the sudden disappearance of DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash, but also to be an excellent place in its own right for sharing hardcore, hilarious and otherwise stimulating fiction around and under 700 words.
As with Muzzle Flash, all the stories posted here will be eligible for inclusion in the opening section of Out of the Gutter Magazine's next issue, and, as with Muzzle Flash, we encourage readers and writers to post their reactions to the flash fiction that appears here, because the author will then post their reactions to your work, and the interaction and reciprocal commentary will make the experience more fulfilling for everyone. It's the right thing to do.
The boss here is Rey A. Gonzalez, contributor to the infamous Out of the Gutter 2, assistant editor in subsequent issues, and a hell of a writer in his own right. We want to get this bastard underway asap, so send your submissions to Rey here, and please observe the following formatting guidelines:
Story title and author name up top.
Single space your work and do NOT indent paragraphs. Put one space between paragraphs. The purpose of this is to make the work easy to past onto the site and not to cause us to waste a lot of time making it look pretty and begin to hate you in the process.
Also give some thought to grammar. If the story fits the bill, that is, if it isn't a vague, flowery reminiscence about grandma's last days, we want to put it up--but we may not have time to give it the fine-toothed comb treatment.
Finally, follow your story with your bio, just how you'd like it to appear, with any links you want etc.
As for the style and subject matter, if you're familiar with what happens at Out of the Gutter and what happened at Muzzle Flash you probably already have a pretty good idea. If not, read the OOTG Submission Guidelines, and Rey will get his own spin on it up here pretty soon.
That's it. Get writing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Random Lessons

I just finished reading "A Walk Among the Tombstones" by Lawrence Block. It's one of his Matthew Scudder books and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'd tried Block once before but the book I chose went a whole chapter discussing some rare stamp which bored me to tears and I never picked up another of his books until now. But the book isn't what I'd like to talk about in this post. My mind tends to track sideways and Block brought back some memories that I thought I'd share.

Back in the eighties when I decided to try my hand at writing, I picked up a copy of Writer's Digest. That was my first introduction to Block. He wrote the fiction column and dispensed the most amazing advice to beginners like me "who wanted to give writing a whirl and make a million bucks". God, how stupid was I?

The Writer's Digest was an amazing learning tool for me and besides Block, there was Judson Jerome, Gary Provost, and J. Michael Straczynski. Every time the magazine showed up in my mailbox, these were the first four articles that I read before combing through the rest.

Jerome wrote the poetry column that wasn't just about poetry. He taught me how to think poetry to write fiction combining the beauty of both.

Provost had the non-fiction column and the best piece of advice I remember him giving was to write "evergreens", pieces that could be used anytime during the year. He said that editors hold on to evergreens. He was right. I had a magazine hold one of mine for ten years before I got a letter and a check for $50 saying they wanted to use the piece.

The thing I remember most from Block was that not everyone can write a novel when they first start writing. Start small, he said, work your way up on small successes. He said so many writers thought only novels were worth writing and didn't bother to learn the craft well enough and ended up disappointed with a rejected manuscript in their desk drawer.

Straczynski wrote the screen writing column. At the time he was also scripting "Murder, She Wrote" and working on "Babylon 5". From him I learned about plotting and dialogue and how to keep a story moving forward.

Wonderful, wonderful teachers, who weren't afraid to share their knowledge and teach others the craft of writing. My thanks to all of them.

And a quote from Gary Provost:
"It is the writer's job, not the reader's, to see that writing accomplishes whatever goal the writer has set for it."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

For the History Buffs

Looking to learn more about the hard-boiled writers of the past? Well, there's a new site out there with lists of authors, their histories, and their books. I've just skimmed over it a bit, but it looks fantastic. Thanks to Nathan Cain's Independent Crime blog for providing the link. Here's the url

I'll also post the link to the left.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

To Series or Not to Series

A post on Lee Goldberg's blog A Writer's Life got me thinking about mystery writers and series characters. The mystery genre tends toward same character books, I guess because they make readers comfortable, there's name recognition and a built in marketing device. All good for the publishers but what about the writers?

Mr. Goldberg was discussing Robert B. Parker's newest book, "Rough Weather" and he was totally unimpressed. Now I've always loved Parker's books and always scanned for his name on the spine of the books at the library. But I have to admit that the last few years I've stopped reading his books. Spenser has become the same old, same old. The Jesse Stone novels were wonderful at first but Jesse's obsession with his ex-wife is just the most stupid thing I've ever read. Every time I read the books I want to reach in and smack that man and tell him she's a slut, get past it. And Sunny Randall is just Spenser in drag, dog and all. I quit reading her after two books.

There are several series that I've read and finally just tossed them against the wall mentally. Patterson's Alec Cross, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone and Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta. In all of these series I felt the writer didn't play fair with me.

Cornwell killed off a major character, gave us a full book of grieving, then brought him back to life without a hint that he might be alive. I'm not stupid, readers were pissed, weren't they? So the writer is forced to bring back the dead. She should have stood her ground and kept him dead rather than cave. It was her story to tell, wasn't it? Or are the readers telling writers what they have to write these days?

Patterson had a bad guy on the fringes of his Cross books who Alex was always trying to catch. Damn, it was the guy who was hiring him to solve cases. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Perhaps Patterson couldn't figure out who the bad guy was and just tossed us someone to get rid of him? Might have worked better if it had been Samson and he was jealous of Cross's fame. That would have made more sense.

As for Grafton I quit reading her when she went off on a rant about people picking their noses in their cars and three chapters in I already knew who the killer was. So why do writers keep writing these series characters when they're just phoning the story in?

There are series that I still read like Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli/Isles books. She manages to keep them fresh and also her writing by doing stand alone books in between the series so when she comes back to her characters she's looking at them with fresh eyes. Something I wish more writers would do.

So what is the purpose of this post? I'd like to write a novel, but I know that if I choose to write in the mystery genre, the agents and publishers are going to want a series character, something they can count on year after year. A popular series is money in the bank for them, but will it kill my love of writing if I succeed (and that's a really big if, folks! )? Will I start phoning it in just to put another check in the bank? Are there series out there that keep getting better or do they just level off to the point that the writer is so bored they just don't care anymore?

And are there new writers out there who aren't required to come up with a series to stay published? I know there are a few like Alexandra Sokoloff, Duane Swierczynski, Dave Zeltserman and Louise Ure. But are these the rare birds or will the business change to allow for more of these books. Will writers be allowed to explore new characters and take their writing to a new level every time out? And can readers learn to follow authors instead of series characters?

And a quote from Andre Gide:
"The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Snoopy Dance for David!

Friend of the Corner, David Cranmer, has a flash story up at A Twist of Noir. His story A Golden God can be found here

Congrats, David!!!

Winter's Magic Moments

There's a chill wind whipping outside my window with Old Man Winter blowing lacy snowflakes through the air from the depths of his cold heart. There's something beautiful about snow, it's virgin whiteness spreading across the landscape hiding the crumpled fall of Autumn's leaves. Despite his cold and over-bearing ways the Old Man can still generate a subtle heat that fills our hearts with a treasured warmth.

The cherished sound of children tossing snowballs, laughter filling the air as they careen down steep hillsides, or watching them hold their breath, praying for a pinch of magic as they place that top hat on a frosty snowman's head. The crackle of a warm barrel fire beside a pond full of ice skaters. Hot Chocolate warming tired bodies from the inside out. Cuddling in front of a fire place reading The Night Before Christmas to sleepy children trying to stay awake to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus.

Winter doesn't have to be about the frigid temperatures or shoveling snow or curses filling the air when the car battery dies. Set aside your adult concerns every now and then and look at winter through the eyes of your childhood memories and embrace the magic of snow angels to help ease your winter woes and doldrums.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Shut My Mouth

We're always told that as writers we have to find our own voice. In Amy's review she stated that she didn't know what shit-kickers, voluptuous, and niggling meant. That seemed odd to me as they're quite common terms where I live, well, maybe not voluptuous, but I like the way the word rolls off my tongue. And it's a great substitute for curvaceous or sexy or built like a brick shit house.

Now here's my problem. I always sprinkle my stories with words and phrases that are common to my area and I try to always use them in context so readers can understand what I'm saying without having to use a dictionary to keep up with the story. That's my voice, the way I think, talk, and write. But if my readers can't understand what I'm saying do I have to change my voice? Are the old-fashioned words and phases out of style even when they come from the mouth of an older person who would have grown up talking that way?

Let's face it, a senior citizen isn't going to be talking rap and most definitely a rapper isn't going to be slinging words like voluptuous around. So how do you find a middle ground that won't alienate readers and still keep your own voice?

The quote today comes from Jeffery Deaver:
"If the bad guy in a book is a superficial caricature, then the hero's victory against him means little."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

I've been reading through Hallie Ephron's book "Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel". I've heard wonderful and not so wonderful things about this book. Me, I'm middle of the road about it.

Most of the writing advice covers the same ground every book on writing does. And truth be told, there's really nothing new to teach, just new ways to explain it. What I like about this book is everything is broken down and I mean everything. Not sure about chapters, it's in there. Don't know how to plot, it's there. Everything from planning to selling is broken down so even an idiot like me can follow the bread crumbs to the end.

The only problem I can see with all this planning and outlining and character sketches is, will you lose the magic? You know, that tiny little unplanned sentence, or that stupid character that came out of nowhere to trip up your protagonist by leading him on a wild goose chase.

Like the story I was working on today. My bounty hunter is tracking down a man when all of a sudden she says, "He saved my life, I owe him one." Okaaay, now where is this story going? I had this whole hunt down the bad guy scenario shaping up in my head, knew exactly where I was going and bam. Those are the magic moments, the unexpected twists that make a story special for me.

So my question is this, if you've outlined from beginning to end, what happens to a story that doesn't want to go where your outline is supposed to take you? Do you trash the outline and go with the side trip that's way more interesting or do you stick with the outline and maybe miss a scene that could turn the story into something total unexpected?

And a quote from Mark Twain today:
"Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Whys of It

Every day I sit down in front of the computer and wonder why. Why do I write? Why are all these people living in my head? Why is the story on the page different from the one in my head? Why do I bother? Why can't I stop?

And then I smile as the words start to flow out from under my fingertips and I wrap words into sentences that are twisted into pages of paragraphs. Getting it down, then crafting it into something publishable makes my heart sing. And I know that all the whys are just sneaky little doubts trying to stop me from doing what I love.

I don't think of my writing as a path to rich and famous. Getting paid for what I love to do would be nice but fame is a fleeting thing and not worth striving for. For me, writing is about telling a story, about finding that hidden voice inside of me that needs to speak out in ways that I never could. And in a roundabout way, giving a voice to people like me who are afraid to open up and invite the world into their lives and dreams. We're the wallflowers who sit in the corner and listen and observe so we can go home at the end of the day and weave our tales of lived lives and battered dreams and fairytale endings.

And our quote today is from Daphne DuMaurier:
"Writing a book is like a purge; at the end of it one is a dry shell on the beach, waiting for the tide to come in again."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Living Old

Patti Abbott had an interesting blog post yesterday about aging writers and writing age-worn characters. I left a comment then continued to think about this topic for the rest of the day, wondering why I write older characters, why they interest me in ways younger characters don't. I finally came to the conclusion that it had to do with my family and the farming community where I've lived my life.

My family, with a few exceptions, have lived well into their eighties and nineties so I've spent all my life around old people. Not set-on-the-porch-and-rock-their-lives-away old people but active ones. My grandfather, my dad and all my uncles worked well into their seventies. The aunts all kept house and were active in church and community activities. They were always busy doing something.

My Uncle Don, who used two canes to get around, took his grandson out on his very first deer hunt, saw him get his first buck, went home, ate supper and went to bed. He died during the night, tired and happy but with no regrets. That's the way I'd like to exit this world. Doing the things I enjoy.

Mrs. McGurrin, a feisty old neighbor of ours told me once that she and her husband still did "it". "It just takes longer and it's not as often, but we still enjoy it," she said. Art Empet taught himself to cook and bake at the tender age of seventy-two. His doctor told him he couldn't go to the barn anymore as it was too hard on his lungs, so he took over the kitchen chores from his wife, who still went to the barn every morning and night to milk cows and feed calves. And she was three years older than him.

It's people like these that I model many of my characters after. People who have lived their lives but aren't afraid to keep living and learning. As cliché as it sounds, they wanted to live until they died. And death wasn't something they feared, just the next step in their lives. God Bless them all for teaching me how to live and for being the inspiration behind the stories I write.

Who do you model your characters after?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday Thoughts

I host a flash writing critique group on Yahoo. Now, this came about by accident as it was started as a place for writers who had contributed to A Flasher's Dozen to meet each other and discuss their stories. But when the publisher, my friend and mentor, KR Mullen, passed away I asked the members if they'd like to continue the group in a critique forum. That was nearly three years ago now and we're still at it.

Every Friday I post a prompt and the writers build a story around the premise of that prompt. Yesterday, I used Black Friday as the prompt thinking of the fun we could have creating a story out of the mayhem that surrounds this holiday tradition. But last night it was driven home how not funny this is. At the end of the day there were three people dead.

One man was trampled to death as he opened the doors at a Wal-Mart store. And two men shot each other in a Toys-R-Us store as their wives fought over some stupid item that was on sale. My, God, are things so desperate that people have to kill each other for a bargain?

As writers we find fodder for stories everywhere and even as I heard about these deaths my brain was swirling around the idea of a man arranging a hit on his wife during the madness of Black Friday. So, I wonder, who's worse? The people who committed these obscene murders or me for wanting to write about it?

I think I'll pass on this week's prompt.

Book Spot Central

To the left is a link for this great site. Book Spot Central is the home of Spinetingler and Heliotrope ezines, both paying markets for those interested. Book Spot also hosts blogs, has a forum, and reviews every kind of book that is published. It's a great place to visit for information and opinions about the sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery genres.

So why am I talking about Book Spot Central today? Because they have a regular Saturday column that you folks might be interested in. It's called the Saturday Sound Off. This column is open to anyone who'd like to sound off about writing, reading, zines or any other topic that they're passionate about.

I was privileged to have the very first column spot back in October with a piece called "Crime Fiction's Bastard Child". It was a piece about flash fiction and how little respect flash gets from crime fiction editors and publishers. This week they've posted another essay of mine called "Where's the Love?". It's about teaching children to love reading. If you have the time, drop on over and give it a read. You can also sign up for the forum and join the discussion they've started or you can drop back here and rant about kids and reading. Here's the url for Book Spot and a direct link to my piece

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!!

I was thinking this morning about what I'm thankful for as a writer and was amazed at how much I'm actually thankful for. Here's my list, feel free to add yours in the comments.

1. I'm thankful for the vast number of writers in the blog world who share their experiences, the good, the bad, and the totally frustrating, so that a writer never has to feel alone.

2. I'm thankful for the experienced writers on SMFS who have taken the time to answer my questions on and off list and manage not to make me feel stupid at the amount of stuff I don't know about writing.

3. I'm thankful for editors and writer friends who have taken the time to comb through my submissions and make suggestions that take my stories to a higher level.

4. I'm thankful for people like Christopher Grant, David Cranmer, Chris Pimental and Geoff Eighinger who have taken the baton from people like DZ Allen and BJ Bourg to keep the crime zines alive and well in a shrinking short story world.

5. I'm thankful for Patti Abbott's flash challenges. They make me dig deeper to find a story that never would have crossed my mind to write.

6. I'm thankful for writer friends who lift me up when I feel like I never want to write another word. A kick in the writing butt is a needful thing at times.

7. I'm thankful for Gerald So and the editors at The Lineup who took a chance and invited me to write a poem. Then actually accepted one for their first issue. They showed me to never be afraid to try something new and different.

8. And finally, I'm thankful for all of you who stop by and read my thoughts and share a bit of yourself with me. While writing is a lonely profession, a writer doesn't have to be alone. By extending a virtual hand, we're surrounded by others who know exactly how we feel and don't mind sharing our joys and sorrows as we walk this writer's path together.

God bless and keep each and every one of you on this Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Snoopy Dance Time

Christopher Grant has just let me know that he's accepted one of my stories and that it's up at A Twist of Noir. "The Dumb Factor" is number 011. And while you're there enjoy some of the other stories that are up. There's something for everyone!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Believability Factor

Took a jump from David Cranmer's blog over to one called Razored Zen yesterday. Razored Zen is the blog of Charles Gramlich and he's written some very interesting posts about writing. The one that caught my eye was about creating characters that aren't stereotypes. Here's the url And don't miss the discussion in the comments because it's very interesting stuff.

This was a timely post for me because I've been working on a character that could easily become a cliche, but what I want to do with him might not be all that believable. Now, Charles thinks it's okay to step away from the stereotypes by giving them an odd characteristic that doesn't go with the image, which is an excellent idea, but how far can you take it and still be believable?

My character is a six foot tall black man who does construction work by day and is a cross dressing street walker by night. The scene that introduces him, finds my protag, a female cop, rescuing him from a beating. She's just bought a old factory building that she's converting into a home and she takes him there to get him off the street for the night. She wakes up to find him dressed as a man, hammering away in the downstairs of the factory building.

What I want is for this guy to be able to take on the world as a man, but when he's dressed as a woman, he's as helpless as a baby. Which makes me wonder if a person's personality can be split like that and still be believable. Or is it all in the writing and I have to be able to make this character believable within the confines of the story?

What about you? Do you have trouble making your characters believable outside of what a reader expects from a character? And let's face it, readers expect particular types of characters to behave in a certain fashion. My cross dresser could easily become a silly cliche of a transvestite, so I'll have to write a fine line to keep him from tipping over the edge on either side.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I'm a regular reader of the Murderati blog, which you can find here

Yesterday's post about food and today's about comfort reading brought home some good memories for me about finding comfort in today's world. I'm one of those people who finds comfort in food. No, not just eating it, though I do my share, but the recipes and the preparation of food.

When I was growing up food was at the center of every family gathering. Thanksgiving, Christmas, family reunions, even Sunday visits brought out the sharing of food and conversation. That combination was the hub of my childhood. Sampling all kinds of food, listening to all the stories floating in the air above my head, the women swapping recipes and the family sharing good times. Even now when we all get together, the food and conversations flow with that same wild abandon. I can't imagine a Christmas without my Aunt Marie's Raspberry Crumb Pie or my Aunt Elsie's snowball cookies, baked by me with treasured recipes from the past.

As my boys have grown I've passed the recipes on to their wives and shared new memories with them. I haven't baked a birthday cake in years, my family's treat of choice on their birthdays is homemade cream puffs with a thick fudge glaze which I still bake for everyone's birthday celebration. The grandkids get their choice, too. The youngest always picks chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting, the older one, cream cheese brownies. Comfort food and memories that my family will take with them through their life. Smells and tastes that will remind them of me, like my treasured recipes bring back my childhood.

Considering that I love mystery/crime novels my comfort reading is a strange choice. I am a big fan of Georgette Heyer's romance novels, especially "These Old Shades" and "A Marriage of Convenience". Ms. Heyer spins a story that is so filled with humor that you burst out laughing and everyone in the room is looking at you like you're nuts. She also wrapped some of her romances up with wonderful mysteries that required no dead bodies but still kept you guessing as to what was really going on. If you want to write a mystery without dropping bodies every other page, you won't find a better teacher to help you master that aspect of mystery writing.

So what about you? Where do you find your comfort zone? What remembered smell or taste puts a smile on your face or takes you back to your childhood? And what is your comfort read? What book do you pick up when you want the world around you to disappear?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Grave Talent by Laurie R. King

I finished this book last week and truth be told, I've been unable to get into another book since. This is one of those books that just sticks with you and makes you crazy thinking about the story and more importantly how it was written. No wonder it won an Edgar for best first novel.

This is the first book in Ms. King's Kate Martinelli series. While Kate is a good detective and has an interesting life, the story doesn't revolve around Kate. I've been thinking about this and finally realized that any detective could step into Kate's shoes because this wasn't a character driven story but a plot driven one.

There are several different threads running through this book but they all revolve around the murder suspect. Without this woman there would be no story for everything needed to solve the crime involves this woman's past and present life. The book is a careful mixture of murder mystery, revenge story, and police procedural. And at the very moment you think you know whodunit, you're told your wrong, again. You can be sure I'll be looking for more books by this wonderful author.

If you find the time you might want to check out Ms. King's web site. It's not just about her books, but combines a wonderful sense of who this woman is, how she works, and her thoughts on writing, life, and family. You can find her site at this url

Today's writing wisdom comes from William G. Tapply's "The Elements of Mystery Fiction":

"You've got to be your own editor. Take pride in your writing. Examine every word and phrase. A well-written manuscript deprives agents and editors of one reason to reject it."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Getting All Pulpy

With David's announcement about Beat to a Pulp, I remembered an essay that I printed out from a post on the SMFS' group last year. The essay was written by Lester Dent and it's called "The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot". The essay is geared for writing a 6000 word story but I'm sure today's writers could tighten that down if needed. I did a search and found a link to the essay here

Another essay I have is called "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories". This one written by S.S. Van Dine (pseud. for Willard Huntington Wright). It was written in 1928 but still contains some of the best advice for writing a PI story that I've found. The url is
*Just an added note here. I can't seem to make this url work but when I did a Yahoo search of the essay title I could click on the site with no problem. And it's the same exact url. Go figure.
**Figured out what I did wrong and corrected this link and posted it to the left.

Now, I'm not a scholar of the pulps, but I believe that both of these gentlemen were considered greats of their time and probably still are today. I'll post the links over in the list section so they're available if anyone wants to go back and read them after this post disappears into the archives.

And one final Pulpy thing. I found a new market for Pulp stories called "Big Pulp" and I've put a link in the ezine section to the left. I'd found this market last year but after writing a story to submit, found that they'd shut down for a bit. They seem to have gotten things together by setting up reading periods and meeting publishing schedules. I also saw a few writers I know over there. So check it out and spread the word.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Read All About It

There's a new zine coming to the neighborhood in December and as promised here's a little update. The zine is Beat to a Pulp and David Cranmer is it's proud owner and editor. You can find all the detail at this url

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Pinch of This - A Dash of That

So, I have this really great story. How great you ask? Well, not so great, it's been rejected by AHMM and Plots With Guns. But the thing is, I love this story, so I started reworking the ending as I felt maybe I'd rushed it a bit.

In reworking the ending I found that my character, who'd spent time in prison and was heading home after twenty years inside, had also been tapped by law enforcement ( still working on which branch ) to help them break up a drug ring inside the prison. Since he's served his time, he's heading home to another set of problems ( still working on that, too, as the ones that put him in prison, don't quite work with the new direction of the story ). Now, he's pissed off the cons because of his undercover work and he's pissed off the law because he refuses to keep working for them, and once he gets home his brother presents another set of problems. God, this story is getting complicated!

Anyhoo, when I get to a spot in a story that isn't working, I drag out my note pad and start writing down questions and possible answers. Five pages in, I realize that, hey, this the back story of that guy in one of my (many) unfinished stories. The story that I couldn't figure out an ending for after nearly two grand in words. So, I start making scribbles with the pen to see if maybe this could work and another five pages into my notes? Hey, this might work.

So now I've got ten pages of notes and 5000 words of already written stories that need to be combined into one. Not sure what I'm looking at here or where it'll end up but hey, I ain't complaining.

What about you? Ever combine bits and pieces of stories together to create one better story? And how do you work through your plotting woes?

And our advice today comes from David Morrell's "Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing".
"The key to your character is what he or she wants and what obstacles must be overcome to achieve that goal (the motive and conflict without which there cannot be a plot).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

From the Heart

Just wanted to direct you folks over to The Rap Sheet. There are only so many things that you can learn or teach about writing. Most of us just trample the same old ground but Linda L. Richards has written a beautiful essay that explains how all of us should write. Here's the url

You won't find better advice anywhere.


I've been a tad too serious around here lately so I thought I'd toss out a question and slip in a flash piece.

So, my question is, "Do you prefer to write/read your stories with a familiar character or do you prefer a new character every time out?"

I've written my share of "series" character stories, my favorite being a PI named Buck Tuff and his ex-wife and PI partner, Irma. I created Buck and Irma back in 2005 as a parody of the hard boiled genre. I threw in all the usual cliches of mob bosses and dames then twisted it with a bit of slap stick humor, creating an entire cast of characters that I just love. The stories were a hit in my flash group and I've had about twenty of them published, all flash pieces. But the trouble with Buck and Irma was they were always stuck in a situation instead of solving crimes which keeps them from being taken seriously in the crime genre.

My other problem with writing the same character and same type of story was if I chose to write something darker with a different character I was told, okay that was nice, but where's Buck and Irma? Which made me wonder why writers stick with just one set of characters and do they eventually get bored writing them over and over?

Now here's the flash I promised. It features one of my favorite B&I characters, a stripper named Chickadee Fields, better known as Chickie.

Hallelujah Chickie

When my buddy, Smiley, told me he needed help, I didn't expect to be getting' my ears preached back by some Bible thumper. After all, Smiley owns the House of Strippers. And while we get to gander at a lot of heavenly bodies, it sure don't put a guy in contact with a lot of preacherly types.

But here we are balancing on some rickety folding chairs, gettin' our shoes filled with sawdust, and listening to the Reverend Billy DeWole tellin' God to bring down his wrath on us poor sinners. Now, I ain't never done nothin' to this fella, so I'm takin' exception to him tellin' God to shoot me down like a gutter rat.

"Smiley, why the hell did you drag me down to this moldy old tent to listen to some holy roller tell me I ain't any good?"

"He's got Chickie, Buck, and I want her back," whispers Smiley.

"What do you mean, he's got Chickie. What does a preacher want with a stripper? I take that back. What does Chickie want with a preacher?"

"He's got her convinced she needs savin'."

"Savin' from what?"

"From me," moans Smiley.

"You ain't never hurt Chickie, never laid a hand on her, at least not to hurt her."

"I love that flutter-brained twit, so you and me are gonna kidnap her outta this tent and take her home. That preacher man don't know who he's dealin' with here. That thief just wants all the cash he can get his hands on and all the layin' on of hands he can get. Especially layin' on of my Chickie."

"How did Chickie meet up with this Reverend Wolf in the first place?" I ask.

"He was holdin' a sermonizing on the evils of naked women in my parkin' lot when Chickie walked out the door. He laid on his hands and run off with her. And I aim to lay on fists to get her back."

"Is there something you ain't tellin' me Smiley? Chickie's been out-maneuvering mauling fingers for years. How come she didn't side-step this snake oil preacher?"


"Chickie ain't got a retibuting bone in her body. And why would she start with a preacher?"

"Do you remember that young stripper named Lollypop?" asked Smiley.

I nod my head. What that girl could do with a lollypop was hard to forget.

"Well, that preacher was castin' his bread upon the waters around here last year and talked her right outta the club and into his bed. Got her knocked up and left her high and dry out in Kansas. When Chickie found out, she swore she'd make him pay, but I'm thinkin' something must have gone wrong."

"Why would you think that?"

"I heard a couple of guys sayin' as how she was gonna be on stage with the preacher tonight. Gonna tell all us sinners how the reverend saved her sweet butt."

I'm lookin' at Smiley when his eyes double back in their sockets. I turn to look at the stage and need a slap to the back of my head to realign my own eyeballs.

I ain't never seen Chickie over-dressed, but there she is in all her covered splendor. Only her naked ankles nosin' out of a pair of gold sequined sneakers. She's smilin' like she's standin' next to Jesus instead of a rattler.

The Reverend fires up a little background music on his tape player. "It's time for a little testimony now, folks," says our Holy Joe. "Chickie, tell these fine folks how you seen the light."

"Well, I worked at Smiley's House of Strippers over on Angel's Boulevard. Two shows a night and three on Saturday."

"That's what you done, now tell us how you was saved."

"I'm much better at showin' then tellin', Reverend," says Chickie.

"Then show us, Sister Chickie."

Chickie's right at home on stage havin' spent most of her life there. And she knows how to bring out the best in a crowd. As the tape slides into a rockin' rendition of "Bringing in the Sheaves". Chickie starts shedding her sheaves. The blue-haired ladies in the crowd cover their eyes and head for the tent flaps. The gentlemen in the audience start clappin' and cheerin'. It's gotta be the best damn revival they've ever attended.

The Reverend Billy DeWolfe is tryin' to wrap Chickie up in a choir robe, but once she gets started there ain't no stoppin' her. As she dances down to her tassels, the Reverend prostrates himself on the ground, rollin' around like he's in pain.

But it ain't forgiveness he's seekin' down there in the sawdust. It's the dollar bills the crowd is tossin' to Chickie. While he's busy gatherin' up his collection, me and Smiley grab Chickie off the stage and head for higher ground before the cops get there to shut down the Reverend Bible Thumper.

I'm thinkin' God could take a few retribution lessons from Chickie.

Monday, November 17, 2008


When we first start writing we think everything we put down on the page is perfect. It takes a lot of years and a whole lot of rejection to sweep that notion from our brain. The problem is we get so caught up in our stories that we fail to see those pesky little things that trip up a story. We think, well, the reader will get this, I don't have to write in every little detail.

But the truth is, if you have to explain the story to a reader, you haven't gotten it right. A reader should be able to sit down, read the story, and get up satisfied that everything was explained to his satisfaction.

Recently I wrote a story, subbed it to my crit group and got back a crit that said, 'hey, cops aren't that stupid are they?' Now, I'd written in the very first line that this was a retired cop but I hadn't bothered to explain that the question he was asking was to satisfy his own curiosity, not solve a case and that the statute of limitations had already passed on the crime. This was a no harm, no foul story. But because I had to explain this point to my reader - I knew I'd failed the story.

It's an easy thing to do for beginners and pros alike. We tend to forget that readers aren't living inside our heads, privy to all the details we know. We go along merrily typing words that make perfect sense to the story in our head, but that's not the story we're putting on the page.

And that's where rewriting comes in. To correct all the flubs and flaws that we can't see in the heat of that first or second or third draft. I used to think that people who took six months to write a short story were either crazy or lazy, but after five years of focusing on fiction, I've found that a couple of weeks or months in a drawer does a story good. I can pull out those pages and see the flaws, see where I didn't explain things exactly right and correct them. And no, I don't always follow my own advice. Hurry up and send it out gets the better of me more often than I care to admit.

It's just a matter of trying to remember that time and patience are just as important to writing a story as the act of putting those first words down on the page.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Little Things

Today was filled those little things that make a writer smile. Spent the day polishing up a story that I plan on sending off to Christopher Grant's "A Twist of Noir". I always figure that when I can read through a story without the itch to change anything, than it's ready to go. This one will probably go through the wringer once or twice more.

Got an email from Chris Pimental that he'd like to use the flash I submitted to Bad Things back in the Spring. He's been ill and that's why things got hung up for a while with his new zine. He's on the mend now and ready to go forward with Bad Things.

Earlier this evening I found a mention of my blog and writing on David Cranmer's blog that made me blush with pleasure. Always nice to know you have a fan. David is also starting a new zine called "Beat to a Pulp". He's still working out the details and I promise to post them when he's made them available.

There was a comment on the last post from Jason Evans. It's so nice when someone finds your blog and let's you know. Jason's blog, The Clarity of Night, is one of my favorite places to visit. It's always full of the most beautiful photographs and poems. I find it a very peaceful place to visit. Jason also has flash contests several times a year, which are always fun. I'll be sure to post when he has the next one.

Oh yes, I read a story the other day by John Weagly and started chuckling to myself in the car today as my mind flashed back to the story. I love a story that sticks with you and that's what "Wishing on Whores" does. The story is in the new issue of Thieves Jargon (link on the left) and here's a direct link:

All in all it was a satisfying day.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Watching Your Back

When you're a writer, you want nothing more than to be published, find an agent, and get a contract with a publishing house for that novel you wrote. That's the way this business works. The problem is, there are a lot of people out there who know how desperate writers are to see their books in print which breeds more scams than you can shake your contract signing pen at.

As writers seeking publication we have to proceed with caution. Take the time to check out that agent or publishing house, see who they publish and where. Better to err on the side of caution than jump in with both feet and sob over your saving account later.

I know, this isn't a very uplifting blog post but sometimes it's good to remind ourselves that writing, though a joy, is still a business.

And a quote from the book, "A Grave Talent" by Laurie R. King, which I just finished. The line was for a young painter but it works for writers, too. Excellent read, by the way.

"He told me that artists needed wide experience to do their art properly, that anyone who never looked up from the paper soon had nothing to draw."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coming of Age

My grandson asked me the other day if 5 was a baby number. When I asked what a baby number was, he said, "You know, if you're five are you still a baby?" He so didn't want to be considered a baby. And in all my Grandma wisdom (Yeah, right!) I told him no, five was a growing up number.

"What's a growing up number, Grandma?"

"It means you're not a baby, but you're not all grown up yet. You're still growing."

"See, J, I told you I wasn't a baby anymore." Yeah, he needed to convince his big brother he wasn't a baby anymore.

But the growing up number made me think about writing. When we first start out, we take baby steps by struggling with words and sentences, finding ideas and trying to weave this confusing mess in our heads into a solid story. We fall down a lot.

Now, I've been falling down for a good many years. Struggling, quitting, starting again. For whatever reason, I can't shake the writing bug. So about five years ago I bit the bullet, plopped my butt in a chair and started writing, not just when the mood struck, but everyday. Like a baby learning to walk, I kept stringing words together, studying, learning, submitting, falling, and struggling to get up again. But I'm still at it. Every morning, Every day.

And something happened yesterday that made me feel like I'd finally hit my growing up number. I dug out an old story and started rewriting. Now I have to admit that I hate deleting words I've already written, especially if I think they're "wonderful". But this story needed large patches of "tells" deleted and fed into the "show" spots. I also needed a theme.

Sounds stupid writing a story without a theme, doesn't it? Well, I have hundreds of them in my file folders, just little niblets with nowhere to go because they have no purpose or theme to guide them. Anyway, while I was fixing lunch for hubby, it suddenly struck me what the damn theme for the story had to be. "She'd finally found justice." The sentence popped into my head and I ran for the notepad and pencil before I lost it. Yeah, I lose thoughts a lot.

At the end of the day, my tells had become shows, words like it, thing, something, somewhere, became tangible objects for the reader to relate to, and cliches like 'whatever trips your trigger' became 'whatever creams your panties'. Sounds gross, but trust me, it fits the story.

There was a great sense of satisfaction when I typed The End to that story. I still wasn't sure if it was what the editor wanted but I knew that I'd rewritten a baby story into something that sang for me. I'd also realized that all the lessons I'd learned over the years had gone into rewriting that story. Stopping to think before I put the words down, changing what needed to be changed instead of clinging to those 'precious darlings', going through the story sentence by sentence searching for the perfect words. I'd hit the growing up stage of my writing and it felt good.

I'm not sure where I found this quote or who to attribute it to but it fits today's blog theme:
"All writers are essentially self-taught, and you need to be able to break down everything you read to figure out what that author is doing and how s/he is doing it."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Yippee - Another Zine Rises from the Ashes

It's always great to post a new market. Received the following email this morning for a new zine called A Twist of Noir. Here's the url :

With the deaths of both Muzzle Flash and Demolition Mag, we crime and noir writers need outlets. It's with this in mind that I'd like to announce that A Twist Of Noir is now up and accepting submissions set in the noir and crime fiction genre. Just follow the guidelines at the site and no one gets hurt.

I look forward to seeing your best stories.

Christopher Grant

Learning Curve

As a self-taught writer I'm always thrilled when I find an established writer who shares their knowledge. Right now, I'm taking lessons from Alexandra Sokoloff. On her blog, , she's breaking down the elements of telling a story. Today's lesson is about setting the scene and how to make it visual. Great stuff!

One thing I've learned about writing is that you're never done learning. There's always something new to discover. With each lesson learned we push our writing to a higher level, always striving to make the next story the best one we've ever written. Sometimes we achieve that, sometimes we fall flat on our face. But even in the falling there's a lesson to be learned.

Don't be afraid of failing, it's part of the process. In writing we have to use every experience, good or bad, to make our writing stronger. One of things I've heard a lot of editors and writers say is that persistence is what finally brings success to a writer.

And no, not every writer is going to be the next Stephen King and make a million bucks. I learned that lesson a long time ago. For me success is writing the best short story I can. If it gets published - wonderful, if not - it's back to the computer screen to rethink and rewrite the story. Not every story I write is published, but for every story written there is a lesson learned.

So chin up, and keep that learning curve in your sights. It will make you a better writer. And never be satisfied with just "good enough".

And today's quote comes from Jim Thompson:
"There's only one plot - nothing is ever as it seems."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

With Reservations

I'm passing this information about a new zine along for those interested. I also have some reservations about this one because of the editor's track record. This is the second time he's started up Bad Things. The first time was this last May, the title page was published, but no links were ever included to read the stories. Bad Things is also the resurrected version of ThugWorks which was published on a regular schedule and included interviews with several high profile authors, but ThugWorks, too, disappeared without a word.

Chis is a good guy and I admire his work. I have nothing against him or his venture, heck, he published two of my stories in ThugWorks. I just wanted to let you know the history of this publication so you could make your own decision about submitting.

And posted below is the email I received from Chris this afternoon:

I am mourning the death of Muzzle Flash.

It was fun, both for writing and reading. I was PROUD to have a couple of pieces show up there and then later in OOTG, #3 and #4. I know many others felt the same, too.

That being said, if you are still looking for an outlet for your good, quick writes (particularly flash), I welcome you to submit to Bad Things. January 2009, marks the re-birth of the site (formerly known as Thug Works). Previously, we had contributions from OOTG & Muzzle Flash perps such as Harry Shannon, Dayton Ward, Sandra Seamans, EA Cook, the Train Wreck, etc. We pimped interviews with Barry Eisler, Marcus Sakey, Sandra Kring, Rich Ferguson, and Kay Hooper.

Now, we have a Face Book Fan Page (less than a week old), on which you’ll already recognize some names and supporters (and on which we hope to get more FANS as we grow – hint, hint.)

In January, I invite you to be part of something BAD. All good writing is welcome and submission guidelines are posted.

Thank you.


Chris Pimental

If the links don't come through, here's the url for Bad Things

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sugar-Town by Loren D. Estleman

This is one of those books that puts a smile on a reader's face. And for a writer, a perfect example of how it's done, not just the PI genre, but pulling a story together that touches a person on so many levels.

Amos Walker is a wonderful character, hard-nosed and soft centered, he walks through life knowing how it should be lived and knowing that he'll probably never be able to live his life in the way most people do. I felt sad for him.

Sugar-Town is the fifth in the Amos Walker series and won a Shamus award for best Private Eye novel. Written in 1984 it captures Detroit's scramble to keep the auto industry happy by turning people out of the homes they'd lived in all their lives. I could see all of this so easily as its reflective of the steel industry in Pittsburgh and even the coal mines of Scranton, city government trying to keep companies happy and providing jobs. But sometimes, the cost is simply too high. And that was just the setting.

The plot revolves around the search for an old lady's grandson and a second case involving the protection of a Russian author, with the two cases twining together for the final unexpected outcome. While I suspected what was coming, Estleman still floored me with the ending, putting a spin on the plot that I never expected. This book is rich with subtle humor and layers of gentle sadness that touch the heart.

While this was the fifth book in the Amos Walker series, and the first one I've read, I didn't feel like I'd missed anything. Estleman doesn't refer to past cases, past life experiences or anything that made a reader feel like he had to go back to the beginning to catch up. But I will be looking for more of Amos Walker because I liked him. He made me smile at his thoughts and nod in agreement, even as he poked fun at Parker's Spencer. If you're going to write a PI novel you couldn't find a better blueprint to follow than Sugar-Town. A most excellent read!

I just stole this quote from John Baker's blog, but it's worth repeating:
"A writer doesn't solve problems. He allows them to emerge"
-Friedrich Durrenmatt

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I've been thinking lately about all the things writers are told they shouldn't write about. For example, don't kill children or animals and don't portray an actual rape scene. The list of taboos is so long, that I'm surprised that any crime fiction gets written at all.

Think about it. We can kill off twenty people in a room, but don't set the story on a classroom. We're told that killing a child won't sell a book. Odd thing is that the six o'clock news has no trouble generating ad revenues selling that type of story. As a matter of fact, children in jeopardy are always the lead news story. So why can't writers explore this aspect of crime?

We're told to write realistically, but not about the heinous things that slap us in the face while we're eating our supper or drinking our morning coffee. Life is not pretty and trying to portray murder or rape or incest in an entertaining, non-threatening way is doing a disservice to those who have lived in the center of this type of crime.

I can understand people not wanting to read about these things, but don't demand realism in your mysteries then get upset because the writer actually portrays the ugliness of crime. Criminals don't tie their crimes up in a pretty red bow, they cause damage and spill blood.

Yes, there are some writers who tend to go way over the top, but I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about the writers who portray the truth without having to spill blood and guts and semen all over the page. Writers who seek the truth in the world and force us to open our eyes to that truth, perhaps persuading us to do something about it. Their books and stories deserve to be read even if you don't care for the subject matter.

What about you? Any taboos in your reading or writing habits. What do you avoid?

Today's quote is from Anne Lamott:
"For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

RIP Michael Crichton

This seems to be the year of losing some of the best. I wasn't a big fan of Crichton's novels, probably because Sci-fi isn't a big draw for me. And yes, I consider most of his work science fiction. But back in 1968 I read a book entitled "A Case of Need" by Jeffrey Hudson. For me, this was a stunning book because it dealt with the issues of abortion before Roe v Wade and wrapped the whole story up in a murder mystery. I haven't read it in years but think now would be a good time to revisit this book. And if you're wondering, Jeffrey Hudson was Michael Crichton and this was one of the first books he ever wrote. RIP Mr. Crichton, you will be remembered.

And to the Left

I finally found the right button to click to add links!?! Yeah, I'm from the paper and pencil generation, learned to type on a Royal MANUAL typewriter. Thought I'd died and gone to heaven when I bought my first electric typewriter. Ah, sweet memories.

Back to the present now. I do love my computer, but finding everything and learning how to do it is frustrating at times. The links I've added are places I go to avoid writing and to visit virtual friends. Some of the zines are closed to submissions, some shut down but with the archives still available, but they all have some great stories to read and savor. Check out the guidelines of those open to submissions and give them a try. Zines can only prosper if the writing community supports them with quality stories.

And for those who haven't heard, there's a new issue of ThugLit on the street. Go have a read. The link is on the left.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On the PI Trail

Did you ever have a character that suddenly decided she wasn't going to stay in the occupation you gave her? A few months back I wrote a short story using a character from two previous stories. Rachael Reilly was a cop, until I wrote this last story. She was a great cop, even if she was a little unethical, but something happened in this last story that has twisted her life to the point that being a cop won't be an option for her. At the end of the story she's considering becoming a Private Investigator.

Now for someone who's only PI reading has been Parker's Spencer, and Christie's Poirot, with a bit of Kinsey Milhone and VI Warshawski tossed in for good measure, I was flabbergasted at this change in occupation. I was also left scrambling to find as many of the old PI books that I could find.

Why, you ask? Because you can't write in a genre you know nothing about. Most of the PI knowledge I have comes from TV and the movies. Not a good base to grow a character on. So I've been dabbling back and forth in history.

Chandler's "Red Wind" was so absolutely amazing that I wanted to kick myself in the butt for even considering writing PI stories. My God, how do you even begin to come close to a story like that? But still I'll read.

I tried Spillane's "I, The Jury" and for some reason I just couldn't get into the book. Too much Stacy Keach in the back of my mind. But I picked up his "Black Alley" and was sucked right in. Maybe because this was ground not covered in the TV series? I don't know. But this was a Hammer that I didn't know so my imagination was free to walk down Hammer's black alley and enjoy the stroll.

Discovering new characters is always a plus when doing reading research and I've found many to enjoy. Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone, Robert Randisi's Nick Delvecchio, and Robert Fate's Baby Shark to name a few. This morning I started Loren Estleman's "Sugar-Town" and fell in love with Amos Walker.

Walking in the footprints of these greats isn't going to be easy.

And today's quote comes from Patrica Highsmith:
"The first person you should think of pleasing, in writing a book, is yourself. If you can amuse yourself for the length of time it takes to write a book, the publisher and the readers can and will come later."

Monday, November 3, 2008


Over on the SMFS list there was a call for submissions to Crooked, a new zine, the first issue to go up in January. There's no pay. Geoff Eighinger, the editor is looking for stories in the 2000-4000 word range. Noir or hard-boiled crime stories. You can click on the Eastern Standard Crime link to the left or use this url

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Free Contest

Just passing along this contest information for anyone who might be interested. It's usually a lot of fun coming up with a story for his contests and there's no entry fee.


Yes it’s that time of the year again when I run my Annual Short Story Competition at

As a previous participant in my annual competitions I thought I’d drop you a quick email to let you know all about this year’s competition.
Unlike previous years, I am being a lot more lenient with the word count this year (remember the 6 word competition in 2006 or the 26 word alphabetic A-Z competition last year?).

My short Twisted Karaoke Short Story Competition is looking for stories of up to 1500 words where the story title is the same as the title of a well known song or piece of music. What’s more the story must provide a twist in the tail (I do love my twists after all!). The story doesn’t have to be about the actual song, just inspired by it! Any genre is welcome as long as you thrill us and twist.
As ever entry is free and there are prizes for the three winning entries. The closing date, as usual, is the 31st December.

To find out more just visit more details and how to enter.

If you have a blog or website then please do feel free to plug the competition to your readers (I would be very very grateful too!). You can save as the Twisted Karaoke logo (from the webpage) to use as a illustrative graphic if you so wish.
So as someone who has taken part in the past I’d love to see you enter again!
If you have any questions then please do email me back.

All the best,
DBA Lehane.

The Idea Center

Story ideas. So where do you get them? I find them in all sorts of odd places. In the comments section of the last post, I noted that I got the idea for that story from a blog post about Poe. Thinking about "The Tell-Tale Heart" and trying to write something similar but different.

Was it easy? No. The first draft had the house as the monster stealing hearts to beat inside the walls. And then I asked the all important writer question, "Why?" When Natalie showed up as the one stealing hearts the whole story took on a different meaning. Yes, the heart still beat inside the house, but the story was no longer about guilt, but love.

Ideas are all around us, we just have to look for them. I belonged to a flash writing group at one time that had over a hundred members all writing to the same prompt. In order for a writer's story to be different from the others, you had to discard the first three or four ideas that popped into your mind because you knew these were the same ideas everyone else was considering. It made you look at different aspects of a theme, then forced you to consider something totally off the beaten path.

Aside from prompts, there's the world around you. I saw a purple running jacket discarded on the side of the road once. For some reason, that jacket bothered me and I began to write. The story wasn't about a lost jacket, but about a woman who was fed up with her life, secretly lost weight, dyed her hair, and rode a bicycle out of town while everyone was looking for her. Believing her to be lost or kidnapped because they found her purple jacket on the side of the road.

There are story ideas everywhere, you just have to leave yourself open to the possibilities.

A perfect example of slipping off the beaten path is Kyle Minor's story "They Take You" found in the current issue of Plots with Guns

Another is an older story that I came across by Stanley Ellin entitled "The Payoff". Well worth tracking down. I found it in the anthology "Great Stories of Suspense" edited by Ross Macdonald.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Just a little treat ( Well, a treat for me anyway. I love writing stories. ) for those of you who read this blog. I hope this little ghost story gives you a bit of reading pleasure.

by Sandra Seamans

James Ridley sat on the beach staring out at the ocean, the searing blaze of the afternoon sun barely warming his chilled skin. He'd been shivering from the cold slap of his past ever since he'd opened Jedidiah Kramer’s letter. The ancient caretaker of Ridley House had written to inform James that it was time to return home. Natalie needed him.

Home? Ridley House hadn't been his home in over thirty years. Not since he was ten and his mother had swallowed her fear and ripped him from the clutches of that hollow house. The two of them had climbed on the first bus out of Pennsylvania, traveling west until they ran out of land. His mother had kept him close, watching for signs that Natalie was whispering in his ear, trying to lure him back to Ridley House. Mother's fear was his shadow, always a half a step behind and gaining.

He vaguely remembered the chilling legend of Ridley House, the stories whispered behind his back when his parents thought he wasn't listening. Gruesome tales of Natalie Ridley whose ghost possessed Ridley House. The shuddering story of her death in the strangling hands of her jealous husband, a man who lacked the ability to trust his wife's love. James remembered sitting in the upstairs hall and staring at the water stained oak floorboards where Natalie's tears had fallen as her husband squeezed the life out of her. His ears assaulted by the whisper of her final words floating on the cold drafts that shuddered through the halls, "My heart will beat forever within the walls of Ridley House until a Ridley heart can beat one full measure of love and compassion for her who lives within."

With the arrival of Kramer's letter, a tsunami of half forgotten memories swept over James, drowning him in terror. The smell of fear oozing from the walls, wails of grief that tortured the night, his childhood dreams filled with a palpable evil that seeped from every corner and crevice of the house.

In the wash of memories, James could hear Natalie's voice riding the callous, thumping wave of Ridley hearts, beckoning him back to Ridley House. He remembered with vivid clarity the night he and his mother left Ridley House behind. The vision of his father, arms spread in surrender, as Natalie's ghost reached out and tore the heart from his chest. The thud of his father's heartbeat as it joined the choir of Ridley hearts that beat within the walls echoed through his ears embroidered with his mother screams. And now, Natalie wanted him, needed him, and would torture his mind with a constant throbbing pain until she added his heart to the symphony that filled the walls of Ridley House.

Staring into the dusky glow of the fading sunset, James knew that resistance was futile. He remembered his father's struggle to resist Natalie's siren call, remembered the look on his father's face as he'd surrendered to himself to the house. A tragic look of relief mingled with defeat. The house would never be satisfied until it possessed the heart of every Ridley ever born, but the house's hunger and Natalie's revenge would have to be satisfied with James, for he was the last Ridley. There would be no more sacrifices. The Ridley curse would end with him.

He felt the burden of the past reaching out, waiting to devour his wife’s peaceful existence as he burned the letter there on the beach. His tears mingled with the charred remains as he made his decision. He hated keeping secrets from Libby but he couldn', he wouldn't, tell his wife about the family legacy. Better that she thought he'd deserted her, then to know that his heart was beating in the walls of Ridley house.

He kissed Libby farewell on the front porch of their home, his arms folding her into a final embrace. A last minute business trip, he'd told her. His sadness turned to anguish as she whispered in his ear, "Hurry home, my darling, you're going to be a father."

Her words and the glowing blush on her face took his breath away. All those barren years and Libby's inconsolable sorrow at being unable to give him a child thudded through his heart. Why now, when Natalie was calling him?

Jedidiah Kramer opened the door of Ridley House. Staring hard into James’ suffering eyes he said, “You’re to have a son? Another Ridley to follow in your footsteps?”

James stepped across the threshold, the heartbeats thrumming ever louder. “A son? How did you..? I don’t know. My wife just told me she was pregnant. I’ll never know if its a boy or a girl.”

“And why wouldn’t you know?”

“Natalie. Don’t you remember? You wrote, said Natalie needed me." The thumping in his head was excruciating. “Please, let me do this. Let me give my heart to Natalie. Perhaps...” his voice drifted off.

Every generation that had come before and now one generation after. It would never end, but at least Libby wouldn’t have to know of the suffering that would visit their son, wouldn’t have to live with the knowledge of the curse bruising her heart.

“You love your wife? Trust her?”

“With all my heart.”

“Then bring her here.”

“I can’t do that. I can’t let her know the fate that will befall our child. It would kill her to know.”

“You love her enough to sacrifice your life with never a word to her about the curse that haunts Ridley House?”

“I’d rather Libby thought I abandoned her, then let her live with the curse blighting her heart.”

A shadow drifted across the wall. A flicker of light. A female voice. “A Ridley with a loving heart? I don’t believe it.”

James looked at Jedidiah who nodded.

“It doesn’t matter if you believe, Natalie,” said James. “All that matters is that I believe in my wife’s love and that she believes in mine for her and our child. I’ve come to you willingly, do what you must.”

Lifting his arms and spreading them in surrender as he’d seen his father do, James walked towards the waiting wall. His heart was pounding in his chest, his love for Libby filling him with joy, giving him the courage to merge his heart with the house.

Natalie Ridley’s ghost stepped out of the wall, her hand reaching into James’ chest. Natalie smiled as she felt his love for Libby wash over her. “One full measure of love and compassion for her who lives within.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween and Writing

The first story that I remember writing was for Mrs. Smith, my sixth grade teacher. Mrs. Smith stood all of five feet tall with hair that looked like a giant cotton ball sitting on her head. She was a fearsome creature. The first day of school, she informed us that she was a witch and we'd best remember that if we wanted to survive her class. We all giggled but Mrs. Smith lived up to the reputation that she endowed herself with.

Towards the end of October our assignment was to write a story about Halloween. Mine involved ghosts and a grass skirt. Very funny stuff, if I do say so myself. As I finished reading my story out loud to the class, everyone started laughing and Mrs. Smith informed me that "I had quite an imagination." That was the nicest thing she said to me all school year.

And without knowing it, she made me believe that I could actually write, that I had an imagination that could spin stories and make people laugh. I wish I could say that I went right home and started writing, but I can't. It was nearly thirty more years before I actually started writing with an eye towards getting published. But I still credit Mrs. Smith and Halloween for planting the seed.

Tomorrow, in honor of Mrs. Smith and her encouragement, I'll post a ghost story to celebrate Halloween.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Memories and Family

Over at Ray's place and David Cranmer's they've been talking about memories and searching for their family's roots. As time slips away from me, I find myself searching through the scattered files of my memory, trying to remember who I am and where I came from.

Being a writer I've managed to write down many of those memories, finding comfort in those written words when a loved one has passed away. I have photo albums with many of the old pictures, newspaper clippings, and bits and pieces of the family trees. All there waiting for my children and grandchildren to show an interest in the past or a desire to trace their family roots.

Along with all those memories, I also found my writer self. It came with the memories of my grandfather. My grandmother and grandfather had ten children, all married with children, and every summer they gathered at grandpa's to catch up on their lives, show off the newest baby, and recall their memories.

The women usually gathered around grandma's rocking chair in the living room and gossiped about babies and husbands, but the men all sat out on the front porch to out-brag each. The women's gossip didn't interest me so I would sneak out on the porch and hide under the old cobbler's bench and listened to the uncle's voices weaving stories in the dark.

As the stars and fireflies came out to twinkle, the men lit up their cigarettes, with the red ends sparkling and smoke donuts twisting off into the air the words began to flow. Laughter filled the air as they recalled childhood exploits, fond memories of people they knew, and other family get-togethers.

Grandpa's porch was my introduction to storytelling. Voices and words weaving the past into the present reminding me that my father and uncles had been children once, too. But more than that, those words were my gift, a secret treasure that I can open and spill upon blank pages in the hopes that one day my own family will wonder about me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows

The grandkids are having their first snow day of the year but there's not actually any snow on the ground yet. But those fabulous weathermen, who are the only people on earth that actually get paid for being wrong, are predicting up to six inches by this afternoon. The boys are having a sunshine day with their friends at Miss Debbie's.

Halloween is just a few short days away, so the cupboard is stocked with candy for the trick or treaters, if only the adults here can resist temptation. All that chocolate just waiting for tiny teeth. Lollipop days.

Back a few years ago I wrote a micro-flash about a chocolate induced murder, the editor I submitted the piece to said that she loved the form, but her readers wouldn't understand the concept of flash. Oh, well. Over the years, I've rewritten this story several times. Right now, it stands at 1200 words with the title "Sugar Shock" and still no one wants the damn thing. One editor telling me that no woman would allow someone to treat her that way. Ha! What does HE know about mother - daughter relationships?

Writing is so much about the world the writer lives in, the things they see, and the people they know that it's hard sometimes for readers to realize that the basics of a story can be true. That the writer's job is to take that basic truth one step beyond reality, especially in the horror and crime genres.

Am I complaining because I can't find a market for this story? Not really. Over the years I've found many stories that I've written just don't fit anywhere. But the stories are there in my head and have to be written down, if only for my own satisfaction. Rainbow days for any writer is just getting the words down. You can iron out the details later.

So, what about you? Any stories flitting through your brain looking for an escape hatch, but you know in your heart that they'll never find a home? And do you write them down or just run away from them?

Today's quote is from an anonymous donor
"Easy reading is damn hard writing."

Today's ezine
The Thrilling Detective

This is a site that deserves to be savored, while there's plenty of fiction on tap, the information about PI's, books and authors is simply amazing for a writer looking to learn about the mystery genre.

Monday, October 27, 2008

RIP Tony Hillerman

The word is spreading that one of mystery's greats has passed away. I've only read a few of Hillerman's books so I can't say I was a big fan, but I did enjoy his work. When you read Hillerman, you were walking through Navajo land and only by lifting your eyes from the page did the desert and mountains disappear and you'd blink your eyes and wonder where Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn had disappeared too.

I'll leave you with a quote from Hillerman that's in his book "Talking Mysteries". After reading this, I didn't feel so guilty about playing solitare instead of writing as my mind worked through a scene.

"Most of all, I do this creating of scenes while sprawled, apparently comatose, on an old sofa in our living room, or sitting on said sofa playing a solitaire game called Spider, which requires two decks but no imagination. Thus it is absolutely impossible to tell whether I am writing or loafing. My wife always gives me the benefit of the doubt."

Rest in peace gentle giant of mysteries.

Another One Bites the Dust

DZ Allen's flash fiction site MuzzleFlash has closed down. While there are plenty of sites that take flash fiction, very few of them actually publish crime flash. For those of us who love the form, this is a very sad day.

RIP MuzzleFlash, we loved your rude, crude, in-your-face stories.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Touching on the Senses

One of the great weaknesses in my writing is remembering to use all the senses to pull readers into my story. And the five senses? Sight, smell, taste, touch, and hear. Since I write mostly flash, I usually hit sight and hear but the others fall by the wayside. Not good if you're writing longer stories which is my goal this year.

In his book "Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing", David Morrell quotes writer John Barth about using the senses in writing. "When describing something, it's important to 'keep the senses operating.' A visual detail should be intersected with one from the other senses, auditory, for instance, so that the reader will be engaged in the scene. 'This procedure may be compared to the way surveyors and navigators determine their positions by two or more compass bearings, a process known as triangulation.'"

Sounds easy enough, doesn't it? But remembering to do it is a whole other story. Just another thing to add the long rewrite list. And sometimes you wonder, why bother? If the reader can see it in their mind, why bother adding all the other stuff? Seeing is everything, right?

And then this morning I read these two sentences written by Chandler McGrew in his book "Cold Heart".

"And then they were abruptly trapped in a cave that stank of alcohol and cigarettes and overripe hormones mixed with air-conditioning and money. Tires churned hot asphalt and fan belts screeched; the cruiser dropped again and shuddered like a dog, shaking off a cold bath."

I finished reading that paragraph and just went "WOW". Would you have described a Brinks truck shoving a police cruiser into a strip joint like that? Me neither.

For me that paragraph put using all the senses into perspective.

Those two sentences are on page six of the book, you can bet your sweet ass I'm looking forward to being swallowed alive into the pages of this book.

How about you? Read any good paragraphs that really showed you how to get the writing right?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Gift of Imagination

There's been a lot of discussion about how nobody reads anymore. That's not surprising. With TV's, computers, and assorted handheld devices, who has the time or the inclination? You actually have to sit still and engage your imagination to read. And I wonder sometimes if in our efforts to educate our children from the time they open their eyes, we haven't stolen that gift of imagination from them.

When is the last time you saw a child lying on the ground and counting elephants and castles in the clouds? Or playing in a pile of dirt and building roads and mountains? Childhood is when our imaginations take flight. Everything is new and wonderful and exciting. The senses are all engaged at hyper-speed to see how everything tastes and feels. What color is the world and what sound does it make when it breathes? Sticking a child in front of TV robs him of all that adventure.

Putting a book in a child's hand is all about his imagination. He can feel the pages, smell the ink, hear the words, and his mind can soar with those colorful characters that decorate the pages. Give a child a book and he can find his own mind. Set him in front of a TV and he's using someone else's mind to see the world.

Books put a child into another world, the world of his imagination. And what greater gift can you give a person than the gift of his own mind?

Today's quote comes from Jack London
"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

Today's zine is a flash fiction site, they're also running a contest if anyone is interested. Lots of fun horror stories in the archives from authors many of you know.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The World Series

The World Series starts tonight and I'm not even sure who's playing. I could do a search and find out, but the truth is, I don't really care who's playing. I've never been a sports fan, but baseball and the series brings back some fond memories.

I remember sitting in Mr. Wagner's biology class with the series game coming through the classroom loudspeaker. Teachers could have the games piped in if they chose and the men teachers usually did. Listening to the game kept the boys on their best behavior while most of the girls were bored out of their skulls. My mom, who hated sports would be sitting in front of the TV watching the series instead of fixing supper when we got home from school. And my dad would quit work early to catch the end of the game, hoping the fifty cents he dropped in the pool would win. Somehow, baseball and the World Series in particular, brought the country together, gave us all a common bond.

Baseball used to be played during the day with the heat of the sun beating down, ice cold lemonade sweating up the sides of a mason jar, and ears pressed tight to a plastic transistor radio. Baseball and summertime, they just went together.

Back then everyone knew the players names. Hell, we had Mickey Mantle and Roger Marris playing for the Yankees, while fond memories of the Babe slapped against our ears from parents who remember the early days of baseball. And those stinking upstart Mets who actually won a series. Who would have thought?

I wonder sometimes what happened to our "love of the game" that blossomed every summer with the words "Batter up." and the sound of a ball slapping leather, cheers filling the air as hitters rounded the bases and slid home. There were church leagues, little leagues, pick-up games. Everyone played baseball. God, I miss that.

Story of the day comes from writer Kate Thornton. She's a great short story writer and whenever I come across one of her stories, I take the time to read it. And I'm never disappointed. Her story is titled "The Eyes Never Change" Here's the url

And the quote from David Morrell's "Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing"
"Don't give in to doubt. Never be discouraged if your first draft isn't what you thought it would be."