From Lone Star Lawless: “When Cheese Is Love”

Posted by M. K. Waller

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In November, Austin Mystery Writers, my critique group, published its second crime fiction anthology, LONE STAR LAWLESS. Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my story, “When Cheese Is Love.”

Lone Star Lawless (Wildside Press, 2017)

To set the scene: English teacher Tabitha Baynes has come to Fonda de Paz, the best Tex-Mex restaurant in Central Texas, at the invitation of Gonzalo, the owner, who moved up from Mexico last year. Tabitha has been giving him English lessons; she has also just finished a year-long medically supervised liquid-only diet, and as a result has skinnied down from XXL dresses to a Size One. She looks stunning, and she’s desperate to stay that way. She must be perfect, because Gonzalo is perfect, and tonight, they will dine together–alone. But first, she must do battle with an old enemy. We watch her cross the parking lot and approach the restaurant.

*

Taking a deep breath, Tabitha lifted her head, smiled, and walked down a pathway lined with trees twinkling with tiny blue lights, toward the evening of her dreams.

First, though, she must pass two serpents.

“Enchilada suizas” is licensed by Steve Dunham under CC BY-2.0.
The first stood in the dimly lit foyer: Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, rearing on hind legs, teeth bared, looming over the crowd waiting to be seated. Illuminated from within, he cast bright reds, blues, greens, yellows across the room. He shone beautiful and fierce—but not nearly so fierce as the serpent that guarded the dining room.

Ana Alvarado, tall and slender, wearing a simple black sheath, its severity lightened by a heavy turquoise necklace, stood at the hostess station. Her black hair was pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck. Like a Renaissance Madonna, she glowed with serenity and grace.

When Ana saw Tabitha, her Madonna smile turned into a smirk.

Buenas noches. You know, of course, that you are late.”

Skin-deep beauty and a fake accent, thought Tabitha. Everybody in town knew Ana was just plain old Alva Mae Allen, brought up right here in Bur Oak. Her mother was Hispanic and spoke Spanish fluently, but Alva Mae flunked Spanish in high school because she couldn’t conjugate irregular verbs.

Ana gestured toward a door to her right. “Because you are late, you must wait in the bar. I hope Gonzalo is not irritated with you.”

“Thank you, Ana. I’ll have a glass of wine while I wait.”

From first day of kindergarten to the night of high school graduation, Ana had made Tabitha’s life a misery. “Tubby Tabby,” Ana had called her. Twenty years later, she was still a bully.

But Tabitha had changed. She was the All New Tabitha Baynes, sporting a size one dress and a stylish coif, and her own serenity and grace reached all the way down to the bone. Nothing Ana said or did could touch her.

And tonight she would reap her reward: dinner with Gonzalo in El Nicho, the room he reserved for special, intimate parties.

Tabitha had never seen El Nicho.

“Sparkling water” is licensed by Marco Verch under CC BY-2.0

Seated on a high stool at the far end of the bar, close to the kitchen, she skipped the wine (rosé, 20 calories per ounce) and ordered a glass of sparkling water.

A waiter delivered her drink. “An appetizer, perhaps, Senorita? We have something brand new—cheesy Tex-Mex egg rolls—very tasty.

She shook her head. If there was anything she didn’t need, it was cheese. All her life, it had been her favorite food. Now she was trying to replace it with green vegetables.

The waiter winked and retreated. Tabitha looked down at her glass and drew her shawl close around her neck. She wasn’t used to men looking at her that way. It was flattering, but at the same time, unsettling. It made her feel she was nothing but a body.

Holding the shawl closed with one hand, she sipped her drink and calculated. For dinner, she would order a taco salad without the shell (420 calories). But maybe, after today’s extra-grueling workout, she could afford a real taco (571 calories). She wouldn’t even consider her favorite, the beef chimichanga (1580 calories).

The kitchen door opened and the aroma of onion, cumin, chilis engulfed her. Her stomach, which since last night had seen nothing more substantial than broth, gave a lurch. Oh, why bother, she thought. Gonzalo would serve whatever he wanted to, and it would be smothered in what he called his “signature ingredient”—cheese. And she would scarf down every bite.

She checked her watch. Gonzalo had said something about meeting with an architect to discuss plans for adding a new dining room. But what if there was another reason he wasn’t waiting for her? Maybe Ana was right, and Gonzalo was angry because she was late. Or maybe she’d gotten it all wrong, and they weren’t going to share an evening in El Nicho. In the past two months, since she stopped trying to lose weight, he’d treated her to dinner once, twice, sometimes three times a week, to thank her for teaching him to speak English. But she’d always sat by herself in the main dining room. Maybe that was the plan for tonight.

Tabitha had been giving Gonzalo English lessons at the library every afternoon for over a year. He had a good ear and learned fast. She dreaded the day their lessons would end.

Lately, however, there’d been signs he might be interested in extracurricular activities. Free meals at Fonda. Lingering looks. Hands touching when she handed him a pencil. Heads close together as they leaned over a workbook. The gleam in his eyes when she pasted a gold star on his progress chart.

She shrugged. Maybe she was here tonight because he liked gold stars.

She was tying the shawl around her neck when Gonzalo strode in. Her stomach gave another lurch. This time it wasn’t from hunger.

“Ah, mi amor.” Enfolding her hand in both of his, he gazed into her eyes. Her knees melted to the consistency of queso.

“I’m so sorry I was late—”

Mi querida, I would wait for you until the end of time.”

If Fred Schmidt, the high school industrial arts teacher who had been hounding her for weeks to go with him on Saturday nights to the Polka Barn, said he would wait till the end of time, she would laugh and ask if he’d been reading Wuthering Heights. From Gonzalo, the words sounded like a sonnet. . . .

***

A launch party for LONE STAR LAWLESS will be held at BookPeople in Austin on February 4, 2018, 5:00 p.m.  Authors will speak and sign. The book is dedicated to Gale Albright, AMW member and our dear friend, who died in November 2016.

Austin Mystery Writers: Gale Albright, Valerie Chandler, Kaye George, Laura Oles, and Kaye George (our valued emerita)

Friends who contributed stories: Alexandra Burt, Mark Pryor, Janice Hamrick, Terry Shames, Larry D. Sweazy, George Weir, Manning Wolfe, and Scott Montgomery

Kathy Waller, Laura Oles, Gale Albright, and Valerie Chandler
Kaye George

 

*****

M. K. Waller, aka Kathy, has published stories in LONE STAR LAWLESS, MURDER ON WHEELS, and DAY OF THE DARK (ed. Kaye George), and in the online magazine MYSTERICAL-E.

Here are links to her personal blog, Telling the Truth, Mainly,

to the Austin Mystery Writers blog,

and to the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter’s newsletter/blog, HOTSHOTS!, which she edits.

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Writing as Business: An Epiphany

Posted by M. K. Waller

*****

Writing is a business.

That’s what experienced writers tell the wannabes.

For a long time, I thought business applied to action alone: Write every day, attend classes, network, become familiar with various routes to publication, learn the market, read submission guidelines, stay in good physical shape, and on and on… Items on a list, they could be checked off at the end of each day.

Recently, I discovered another aspect of writing as business that I can’t quite fit onto a list.

Last winter, Kaye George put out a call for submissions of stories for DAY OF THE DARK, an anthology to celebrate the total solar eclipse that will be visible from parts of the United States this summer. Each story would contain an element of mystery and would be related to an eclipse. Kaye would edit, and Wildside Press would have the book out before the August 21 eclipse.

I’ve known Kaye for a number of years, ever since I joined Austin Mystery Writers, which she was facilitating. I watched as her career took off–a contract for one mystery series soon turned into contracts for three more series. At the same time, she wrote and published short stories and articles, and appeared on panels, and made it look easy.

Periodically, I said, “I don’t know how she gets it all done.”

And someone would respond, “Now, you mustn’t compare yourself to Kaye.”

And I would say, “I’m not comparing myself to her. I just don’t know how she gets it all done.”

I knew, of course, that she did it by checking tasks off that list. What I wanted to know was–where did she get the energy? (I still want to know.)

When I read her call for submissions, I didn’t consider sending a story. As usual, my mind was blank. My mind is always blank–what could I write about an eclipse?–until the last minute. As usual, at the last minute, I came up with an idea for a story.

But.

I don’t like to work for friends. I don’t mix the personal and the professional. If I sent Kaye a story and she rejected it, I wouldn’t be hurt, I wouldn’t be angry, I wouldn’t be devastated–but I would be embarrassed, not by rejection, but by the knowledge that I’d had the audacity to submit an inferior product, a story I should have known wasn’t worthy–

Here’s where the epiphany comes in:

It dawned on me that–what a concept!–Kaye is a businesswoman. She intended to put out the best book possible. She would choose only stories that fit her purpose.

And epiphany, part 2:

I was a businesswoman. I would submit a story. It it was accepted, I would be pleased. If it was rejected, I would accept that as part of doing business, set the story aside, tweak it, submit it elsewhere. Or, if I discovered it wasn’t tweakable, I would set it aside and leave it there.

Write, submit, be accepted/rejected, get on with life.

So I wrote a story titled “I’ll Be a Sunbeam,” submitted, was accepted, and, after dancing around the room for a while–dancing is also part of the writing business–I saw another call for submissions, wrote, submitted…

In three days, DAY OF THE DARK will be released. It will be available in print and for Kindle, and can be pre-ordered now.

I’m thrilled my story was accepted for DAY OF THE DARK. I’m thrilled to be in the company of the twenty-three other writers whose stories appear there.

And I’m thrilled to finally understand that the writing business is really a state of mind.

*****

 

To read more about stories in DAY OF THE DARK, see Debra Goldstein’s Day of the Dark Anthology!!!! – Part I . Part II will appear on July 31.

M. K. Waller, aka Kathy,
has published stories
in Austin Mystery Writers’
MURDER ON WHEELS
and in Mysterical-E.

WHAT DID I BRING HOME?

 

Since all three people in my writers group attended the Left Coast Crime Conference in

Stephen Buehler - Hands around knee
by Stephen Buehler

Hawaii this past March, I asked this question during one of our meetings: What did you get out of the conference? (In a recent blog, here’s what Sarah M. Chen said.)

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to the LCC conference without having a current book out. My last published short story was in an 2013 anthology which I brought to sell but it’s hard to sell a book when you are  only 1 in 12 writers. They want to read something that’s all your, like a novel. (I do have a short story coming out in April in the LAst Resort, SINCLA anthology and I feel good about that.)

Feeling anxious that I had nothing current to promote I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy my time in Honolulu.

Here’s what I brought back:

Sunset in Hawiia
Sunset in Hawaii

First – I was in Hawaii!!! Yippee! Though I didn’t take full advantage of staying at a hotel by the ocean I was finally taking a vacation! My last one was 12 months ago – last year’s LCC in Phoenix. It feels good to get away from your hometown and your problems and normal responsibilities. I did find that I missed Seymour more than I thought and looked forward to seeing him on my return.

Seymour 10-9-15 tongue in
Seymour

The overall best thing I brought back was knowing that I meet a lot of new writers and readers. For the past few years, I haven’t attended Bouchercon (which is 3 times the size of LCC) and many writers/readers go to both. It’s an event I’d love to go to but I can’t afford it at the moment. At LCC Hawaii, I was able to meet those writers that I missed that had attended Bouchercon. I enjoyed making new friends to share ideas with and to cheer on.

Another good thing – I was on a panel, Performing Sleuths, Standing Ovations, which gave me and my writing more exposure. The topic dealt with main characters/sleuths that are also performers. Mine is a magician. Others panelists created protagonists in a rock band, a mariachi band and a classical violinist.  Afterwards people said they enjoyed it. I had a chance to let more people know that I’m a magician and am writing a novel about a magician. Self-branding.

Perfroming Sleuths panel
Performing Sleuths Panel (I’m in the middle)

Late one night, I performed magic tricks for a bunch of writers and it went over very well. Just for this conference I put together a routine with a new Sherlock Holmes theme and it went over beautifully.

There’s nothing better in the world than being surrounded by authors and readers of crime fiction.

In summing up: I may not have had a big breakthrough at the conference but all the smaller ones added up to make me glad I went.

Another thing I brought back – a heck of a lot of bookmarks!

What have you brought back from a conference?

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Stephen Buehler’s short fiction has been published in numerous on-line publications including, Akashic Books. His Derringer Nominated short story, Not My Day appeared in the Last Exit to Murder anthology. His short story, Seth’s Big Move will appear in the LAst Resort anthology in April 2017. He is currently revising his novella, The Mindreading Murders, into novel length. It’s about a magician, psychics and of course, murder. He is also currently seeking a home for his mystery/comedy P.I. novel, Detective Rules. By day he is a script/story consultant, magician and lives with a dog named Seymour.  www.stephenbuehler.com

 

Keep the Promises You Make to Yourself

CindyCarrollESome promises take longer to keep than others but promises you make to yourself are important. Promises for me come in different forms. Goals I set for myself every year. Daily, weekly, or monthly promises I’ll make. They’re easy to off handedly say, “I’ll read more this week.” Or “I’ll watch what I eat.” Even promises to take better care of yourself are easy to think and forget. This year I’m doing a better job at keeping those promises I made to myself.

Copyright JanPietruszka from Bigstock

The first promise I make to myself every year is to lose weight and get into better shape. But this time the promise had another one attached to it. Something I desperately wanted to do but not if I was overweight. So maybe that promise was promise number one. In any case, I’ve stuck to my weight loss plan because I had the other promise in mind. The Supernatural convention in Toronto this year has been a goal since I found out they had the conventions in Toronto. This year’s is even more important because they aren’t coming back to Toronto next year. I didn’t know this when I made the initial weight loss goal so I’m glad I stuck to the weight loss plan all these months. As of last weigh in I’m down 42.6 pounds. Those photo ops I have planned should turn out really well!

Another promise I make every year is to save money. But what does that look like? How much money? I tended to be vague but this time I knew I needed the money for something specific. The Supernatural convention. Targets help a lot. I had a weight loss target for a specific date so I’ve stayed on track. I had a monetary target so I could go to the convention and do the photo ops I wanted so I went without shopping, specialty coffees, buying lunch at work so I could save.

I promised I would actually publish something longer than a short story. I still haven’t done that yet but that’s in the works. Success at publishing can’t happen unless you release your work into the wild and let people read it. For the longest time I’ve been concentrating on getting words written. Have to get more words done. Have to write when I get home. Have to take a week off to write. But I wasn’t revising works that were already written and releasing them. After a talk with my husband and a good friend who is also a writer I realized I’m afraid to release something in my name. I have over twenty stories up under pen names. But only four short stories under mine, three of those are in anthologies. I made the decision to work on revisions of two completed stories so I can release those. Then I’ll work on new words.

I promised I would read more this year and so far I’m on track but I’m still behind where I wanted to be. So far this year I’ve read two books. I was hoping to be at four by now at least. The year is still young and I can do more to read more.

What promises have you made to yourself? Are you keeping them?

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Check out my website: http://www.cindycarroll.com
Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CindyPCarroll
Like me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorCindyCarroll
Follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cindypcarroll

newcomer-coverI have a new story out in an anthology! The Newcomer has twelve science fiction short stories from authors across the globe.

From a young couple struggling to look after their baby to a new captain’s reluctance to take command of her ship, and from a sun-addled stranger’s appearance in town to the emergence of a sentient AI, the twelve tales presented here explore the central theme of an arrival by someone or something new. There’s even an alien puppy.

The stories are:

Tithe by Griffin Carmichael
Exodus by Alec Hutson
First Bonding by Tom Germann
Ice Dreamer by J J Green
The Nanny by Cindy Carroll
Right Hand by Jonathan C Gillespie
What Make is Your Cat? by Richard Crawford
Kaxian Duty by Cherise Kelley
Lessons Learned by J Naomi Ay
The Humra by Laura Greenwood
The Hawk of Destiny’s Fist by James S Aaron
Repulse by Alasdair Shaw

Smile, Write, and Breathe

Sarah M. Chenby Sarah M. Chen

The past couple weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions for me. But what’s been helping me stay on track is to think positive.

I’m probably the last person people would expect to say this. I tend to see the glass as half empty. Friends and family call me “the worrywart.” My therapist tells me that if you think enough negative thoughts, your brain develops these “negative grooves.” The key is to create new brain grooves with positive thoughts. And yes, this is extremely difficult for people like me. The longer you’ve been thinking negative thoughts, the easier it is for your brain to go right into that pattern because the groove is already there. Creating a new groove takes discipline.

However, I’ve made a considerable effort the past couple weeks to make some changes, both in my outlook and in my actions. As for my outlook, positivity is a big one. Here are some ways I’ve been doing this over the past week:

1)Visiting one of my favorite cities, Boston.

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Connie Johnson Hamblay and I with our copies of WINDWARD.

2) Having a short story in Level Best BooksWINDWARD: BEST NEW ENGLAND CRIME STORIES and attending the launch party at Crime Bake in Dedham, MA last weekend.

3) Meeting fellow anthology authors like Connie Johnson Hambley, Christine Bagley, and Al Blanchard Award winner, P. Jo Anne Burgh (love our Twitter discussions!).

4) Visiting a new bookstore. It took me over 45 minutes on the T from my hotel but it was worth it. Brookline Booksmith was crowded and cozy, everything I love in a bookstore.

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5) Buying a signed copy of Rob Hart’s SOUTH VILLAGE, the third in his Ash McKenna series. I just finished the second, CITY OF ROSE, on the plane and couldn’t wait to read the third.20161112_154059

6) Touring around Hyannis with a friend I rarely see. What a cute town. We talked about writing and the 80s (maybe the fact I’m in a 1980s anthology had something to do with it). I came away inspired and energized.20161113_132312

7) Writing during the trip. I even left the conference early to return to my hotel to write. I’m always jealous of those writers who can do this. I was determined to be one of these writers. I even wrote on the plane the entire trip home (almost 6 hours) on my shiny new laptop (another thing that makes me happy).

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I’ll be heading to Phoenix for Thanksgiving so I’m hoping I can keep up this momentum to be inspired, think positive, and write. Even if I don’t write, I’ll be with friends whom I love dearly and when it comes down to it, that’s exactly what I need—what any of us ever need, really.

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Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. She has over 20 crime fiction short stories published in various anthologies and online including Shotgun Honey, All Due Respect, Crime Factory, Betty Fedora, Out of the Gutter, and Dead Guns Press. Her debut book, Cleaning Up Finn, was published May 2016 by All Due Respect Books. www.sarahmchen.com

cleaningupfinn

Equal Pay, Equal Lines

 

 

Travis Richardson_5x7_300dpi (1) by Travis Richardson

 

Happy Equal Pay Day! Today is equal pay day in America. That means that from April 12 going forward, women will make the same amount as men for the rest of the year. The previous four months and 11 days women have been essentially working for free compared to their male counterparts. For every dollar a man makes, a woman on average makes 79¢ doing the same work. There is even more disparity when race comes into the equation. http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2016/04/12/equal-pay-day-inequality-women-gender/82913078/

Since I employ nobody in the world, there isn’t much I can do except bring awareness to this issue. I should also note that as a dude, I have awful negotiating skills for my own self interest and have probably been underpaid for work many times. Equal pay for equal work is a no-brainer. It’s good for everybody: you, me, her and him.  

In similar news, yesterday I saw an amazing body of research that confirms what everybody knows about movies, that they skew towards men’s roles. But I had no idea how lopsided it was until Hanah Anderson and Matt Daniels analyzed 2000 screenplays and came up with this amazing and shocking data set: http://polygraph.cool/films/

In today’s world it seems that facts don’t matter to a lot of people, just spout of an opinion with conviction and people might believe it’s true. Research takes time and effort. Anderson and Daniels sifted through those scripts tagging male and female lines and getting a word count for everybody. While they admit that movies change on the set with improvisation and last minute changes or scenes are cut in the editing room, scripts still represent most of what goes on the screen. Here is the breakdown.

http://polygraph.cool/films/embed.html“>http://polygraph.cool/films/embed.html

I knew the numbers would be skewed towards men, especially with war and prison movies in the mix, but not 1500+ out of 2000. I could go on, but seriously look at the site: http://polygraph.cool/films/

So this leads me to my point above where I said I can’t do anything about women’s equality in pay. I don’t write or direct major motion pictures, but what I do in my not-day job is write fiction. Crime fiction primarily. Although I haven’t analyzed my works very deeply, it’s safe to safe say most of my work is male centric. Not all, but a majority.  (Over the past couple of years I’ve been more inclusive including a story coming out on April 15 in Yellow Mama and another later this winter with female protagonists.)

So I asked myself why. It’s too easy to say I’m a male and I know men better. That might have been the case, but I write fictional characters, so they can be who I want them to be. It could be that most of my stories have violence in them. Perhaps I don’t want to hurt a woman on the page or I think women are smarter than men and wouldn’t let situations escalate to guns or fists or whatever implement of destruction are used in the plot. Regardless, it is something for me think about as I continue to write.

Anything that you think is missing your works?

 

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Word Count

Travis Richardson_5x7_300dpi (1) by Travis Richardson

This morning I submitted a 4991 word manuscript to an open call for a mystery/crime anthology set in a specific regional area. I’m not sure what my chances of getting in are since (1) open calls are often highly competitive, (2) judging is subjective and (3) my work skews toward darker subjects than most general mystery stories. Like a lot of my stories, I overwrite my first draft. To be fair when I was writing the story, I wasn’t thinking of the anthology specifically. I was stuck editing a WIP and really wanted to get this other story out of my head. While writing I used the anthology’s geographical area, perhaps subconsciously,  but it also fit my character’s natural movements.

The first draft was over 6000 words and the second came out to 7742. I like the second draft. A lot. It follows a character who seems to  repeatedly makes poor decisions before meeting a person who changes everything. (Sorry I’m keeping the story vague on the off-off-off chance that a judge might read this post.) The relationship between the two characters and consequences of the protagonist’s past become the central plot. At the end of the story I added a final twist to explain what really happened in the opening scenes preceding the main plot. The problem is that the anthology called for a maximum of 5000 words. That meant a 35% reduction or about 10½ pages out of a 29 page document.

antique-writing-desk
Image of desk with two stacks of paper because I needed a photo. 🙂

Part of me didn’t want to submit to the anthology so I could keep the overall theme and the twist in the story. The story, however, had all of the elements that the anthology wanted and it would be cool to have a story in that collection. Finding publishers for stories can be difficult, even with solid stories. So I asked my writing group (Writing Wranglers and Warrior’s own Sarah Chen and Stephen Buehler) to help me out. I can’t stress how important it is to have another set of critical eyes on a project. They both came up with important cuts. While painful, the cuts left the integrity of the plot and the main characters’ relationship intact. It is now a straight ahead love/revenge/dealing-with-past-demons story.

Which leads me to wonder if the lean version gets published, what should I do with the bigger version with a big twist ending? Usually scenes I’ve cut out of other stories are never seen again. Often that is for the best. (For example my story “How I Got Into The Navy” was supposed to happen over two decades, but a character’s surprise reaction caused the story to end sharply.) The story I submitted this morning was sparked by a concept that is currently absent from the story. While I could apply the concept to a different story, it seems like I would be walking down the same road. I’d love to publish the longer version of the story with the caveat that a shorter version exists in the world.

Something like this happens with excerpts from novels that are made into short stories. Reading Patricia Abbott’s CONCRETE ANGEL this year, I noticed two scenes that I had already read as short stories in other publications. I need to ask her if there are more stories from the novel out in the world. On the other side, S.W. Lauden expanded a short story for his recent book CROSSWISE and I did the same with my novella LOST IN CLOVER. The original short story submission, “Eggnog,” led to both a story rejection and a contract for a novella expanding on the life of Jeremy Roberts. While I could try to publish it, I don’t think I will since that short story is the end of the novella. So I’m obviously making distinctions about publishing variations of a story. If there is something new and strikingly different in a variation, then perhaps an argument could be made for publishing it.

In music and movies there are often extended versions sold as remixes, alternate versions or director’s cuts. While leaner can better a film (in my opinion Apocalypse Now beats Apocalypse Now Redux), other times harsh cuts can destroy a movie (like Once Upon A Time In America.) Also, I imagine, two versions of the same film can still be powerful. (I’ve seen two different cuts of Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil and I think they are both solid.)

So all that being said, I wonder if there would be a market for authors to show different versions of their story. As it is, writers struggle to get people to read… anything. Perhaps big name authors could pull in an audience interested in variations of a single work, but on the whole I imagine it would be a tough sell. A few years ago, I wrote a story with two different endings and it’s befuddle me as I’m not sure what I should do with it. The endings take the story in dramatically different directions. I’ve unsuccessfully looked to see if it were possible to have story published with both endings. I found one publication that did it a few years back, but they are no more.

Would you like to read different versions of the same story or should an artist stick to a single version and move on to the next project?

  _________________________________________________________

Travis Richardson has been a finalist for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in crime fiction publications such as Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, Jewish Noir, and All Due Respect. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter Ransom Notes, reviews Anton Chekhov short stories at  http://www.chekhovshorts.com, and sometimes shoots a short movie. His novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record.  www.tsrichardson.com 

My short story “Quack and Dwight” in JEWISH NOIR is a finalist for a Derringer in the novelette category. The same story was a top ten finalist in Screencraft’s 2015 Short Story contest. You can read a copy of the story here.

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My Split Book Personality

Sarah M. Chen

by Sarah M. Chen

A couple posts back, I discussed the personality type that I most identified with: the extroverted introvert. Now I’m going to discuss another conflicting aspect of my personality—my book personality.

If anyone asked what type of books I liked to read, I’d automatically say crime fiction and the darker the better. It’s also what I love to write. Many years ago, I was still finding my groove and it wasn’t until I got a few published short stories under my belt did I feel comfortable enough to write what was lurking inside me: tales of regular folks who didn’t make the best decisions for whatever reason. Folks you’d meet at a bar or waiting in line at the DMV. It’s stuff I enjoy writing because I can relate to it.

However, I also love another genre just as obsessively. My collection is split equally between crime fiction and this other genre. My reviews and recommendations are split down the middle as well.

There are many people out there who read multiple genres. They read the gamut, from nonfiction to literary to supernatural. I do the same thing to a certain extent. I’m both a book lover and bookseller so I’ll occasionally pick up a memoir or re-read a classic. Books that aren’t crime fiction, I include among my all-time favorites, like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and BLACK BEAUTY. But my go-to genre is dark crime fiction.

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Yet this changed when I started reading YA several years ago. I was surprised that I loved it just as much as crime fiction. I adored it to the point where I wanted to write YA (and yes, I’m still struggling to finish my YA novel). I strongly identified with the angst, the loneliness, and the confusion of the teen protagonists. The overwhelming emotion and the life or death storylines (either figuratively or literally) are excruciatingly painful and lovely. Some YA fiction is even darker than many crime fiction novels I’ve read. They tackle heavy topics like incest, abuse, neglect, suicide, drugs, and gender/sexual/cultural identity with brutal honesty. Yet YA novels can also have a lightness and startling beauty to them. The teen voice is both world-weary and innocent, hopeful yet candid.

some of my favorite YAs
Some of my favorite YAs

I also love Middle Grade fiction for entirely different reasons. I love the whimsy and eagerness of an MG book. I have a soft spot for middle grade mysteries and wish there were more of them out there.

MG booksI think many booksellers feel the way I do. They may gravitate towards a certain genre and that becomes their wheelhouse but it’s nice to occasionally balance it with something completely different.

As a writer/fangirl/bookseller, I’m learning both communities—the crime fiction world and the YA/MG world—are the most supportive enthusiastic bunch I could ever hope to know. There is also a lot of overlap and crossover (usually when the crime fiction authors begin having kids of their own). Now that I think about it, it’s not so hard for me to believe that I love both genres equally. They’re all stories told from the heart that touch us in some way, and isn’t that ultimately, what we’re looking for as readers?

And since many of us are doing our favorite books of 2015, I guess I might as well end this post with my own list. So here are my top 3 from both crime fiction and YA, in no particular order:

  1. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins (crime fiction)
  2. STONE COLD DEAD by James W. Ziskin (crime fiction)
  3. CONCRETE ANGEL by Patricia Abbott (crime fiction)
  4. WE ALL LOOKED UP by Tommy Wallach (YA)
  5. CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert (YA)
  6. AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir (YA)

I’ve provided links to my GoodReads or Mysterious Galaxy reviews for each title. It was hard to choose my favorites of 2015 but I’m pretty satisfied with this list. With that being said, I know I’m forgetting some outstanding novels. Here’s to a year filled with emotional, gut-wrenching, twisted, shocking, and uplifting fiction! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2016, but I already know there are some hugely-anticipated gems on the horizon.

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Sarah M. Chen has worked a variety of odd jobs, ranging from script reader to private investigator assistant. Her crime fiction short stories have appeared online and in various anthologies, including All Due Respect, Akashic, Plan B, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Betty Fedora, Vol. 2, and Spelk. Her noir novella, Cleaning Up Finn, is coming out May 2016 with All Due Respect Books, proving she can write something over 6,000 words. www.sarahmchen.com

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Fiction That Hurts

by Travis Richardson

When writing a short story, besides telling a compelling plot, it is often good to have a character change, differentiating who they were at the beginning to who they became by the end of the story. In crime fiction, this could mean a breathing character on page one ends of up dead by the last period. One of the things that I like in good noir-ish crime fiction is when I am hurt as a reader. And that is the feeling that I try to do as writer. In a world where movies and commercials over-sensationalize every moment they can, and, on the other end, video games desensitize, I still want to make a unique impact in the jaded headspaces. I want to have a hard emotional gut punch that leaves readers breathless at the end. If I’ve learned one thing by reading short stories, especially crime, is that you can have horrible, awful things happen in a story, but if you have heartfelt emotion that amplifies the tragic happenings in the story, you’ve got gold.

Here are a few examples of stories I love because they moved and hurt me deeply:

Misery by Anton Chekhov. Although not a crime story per se, Chekhov gives a heart-rending story about a man trying to communicate his loss. I would love to write something this good. http://www.chekhovshorts.com/045-misery/

Uncle by Daniel Woodrell. This story is not for the faint of heart. The story is about a rapist (a topic I find hard to write about) and his adolescent accomplice. It is savagely brutal and heartbreaking, yet Woodrell managed a full and perfect ending to the story. It was nominated for Anthony and Edgar awards. You can find the story in the anthology Hello of A Woman. http://www.bustedflushpress.com/anthologies.php

Peaches by Todd Robinson. This story made me want to take my crime fiction to the next level. Nominated for Derringer and Anthony awards, this story blew me away and inspired me to write “I’m Not Sure Where I’m Headin’”, a story that will be coming out in All Due Respect issue #4 in September. Todd’s story concerns a man reuniting with his transvestite baby sitter, and it will knock the breath out you. Here is a link to Grift Magazine Issue #1: http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-kenyon/grift-no-1/paperback/product-20062248.html

Are there any stories that you’ve read that have made a lasting impact?

Travis Richardson is fortunate to be nominated for both the Anthony and Macavity awards for his short story “Incident on the 405,” featured in the anthology MALFEASANCE OCCASIONAL: GIRL TROUBLE. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in several online zines as well as the anthologies SCOUNDRELS: TALES OF GREED, MURDER AND FINANCIAL CRIMES and ALL DUE RESPECT ISSUE #1. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter, reviews Chekhov short stories daily at www.chekhovshorts.com and sometimes shoots a short movie. His latest novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record. 

 

Branding? by Travis

Travis Richardson This blog by Travis Richardson

Hello Writing Wranglers and Warriors community. Thank you for letting me contribute to your site. I’m relatively a new author. Not new in that I’ve just started writing, but that my first story was published in 2012. I write primarily crime fiction and have found a supportive community of cohorts who are willing to help others along the way.

Within the crime fiction genre, there are several subcategories with rules that must be adhered to. If you write a cozy mystery, don’t you dare kill an animal. If you write noir, avoid happy endings at all costs. Thrillers seem to have good triumphing over almost insurmountable evil. I imagine most noir writers would not write a cozy, even with a gun pointed at their head, and this probably holds true for other subgenre crossings as well.

Writing genres seems to require building an audience of readers and then continuing to give them what they want. (The customer is always right, right?) And it makes sense. If you established yourself as the go to guy for stories about a clown detective series, you could be letting your readers down if you change your next release to a romance novel set during the Civil War. It’s muddling the brand (the brand is you, the author, BTW), and I get it, but still… what do you do when you can’t take writing any more scenes of Bobo the detective clown pulling a clue out of a suspect’s ear or using banana peels to escape from evil henchmen?

Some writers have used pseudonyms. Stephen King was Richard Bachman, Donald Westlake was Richard Stark for his Parker series, and, most recently, J.K. Rowling wrote as Robert Galbraith. Here are a few more from Time.

I understand why it is done, but why can’t an author say hey, I can write in several genres/subgenres, not just the clown detective series, darn it! Recently some authors have written adult and YA books using the same names, and John Grisham has written a few books outside of his well-known legal thrillers, but for the most part there haven’t been many.

One of the places where diversity in genre seems to happen is in film. A few writer-directors are also masters of multiple genres. Billy Wilder and the Coen Brothers come to mind. Both have done drama, crime, and comedy films and if any said “hey, you guys can’t do that” they ignored them and made stellar, classic movies. Granted, the film medium is different from novels with actors getting more public attention than the directors/writers, but still they are able to dabble in different areas. Another writer that comes to mind is Shakespeare. His plays are arranged in comedies, histories, and tragedies. And while some may argue he was stronger in one over the others, he was a master in all three.

So why can’t novelists do whatever they fancy and do it under the same name, branding be darned? It’s risky, and, for a publishing company, it might be seen as a publicity nightmare, but is it? Ultimately shouldn’t the book, the individual creation by the author, be the brand itself? Kind of like movies and plays, you know? As much as an audience may want to see 30 Bobo the Detective novels out there, maybe the author is good for six and then they want to move into the epic Civil War Romance genre or serial killer sub-sub genre (some might argue it would be consistent with the clown stories).

While I hope to build an audience with my writing and characters, I hope that I will be able to write in multiple genres and attract different readers. What are your thoughts?

You can find out more about me at:

http://tsrichardson.com