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.