Saturday, January 31, 2009


My computer took a nosedive today so I won't be blogging for a while.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Graveyard Shift" by William P. McGivern

I've been picking through some short story anthologies this month and finding an amazing group of authors that I've never read before. This week's find was a short novel by William P. McGivern called "Graveyard Shift". I found the story in the 1979 spring-summer edition Hitchcock's Anthology.

The story is about a newspaper reporter who's following a tip about a mayoral candidate. The tip is a set-up that goes terribly wrong for everybody involved, including our reporter. McGivern gives us the bad guys up front but the twists the story takes are so unexpected that you just have to keep reading to find out what's going to happen. Excellent story and a great example of how to plant "red herrings" that turn a story on its head.

There was no bio for McGivern so I did a search and found that he not only wrote novels and shorts but he wrote movies like "The Big Heat" for which he won an Edgar, "Rouge Cop", and "Brannigan". He also wrote TV scripts for shows like Kojak, Banyon and Adam 12. I'll be on the look out for more of this author's work.


I love scrolling through, there's always something new to find. And if your dark stories wander into the horror genre here's a few markets you can take a look at.

For the non-fictions writers there's Dark Scribe Press they're working on an anthology about slasher films you can find them at this url

While clicking around their site, I found that they also publish a zine called Dark Scribe Magazine. They are looking for reviews, interviews and articles. The url here is

And for our short story writers there's Flashes in the Dark at The word limit is 1000 and make sure you check out their guidelines because there's a lot they don't want in their stories like child abuse, animal abuse...well, you get the idea.

And there's another new zine debuting in July called Shock Totem. Their first issue is all set but they're taking submissions for the second one. you can find them at

Just an added note here on Shock Totem. When I checked to see if the url was working, I found that it didn't. Going back to Ralan, I clicked on the link there and it doesn't work there now either. Could just be a glitch, time will tell.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

RIP John Updike

Just read this news on Yahoo and thought, "Oh my God, another giant is gone." I can't say that I'm a big fan of Updike as I've tried and failed to complete a single one of his books. His flowery prose and ten dollars words always stopped me in my tracks, but you've got to admire a writer who's left behind such a tremendous the body of work.

The Invisible Writer

I ran across a writing tip today that made me want to shout at the tipster, "Are you nuts?" Needless to say, I refrained from a confrontation but I'd still like to discuss this just a bit.

Here's the tip: "I have my students locate what they believe is the best line. It makes them aware that not every line has to be golden and a writer certainly doesn't want to lose a reader in self-indulgent prose. However, there should be one line that absolutely pops the piece. This is the line to let readers know 'I'm a writer to be reckoned with.' "

I've always believed that every word - every sentence - every paragraph needs to be vital to the story, needs to keep it moving and the reader engrossed. Writing one line that pops does not a good story make. But even this isn't what upset me. It was the part about the writer letting the reader know that he's to be "reckoned with".

I've always been taught that the writer should be invisible. If you can tell when the writer is writing, he's doing something wrong. When I finish a short story or a book I want to be able to say, "Wow! What a great story!" And if a writer can make me do this, I'll look for more of their work to read. For me, its about the story, if I'm stopping to admire the writing the story is lost.

What about you? Do you read for the story or to admire the writer who's telling the story? Or is it a little of both?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"A Good Man is Hard to Find"

In the last twenty years the colleges have been emphasizing creative writing to such an extent that you almost feel that any idiot with a nickel's worth of talent can emerge from a writing class able to write a competent story. In fact, so many people can now write competent stories that the short story as a medium is in danger of dying of competence. We want competence, but competence by itself is deadly. What is needed is the vision to go with it, and you do not get this from a writing class. -- Flannery O'Connor

I ran across this quote today on John Baker's blog. The odd thing is that O'Connor passed away in 1964 and yet, her words are even more on target today than when she first wrote it. Coincidentally, I read one of her short stories this week which shows what vision can do for a story.

The story was "A Good Man is Hard to Find". The premise was taking the wrong road and O'Connor turned that premise on it's head because every character in the story took the wrong road that day. She took an ordinary family trip and turned it into a tragedy so totally unexpected and yet you knew that yes, it could happen.

I loved O'Connor's voice and look forward to finding more of her work. One thing that did give me a chuckle though was reading her bio at the back of the anthology which said that "her works are filled with "tender" violence and grim Gothic humor." Oh, the humor was certainly there in the everyday thoughts and actions of the family but the violence, while off page, was not of the tender variety.

On a side note, there's a new story up at Beat to a Pulp, and here's the BSP, it's by me. I hope you enjoy my little side trip into the regions of Sci-fi.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Always Learning

Did you ever read a story and want to sit down with the author and ask her why she did certain things in the story? I know that with the Internet, authors are more accessible but how would you approach an author you admire to ask such questions? Would she think you actually wanted to learn her process or would she think that you were just trying to tear her work apart? After all, she's been published at a level you might never reach.

I just finished a short story by an author who I really admire. I've read all her books and always look forward to the next one. So I was thrilled when I came across a short story written by her. As I read the story I wondered why she chose to write using another author's VERY famous character.

While the use of this character was a bit jarring, the story was engrossing and well plotted. Right up until the end when I felt like she was rushing so she could get the story out the door. I wondered why she told instead of showing us what could have been an action packed ending. Was she limited by a word count or did she just get tired of writing the short story, maybe afraid of taking it over the top? I so wanted to start pounding the keyboard and filling in the the parts she'd just skimmed over.

Even though I'll never ask her these questions, she did teach me an important writing lesson. She showed me how important it is to fill in the blanks so the reader can actually see what's going on instead of just reading about it after the fact. This is something that I do in my own writing, telling instead of showing.

Reading this story also brought home the lesson that you can learn just as much from poor writing as from great writing. The trick is making sure you incorporate the lessons learned into your own writing. I don't think a writer is ever done learning and if you run across one who believes they know everything about writing, it might be better to take their advice with a grain of salt.

And a quote today from Truman Capote:
"Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shadows, just as painting does, or music."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stumbled Upon

The Internet is an excellent tool or a virtual time suck if you're looking for something. I read a short story last night by William Bayer entitled "Mirror Girl" and decided to check out the author. Found his web site and discovered that he'd written quite a number of novels under the name Bayer but also as David Hunt. The Hunt books happened to be two that I'd read and enjoyed.

Anyhoo, there were no short stories listed on the site so I went searching again. I didn't find any shorts but on checking out an interview he did I found a new (to me) mystery market. It's called The New Mystery Reader Magazine and they publish monthly. They accept short stories and articles both and they seem to have been around for quite a while. I put the url in the zine column to the left.

They only publish one short a month so the competition will be stiff for the slots and the top word count is 2500. I know that Scott Parker, Gary Dobbs, and several other readers write great articles on their blogs so maybe this might be a good market for some of your work. No pay, of course, but it might be some great exposure.

Oh yes, and if anyone knows of any other short stories by William Bayer/David Hunt drop me comment. I'd really like to read more of his shorts.

***just a note to say that I've added two more zines to the links on the left. Pine Tree Mysteries and Well Told Tales. Pine Tree is new and seems to lean towards the cozy and Well Told Tales publishes their stories as free podcasts.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And of Course

As soon as I listed Cemetery Dance as a market, they've closed to submissions until 2010. Sorry about that folks.

New Contest

Christopher Grant has announced his first contest at A Twist of Noir and it sounds like great fun. The basics: up to 5000 words, you can use your series character if you have one, and the theme is Alienation. The deadline is March 31 so there's lots of time to write and polish. You can find the details at this url

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Holstering my Keyboard

Every once in a while you read a story that makes you want to stop writing because you know you'll never be that good. Head on over to Beat to a Pulp and read Charles Gramlich's story "Whiskey, Guns, and Sin" and you'll see what I mean. Here's the url

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Pair of Shorts

I've mentioned before that I picked up about a dozen short story anthologies at the local Historical Society book sales this past summer. The one I'm working through right now is full of the most amazing shorts I've ever read by a group of authors who are nothing short of a Who's Who's list in the mystery field.

The book is "The Crime Lover's Casebook" edited by Jerome Charyn and first published in 1993. The paperback copy I have was published in 1996. There's a nice mix of old and new writers, among them, Lawrence Block, Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Carver and Walter Mosley. The great thing about collections like this is being able to sample writers you have never read and finding some real jewels. This is the book where I found Harlan Ellison's "Soft Monkey" that I've mentioned before.

The latest two finds were "Cain" by Andrew Vachss and "Imagine This" by George C. Chesbro.

I'd seen Vachss' name mentioned on the Rara Avis list and if I remember correctly, there's an interview with him at PulpPusher. But his story "Cain" is one of the most perfect short stories I've ever read. It's short and to the point and nothing is what it seems to be, from the narrator to the most satisfying ending. And I can't tell you anything without giving it away. If you run across this story, take a few minutes and read it, its worth your time.

Chesbro's story is probably the most clever take on a writer telling a story I've ever read. The writer of a short story is trying to explain to an FBI agent about the writer in his story. The story revolves around fact and fiction and which is which in the story. Sounds complicated but as you read, you start chuckling because the narrator is thinking writing thoughts and trying to figure how to work what he's seeing into his writing. But it's the ending that leaves you wondering if just maybe, everything isn't what it seems. This is an amusing little gem that I recommend to the writer in all of you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Marketing Links

One of the hardest things for new writers is finding markets to submit their work to. When I first started out I depended on Writer's Digest but discovered that everyone who subscribed responded to the calls and manuscripts were lost in massive slush avalanches that took editors months to climb out of.

The SMFS has a list on their web site and writers and editors post calls and new markets as they find them. It was through SMFS that I discovered most of the links to the left.

Now some of the links are for flash writing but the upper word count can be as much as 1500 for those who write longer. The Cynthia Sterling, Flash Fiction Flash, and Flash Writing are all Yahoo groups that send out weekly or monthly newsletters. Cynthia Sterling lists mostly romance markets for novels but she also lists short story markets that cover all the genres. Like most listings you have to sort through them and find what suits your writing.

Duotrope, Ralan, and Towse's Links are massive market listings and for the most part kept pretty well up to date. Towse's I don't know too much about as I forgot I had the link and found it in my email folder when I was looking for markets today. Maybe if I put it where I can find it easily I'll use it more often.

Help yourself to the links and if you have another source that you'd like to share drop me a line and I'll post it here. Happy marketing.

Monday, January 12, 2009

On Reading Hammett

I spent most of the weekend away from the keyboard. Oh, I checked my email and played a few hands of solitaire, and read a few online stories but most of my free time was spent reading books.

David Cranmer had posted some Dashiell Hammett quotes and I admitted that I'd never read Hammett. I've only come to crime writing in the last couple of years. Oh, I played around in the genre, but I preferred writing humorous stories so I'm not very well read in my chosen genre, to say the least. Anyway, I dug out a couple of anthologies and read two of Hammett's short stories. "Fly Paper" and "The Creeping Siamese"

What I liked about these stories was the way Hammett's Continental Op followed clues and how Hammett could write a fight scene, great stuff! But I don't think the Continental Op is for me. Don't get me wrong, the stories are great fun but I prefer my characters to have a...little more character? The Op seems to just go about his business without family, friends or relationships, except for the Old Man. Maybe because the current writers weave so much personal baggage into their stories this lack in these two Hammett stories stood out for me. While the early PI's tend to take on the persona of loners they still have friends that they can depend on which seems to be lacking in the Op's life. For those of you who have read Hammett more extensively is this also the way the Op books are written or is he given a fuller life in the novels?

I also found myself re-reading the Baby Shark books by Robert Fate this weekend. If you haven't read them, you should treat yourself to this wonderful series. They're a wonderful blend of action and humor with a great cast of characters.

And as I stepped back into the world of Internet, I've found that The Thrilling Detective's new issue is up, Beat to a Pulp has a new story by Kieran Shea that will blow your socks off and Bad Things first issue has hit the street. Urls to the left, ladies and gents.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Thinking Outside the Octagon

Not every writing week is created equal. Some weeks I get to sit down every day and just write story after story. I write a lot of flash pieces so pounding out two or three or five of them a week isn't unusual for me. Do I find homes for all of them? Of course not, but I still enjoy the process of writing them, of experimenting with different techniques for telling a story, exploring odd topics, and even switching genres.

This week I only managed to complete one flash which was my entry into the Clarity of Night contest. The picture didn't really bring anything to mind at first. Then I thought what if this pair of legs ( the picture is denim clad legs riding an elevator ) is being stalked? I had this whole nasty vision in my head so I started jotting down sentences until the very last sentence danced itself into my head and I knew that I had to take a different tact with story. No, I'm not going to give it away. You can read it over at Clarity of Night, entry #20, and while you're there take the time to read some of the other entries.

What really blows me away about Jason's contest is how many different stories are spawned by one picture. Sure there's a few with the same idea but the writer's takes are so varied that you don't feel like you're reading the same old, same old. Almost everyone has learned to think, and here's the old writing cliche, outside of the box.

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received was don't just think outside the box, jot down the first three ideas that pop into your head then go with the fifth or sixth one that comes to you. Always go one step further than you think the next writer will. It's good advice and I've managed some dandy stories using that method.

What about you, what writing advice have you received that made you go, "Yeah, that's it! That'll work for me."

And today's quote is from Jack Bludis:
"A writing career, like life, is a journey not a destination."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Weathering the Storm

We're smack dab in the middle of an ice storm here in the Northeast. There's ice glazing over the electric wires and tree branches so I expect the power lines will come crashing down at some point to leave us searching for flashlights and candles.

And since we're conveniently on the topic of weather, did you notice how I slipped that in there so smoothly? How come poets can wax poetic about rain and snow and fog but fiction writers are encouraged to avoid mentioning the weather or to at least avoid starting a story with the weather. We don't all write, "It was a dark and stormy night." you know.

This past year I read two stories that revolved around the weather and they just blew me away. The first was "Red Wind" by Raymond Chandler and the second was "Soft Monkey" by Harlan Ellison. If you haven't read them, please do, you won't be sorry.

Even before I read these stories, I loved pulling the weather into my plots. There's something so basic about weather that if used properly it can only enhance a story. Fog and thunderstorms can evoke even deeper chills in your horror story by giving monsters a place to hide or leaving your characters fumbling around in the dark. A pounding rain as your hero races his car down the highway to save the girl, hydroplaning across the asphalt into an accident that could end the story with both of them dead. The sun pounding down beating the last signs of life out a character left in the desert.

But writers tend to shy away from using the weather because it's one of the "rules". You know, don't start a story with the weather, always jump head first into the action, don't use back story. And yet, for every "don't" there's a perfect example of "yes, you can" out there. Once you find those perfect exceptions, study them, learn how to use the "don't" to make your story stand out from the crowd of writers who always follow every rule.

Your turn. What rule do you like to break when you're writing and have you found a story to study that breaks that rule?

And a quote for today from William G. Tapply:
"Writing is a non-stop learning process. Write regularly and write often. Practice your craft. The more you write, the better you'll become."

Monday, January 5, 2009

To Market - To Market

Many mystery writers overlook a few eligible markets for their work because they tend to wear blinders when looking for places to sub their work. The mystery/crime genre stories can find homes in most any zine if done right. The horror genre is a great example and many of these markets are actively seeking dark crime stories. Here are a few that you can check out:

Necrotic Tissue is a paying market and open for submission Jan 1-31 their url is

Cemetery Dance is also a paying market but they don't accept email submissions. Their url is

Shroud Magazine is also a paying market but their reading period is Feb 1 to March 30 so you have plenty of time to polish. Their url

Another market that's open right now is Shakespeare's Monkey Revue. They're a paying market also but they tend toward more literary stories and poetry, they also have themes. This month's theme is Body and the deadline for subs is Jan.25. Their url is

Patti Abbott has announced her newest flash fiction challenge, you can find the details at her blog,

And just a reminder that Wednesday is the opening day of the Clarity of Night contest.

Also an update: Thieves Jargon is no longer open to subs. They've switched to invitation only.

And a quote today from Saul Bellow
"You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Finding Treasures

I'm one of those people who can't pass a bin, a rack, or the book department at Wal-Mart (this is the closest thing to a bookstore we have in our area) without stopping to take a look. So when I discovered a cardboard bin at the local grocery store yesterday, I stopped to paw through it.

The bin was full of children's books, cook books, and knitting and needlework books and one lone copy of Ian Rankin's "Knots & Crosses". I've been pondering how this book came to be in the bin and I suppose someone assumed it was a needlework book and tossed it in. Their mistake, my treasured find.

This book is the first in Rankin's Rebus series, a series our library doesn't stock. I'd only read one other Rebus book that I'd run across called "Resurrection Men" which I enjoyed and had me on the lookout for more of his work. Right now, I'm forty three pages in and can't wait to get back to it.

But the greatest treasure I've found in this book, besides the wonderful story, is Rankin's introduction. He explains how in the first draft he killed Rebus off, as he never planned this book to be the start of a series, and he asks the question where would he be now if he hadn't continued the series? And the writer in him wonders what he was thinking as he wrote this book, explaining how he created Rebus and taking us on his creative journey. Excellent stuff for a novice writer to read because he doesn't sugar-coat his journey.

So, thank you Ian Rankin for giving us a glimpse of your journey and for not killing off John Rebus in his first book.

And what about you? What treasures have you found in a most unlikely place?

Friday, January 2, 2009

RIP Donald Westlake

Okay, I'll admit it, I've never read a Donald Westlake book. I have The Hot Rock, which I picked up last year but I just can't seem to get into it. Perhaps it was all the talk about how hysterical this book was, or how funny Westlake writes, but the beginning of this book just didn't speak to me at all. I had the same problem with the movie version, too, just couldn't get into it.

I do want want to read some Westlake books and the Parker series which is discussed endlessly on Rara-Avis might be more to my taste. Then I read the Thrilling Detective blog and Kevin mentioned the Mitch Tobin series Westlake wrote as Tucker Coe and these sound even more wonderful. So I will be on the lookout for a few of these and will once again give Westlake a try.

Any suggestions from some of his fans would be deeply appreciated.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Writing Goals for 2009

I long ago gave up on New Year's resolutions. You know the one - lose weight. Yeah, I'm one of those people who loses ten pounds then gains back twenty, it's much better to just maintain. What I have been doing for the last five years or so is to set goals for my writing. Of course I don't always reach all of my goals but I do give them a good try.

Take last year, for instance. I made of list of zines I wanted to be published in. In no particular order, they were: ThugLit, Hardluck Stories, Shred of Evidence, PulpPusher, Spinetingler, Thrilling Detective, and later Plots With Guns. I submitted to every one of them, sometimes more than once. I was published in four of them, one by invitation. Since Hardluck has shut down, I only have two left to crack and they'll be targeted with more stories this year.

This year I'd like to be published in Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen. Will I make it? The odds are against me, but if I don't at least try, I'll never know. And that's the thing about writing goals. You have to make them attainable to a certain degree. Even if the story is rejected you still have the option of submitting it elsewhere, maybe not your dream market, but a market nonetheless. You won't hit every goal you set for yourself, but if you at least try, you know you're walking the writer's road.

There are other goals, like getting one story a week or a month published, both goals can be achieved, but it takes a lot of writing and submitting. You need to consider how much time you have to give towards your goal and, of course, life can put up stumbling blocks. But if you don't at least try, you don't know what you can achieve.

A lot of writers set daily page or word goals. I tend to shy away from those. The words don't always flow when I've placed my butt in the chair. On those days, I split my time between solitaire and working on rewrites. And while rewrites aren't about pages and word counts, they are a writer's goal. The goal of putting your best story forward and again, it's achievable.

This year I'd like to start a novel. But, hey, a novel is BIG. So maybe I'll set a goal of writing a chapter and see where it goes from there. Maybe at a chapter a week, along with my short stories, by 2010 I might have a first draft.

The trick is to set doable goals, something you know you can manage. It's like a child learning to walk, you need to take baby steps until you find your balance then you can run like the wind. If you hit your goal, great, but you don't have to stop there, you can always take it one more step. And if you don't hit your goal, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried. In the writing game, trying is half the battle.

Happy New Year!! May all your writing goals be reached in 2009 and may all your polished prose find a home.