Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Crimewave 13

 Some time ago I came to the conclusion that if I wanted to up my game in the writing of crime fiction I needed to read as many crime short stories as possible. This week I've been reading through the latest issue of Crimewave Magazine, number 13. I was surprised to find that it was very different from the fiction found in other genre mags such as Ellery Queen, Mystery Weekly or Switchblade.

I found the primary difference in the approach to story. Unlike other genre magazines in which a body hits the floor on the first page, stories in this collection are much more leisurely, spending sometimes several pages nailing down the character, in such an intriguing way that I often found myself not caring that the plot had yet to commence. The writing on some of the stories was sumptuous, the type that one might find in more literary journals. This was most notably true in Stephen Hargadon's Nurse and Linda Mannheim's Incendiary.

The downside to such stories for those who demand a strong crime plot line to propel the story forward is that many of the stories are quite nuanced, with quiet and subtle crimes that do more for fulfilling the fate of the main character than surprising the reader.

For me, it's not a question about which style story I like; I enjoy both the breathless pace of an exciting potboiler and the careful exploration of how an individual is changed by the environment of crime. For the latter, this collection would be highly recommended.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Forsaken Wall

I've had this story sitting on my computer for years, about a woman who, after her husband dies unexpectedly, decides to build a wall where people can go to complain to God about his injustices. Antithetical to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, if you will. Imagine my delight in finding a call for stories for an anthology of alternative theologies, for which my story seemed a perfect fit. I was particularly happy when I saw the contributors, many writers whom I have admired for years. It should be a great read.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Family Reunion

My short story "Family Reunion" will appear online in the September issue of the Scarlet Leaf Review. I'm so proud of this piece; he's gone and found a home.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Your Name in Print

The stories I write don't seem to fit into the forms that the mystery mags that pay professional rates desire (Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, and the like). They're too edgy (dirty) or violent or lack a true mystery. Having given up long ago the notion that I could get rich with fiction, I now look for venues with a new criterium. Ideally, I'd like my stories to appear in journals that work hard to draw attention and readership (Switchblade Magazine is a good example), a hard sell in a market where there are ten submitters of stories for every reader of such stories (my guess).
While most of the magazines that are more narrowly focused on noir type fiction are primarily e-mags, some also produce print versions. I've come to favor those journals, as I enjoy seeing my collection of magazines and anthologies grow. I'm up to about two and one-half feet of shelf space to date, hoping to reach a full three feet before I croak. So look for me in Tough, Switchblade, Mystery Weekly, Pulp Modern and the like as long as I can fool the editors into running my stories.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Financial Side of Fiction Writing

Those of you who follow my progress in the crime fiction world, noting the occasional sale, might not quite appreciate the financial side of the business, what it is like to be an author selling short stories, I thought you might be interested in what crime/mystery magazines pay for the stories they run.

There are a small handful of magazines that are heads and shoulders above others in both sales and payment. As you might imagine, the competition for a slot there is fierce. Perhaps my writing is not up to that level, perhaps my chosen subjects are inappropriate. For one or the other reason, I haven't yet broke into those magazines, and I rarely submit to them these days. The two big names:
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine pay $.05-.08 per word.

Not bad payment for a 5,000 word story. But these are the outliers, by a wide margin. Other examples, markets more appropriate for my writing, (I've appeared in some of these):

Pulp Modern: $10 per story
Big Pulp: $25 per story
The Razor's Edge: No payment
Hyperpulp: No payment
The Savage Kick: $35 per story
Dark City Mystery Magazine: $25 per story
Suspense Magazine:No payment
Manslaughter Review: No payment
Mystery Weekly: $25 per story
Dead Guns Press: $25 per story
Black Denim Lit: No payment
Switchblade Magazine: $15 per story
Down & Out Magazine: $25 per story
Tough Magazine: $25 per story

Don't take this as a screed against the industry. Most of the second-tier magazines are labors of love of people who are determined to make room for crime fiction. They make very little money, and I suspect most of what they do pay for stories comes out of their pockets, not their profits.

The lesson here? For writers like me, the joy must come from the writing, from sharing the work with others. Writing for the money? Consider getting a gig at McDonald's instead. At least you'll get some free fries.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

How To Play the Writing Game

I grew up passionate about sports, basketball in particular. I'd like to know how many hours I spent on my home court practicing my jump shot, just so when game time came I would have at least a faint chance of burying one.
When I began to take my writing seriously, I unconsciously adopted the same strategies, and to some extent they have worked for me. These include:
Practice: I took a hard look at my writing and had to admit that my skills were very unpolished, so I set about writing with the intention of developing my abilities. I challenged myself to write a story entirely in dialog. I took a playwriting course, not because I had that ambition, but because I thought here too I could learn to write crisp dialog. I wrote a couple of stories in stream of consciousness, to see how that might fit into my repertoire. I wrote 50 word stories and 300 word stories to practice economy of prose. 
Warmups: Rather than charge straight into my work in progress each day, I began to start by warming up. I kept, and still do, a daily diary about what I am working on. And since I write in a coffee house, I take advantage of this by beginning each session by picking out a customer and describing him or her. In this way I compiled a list of hundreds of character descriptions that I now turn to when in need of a character for my WIP.
Teamwork: I sought out other writers, both for the feedback I needed so badly, and for the encouragement that can be found in writing groups. I tried several groups, good people all, but settled on those whose members' abilities were better than mine, but not dramatically, so that I could learn from them while providing my own feedback that might be useful.
For me, practicing my skills has made a great difference in my writing, and I can see gradual but consistent improvement over the years. In an ideal world, I would have been ready to write my magum opus without honing my skills first, but I don't live an ideal world. If I did, ice cream would have no calories.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

On Eeny Meeny I'm Not So Keeny

I may have reached a point that I never anticipated. After reading fiction for 60 years, and writing it for 15, perhaps I've seen too many plots, because I'm having more and more trouble finding books which genuinely surprise me. Eeny Meeny by M. J. Arlidge, a crime novel, is the latest book whose plot line seemed easy to predict.
This isn't to criticize the writer, who did his/her best to follow the tried and true thriller progression (things get worse, over and over, until the climax) but there are only so many twists and turns one can imbue a story with when the setup is typical--In this case, a modern-day English policewoman detective pursuing a serial killer.
M.J. does one thing that I find irritating, and I blame James Patterson for this; he/she writes 3-page chapters, flitting from one point of view to another. I like to settle down with a scene, enjoy some rich details, and will even tolerate some business that doesn't exactly advance the plot.
The author does try very hard to distinguish this hero, Helen Grace, from other DC's such as Peter Robinson's with attributes that have shock value, but there is some more subtle character development lacking, in my opinion. Since this is the initial book in a series, perhaps Grace becomes more deep and rounded as the overall arc progresses. That happens sometimes.
Or perhaps I've simply read and written too much in the genre to wholeheartedly enjoy overly familiar tropes. I hope not, but evidence seems to trend that way.