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2018 Anthony Awards – Short Stories – Part One (click for comments)


Jen Conley – “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” – Just To Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash – https://www.jenconley.net/

My story is called, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” It was written for the anthology, Just To Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash. Eric, the main character of the story, is drawn into a plot to avenge his sister’s gruesome murder. When he and his sister were young, she was brutally raped and killed by two teen neighbors. One of the teens isn’t alive anymore, but the other, David, a childhood playmate of Eric, is now a grown man and has been recently released from prison, returning home to live with his mother. Eric’s brother and his father have decided it is now time to kill David. Eric is stricken with dread. He doesn’t want to go through with it but he feels he has to.

The song, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” is an old folk song, a dark warning to sinners. Johnny Cash recorded it in 2003 and if you listen to his version, you can hear a deeply disturbing tone, almost frightening. I wanted to capture that in my story.

Susanna C. Calkins – “The Trial of Madame Pelletier” – Malice Domestic 21: Mystery Most Historical – http://www.susannacalkins.com/short-stories.html

“The Trial of Madame Pelletier” (Malice Domestic 12: Mystery Most Historical, Wildside Press, 2017) loosely draws on the real trial of a presumed poisoner in a small town in 1840s France. The case of the “Lady Poisoner” was a cause célèbre—a true trial of the century—playing out in both the court of public opinion as well as the assize court of Limousin. In my re-imagining of the trial, the story is told from the perspective of Anna Pequod, a maidservant, who must testify about what she witnessed in the days and months leading up to the fatal poisoning of her employer.

Hilary Davidson – “My Side of the Matter” – Killing Malmon – https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/malmon-killing-malmon/

My story, “My Side of the Matter,” is part of an anthology called Killing Malmon, which raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. That’s a great cause, but the tough part about this project was that each author had to kill Dan Malmon, who was one of the editors of the project, along with his wife, Kate. That’s not a spoiler, but the premise of the book, and it made me invert me usual way of telling a story. Since the reader knows who’s going to die, I wrote the story from the point of view of the killer, who got away with his crime, but is suddenly confessing for reasons that remain mysterious until the end of the story. It was a different way of building suspense.

Barb Goffman – “Whose Wine Is It Anyway?” – 50 Shades of Cabernet – http://www.barbgoffman.com/whose-wine-is-it-anyway-.html

In “Whose Wine Is It Anyway?” Myra is about to retire from her secretarial job at a large DC law firm—a job she loves, with people she loves. But she learns too late that her beloved boss doesn’t value Myra the way she thought. The way he should. So with a single day left at work, Myra sets out to teach some lessons about the importance of caring for others as much as you do yourself, about the pitfalls of vanity, and about the dangers of getting so wrapped up in work that you forget what’s really important in life. But anger and melancholy lead Myra to dangerous decisions, maybe even lethal ones.

Debra H. Goldstein – “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place” – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine – http://www.alfredhitchcockmysterymagazine.com/assets/4/6/Goldstein_Night-Goldstein.pdf Podcast: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/ahmm/episodes/2018-06-22T06_54_58-07_00

“The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place” is set in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960’s in a house where they change the sheets more than once a night. The story reflects Birmingham’s racial, civil, and political strife and how their collision, on a particularly hot night, has a lasting impact on a nine-year-old black boy. The child is the narrator, so the events and other characters are seen through his eyes. As he tells the story of the night and an obvious murder, he also raises a subtle specter of other societal crimes. His innocent retelling of “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place” is what makes the story go beyond being a simple whodunit to subliminally allowing the reader to contemplate diversity and tolerance.

Art Taylor – “A Necessary Ingredient” – Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea –http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/books/a-necessary-ingredient/

I wrote “A Necessary Ingredient” at the request of Paul D. Marks, one of the co-editors of Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. I don’t normally write private eye stories—and both of the ones I’ve written previously have played with the genre in small ways: one a parody, the other a bit of speculative fiction, edging into the fantastic. Here too I found myself riffing on and working against some of the genre’s conventions. As the subtitle suggests, the anthology spans a wide geographic area, and “A Necessary Ingredient” is set in my own home state of North Carolina—not the kind of place readers might associate with those mean streets that a man must walk down, as Chandler famously put it. Rather than those mean streets, for example, my main character, Ambrose Thornton, visits farmer’s markets and local greenhouses, and being a private eye isn’t his life mission in the first place; instead, he simply likes reading those hard-boiled detective tales, living in the world of his imagination, until—despite his best efforts— he finds himself drawn into an actual case. A local restaurant owner—an attractive chef—has heard that a much-prized ingredient, the tonka bean, is being grown in the area, and can Ambrose help her find it? Even if you’re not a proper p.i., who can turn down a damsel-in-distress, right?




Guest Blogger: D.J. Niko – Researching for Authenticity in Historical Fiction (click here to leave or read comments)

Researching for Authenticity in Historical Fiction by D.J. Niko

Researching historical fiction and thrillers with historical themes is a little like going down the rabbit hole: you have to enter another world and come out, sweating and panting, on the other side before you can actually get it.

When you research and write about the ancient world, that’s especially true. I deal with time periods as far back as the sixteenth century BCE, when information wasn’t exactly plentiful and the recording of facts was sketchy at best. Think about it: historical documentation as we know it wasn’t a thing back then. The ancient Egyptians carved their conquests onto temple walls, the Israelites had an oral history that got passed down over thousands of years, the Greeks (before the days of Herodotus) painted pottery and inscribed ostraca, and on it goes. A few blanks to fill in? You can say that again!

A lot of people ask me, why the ancient world? Why not pick something more accessible, like, say, World War II or 1960s London? What can I say? Doing things the hard way is one of my more charming qualities.

So how do I get my material? For starters, I hang out with a lot of archaeologists. Archaeology is one of the most important tools in understanding antiquity, because it provides hard proof of how people lived and died, when cities flourished and were destroyed, worship practices, and so on. The scientists working in the field are a wealth of information and, in most cases, fairly outspoken (and opinionated!) about their research. They are more than happy to give a novelist an earful.

In researching my first book, The Tenth Saint, I traveled to Ethiopia and spent time with historians at Aksum and monks at Lalibela, trying to understand the mindset of the people during the early centuries of the Common Era, when Christianity first infiltrated the Abyssinian Empire. I went down into the tombs of Aksum, walked through the catacombs beneath the rock churches of Lalibela, attended traditional ceremonies whose practices had not changed since ancient times, hiked to cave churches in the hinterlands (and I mean hinterlands), and studied the stele inscriptions of the nation’s early kings. Of course, I also sampled all the Ethiopian food, beer, coffee, and tej (honey wine) I could get my hands on. Hey, it’s the least I could do for my readers.

For the next book in the series, The Riddle of Solomon, I added another layer of inquiry to the standard archaeological research. The story is set largely in Israel and involves an antagonist who believes he is the Jewish messiah for whom the world has waited. This guy is ruthless in amassing the relics that will prove his legitimacy; chief among them are the plans for building the third temple in Jerusalem, meaning the original temple plans by King Solomon.

So, to research messianism, Judaic oral tradition, and the spiritual significance of King Solomon’s story, I consulted a couple of rabbis. They were very gracious to embrace a Greek Orthodox girl and, over several meetings, walk her through the fine points of Judaism. It was illuminating, to say the least, and I think the book is better for it.

For me, there is no substitute for experiencing a place firsthand and interviewing the experts in person. But life does not always allow for this. My other means of research include university library archives, books written by ancient writers (for my novel The Oracle, which takes place in contemporary and ancient Greece, I read Plutarch, Herodotus, and Pausanias), museums, and, of course, the Internet. And this happens throughout the writing process, not just in the front end.

As I state in my Twitter profile, I have become an antiquities geek thanks to all this research (I’m really fun at cocktail parties), but if the work seems more authentic because of it, I’ll take the ridicule.

Video trailer for THE TENTH SAINT

D.J. Niko on Facebook

D.J. Niko website

THE TENTH SAINT on amazon.com

THE ORACLE on amazon.com  

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Daphne Nikolopoulos in an award-winning journalist, novelist, lecturer, and writing instructor. Under the pen name D.J. Niko, she has written three novels in an archaeological thriller series titled The Sarah Weston Chronicles and a historical novel titled The Judgment (Medallion Press, 2016). Her debut novel, The Tenth Saint (Medallion Press, 2012), won the Gold Medal (popular fiction) in the Florida Book Awards. The Judgment won a national Bronze Medal in historical fiction in the IPPY Awards 2017 and first place in historical fiction (pre-published) in the Royal Palm Literary Awards.
All four books have been translated and published internationally. The fourth and final book in the Sarah Weston series, Firebird, will be released in 2018.

Daphne is current editor in chief of Palm Beach Illustrated magazine and editorial director of Palm Beach Media Group. Prior to that, she was a travel journalist who logged hundreds of thousands of miles traveling across the globe, with emphasis on little-known and off-the-beaten-path locales—many of which have inspired her novels.

Daphne is a writing instructor at Florida Atlantic University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, where she also lectures about ancient cultures. She also teaches principles of writing fiction at the Florida Authors Academy and the Mandel Library of West Palm Beach, and has lectured on her research and travels nationwide.

Born and raised in Athens, Greece, Daphne now resides in West Palm Beach with her husband and twin son and daughter. You can find her on the Web at djnikobooks.com and connect with her on Facebook (AuthorDJNiko) and on Twitter: @djnikobooks.

Reading to Recharge by Debra H. Goldstein (click to read or write comments)

Reading to Recharge by Debra H. Goldstein

No deadlines! No responsibility! What was I to do with myself once I turned in the second book for Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series, the final edits for the first book, One Taste Too Many, the synopsis for the third book in the series, and a short story looking for a home?

Answer: Nothing or should I say, “almost nothing.”

Unlike writers who immediately start another project because they have trained themselves to write 1500-2000 words per day, I’m not that disciplined. I keep up with any community or volunteer obligations I have, but other than that, I watch TV, play spider solitaire, visit with my family, go out to lunch with friends, and immerse myself in reading. Catching up on reading is my greatest joy and probably the best use of my time.

I begin by reading any magazines I’m behind on. Once I finish the periodicals, I move on to books. There is no rhyme or reason to my selections. My choices during the past few weeks included Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain), Poppy Done to Dead (Charlaine Harris), Someday Someday Maybe (Lauren Graham), Black Fedora, Glitter and Glue (Kelly Corrigan), The Hangman (Louise Penny), Kitty Kitty Bang Bang (Sparkle Abbey), Beach Trip (Cathy Holton), Dead Storage (Mary Feliz) and The President is Missing (Bill Clinton and James Patterson), How to Write Pulp Fiction (James Scott Bell), I Know What You Bid Last Summer (Sherry Harris), and The Day I Died (Lori Rader-Day). Surprisingly, because of their variety in subject matter and writing styles, I enjoyed them all (though I did figure out the Patterson book earlier than I would have preferred). I’m planning to give myself another few days to read because it recharges me.

When I write, I lose myself in my own world of words. Reading lets me taste the thoughts, opinions, and construction mechanisms of other writers. When this intense period ends, I will continue to read before bed or while traveling; but, better yet, I will return to my writing world with a wider perspective.

What do you use to recharge yourself or expand your horizons?


Guest Blogger: Lynnette Austin – Small Towns – Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Click to Leave or Read Comments)

Small Towns—Where Everybody Knows Your Name by Lynnette Austin

Small town versus city. It’s one of the first things a writer needs to know when plotting a story. Generally, though, the story itself makes that decision…or the main character, although it’s sure fun to drop a big city gal into a small town or to put that small town guy into the city.

I, personally, love to set my stories in small towns. There’s something so quintessentially comforting about them. A small town is like the old Cheers TV show, a place where everybody knows your name…and probably what you had for dinner and when you went to bed. But your neighbors also go to bat for you, mourn with you, and celebrate with you. This sense of community is important to me as a writer. When a reader finishes one of my books, I want her to feel as though she’s traveled to this town and shared the characters’ journey.

The small town becomes very much a character in and of itself. Each town has its own personality. And not all small towns are created equal. Some are warm and friendly while others have an undercurrent of darkness. The town needs to match the tone of a story. In my Magnolia Brides series, Misty Bottoms, Georgia, needs saved as much as my main characters. Like so many small Southern towns, it’s fallen on hard times. In The Best Laid Wedding Plans, Jenni Beth Beaumont leaves a great job in Savannah and puts into action a plan to do just that by making Misty Bottoms a wedding destination. Cricket O’Malley, my eccentric florist in Every Bride Has Her Day, makes it her goal as well. It’s not long before the entire town is pitching in to help.

We live in such a fast-paced world, yet we yearn for slower days. We want that front porch, the cold glass of sweet tea, and a place where everyone is safe and welcome. Small towns give us that feeling. Instead of prearranged play-dates, children can run down the street to their friend’s house for a game of kick-the-can and play until the fireflies start to twinkle, telling them it’s nearly bedtime.

Ms. Hattie, Darlene, and Dottie at the diner are all willing to lend a hand or an ear. If you need a plumber, Beck will come right over because he’s your friend or your wife’s cousin. Seasons are celebrated with trick or treating, caroling, and parades. And if someone in town has a special moment, it’s celebrated, too, whether it’s a wedding, a graduation, or a first driver’s license.

And no matter what happens in a small town, it’s personal. There’s a sense of intimacy. Secrets and family feuds go back so far no one remembers how they started. A family’s dirty laundry is hung right out there for everyone to see. But…if anyone in town needs help, the community rallies around her. There’s definitely a ‘we-take-care-of-our-own’ mentality.

There are certain expectations in a small town, and in the South it’s very much about who your people are! There’s a sense of continuity. It’s generational. Most of the inhabitants were born here and grew up here as did their parents and their grandparents. Because of that, there’s a shared history. It’s fun to throw in someone new, someone who isn’t aware of this history, and watch him navigate. This is what I did with Sam DeLuca, a NYC detective, in Every Bride Has Her Day. Although he’d spent several summers in Misty Bottoms, Georgia, as a young boy, he’s a Yankee in a small Southern town. It makes for some very interesting scenarios!

For my new series, I stayed in small town Misty Bottoms and brought the Wylder brothers to town. New blood! They’re setting up shop to restore vintage cars and motorcycles when a wrench gets tossed into the mix. In Must Love Babies, Brant’s sister is involved in a DUI accident, and he finds himself responsible for the care of her seven-month-old son. A true fish-out-of-water, he flounders until the town rallies to help—blending emotional, heart-wrenching scenes with laughable, real-life situations.

A small town’s almost bound to have that old swimming hole where, at some time or another, everyone’s jumped in to cool off on a hot summer’s day. And as you get older? If you need help catching that girl? There are plenty of busybodies more than willing to help. But remember, gossip is always the appetizer du jour. If you take that pretty girl out on a date and manage to stay the night, hide your car! Don’t park it in the drive or on the street. Tongues will wag! And if you sneak a little PDA? Your second-grade teacher might be the one to catch you.

Most of all, small towns take pride in their community and in their people. Having grown up in a small town, that’s where my heart takes me—to those quirky small towns where everybody knows everybody…and all their business, for better or worse.

Wishing you happy reading…and writing!

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LYNNETTE AUSTIN loves long rides with the top down and the music cranked up, standing by the Gulf of Mexico when a storm is brewing, and sitting in her local coffee shop reading, writing and enjoying a cappuccino. She grew up in Pennsylvania, accepted her first teaching job in New York, then moved to Wyoming. Now, she splits her time between the beaches of Florida and the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia. She’s been a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Contest, PASIC’s Book of Your Heart Contest, and Georgia Romance Writers’ Maggie Contest. Writing for Grand Central and Sourcebooks, she’s published thirteen novels and is hard at work on her new series. Having grown up in a small town, that’s where her heart takes her—to those quirky small towns where everybody knows everybody…and all their business, for better or worse. Visit Lynnette at www.authorlynnetteaustin.




Guest Blogger: Sandra Robson – How I Write Mysteries (click for comments)


When I start writing a new book, I begin with a blank piece of poster board and a strong sense of place. A three-story, desolate-looking house in Newport, Rhode Island, an ancient white stucco church in New Mexico, a London street in relentless rain—the aura of an intriguing settling triggers all kinds of plot ideas for me. Once place is determined, I take photos and attach them to a storyboard.

When I wrote False Impression, which takes place in Stuart, Florida, I tacked up pictures of a white sand beach, the Riverwalk at dawn, the Sailfish fountain in the traffic circle, a 1920s house being moved down the river by barge, and a famous county road whose Banyan trees formed a canopy overhead. The result? A spectacular setting. All it needed was people.

Each character I create is usually a blend of two people I know—one for physical description and one for personality. I give the combo-character a working name, like Abigail (which may change by the end of the book) and write a biography that includes eye and hair color, height, weight, age, birth sign (an Aries will be different than a Cancer) place of birth, who her parents were, marital status, manner of dress, education, job skills, speaking characteristics, etc. I do that for every character, then dig through a pile of disparate magazines searching for pictures that resemble each of them. From then on, every time I sit down at my desk to write I’m looking at the people and places in my book.

If that sounds like a lot of work just to get started, it is. But the fun part comes next. I go down to my favorite coffee shop and find a comfortable corner. Then I sit there sucking down cappuccinos, one ear attuned to all the fascinating conversations going on around me, and pound out the first and last chapters. That way I know how the book starts and I know how it ends.

After that, it’s merely a question of outlining chapters 2 thru 6 (I work about four chapters ahead), following the plot, and trying to remember all the important stuff I’ve learned from the world’s amazing writers. Such as:

1) When you can’t get started, write crap. Sift out the good later.
2) Use only ‘said’ to carry the conversation. **
3) Don’t use ‘ly’ words after said. (Ex: He said, lustily.)**
4) Keep the story moving. When readers are bored, they flip. Try not to write a flipping story.
5) Don’t over-explain or pander to the reader. Let him figure out some of it for himself.
6) Don’t write six pages of description about ancient Chinese porcelain even if you’re the world’s expert. Every paragraph you write should move the story along.
7) Don’t write beautifully—tell the story.
8) If all else fails, walking the beach will get you out of a slump faster than scotch.

**Elmore Leonard,l I love you!

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Sandra Robson is the author of three Keegan Shaw mystery novels: FALSE IMPRESSION, FALSE AS THE DAY IS LONG and FALSE PROMISES. She has lived in London and traveled extensively in the British Isles, France and Greece. Besides writing, she loves reading, traveling, practicing yoga and hanging out in really good coffee shops. She resides on the east coast of Florida with her orthodontist husband, who always offers to help her with the sex scenes.


Guest Blogger James M. Jackson – Finding Your Voice: Plotter or Pantser (click here to leave or read comments)

Finding Your Voice: Plotter or Pantser by James M. Jackson

Every author is told to “find your voice,” as though they left it under the hydrangea in the side yard. I suggest that if you write enough, your voice will find you. Voice is what comes naturally to you: the cadence of your sentences, the richness of your descriptions (or how sparse they are), how you use dialog, internal dialog, setting, and so on and so forth. Pick up a Hemingway novel with the cover pages removed, and you won’t confuse it for William Faulkner.

I propose that one aspect of your voice is whether you are a plotter or write by the seat of your pants. (And if you don’t like the term pantser, you can use the politically-correct term “organic author.”) I recently read a blog by someone who wrote a complete novel in less than a month. She had, however, earlier created a twenty-page outline.

For her, it was a great experience. For me, it would have been terrible. She is a plotter. Plotters are uncomfortable starting their writing until they have sorted out the major plot issues. Some need to also understand the subplot before they can begin to compose. I took an online course from a well-known author who plans his novels using a spreadsheet. If he anticipated writing an eighty-thousand-word novel, he’d have roughly sixty-six chapters averaging 1,200 words. HIs spreadsheet would divide the chapters into three equal-length acts. He’d have so many action scenes, so many reactions scenes, so many set up scenes. He’d put in the key events and then populate his scenes with characters and actions until his spreadsheet was completed. Only then could he begin writing.

Following his structured approach during the class was like strapping myself into a strait jacket. There are very few plotters who strictly follow their outline, even if it runs twenty pages. Most change their plots as the write because they have a better idea along the way. Later, their story editor may suggest additional changes that they incorporate before the final manuscript.

I wish I were a plotter. I think it’s a more efficient method—but it’s not how my mind operates. In the Lowen Profiling System, I am a Conceptualizer: I build worlds out of abstract concepts. My process of figuring out a story is to start with an initial concept, put the characters in place, and let them take it away. I may not know who the victim is; I generally don’t know who the killer is. I figure it all out through my writing. I don’t write quickly. I may write 1,000-words a day and then move on to marketing tasks or revising an earlier story. Even though I am not consciously working on the story, my brain is mulling over the open questions and, like a mischievous genie, presents possible solutions when I least expect them.

Plotters find my approach chaotic, and for them it would be. My scenes can vary from a hundred words to twenty-five hundred. False trails I lay down in the first draft turn into red herrings. I joke that readers can’t guess ahead of time whodunit because I didn’t even know! Most important for me is that once I’ve completed my first draft, I understand what my novel is really about on an emotional level.

After we’ve completed our drafts, plotters and pantsers both must rewrite to sort out plot points, make sure every scene is effective, modify dialog, and deal with all the other aspects of rewriting. But the way we laid down that first track of the novel influences its final shape—and that is part of our voice.

If you are not sure if you should be a plotter or pantser, try writing both ways. Which feels more comfortable? More important, which leads to a better final result? When I tried plotting a short story, even the final product felt blah to me, lacking the spontaneity my pantser manuscripts maintained through their final edits. After a couple of misbegotten plotting attempts, I learned to embrace my pantser self, quit wasting time trying to plot, and stop worrying about it.

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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series consisting of five novels and one novella. Jim splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s Lowcountry. He claims the moves between locations are weather-related, but others suggest they may have more to do with not overstaying his welcome. He is the past president of the 700+ member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. You can find information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and/or Amazon.
You can order paperback versions of his books from your favorite physical or online bookstore (or from his website if you’d like them autographed). You can find his Kindle books here.

Getting Ready For Malice Domestic – Hope to See You There (click to read or leave comments)

Malice Domestic – Hope to See You There by Debra H. Goldstein

Normally, I post thoughts about writing or personal thoughts I hope capture your interest, but this is the week of Malice Domestic. For once, I’m overwhelmed getting everything ready to go.  Because this is a fan and author conference, I hope to see you there.  Let me tell you where you can find me:

Friday – 2 p.m. – Make it Snappy – a panel of the Agatha Award Short Story nominees moderated by Michael Bracken.  Do you know how excited I have been each time I read The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place by Debra H. Goldstein, which was printed in the May/June 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is one of the five finalists?  If that wasn’t enough, I’m in the company of four writers I admire:  Gretchen Archer, Barb Goffman, Gigi Pandian and Art Taylor.  (Pinch me, I think this is a dream!)

Friday – 7:45 a.m. – Guppy Get-Together Breakfast – so much fun to put names and faces with people I know online from our Guppy Chapter.

Friday – 5:00 p.m. – Malice Domestic Opening Ceremonies

I’ll also be dropping in to a few of the panels, will say “hey” at the dinner Teresa Inge has put together, and will be at the board dinner I need to attend, the Malice auction, and the drink with bloggers.

If you miss me on Friday, no problem. You can find me Saturday at the SinC breakfast, the SinC president’s meeting, the Kensington Reception and signing (btw, my new Kensington book, One Taste Too Many,  is already available for pre-order in print and e-book versions online and will be available in bookstores on December 18), some of the panels, and of course, at the Agatha Awards banquet.

I also always try to support the new authors by attending their Sunday breakfast. In my spare time, I’ll be hanging so come up and say “Hello.”


Guest Blogger: Judy Penz Sheluk – Instructing a Creative Writing Workshop (click to leave/read comments ).

Instructing a Creative Writing Workshop by Judy Penz Sheluk

I was recently approached to instruct a one-day Creative Writing Workshop at my town’s Arts Council. Now, for three years, I was a Creative Writing tutor for an online writing school, so I did have some experience, but the school provided the content. My role was simply to critique the assignments submitted as students worked towards a 20-unit certificate. This workshop was different. There were no guidelines, no previous workshops of similar nature (though there had been a few on painting, pottery, and sculpture), and to add to the pressure, the participants were all writers who had been together for two-plus years, meeting bi-weekly to share their work.

My primary concern was to provide value for their hard-earned registration money. My secondary concern, albeit a very real one, was to make sure I didn’t ruin my reputation! In my town of 18,000, being a published mystery author lands you in the “big fish, small pond” category. It’s an amazing privilege, but it does come with some high expectations.

Since each one of my students were working on a variety of projects, I decided to place the focus on writing a short story with a single underlying theme. Enter THEMA, http://themaliterarysociety.com, my absolutely favorite literary publication. Based out of New Orleans, THEMA publishes three issues of short stories and poetry each year: March, July and November. Each issue has a theme, a deadline to submit, a promise to hear back (yes or no) AND payment of $10 to $25 depending on length.
Before the day of our course, each registrant was given the guidelines for the July 2018 issue (deadline March 1). Theme: New Neighbors.

The day of the course, participants handed a print copy of their story to the rest of us. After reading out loud, we would critique in an honest, but constructive manner, with me going last so as not to influence others. At first, the group was timid in their critiques, something that surprised me since they’d been together for so long. It seemed they’d become friends, and didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Here’s the thing. A good friend, and a great beta reader, is above all else honest. It’s not about bashing the writing, but helping to hone it. “What if Jane cried, instead of saying, ‘You hurt my feelings.’”

At the end of the day, the group became more comfortable speaking out, and I hope they continue to do that in their future meetings. As for THEMA, all but two writers decided to submit, once they’d fine-tuned their story based on our feedback. Will they be successful? Maybe, maybe not…but even if they receive a rejection letter, at least they tried. That, in my opinion, is the most important thing. Because every writer, even the bit names out there, have faced rejection. You just have to take it as encouragement to keep on trying. Write on!

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Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE and A HOLE IN ONE) and The Marketville Mysteries (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC)
Judy’s short crime fiction appears is several collections, including Unhappy Endings, three flash fiction stories previously published in THEMA. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario.

Find Judy on her website/blog at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews and showcases the works of other authors and blogs about the writing life. You can also find all of her books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Judy-Penz-Sheluk/e/B00O74NX04


Past and Present by Debra H. Goldstein (click to leave/read comments)

Past and Present by Debra H. Goldstein

Do you remember when telephones rang? When rotary dialed objects sat on a table or hung on a wall made a ring sound? Was it that long ago before we relied on phones that fit in our purses or pockets and have individualized ringtones?

I didn’t think it was.

Or at least I didn’t think it was until I recently read two articles. The first one, in last week’s TV Guide, was a story about the television show, Young Sheldon. The second, an article dated February 16, 2018, commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the first 9-1-1 call.

According to the showrunners, because Young Sheldon is set in 1989, the set and props must be appropriate to the time. This has caused some comical problems with the show’s nine-year-old star, Ian Armitage. The most recent problem occurred when the script required Ian to make a telephone call. The prop master handed him a rotary phone and he stared at it. He had never seen one and didn’t know how it worked. After he was shown how to dial the phone, taping began. Moments later, the director called “Cut.” Ian didn’t know that in 1989 only seven digits or rotations were needed to dial a phone number.

The second article recounted how on February 16, 1968, at two p.m., the first 9-1-1 call in the United States was made in Haleyville, Alabama. Haleyville’s state Representative Rankin Fite placed the call from Mayor James Whitt’s office to the Haleyville police station where U.S. Representative Tom Bevill answered it on a red telephone given to the city by the Alabama Telephone Company.

I can’t remember a time there wasn’t 9-1-1, but I can remember rotary phones, manual and then electric typewriters, main frame computers, the first Mac, and the New York World’s Fair’s G.E. Exhibit of what the future would bring. FYI, all of the things demonstrated at that exhibit have come to be and, things that existed, like the 1989 rotary phone or the red phone are now in the Smithsonian.

Tell me, what are you surprised to hear nine-year-olds like Ian have never seen – and what do you miss?