Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Author/Publisher Kendel Lynn

“Receiving a Ballantyne invitation in your mailbox was akin to
finding a golden ticket in a chocolate bar.”
                                                                                    Kendel Lynn
                                                                                    Board Stiff

 Kendel Lynn set Board Stiff at a South Carolina beach, a place where she once lived. Beach bum that I am, the book was on my must-read list. Elli Lisbon, Kendel’s main character, lives on the beach like a millionaire and controls billions of dollars, but she isn’t wealthy. As director of the philanthropic Ballantyne Foundation, she serves the founding family of the nonprofit requiring her many talents, one of which is solving mysteries. When I read Kendel’s biography, I found a similar over-achiever who must know how to multitask since she heads two companies and also writes. Please welcome Kendel Lynn back to WWK and read her blog “Three Thoughts from an Editor.”       E. B. Davis

Kendel, would you give us a short synopsis of Board Stiff?

As director of the Ballantyne Foundation on Sea Pine Island, SC, Elliott Lisbon scratches her detective itch by performing discreet inquiries for Foundation donors. Usually nothing more serious than retrieving a pilfered Pomeranian. Until Jane Hatting, Ballantyne board chair, is accused of murder. The Ballantyne’s reputation tanks, Jane’s headed to a jail cell, and Elliott’s sexy ex is the new lieutenant in town.  Armed with moxie and her Mini Coop, Elliott uncovers a trail of blackmail schemes, gambling debts, illicit affairs, and investment scams. But the deeper she digs to clear Jane’s name, the guiltier Jane looks. The closer she gets to the truth, the more treacherous her investigation becomes: a brutal attack on her own suspect and the murder of a witness.  With victims piling up faster than shells at a clambake, Elliott realizes she’s next on the killer’s list.

Elli’s the woman most likely to have antibacterial gel in her purse. Why?

She’s completely freaked out about the idea of getting sick, especially from something from a stranger’s grimey, grubby, icky, slimey, germy, sneezed-on hands. Her hand-sani comforts her, lets her know she’s protected from the unknown, if only the most microscopic unknown.

This isn’t the first time Elli’s had to delve into complications posed by board members and residents of Sea Pine Island. Elli’s degree is in Criminal Justice, but she’s working on obtaining her S.C. Investigator’s license, requiring 6000 hours experience. She only has accumulated 400 hours. Will she ever get her license?

Yes! But it may take the rest of her life. She isn’t afraid of the task and she understands she’s working on her own timeline, not anyone else’s. She’ll get there!

Of Elli’s considerable talents, which one serves her best in solving murders?

Her people skills – sort of a people-awareness. She works with so many personality types, the eclectic and the eccentric, during her course as Director of the quirky Ballantyne Foundation.  She’s very self-aware of her own disposition, honest with her own shortcomings, so it helps her figure out the folks she’s investigating.

Given your commercial success, have you ever been asked or have served on the board of an organization like the Ballantyne Foundation?

No, not yet anyway. I’ve served on volunteer committees many times, and they’re definitely a mad mix of characters, power struggles, and opinions. It’s truly wonderful fodder for murder mysteries. 

Are wealthy people eccentric, or do they function at such a high level most people can’t fathom how they live?

I think society permits unconventionality in the wealthier set. If you’re rich, you’re eccentric, if you’re poor, you’re just crazy.

How does Elli avoid becoming a blimp while eating honey-roasted turkey and Brie, she-crab bisque, croissants and blackberry jam?

Seriously. She rides her three-wheeled bike wherever she can! She still has a decent metabolism and walks on the beach for miles. She’s a healthy size, definitely not on the skinny side. But we’ll be addressing her dietary situation in a future book. More of her coming to terms with the changes life and body bring to a woman over forty.

Elli’s parents expected a boy, whom they wanted to name Elliott. They never changed the name. I find Elli’s background intriguing. Will we find more surprises in her history in future books?

Absolutely! We’re just getting to know her, and it’s fun to peel back the thin layers of her life, revealing the tidbits that make her who she is today.

What adventures will Elli face in Whack Job, due out in May 2014?

I’m just finishing it and what a fun one to write! She helps a loyal Ballantyne donor recover a stolen Faberge Egg, but encounters the darker side of island life with pawn shops, trailer parks, tennis clubs, yacht parties, and murder. Plus, she’s unsure about her own client. Is he a victim or a complete whack job?

You’ve been successful in varying commercial fields including publishing. How long have you been a publisher? What attracts you to a book and how do you decide which ones to publish? How many authors have you published?

Publishing is definitely for me. I started Henery in January 2012 and I truly love every minute of it (except traveling, literally. I enjoy being at a conference, but dread the to/from.) I’m no different than most editors/agents, attracted to books that fit my personal taste. I like a fast pace (tighten, tighten, tighten), surprising humor (catch me off guard so I laugh out loud), and a twisty plot (I’ll try to figure it out, but make sure I don’t!).

We’ve got thirteen authors in the Hen House, with a few new ones slated for next year, plus we’ll have twenty-two books by the end of this year. And for those thinking of subbing, our calendar for next year is filling up fast.

Sick as it may be, do you think mystery writers kill off victims in their favorite settings?

Absolutely. A lovely setting is an ideal backdrop for murder – juxtaposing a pleasant environment with an unpleasant deed. We want to invite our readers into a town/place/island they want to spend time in. And then they get to play detective with us, so it’s fun for everyone.

After beach paradise, why did you move to Texas?

I’m originally from LA, so I think of it as a journey back toward California! I enjoyed the peaceful life on Hilton Head – the slow days, the salty air, the gorgeous landscaping. But I was antsy to return to more of a city life. Dallas is definitely city. Though everyone says y’all all the time…

Thank you, Elaine, for inviting me to join you. You’re a terrific interviewer, and I appreciate the chance to share a bit of Elliott, and myself, with you and your readers!

Look for Kendel's books at Barnes & Nobel, and Amazon.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


During this last year, I joined the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime and found I was getting a lot of messages about writing short stories. I learned about: (1) submissions being solicited for anthologies, (2) societies featuring list serves that offered market information, (3) critique groups evaluating work and providing valuable feedback, and (4) awards recognizing various lengths of short fiction. Suddenly, an aspect of the publishing world opened up for me that I had not considered -- an avenue where work could be published and a writer could interact with editors, with or without agents as intermediaries, in a relatively short time span.

As I began writing and submitting my own short stories, I made many contacts and kept learning about available venues. Part of that process led me to be a regular contributor to this blog. And from that experience, I have developed many new friends, colleagues, and mentors on the writing road.

When I asked my blogging partners if I could do a series about short story writing, they kindly agreed. In addition, six of them who write short stories have contributed to my effort by responding to a brief survey.

In the next few weeks, I will be presenting a series of messages about the mystery short story world: (1) its authors, (2) its organizations, and (3) its craft. To whet your appetite for coming attractions (also to solicit your input and hopefully find answers to any questions you have), I wanted to give you the thoughtful answers provided by my blogging partners to my survey questions.

Many thanks to Gloria Alden, Warren Bull, Kara Cerise, Carla Damron, E.B. Davis, and James M. Jackson for answering so comprehensively. Each has at least one -- and often more than one -- post graduate degree. Most of the writers I surveyed for this series had diverse and significant educational backgrounds; had worked in professional and technical fields; and had spent significant time honing their craft through writing short stories of various lengths. They had some interesting thoughts about the current marketplace, its potential, its benefits, and its detriments. I’m certain you’ll enjoy their perspectives.

How has being part of a short story writing community influenced your writing?

Gloria: I only recently joined an online short story critique group and have found it very helpful. I’d sent the last story to other critique partners and they helped some, but I got the best help from the online group.

Warren: I had a great critique group when I started. I have an excellent beta reader and I still benefit from an online short story critique group. After working on a story for a while I start to read what I intended, not what I actually wrote. I am also a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society (SMFS).

Kara: There are SO many excellent short story writers that I am learning techniques just by reading their stories.

Carla: I’ve learned to eliminate anything that’s unnecessary so my writing is (hopefully) tighter.

E.B.: As a member of the SMFS, I judged the Derringers (short fiction awards presented by the SMFS) one year. Each judge was given a rating sheet. From this rating sheet I saw what was being judged and in what priority. It wasn't rocket science, but at the same time that experience gave me an invaluable education. The short story community has very high standards.

Jim: Early in my writing career after I had written the first draft (or two or three) of my first novel, I penned a number of short stories and ran them through the Cincinnati Writers Project (a critique group). Short-story crafting helped hone writing skills.

What is your thought process when you submit or select stories for a themed anthology?

Gloria: First, I have to come up with a plot that fits the theme. Some themes don’t appeal to me. For instance, I don’t think I could write a noir story. Then I develop the main character adding others to fit.

Warren: It's a great way to get a story started. Even if the story is not accepted by the anthology, it may get accepted by another venue later.

Kara: I’ve only submitted to one anthology. First, I read the previous anthology in order to understand what type of stories they wanted. Then I made sure to follow the directions for submissions.

Carla: I struggle with this one. Now and then I might have a story that fits. It’s harder to have to write one to fit the theme.

E.B.: The thought process is based on questions that I ask myself. Will the story fit the theme? What about my story will "speak" to the editors? Does it have enough voice to grab them? 

Jim: I let the theme percolate for a time and either an idea develops or I pass on the opportunity. I do not try to cram a previous story into a themed anthology. Once, I did have a previously written story that fit perfectly, and after a further polishing, I did submit that one.

When do you know an idea is suited for a short story instead of a longer work?

Gloria: When the plot doesn’t lend itself to anything more than a short story – maybe only one murder or a character that I don’t care to develop beyond a short story, although I have thought of adding some of my characters to my books, but usually the characters that are the strongest are the murderers.

Warren: As Earl Staggs (a Derringer winning short story writer whose website is said, it is a matter of size. Not just word count but few characters in one or two settings and a short period of time; one main story with one secondary plot.

Kara: Good question. I don’t know. I think that some characters and situations can be expanded for longer stories.

Carla: Sometimes I’ll do a short story and then later consider expanding it, if it has more depth that needs exploring, or if the characters stay with me and have more to say.

E.B.: An idea can be suitable for both short and long works, but in a short story, the writer must focus on one central aspect of the story because few short stories have subplots, and if they do, it's minor and noncompeting with the main plot.

Jim: The size of the necessary canvas. How many characters? How big a problem? How simple a solution. [I don't write plotless stories.]

Have you written flash fiction (usually stories of under 1000 words)? What do you think of flash fiction as a literary form?

Gloria: I wrote a flash fiction “Norman’s Skeletons” for an online class I was taking a few years ago. I just dug it out to see if I could use it in a longer short story. [NOTE: Gloria has revised “Norman’s Skeletons into a longer story and submitted it for consideration.] It was fun writing it.

Warren: Yes. It is a fun modality to work in.

Kara: I have not written it unless you consider a mystery in 25 words for the Guppy 25th anniversary flash fiction. I wrote two of those. I enjoy reading it because writers can be very clever using few words.

Carla: Yes. HARD. This is the leanest, meanest form of fiction.

E.B.: Yes, I have written flash and it was published in Kings River Life Magazine. I used to not like it at all. Ellis Vidler (website: asked me to write a flash for her blog ( based on a picture. I approached it as a challenge and a test. Every word counts. It's like writing a log line -- the writer has to pare down the story to its minimum structure. Flash isn't a form I favor, but it is a way of revealing the bones of a story.

Jim: Yep. Again it forces me to focus on the core of the story and find ways for the reader to fill in all the details I would provide in a longer story.

How many characters can be in a short story?

Gloria: I’m not sure of the limit, but certainly fewer than in a novel. I try to keep the number down, but I have trouble because all these characters sort of appear and want to be part of the story, and one does want enough to keep the reader guessing who the actual murderer is!

Warren: I don't have a absolute rule, but beyond 3 or 4 is a problem.

Kara: I think it depends on the story length. I’ve noticed that flash fiction usually has one character whereas a long story or novelette can have many characters.

Carla: Tough to say. I tend to limit to 5-6 for longer short stories. 1-4 for shorter ones.

E.B.: It depends on the length. The story can only have one character or it can have 4-5 -- more than that and it probably will be too confusing to the reader.

Jim: As many as it takes, but not one more.

How long have you been writing short stories?

Gloria: Except for one I wrote when I was a freshman in college in my early 40s -- which won the prize for best freshman short story and an award -- I didn’t write another one until the call went out for the first Guppy Anthology FISH TALES three or four years ago. I have one that was too long for that, but the one I submitted was accepted. I’ve been writing short stories ever since then.

Warren: For as long as I can remember.

Kara: A few years. Honestly, I have about 10 short stories half written because I’m an over-researcher. I find an intriguing subject and want to learn more, more, more. It’s a bad habit! (Wait-I feel a blog coming on.)

Carla: A few years.

E.B.: About 5 years.

Jim: 10 years (not counting the "Story of the Red and Green Striped Zebra" written circa 1960)

What is good/bad about the current short story market?

Gloria: That’s kind of hard for me to say. I belong to a short story list serve, but I almost never have time to read their digests to see what’s out there. I’ve had four short stories published – two in the Guppy Anthologies, one in Crimespree, one in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable and one that’s been accepted for another anthology. But I’ve only submitted others to a few places and those weren’t accepted. I might do better if I did more submitting.

Warren: There are a number of venues, which is good. Unfortunately the payment is often nothing or very small. Except for Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen the markets don't last long.

Kara: From everything I’ve read it looks like there is a growing market for short stories.

Carla: It’s easier to find a journal to take a short story than to find a publisher for a novel. These days, the publishing industry needs therapy.

E.B.: I've been lucky to get most of my work published. The bad part is that on only four occasions have I actually been paid, and the pay was paltry. The other bad part is that few of the publishers are on the MWA's "approved" list so as far as that organization is concerned, my work is zilch.

Jim: Good - lots of ezines so getting published is relatively easy. Bad - story rates haven't changed since the 1950s (unless it's that they have declined) -- and the cost-of-living is much higher.

Should an unpublished author self-publish short stories?

Gloria: I have the rights to all my short stories and I plan on self-publishing them. First I’ll do them individually and later put them into an anthology. It’s another way of getting my name out there and certainly better than letting them languish in my file cabinet.

Warren: Probably not. As noted above there are many markets, I would suggest trying different markets to gain a reputation. I would not buy or read a short story from a writer I did not know.

Kara: I think an unpublished author could self-publish. Hopefully, the stories are critiqued and edited by a professional editor or other writers before publication.

Carla: Submit to anthologies. If you get rejected, you may get helpful feedback you can use to tighten  your work.

E.B.: NO! Why publish when your work hasn't been tested in the market and you don't have a public to publish for?

Jim: To what purpose? If the unpublished author has a great platform and the stories somehow enhance that platform, perhaps. But really -- if no publisher will run the story why should the author embarrass himself by publishing dross? A possible exception might be if someone is writing experimental fiction for which there is no current market. But for genre fiction, I suggest that the author keep working on craft until someone else is willing to publish it.

The reason I write short stories is:

Gloria: I hear of a contest and think it would be fun to compose something for it. I like writing them and would write many more if I only had the time. I have at least three or four started -- maybe more -- that I plan on finishing.

Warren: I like writing short stories and it is much easier to get a short story published than to get a novel published.

Kara: I like the challenge of completing a story in the least amount of words possible. (Probably why I prefer Twitter over Facebook.)  Also, I write screenplays which are short (about 110 pages with lots of white space) so it’s a good opportunity to see if I can use a short story as the basis of a screenplay.

Carla: It helps me learn to edit/tighten prose.

E.B.: It improves my writing and allows me to take chances on ideas that I'd rather not spend two years writing only to find out the concept falls short in marketability.

Jim:  To tell a tale.

The most important aspect of writing a mystery short story is:

Gloria: for a character to grab a reader and the story to have a twist at the end.

Warren: writing about characters.

Kara: I don’t have an answer for this question. I’d like to know the definition of a mystery short story. What sets it apart from a short story with a dark theme? Does a mystery have to be “solved” in order for it to be considered a mystery? I’ve read some mystery shorts where a murder takes place and the killer relates how it’s done, but there isn’t a sleuth solving the murder.

Carla: suspense and surprise.

E.B.: writing concisely, moving the story forward, and trying to fool the reader without cheating him.

Jim: not known to me. All aspects of craft come into play in writing a good story. Maybe I'll relent -- if you are writing for a particular market, know the market well before submitting.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Dances with Words

Last weekend I had the most wonderful getaway – and I barely left town to do it.
A friend and I went to Washington, D. C.’s National Gallery of Art to see Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music, an exhibit of artifacts from the influential dance company. The exhibit was a greatest hits collection of twentieth century art: Picasso designed sets for the company, Coco Chanel designed costumes, Igor Stravinsky wrote music, George Balanchine choreographed ballets.

Serge Diaghilev, the company director, was the genius who brought these cutting edge innovators together to spark the creation of new works that have delighted and challenged audiences for decades.
The highlight of the day was a performance by four dancers from two top Russian companies: the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi. The dancing, music, choreography, and costumes came together to create worlds that one could only enter through the imagination. These works from the early 20th century still have the power to enthrall a modern audience.
The dance director spoke – in Russian, with an energetic and quick-witted translator – and said something that I’ve been mulling for days.
A ballet, he said, is a work of art. But unlike a painting, it is not a work that is frozen in time and can be put, complete and unchanging, on a wall. It is a different work of art, an adaptation, every time it is performed.
His words made me think about novels, and the act of reading. Writers create a world, populate it with characters, events, themes. We think a story is finished when we type The End on a manuscript page.
But each reader encounters this world, and in a way, makes it his or her own, adapting it into a personal version "seen" in the mind, like a film. So often we say, “The movie isn’t as good as the book.” The reason is usually that in our minds the characters look different from the actors the director has chosen, or the setting differs from the one we constructed from the description the writer has penned.

For example, many viewers love the new incarnation of Sherlock Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch on the PBS Sherlock series. Others feel that Jeremy Brett came closest to the original vision of Conan Doyle. Some are apprehensive about the casting of Nathaniel Parker, star of the Inspector Lynley television series, as Armand Gamache, the main character of Louise Penny’s Three Pines series in the upcoming CBC adaptation, despite Penny’s backing.

Have you seen a movie adaptation of a novel that was as good, or better, than the book? And if you're here for the dancing, here is a link to the When Art Danced with Music exhibit.