If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.


Our reason for creating WWK originated as an outlet for our love of reading and writing mystery fiction. We hope you love it, too, and will enjoy our holiday gifts to our readers with original short stories to celebrate the season. Starting on 11/16 stories by Warren Bull, Margaret S. Hamilton, Paula Gail Benson, Linda Rodriguez, KM Rockwood, Gloria Alden, and E. B. Davis will appear every Thursday into the New Year.


Our November Author Interviews: 11/8--Ellen Byron, and 11/15--Sujata Massey. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


November Saturday Bloggers: 11/4 Margaret S. Hamilton and 11/11 Cheryl Hollon.


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.


In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," just published, will appear in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

WHY WRITE MYSTERY SHORT STORIES?





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 http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com) 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: http://www.ellisvidler.com) asked me to write a flash for her blog (http://theunpredictablemuse.blogspot.com/search?q=E.B.+Davis) 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.

25 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I enjoyed reading this post. I agree with so much of what's been said. As a short story writer as well as a novelist, I find the genre particularly liberating. It requires discipline and planning.

Toby Speed said...

Great post, Paula. You asked all the questions I wanted to hear answers to, and the answers had me nodding my head. I am new to the short story genre and finding it more fun than I'd expected. I've written for specific calls for submissions and enjoy that challenge. Looking forward to the rest of your series.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks, Jacqueline and Toby. I agree completely with you. Writing the mystery short story is both enjoyable and challenging and definitely requires discipline. I hope this series will provide some useful advice and information.

Marilyn Patterson said...

Wonderful post, Paula. I look forward to the rest of the series. I'm curious about how much character development you all do before using a character in a short story. We often know every little detail about the main characters in our novels, even if much of it never shows up in the novel. How much do you need to know about your short story characters to make them pop on the page?

I'm also curious about the resources you all tap into for short stories to learn about markets, craft, etc. Thanks to everyone interviewed for their insights.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks, Marilyn. These are wonderful questions. I will be sure they get addressed in the series.

Paula Gail Benson said...

I understand there may be some difficulty in connecting to make comments this morning and hope the problem will clear soon. If you have a question you would like to see addressed in the series and can't leave it by comment, please send it directly to me at: pgbenson_4@msn.com.
Thanks!

Paula Gail Benson said...

I've had an inquiry about the Short Mystery Fiction Society. It is a Yahoo group. If you would be interested in joining, please check out:

http://shortmystery.blogspot.com/p/about.html#Member

or

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Shortmystery/

Following is the basic information about the benefits of membership:

JOINING / MEMBER BENEFITS

To become a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, simply subscribe to the free Shortmystery Yahoo! Group.

Membership allows you to receive and post discussion list messages, to help determine the Derringer Awards honoring excellence in short mystery fiction, and to vote on all matters of SMFS business.

If you choose to join, you may display the SMFS logo on your Web site.

Marianne H. Donley said...

Enjoyed the post, Paula. I'm looking forward to reading more of the series.

Shari Randall said...

Great post, Paula and WWK Crew! I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. E. B. would it be possible to share the rating information from the Derringer awards? It would be interesting to see what criteria they feel make a good short story.

Warren Bull said...

What a powerful group of experts you collected! :)

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks, Marianne. The series will take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. I'll send out BSPs to let you know the dates!

Paula Gail Benson said...

Shari, isn't it great to blog with such fabulous writers? Thanks for your question about criteria. In the future posts, I have some references that may help you develop your own checklist.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Warren, only the best and brightest will do! Thanks for participating. Everyone be sure to check out Warren's new short story collection, Killer Eulogy and Other Stories, published by Untreed Reads,a great publisher of mystery and other types of short stories.

Gloria Alden said...

Paula, thanks for including me in your blog. Warren said it best, and he's the best of the best. :-)

By the way, Sarah Glen and Gwen Mayo, both Guppies, have their first anthology of short stories coming out August 1st. It's called "Stangely Funny." My short story "Once Upon a Gnome" is in it. They have more anthologies in the works. If you're interested in submitting stories go to their website: Mystery and Horror, LLC

E. B. Davis said...

To answer Shari's question, here are the criteria-1) overall writing 2) characters 3) setting 4) plot 5) ending 6) overall feel 7) memorability.

In each of those categories is a list of sub-questions. They have a numeric system so that they can correlate scores.

Although the criteria seemed extensive, I thought that there were a few missing criteria such as, back story--too much? setting--too much? Excessive complications and too detailed characterization.

In short stories what you include is important, but what you exclude is also important.

Hope that answers your question, Shari.

KM said...

I love short stories, both reading and writing them. My first published piece was a short-short. I've had a handful of others published, but as others have noted, it doesn't really pay. And the venues change frequently.

I have self-published a collection & a single, longer short story. It seems a shame for a short story to disappear when its publisher does, and I think it's pretty standard for the rights to revert to the author. Not many venues seem inclined to accept a short story that has been previously published, whether in print or in an e-zine.

Some short stories I view as an artist would view a sketch before he/she does a large work. It's a way to get to know a character or a situation.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Gloria, thanks for participating and congratulations on your upcoming publication in Strangely Funny. Mystery and Horror, LLC, was profiled in the Writers Who Kill July 20, 2013 blog, http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/2013/07/confessions-of-virgin-editor.html

Persons seeking short story markets should check out the open calls at the Mystery and Horror, LLC, submission page:
http://www.mysteryandhorrorllc.com/submissions.html

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks for participating, E.B., and for sharing your insight into the Derringer evaluation process. You make some very valid points for consideration in writing mystery short stories.

Paula Gail Benson said...

KM, I like your artist analogy! Thanks for your comments.

Kara Cerise said...

Great questions, Paula. Thank you for creating this series--I look forward to reading and learning from your upcoming blogs and interviews.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thank you, Kara, for your participation. I believe there are close links between the short story and screenwriting communities. Since you are a practitioner in each, I look forward to hearing your perspective!

James Montgomery Jackson said...

I find it interesting how quickly the different WWK bloggers personalities come out in their answers.

Good job, Paula. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

~ Jim

Barb Goffman said...

Very interesting, Paula. Having already answered these questions, it's intriguing to see all the varied answers other authors give to them.

Thanks for focusing on short stories!

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks, Jim and Barb! I appreciate so much your participation!

Sarah Henning said...

Great post! This series is fascinating already!