I had the pleasure of reading the short stories contained in the fourth SinC Guppy anthology, Fish Out of Water. The theme required the writers to create characters who are in situations or environments in which they have no experience or prior knowledge. All of the stories deal with crime, as you would expect from a mystery-writing group, but not all of the crimes are enforceable. Some deal with moral crimes, which are nonetheless heinous. The stories ranged in tone—from harsh reality to light-hearted fun. I hope my questions induce you to keyboard over to your choice of a book retailer and buy these talented authors’ stories.
At the end of this interview, I posed one question to editor Ramona DeFelice Long, which I hope you will read. Perhaps Ramona felt like a fish out of water given the tragic situation in which she found herself.
Please welcome the Fish Out of Water authors to WWK. E. B. Davis
“Plan A: Kill the Fish” by Beth Green
Would you reveal how your main character killed her target?
Well, she’s a first-time assassin and not confident in her abilities. She’s been briefed, but those pesky details keep slipping away. I won’t give away the ending, but it involves a coconut and a back-deck barbecue on a sailboat.
“The Missing Concubine” by P.A. DeVoe
In what historical span is your story set, and how do you know so much about it?
The Missing Concubine is set in the early Ming Dynasty. I have a background in anthropology and Asian studies. I am particularly interested in traditional China and its judicial system. For many hundreds of years the district magistrate was responsible for all aspects of a case--including acting as the investigator, prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, and jury. Each role was well-defined by law and malfeasance or slippage in any capacity could lead to disastrous consequences for the magistrate. For more on the Judge Lu stories go to padevoe.com.
“Screwed Up” by Anita DeVito
I loved May and June. Do you have two crazy aunties of a certain age on whom you based the characters?
The aunties were inspired by a few different encounters I had with women of a certain age. These women talked very (very) openly about sex in a way I never heard my mother or aunts do (thank goodness. TMI, you know what I mean?.) But I did tell my mother and Aunt Barbara about them and my aunt nodded and said “Well, they are children of the 60s.” The idea began as…what if these ladies didn’t turn their back on the “peace” and “free love” themes of the sixties but tucked them away until the kids were grown. Thus were born May and June, sisters of the heart and spirit. I love them so much, I am considering writing future short stories of their adventures.
“The Abduction of Destiny” by Mo Walsh
Divide and conquer or sex wins every time?
The real irony in this story, for me, is that the aliens wanted to study Destiny, but ended up learning more about themselves. Also, for readers of my generation, Destiny’s behavior seems more “alien” than the relationship between her abductors.
“Doppelgangers” by Susan Alice Bickford
In the end, why did Cassie’s mother so readily accept Tessa?
There are indications this wasn’t easy. Cassie’s mother knows she deserted and failed her daughter in basic ways, but has never been able to come to grips with how to change that. When Tessa appears (helped with prodding from the collective grandmothers), she recognizes that she has an opportunity to take a positive step. Cassie could never hide her resentments but Tessa, who looks so much like Cassie that they could be twins, is willing to meet Cassie’s mother half way. It continues to be a work in progress, but at least moving in a healing direction. Thanks to Tessa, mother and daughter can see there is hope for a new relationship.
“The Far End of Nowhere” by Liz Milliron
Does the press suppress the truth and/or reveal it?
Wow, this is a hard question. The press is always looking to tell a story – a news story, a sports story, a lifestyles story. When you tell a story you have to decide what details to include and what details to leave out. If it’s a real-life story, and you leave out details, in a way you are suppressing the truth. But sometimes what is left out is the most revealing part of the story. I guess my answer is both? I will say the journalists I know are looking to reveal the truth as they know it.
“For the Love of Ruby” by Bern Sy Moss
Who is Ruby?
Ruby is the clue to what happened to John's missing brother. She is the '57 red Chevy that John knows his missing brother would never give up as long as he was alive.
“Ping-Pong Girl” by Rita A. Popp
A reality check either clears perspective or induces fantasy. What tipped your main character to go home?
In the end, Amy is a realist. Her mom’s tiny apartment has no spare room for a teenage daughter, not even a crib for Amy’s new half-brother. Her mom will get no support from the lover who is out of the picture. But the bus Amy rides home to New Mexico makes return trips to Colorado. As a ping-pong girl, Amy is likely to keep bouncing back and forth between the poles of her reconfigured family.
“Good Neighbors” by Cori Lynn Arnold
Your story proves the adage “no good deed goes unpunished.” Do you think that’s often the case?
I don’t think it’s often the case in real life, but it works out that way most times in fiction, as it is a fun way to torture our most saintly characters.
“Dead Giveaway” by Chelle Martin
Will your main character ever pay back Tommy the ten grand?
Well, first of all, it’s five grand, unless you’re thinking Tommy will charge interest. LOL. My inclination is to say yes, Kayla will pay him back because she is an honest person who got caught up in a world most people dream about. Without giving anything away, she wants to come clean about misunderstanding the charitable request, which would bring an end to her charade. Even though she chooses to save face, she does so while honoring her obligation. She’s sympathetic when it comes to the breast cancer issue. She could just as easily have disappeared from her social scene and kept her half of the profits she acquired with Tommy. Most likely, knowing Tommy’s family’s financial situation, she will sell her designer duds on Ebay and somehow anonymously “donate” the money to his family so it will be put to good use. She and Tommy have both learned their lesson.
“Bottoms Up” by Su Kopil
How did you title your story?
I love titles and try to get them to fit my stories. This one has a double meaning. It’s a play on words in that Gin and Diamond’s mama is a drinker. And they come from the wrong side of town. A place nicknamed the Bottoms. Gin’s brother Diamond had big dreams to move up in the world and so Bottoms Up seemed like the perfect fit. Little side note: There was a place nicknamed The Bottoms not far from where I grew up that gave me that spark of inspiration.
“The Writer” by Steve Shrott
Is writing addictive?
I think if you’re really in the flow of the story, then yes, it is addictive. You’re just carried along by what’s happening, and you almost have to keep writing. For me, part of it is that in my life, I’m not involved in murder, blackmail or robbery, (usually,) and experiencing those things vicariously through my characters is exciting. Although the story I wrote for this anthology is a humorous one, it’s actually more addictive because humor is so much fun to write.
Of course, if you’re not in the flow of the story, then you’re struggling, and you’d almost rather be at the dentist’s office having a root canal.
“From The Ashes” by Kate Fellowes
Who are your favorite mystery authors?
I could take all day to answer this question! Working in a public library as I do, I have acquired lots of favorites. Cozy mysteries are my favorite, at the moment. I'm really enjoying Cynthia Riggs, Laurie Cass, Sofie Kelly, Sofie Ryan, Julie Buckley and Kathleen Bridge. When I read vintage, it's the classics—Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham. My favorite author of all time is Barbara Michaels, who also wrote as Elizabeth Peters. I re-read her books in chronological order, as I do with Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt. When I'm finished, I start over again!
“Gossip” by Susan Daly
Is homicide sometimes justified?
Perhaps, but it would be a slippery slope, wouldn't it? And of course it always depends on who is doing the justifying.
“On Like Donkey Kong” by Rhonda Lane
Mild-mannered wife to would-be killer. How does it happen?
She believed, if I behave a certain way, I’ll have a good life. She suppressed her resentments for decades. Then, when loss hit, she breaks bad.
“Crime on Hold” by Claire Ortalda
Have you seen the movie Ruthless People?
I have seen the movie and thought it was hilarious. Yes, my story and Ruthless People do share the comic surprise that a ransom demand by a kidnapper does not meet with the intended result!
“Sight Unseen” by KM Rockwood
You must have been to a deer camp to write this story. Any memories you’d care to share?
The deer camp featured in my story Sight Unseen is based on the description of one that featured prominently in tales I’ve been told.
For several years, I worked in a medium security state prison, supervising an inmate work crew. Henry came from West Virginia, and he was full of stories. His large extended family was based in a sprawling farmhouse they called “the home place,” and all family members were welcomed (or tolerated) when they showed up. Henry, who described his schemes as “an antiques business without any actual inventory” stayed there between periods of incarceration. He also visited the equally sprawling and somewhat decrepit “deer camp” owned by the family every fall he could. As a convicted felon, he was not permitted to possess firearms, but he maintained the actual hunting was a very minor part of the activities there, so that didn’t create a problem.
His “antiques business” consisted primarily of breaking into houses with wealthy owners who were often part time residents. He took extensive notes of the contents, especially antiques, and kept files of what he’d found. He then contacted antique dealers at a distance, offering to supply whatever was in his files. He only burglarized to order, picking up the antiques and delivering them directly to the retail customer, usually in less than 48 hours.
His detailed note-keeping was his downfall. When I knew Henry, he had been convicted of over 40 counts of burglary, with each sentence running consecutively, adding up to well over 100 years.
“The Thump and Tag” by Melinda B. Pierce
Does desperation produce creative solutions?
I honestly think it depends on the person in the situation. Jessica could have taken a step back and realized that as a temp worker, she really didn't owe her boss a solution to his problem. Her excitement at finding a workaround of her own making leads the reader to believe that she's going to be more of an asset to the investigative office than initially thought. At least that's the thought process when I created her. Was it really desperation that pushed her through or did she find a bargaining tool in her boss's desperation?
“Step Away From The Cow” by C. C. Guthrie
I grew up next door to a dairy farm, C. C., and know you must have experience to be able to write cow rules. How did you acquire your knowledge?
Although I grew up in the suburbs, both my parents were farm kids. I spent every school vacation and holiday out in the country with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins observing farm life and learning how to live around really big animals.
“Of Roosters And Men” by LD Masterson
Do you specialize in unusual M.O.’s?
Is using a rooster as a weapon considered unusual? Oh dear. I should have gone with the goat.
“The New Score” by Alison McMahan
You were/are a screenwriter. Have you been to the Academy Awards? Is that how you know about its security?
I haven’t been nominated for an Oscar, nor have I been a plus-one for someone who has, so no, I haven’t been to an actual Oscar ceremony. I did a lot of research: talked to people who’d been there, did research online, watched video from several years’ worth of televised ceremonies, and went to Los Angeles and took a tour of the Kodak Theater. Also, one year, coincidentally, I was staying at a hotel that was inside the security cordon for the awards when the awards were about to happen. I had to show my ID to go in and out of my hotel and I had a great view of the whole setup from my hotel window. That accidental experience is probably what planted the seeds of the story to begin with.
I deliberately set my story in the pre-digital era, and pre- 9-11, to make it a little more believable that the hero of my story could do what he did.
“Fairy Tales Can Come True” by Teresa Leigh Judd answered by Editor Ramona DeFelice Long
During the editing process the anthology’s team were informed of writer Teresa Leigh Judd’s death. As an editor, how did you deal with editing her story? Have you had this situation occur before?
It saddens me to answer that Teresa was one of two authors who passed away while I was editing one of their stories. The other was for a different anthology.
When this situation occurs, there are three options: withdraw the story from the collection; complete the revisions myself; or ask the author’s critique partner or group for feedback and revise accordingly. In both situations, the anthology coordinator wanted to keep the stories in the collection, so the option of withdrawing was out. First we had to contact a representative of the author to act in the role of literary executor. We did this by contacting a relative and obtaining their written permission to revise and publish the story. For Teresa’s story, she and I had been through one round of edits, so I had some feedback from her. I went through the edits and completed the revisions myself based on her responses to the first round of edits. In the other author’s case, we contacted her spouse for permission to publish, and then I worked with members of her critique group—who were more familiar with her work than I--to revise the story before publication.
It is always a responsibility to edit an author’s work. When the author passes away, it is an additional responsibility because that piece is the author’s final story to the world. “Fairy Tales Can Come True” is a clever story that was a terrific addition to FOOW. Everyone in the anthology should feel honored to be read alongside Teresa’s last story.