Monday, April 29, 2019


by Paula Gail Benson

“All God’s Sparrows” by Leslie Budewitz (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
“A Postcard for the Dead” by Susanna Calkins in Florida Happens (Three Rooms Press)
“Bug Appetit” by Barb Goffman (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
“The Case of the Vanishing Professor” by Tara Laskowski (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
“English 398: Fiction Workshop” by Art Taylor (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)

I’m always amazed by the quality and diversity of stories in the Agathas’ best short story category. This year is no different. All of the authors have proven themselves as consummate storytellers. What tales they have given us! Many thanks to Leslie, Susie, Barb, Tara, and Art for taking a little time to visit with us at WWK and answer a few questions.

While you were writing your nominated story, tell us (a) something you learned from the writing, and (b) something unique that happened in your life.

Leslie Budewitz
I’d long been aware of the Jesuit and Ursuline communities in Montana Territory in the 1880s and of Mary Fields, a former slave known as Black Mary and Stagecoach Mary who lived and worked at St. Peter’s Mission in northcentral Montana. While I was writing “All God’s Sparrows,” which features the real-life Mary in a fictional situation, I learned quite a bit about the post-Civil War westward migration of freed slaves. What particularly struck me was the observation by historian Ken Egan, Jr., in Montana 1889: Indians, Cowboys, and Miners in the Year of Statehood, that Montana was more diverse in the late 19th century than it is now, because national policies fostered white settlement while decimating the Indian and Chinese populations, and the black population remained largely isolated.

This was my first historical fiction, although years ago, I started a historical novel I wasn’t able to finish, and I’ve since written two more “Stagecoach Mary” stories. It developed in an unusual way, with the first and last scenes coming first, and the rest emerging almost backwards from the ending as I realized what would have had to happen to bring us to that point.

A year later, I finally got to visit the site of the former mission. It’s almost impossible to imagine the virtual city that existed then, later destroyed by fire and time, in a rolling cattle pasture now peopled only with a small cemetery and an even smaller chapel.

Susanna Calkins
I wrote my Agatha-nominated story, “A Postcard for the Dead,” fairly quickly. I had seen the call for the Bouchercon Anthology, FLORIDA HAPPENS, soliciting stories set in Florida or connected to the state in some way (because the anthology is always set in the state where the conference is held). I almost opted not to write the story because I’ve only been to the state a handful of times, and I only had one other published short story. I haven’t been comfortable with the genre. But then, as I was researching details for my new series, The Speakeasy Murders (which are set in 1920s Chicago), I came across an interesting story of some postal workers who’d been embezzling from a West Palm Beach post office. A completely different story emerged from that tale, and I wrote the story very quickly and submitted it within minutes of the deadline. I think what I learned is to just try, even if I’m not sure I can do it. In fact, for me the short story format has offered me a different means to experiment and innovate.

(I had to check my schedule to see if something unique was happening in my life at the time, and I would say that I was living in my usual state of chaos and overwhelm, with work, day job, teaching courses and writing—so it was nothing to add one more impossible thing to an already ridiculously impossible schedule.)

Barb Goffman
While writing “Bug App├ętit” I learned all about the nutritional value of eating insects, as well as some of the potential drawbacks. I don’t want to say anything else or I might spoil things for anyone who hasn’t yet read the story.

I don’t recall anything unique happening in my life while writing this story. I guess I was too focused on my storytelling. Or maybe it means I need more of a life.

Tara Laskowski
So I first got the idea for “The Case of the Vanishing Professor” more than TWELVE YEARS AGO. Crazy! It was during Edgar week, actually--my first time going to it as the guest of my then-boyfriend Art Taylor (ah, we were so young!) I thought it would be fun to write a story about a person named Nancy Drew who hated being named after the famous detective, and put her in a situation where she’s forced to...detect.

It took me years to get it right, though, because it’s the first true mystery story I ever wrote. I realized just how hard it is to plant clues and plot a mystery story. It was a hard, long lesson, but worth it! 

Art Taylor
“English 398: Fiction Workshop” is structured in part around bits of writing advice, and it was an interesting exercise for me to try to follow that advice as I was crafting the story—exploring the anatomy of a short story in an explicit way, and in the process catching some clearer understanding for myself of story and structure, what a story needs to have and what you can leave out, those skips and jumps and omissions that the readers themselves fill in for you. Because the final section of the story draws a least a bit on contemporary slang, I had to research that too, so that was an education as well. I just hope I used it all correctly!

As for something unique that happened while I was writing the story…. I can’t think of anything during the writing itself, but the story’s acceptance stands out. I had a couple of stories in the submissions queue at Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and my editor, Janet Hutchings, was wavering over the one I’d submitted earlier—for understandable reasons, though she seemed reluctant to outright reject it. Janet’s email arrived just as my wife Tara and I were heading out with our son Dash to the airport—a cross-country trip to Portland, Oregon—so before we left the house, I replied to tell Janet it was fine if she didn’t want the first story because I had another option for it, and there was a second story in the pipeline too, one I hoped she’d like better. I hit “send” and we got in the car. Soon after we got through security at the airport, Janet emailed to say she’d read the second story—so quickly!—and would definitely take it. That second story was “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” and Janet’s email was the perfect start to our vacation.

Now, some short answers:

Favorite Mystery Movie:

LESLIE:         I’m going with a trio of classics: The Maltese Falcon, Twelve Angry Men, and Witness for the Prosecution.

SUSIE:            Presumed Innocent.

BARB:            It’s difficult to pick a single favorite. One movie I love that came quickly to mind is Gone Baby Gone. I love the mood of this film. It inspires me.

TARA:            One that’s fairly under-appreciated that I love is The Gift with Cate Blanchett. Also, The Usual Suspects. Because I can never just pick one.

ART:               So many to choose from!…but I’m going to pick Christopher Nolan’s Memento because of its unique structure, with one thread of the narrative working backwards scene by scene and still maintaining all the mystery and suspense of where it’s going to end up—or rather, where it began!

Place You Would Love To Set A Mystery:

LESLIE:         A village called Roussillon in France’s Louberon Valley. Think of the research.

SUSIE:            Your house (mwa ha ha ha! That’s not creepy is it?) [Not at all, Susie. I’d read that story. I wondered if Tara might think of a “creepy” setting, too!--PGB]

BARB:            The Galapagos Islands have always sounded interesting. They’re remote. Exotic. And such interesting animals.

TARA:            Salem, Massachusetts [The perfect answer for a writer born on Halloween!--PGB]

ART:               A grand luxury hotel. We love to travel and love hotels—and I actually have the draft of a story set in a very special hotel, just need to get back to it. (I would say trains, but my first mystery in EQMM was already set on one: “Murder on the Orient Express”!)

Animal You Would Like To See Included In A Cozy Mystery:

LESLIE:         I’m of the opinion that you can’t go wrong with a dog or cat. Somehow, the current household critter always seems to work his or her way into my writing!

SUSIE:            A Quakka. My son’s name is Quentin and I still call him Quentin Quakka. Quakkas are super cute. J

BARB:            I’ll go with the blue-footed booby bird because, hello, how cute! And it would fit perfectly in a mystery set on the Galapagos Islands.

TARA:            Sloth.

ART:               An owl. For Dash.

I’m really looking forward to reading your new stories in the fabulous settings with all these animals!

Following is a brief bio for each author.

Best wishes to you all!

Leslie Budewitz is the best-selling author of the Seattle Spice Shop and Food Lovers’ Village mysteries. The fourth Spice Shop mystery, Chai Another Day, will be published by Seventh St. Books in June, 2019. “All God’s Sparrows” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine), her first historical fiction, is nominated for the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Short Story, while “With My Eyes” (Suspense Magazine, Jan-Feb 2018), set in Seattle and Athens, is nominated for a Derringer Award. Her stories have appeared in Ellery Queen, Thuglit, and other journals and anthologies. Death al Dente, the first Food Lovers’ Village mystery, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel; her guide for writers, Books, Crooks & Counselors, won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. A past president of Sisters in Crime, Leslie currently serves on the Mystery Writers of America board. She lives in NW Montana.

Susanna Calkins writes the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries set in 17th century London and the Speakeasy Murders set in 1920s Chicago (Minotaur/St. Martin’s). Her fiction has been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, the Agatha, the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery (Lefty) and the Anthony, and was awarded  a Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (the Macavity). Born and raised in Philadelphia, she lives in the Chicago area now, with her husband and two sons. Check out her website at

Barb Goffman has won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national crime-writing awards twenty-five times, including a dozen Agatha Award nominations (a category record). Her book, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even, won the Silver Falchion for the best short-story collection of 2013.  To support her short-story habit, Barb runs a freelance editing service, focusing on crime fiction.

Tara Laskowski is the award-winning author of two short story collections, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders, which was named a Best Book of 2017 by The Guardian. Her debut novel One Night Gone will be published in October 2019 by Graydon House Books. She is the editor of the online flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly and is a member of Sisters in Crime. A graduate of Susquehanna University and George Mason University, Tara grew up in Pennsylvania and lives in Virginia.

Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His Agatha nominated story, “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” has just won the Edgar award. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, two Macavity Awards, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, in addition to being named a finalist for the Edgar Award. His work has also appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, and he edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.


  1. Thanks so much for hosting us, Paula! Such fine questions here, and fun to read eeryone's answers. Looking forward to Malice—almost here!

  2. I love all the stories in this category - the voting is always so difficult! Best wishes to everyone!

  3. Thanks for introducing us to these stories and authors. I have no idea how people can choose among such talented stories! They all deserve an award.

  4. Thanks, Paula, for the introductions. You always do such a lovely job.

  5. Thank you, Leslie, Susie, Barb, Tara, and Art, for your graciousness in answering questions. Thank you Margaret, Shari, Warren,Kathleen, and Grace for all the kind words. What a great group of nominees! It's been a delight to read all the stories.

  6. What an enormously talented group of writers. Best of luck to all!