Agatha Best Short Stories 2017

Edith here, super delighted to welcome my fellow nominees for this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story!

Greenteapots

Let’s have a Hip-Hip-Hooray for:

  • Gretchen Archer for “Jinx” (Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story)
  • Barb Goffman for “The Best-Laid Plans” (Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional)
  • Edith Maxwell (that’s me!) for “The Mayor and the Midwife” (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016)
  • BK Stevens for “The Last Blue Glass” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
  • Art Taylor for “Parallel Play” (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning)

Because it’s also St. Patrick’s Day today, let’s dish on an Irish connection in your story.

Gretchen: In my Agatha nominated short story “Double Jinx,” the luck of the Irish is with July Jackson, Holiday Host at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, as she tries to locate the missing body of a previously undead zombie, foils a thief trying to make off with three million of the casino’s dollars, and meets the man of her dreams.

“Double Jinx,” is a Halloween story, complete with Asylum, the Musical playing to a sold-out audience in the theater, a Spooky Rich slot tournament in full swing, and a Black and Orange Ball after a Biohazard Buffet. Chances are if we could visit with July today, she’d be hosting the casino’s Lucky Leprechaun poker extravaganza, where her players would be shamrocked from too many Four Leaf Clover martinis, and the pot of gold at the end of the tournament rainbow has gone missing.

What a great idea! I’m off to write it. Read “Double Jinx” here: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/uQrJO

BK Stevens: Around the end of the sixteenth century, Spanish conquistadores came home from South America with plundered Incan gold and also with a strange new vegetable—the potato. In Ireland, potatoes soon became the staple crop, star ingredients in dishes ranging from colcannon to stew. But when the 1840s brought the potato famine, over a million Irish people died, and a million and a half more had to leave their homes, mostly for the United States. Apparently, some Irish-Americans still observe the tradition of defying the weather to plant potatoes in their gardens on Saint Patrick’s Day. So, in good times and bad, potatoes have played a role in Irish history. They also play a role in my Agatha-nominated story, “The Last Blue Glass.” Until Edith challenged us to link our stories to Ireland, I didn’t really realize that —I’d never thought of my characters as having any particular ethnicity, and I’d definitely never thought of potatoes as symbols. But they do crop up (horrible pun) at crucial points in the story.

“The Last Blue Glass” is framed by two dinner parties. At the first, newlyweds Cathy and Frank entertain four guests. A novice cook, Cathy has to call her mother long-distance for advice on how to keep peeled potatoes from turning brown—and to endure her mother-in-law’s snide remarks when the potatoes are underdone. Cathy becomes a far more skilled cook after Frank suddenly decides to ditch his insurance job and buy a bar. She labors to create a bar snack called Spud Balls—scooped-out spheres of potato browned in butter and carefully spiced, designed to draw in customers and support Frank’s dream. It’s a labor-intensive dish, reflecting Cathy’s devotion to her charming, impulsive husband. But their marriage is undermined by Frank’s weaknesses and by the manipulations and betrayals of people he trusts. At the end of the story, the newly widowed Cathy invites the same four people to dinner again. As she cooks up a final batch of Spud Balls, she thinks about the revenge she’s planning to take on one of her guests, the one she sees as most responsible for Frank’s death. You can read “The Last Blue Glass” at http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/book/the-last-blue-glass/ ; and if you’d like to try the recipe for Spud Balls, you can find it at http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/recipes-from-the-stories/.

Barb: “May the luck of the Irish be with you.” That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But it’s debatable whether the sentiment truly is. Some say the phrase stems from the Irish people being lucky—having overcome so much adversity. But others think it’s a sarcastic saying—something you’d say to someone you don’t like. My main character in “The Best-Laid Plans,” Eloise Nickel, would run with the latter meaning when it came to her nemesis, Kimberly Siger.

Both Eloise and Kim are mystery authors, and both are about to be honored at this year’s Malice International convention, Eloise as the lifetime achievement honoree and Kim as guest of honor. They once were friends, but Kim long ago moved on to friendships with more useful authors. Now, with the convention looming, Kim has been rude to Eloise in a big magazine article. Eloise vows revenge—a series of mishaps to occur at the convention to poor down-on-her-luck Kim. But to her dismay, it seems the luck of the Irish might really be with Eloise.

We mystery authors like to make our characters suffer. It keeps things interesting, and boy does Eloise suffer during the convention. Yet she soldiers on despite multiple setbacks. As she does, the reader gets a good glimpse into her psyche and even, at times, her humanity. But is the luck of the Irish with her or not? You’ll have to read the story to find out. It’s available at http://www.barbgoffman.com/The_Best_Laid_Plans.html. Happy reading and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Art: When my dad reached the question about ancestry in the 1980 U.S. Census, he read me the list of suggested answers, and when one or the other of us said, “Irish. Let’s be Irish,” he marked it down and made it official. The odds are good that we do indeed have Irish background; North Carolina is rich with Scotch-Irish heritage, and one of the earliest Scotch-Irish communities in the state was founded in the same small county where my parents were born some two hundred years later. Plus, given that my birthday is the day before St. Patrick’s Day (yesterday as you’re reading this!), I’ve always felt an additional kinship here—always on the lookout for any potential Irish ties, whether they’re really there or not.

Given the question on the blog today, I’ve found myself in a similar situation—since there’s nothing Irish in my story “Parallel Play,” which follows a young mother and her son through a perilous afternoon in Northern Virginia. It was pointed out to me that there’s lots of rain in my story, since folks often think of Ireland’s rainy weather, and in one scene, that young mother and the father of another child in the same play group share a pot of tea, which I could probably call Irish Breakfast (one of my own favorite flavors) except for the fact that I already called it Lapsang Souchong in a post on the story at Mystery Playground a few weeks back.

So I was basically at a loss here… until circling back to that image of my father and me tackling the census: the two of us teasing through, at some fundamental level, who we were, our family, our larger connections—not just by birth but literally, in our case, by choice. To a degree, that’s what “Parallel Play” is about: what it means to be a family, the choices you make for your family, and in my story at least, the consequences too. That’s a loose connection to something Irish, I know—but it’s the one for me that stands out most. “Parallel Play” is linked here: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/books/6715-2/

Edith: First – happy birthday, Art! But I now realize what a silly idea this was, to ask my fellow nominees to link their stories to something – anything – Irish. I am hard-pressed to do so with my own story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” No, I’ve got it! Amesbury Detective Kevin Donovan is definitely Irish. When the mayor of New Orleans comes to the northeast corner of Massachusetts in 1888 to visit his pregnant daughter, he meets Quaker midwife Rose. He tells her he had also arranged a meeting with the town’s bigwigs – but none of them would have a drink with him. Rose takes him to meet Irish Kevin, who she is quite sure would be happy to discuss crime-fighting with the mayor over a tankard of ale. But when the mayor’s son-in-law is murdered, he and Kevin – and Rose – end up working a lot more closely to solve the crime. You can read the story here: https://edithmaxwell.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/the-mayor-and-the-midwife.pdf

Who we are:

DOUBLEJINXfrontGretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her. She’s the bestselling author of the Davis Way Crime Caper series by Henery Press. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, her son, and a Yorkie named Bently.

Malice 11 front cover proof 2 - FINALBarb Goffman edits mysteries by day and writes them by night. She’s won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national crime-writing awards nineteen times. Her newest story, “Whose Wine Is It Anyway,” appears in the mystery anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, which was published earlier this week. When not writing, Barb runs a freelance editing and proofreading service. She blogs every third Tuesday at www.SleuthSayers.org. In her spare time, she reads, reads, reads and plays with her dog.

cover-herren-blood-on-the-bayou-200x300pxNational best-selling author Edith Maxwell is a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to served as President of Sisters in Crime New England. Maxwell writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston where she lives with her beau and three cats. She blogs here at WickedCozyAuthors.com, at Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors.

last-blue-glass-hitchcock

B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens is the author of Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), a traditional whodunit offering insights into deaf culture, and Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen Press), a martial arts mystery for young adults. She’s also published over fifty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Eleven of her stories are collected in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime (Wildside Press).

CC_StormWarning_FINALArt Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has also won two Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

Readers: What’s your favorite short story of all time? Do you prefer reading short or long crime fiction?

 

A Wicked Welcome to the Agatha Best First Nominees

By Julie, waiting for spring to come to Somerville

AGATHA FIRST BLOG TOURDear readers, you have all been on my publishing journey with me, capped off by the publication of Just Killing Time last October. I was thrilled when it was nominated for a Best First Novel Agatha Award. Icing on the cake–getting to know the other four nominees. Ellen Byron, Tessa Arlen, Art Taylor, Cindy Brown and I have been doing a blog tour, talking about our books, and our paths to publication. For each blog visit we are answering different questions.

Here are the questions of the day:

Is the book you are nominated for the first book you wrote? And from the time you decided to write a novel how long did it take you to get published?

ByronELLEN BYRON: I’m a playwright who turned to writing for television to Byron Bookmake a living. But during a few months of downtime, a friend started a writers’ group and I thought I’d try writing fiction. I’ve always loved mysteries, but didn’t know if I had the chops to write one. So I decided to challenge myself and just do it!  The first book I wrote was called Reality Checked (now known as You Can Never Be Too Thin or Too Dead). I discovered the Malice-Domestic Convention through a Google search, applied for a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant and won one in 2013. YAY! It took nine months to find a book agent. Boo. But he loved the book and sent it out. YAY! And it has yet to sell. Boo. But… while I was waiting for that possible sale, I wrote a second book, Plantation Shudders, and that sold in a two (now four) book deal to Crooked Lane Books. So… DOUBLE YAY! From the beginning of that writers group to selling Plantation Shudders took about three years, and it launched nine months later. And I’ve been saying YAY! ever since.

ArlenTESSA ARLEN: I have always enjoyed writing but I had never written a book before Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman. When I finished a Arlen bookmammoth first draft (145,000 words!) in 2009 I read up a bit about plot and structure and then set to work in earnest. After about a year and a half I had what I thought might be a worthwhile book.  It was my husband who suggested I find an agent and this took me about eight months or so. In my ignorance I went with the wrong one! She was awful –she would get on the phone and talk for hours but we never seemed to get anywhere and after several months I realized I had a real dud on my hands. And then my wonderful agent Kevan Lyon contacted me and said had just read my manuscript, loved it and that she would like to represent me. Within five weeks she had negotiated a two book (now four book) deal with Thomas Dunne/Minotaur and DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN was published in January 2015.   Now here we are up for an Agatha award. Believe me NO ONE is more staggered by all of this than me!

"Art Taylor"

ART TAYLOR: Looking back over my short story output, I think that I have more failed projects that successful ones—story ideas that Taylor Bookdidn’t pan out, projects that never fully cohered, or even finished, polished manuscripts that simply couldn’t find the right home—and that’s the case with the novel manuscripts I’ve had as well; there are at least four of them in one form or another in file cabinets or filed away in one place or another on my computer. With On The Road With Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, the process was very much a different one, since I’d never actually thought of it as a novel when I first started writing it; Del and Louise were originally characters in a short, standalone adventure, and it was only over some time—several years—that I began to see that story and other tales as part of a longer and more complex narrative arc, one tied together by the two characters’ search for who they are, what they mean to one another, and where they might find a place to call their own, both a physical space and an emotional one. A couple of the individual stories found their own home at Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine before the good folks at Henery Press became interested in the longer novel project, so that road to publication had a couple of welcome stops en route to the book’s final destination.

HolmesJULIANNE HOLMES: Not even close! I have been thinking a lot about my journey, especially given all that is going on. It was about fifteen years agoHolmes Book that I said aloud “I want to write a mystery novel.” The first thing I had to do was figure out how to write a book. And then I wrote one, which is in a drawer and will never see the light of day. Then I wrote another one, about an ex-cop who runs a theater. That book taught me how to edit. I’d love to see that book in print at some point. I noodled with other ideas, and then this series came into my life. Fifteen years is a long time to hold on to a dream, but it is so worth it!

BrownCINDY BROWN: Like Ellen, I wrote plays before fiction. But then Ivy Meadows came knocking on my mind’s door. A sassy, slightly silly Brown bookactress and part-time PI, Ivy didn’t fit into a play, so I decided to write a novel. I’d been reading mysteries since grade school, was writing professionally (mostly as a copywriter and scriptwriter back then) and had written twenty or so plays and screenplays—how hard could it be? Riiiiight. My first attempts were pitiful. As a playwright, my sense of dialogue was good, but I kept forgetting things like, oh, setting and description. So I took classes and workshops and worked in writers groups and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. I even took the book apart and started over. Twice. The second time was at the bequest of Kendel Lynn from Henery Press, who helped me fix a fatal flaw (mystery pun intended) and whip the book into readable shape. It’s difficult to say how long it took me to write Macdeath, because I put it aside several times—twice to write non-fiction books for ghostwriting clients, and once to work on The Sound of Murder when I thought Macdeath might not sell. I’m soooo happy it did—I love my characters like they’re my friends.

Here are some of the other stops on our blog tour:

Wickeds on a Stick at Bouchercon!

As we said on Wednesday, Jessie, Liz, and Barb couldn’t make it to Bouchercon this year, so the other Wickeds oh-so-graciously, took them on a stick.

Wickeds, what did Jessie, Liz, and Barb get up to at Bouchercon?

Answer: A lot! 

The Wickeds set off from Northern Virginia with Barb Goffman behind the wheel, Donna Andrews riding shotgun, and Shari Randall and Sherry Harris as backseat drivers.

Check out the rearview mirror!

Check out the rear view mirror!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shari Randall is happy the Wickeds are on our road trip.

Shari Randall is happy the Wickeds are on our road trip.

Art Taylor who is also from Northern Virginia is the first person the Wickeds run into after check in!

Art Taylor who is also from Northern Virginia is the first person the Wickeds run into after check in!

 

Dinner with reviewer and author Patti Phillips!

Dinner with reviewer and author Patti Phillips!

 

Walking the mean (okay really nice) streets of Raleigh and meet fan Karen Palmer.

Walking the mean (okay really nice) streets of Raleigh and meet fan Karen Palmer.

A beer and barbecue nachos hit the spot.

A beer and barbecue nachos hit the spot.

Lunch time for the Wickeds.

Lunch time for the Wickeds.

 

The Wickeds go to a panel moderated by Catronia McPherson and panelists Kaitlyn Dunnett and Leslie Budewitz.

The Wickeds go to a panel moderated by Catronia McPherson and panelists Kaitlyn Dunnett and Leslie Budewitz.

 

Authors Matthew Clemens and Catriona McPherson.

Authors Matthew Clemens and Catriona McPherson.

 

 

The Wickeds are always happy to see Hank Phillippi Ryan.

The Wickeds are always happy to see Hank Phillippi Ryan.

 

Liz, Barb, Jessie, and Sherry go to see how the silent auction for the Wicked items is going!

Liz, Barb, Jessie, and Sherry go to see how the silent auction for the Wicked items is going!

 

Reader Risa Rispoli and the Wickeds.

Reader Risa Rispoli and the Wickeds.

 

Toasting Julie Hennrikus's debut book Just Killing Time.

Toasting Julie Hennrikus’s debut book Just Killing Time.

Liz, Barb, and Jessie are so happy to run into Dorothy Cannell.

Liz, Barb, and Jessie are so happy to run into Dorothy Cannell.

 

Happy to run into authors Julie Hennrikus, Leslie Budewitz, Kathryn O'Sullivan, and Nancy Herriman!

Happy to run into authors Julie Hennrikus, Leslie Budewitz, Kathryn O’Sullivan, and Nancy Herriman!

 

A panel with debut author C. Michelle Dorsey. She talks about her book No Virgin Island.

A panel with debut author C. Michelle Dorsey. She talks about her book No Virgin Island.

Dinner with one editor and two thriller writers.

Dinner with one editor and two thriller writers.

Look! It's author Alan Orloff and his wife Janet.

Look! It’s author Alan Orloff and his wife Janet.

The Wickeds wouldn't miss Hank Phillippi Ryan moderating a panel.

The Wickeds wouldn’t miss Hank Phillippi Ryan moderating a panel.

 

Lunch -- more Southern ood! Grits, barbecue, charred carrots, and sweet potatoes!

Lunch — more Southern food! Grits, barbecue, charred carrots, and sweet potatoes!

 

New England authors Kate Flora, Kathy Lee Emerson, and Edith.

New England authors Kate Flora, Kathy Lee Emerson, and Edith.

Leslie Budewitz and Cheryl Hollon love Liz, Barb, and Jessie.

Leslie Budewitz and Cheryl Hollon love Liz, Barb, and Jessie.

 

Attending the panel Julie Hennrikus was on. Debra Goldstein was the moderator.

Attending the panel Julie Hennrikus was on. Debra Goldstein was the moderator.

The Wickeds once again run into Karen Palmer who they met the very first night. She won their basket at the silent auction!

The Wickeds once again run into Karen Palmer who they met the very first night. She won our basket at the silent auction!

They are really excited to see Molly Weston who is on the board of Sisters in Crime and does the wicked awesome newsletter.

They are really excited to see Molly Weston who is on the board of Sisters in Crime and does the wicked awesome newsletter.

 

And last but definitely not least they run into Sarah Glass the amazing webmaster for Sisters in Crime.

And last but definitely not least they run into Sarah Glass the amazing webmaster for Sisters in Crime.

 

 

 

 

All in all there was lots of food, friends and fun but Liz, Barb, and Jessie are wicked tired!

Readers: Do you have a favorite moment from a conference you attended?

From Somewhere Further Down The Road — Guest Art Taylor

First and foremost, I want to thank Sherry Harris for inviting me to blog here at Wicked Cozy Authors—and by “foremost,” I mean that the various elements of this sentence are ultimately the only things I’m going to write about here.

“Art Taylor”

Sherry and I now live in the same small Northern Virginia town. It’s a suburb of Washington, DC, so part of a larger cosmopolitan community, but it’s an area that also has a small town feel. Sherry and I have run into each other at the grocery store parking lot, for example (I think that’s where she first asked me about the guest post here), and we’ve talked about trying to gather friends together more often for coffee or for trips to the park to ride the miniature train that my son so dearly loves. It’s a nice place to live in so many ways, and much of it has a hominess about it, and yet… and yet I couldn’t help but notice that the bio on Sherry’s own website notes that she and her husband “are living in northern Virginia until they figure out where they want to move to next,” and I know how often my wife Tara and I have mused about where we might like to live someday as well, as if our real homes are ultimately one of two places:  where we once grew up or, specifically in our case, where we’d like our son to grow up. Maybe here, but (who knows?) maybe not.

I started thinking about these notions of where we’re from and where we are and where we’re going because of the subheading on the Wicked Cozy Authors page: “Mysteries with a New England Accent”—a tagline that has me doubly appreciating Sherry’s invitation for me to guest post here (and appreciating again Edith Maxwell and Barbara Ross hosting the Agatha finalists earlier this year) because, as anyone who’s ever heard me speak knows, I do not have a New England accent—and, important to my point here, neither does my fiction.

All of us who identify as mystery writers must surely find our works informed by the various traditions and rules of crime fiction; that term provides a large umbrella for  various styles and approaches, of course, but suffice it to say that a person writing a traditional mystery must surely remain aware of the rules of a fair play mystery, of the weight of all the works in our genre that have preceded us. In a similar vein, it’s likely true that we may be defined by place—not only in terms of the settings we’ve chosen for our stories and novels but also by the places we’re from, the places we’ve lived, and maybe even (more on this in a minute) by previous literary works about those places.

Sherry’s Garage Sale Mysteries, for example, expressly draw on her years in Massachusetts as much as on her love of garage sales, and reading her work,  I’m struck by how often place finds itself not just a character of sorts but also a guiding force in her writing. Early in Tagged for Death, at the first mention of the term “garage sale,” Sherry stops to add a parenthetical clarification: “tag sale, for those in the Northeast.” And it’s not long before we’ve also gotten a quick discussion of “Roast Beef and Pizza places… a New England thing,” and a short lesson clarifying that the Sleepy Hollow of Washington Irving’s Ichabod Crane isn’t related to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery of Concord, Massachusetts, whose Authors Ridge has held the graves of Alcott, Hawthorne, Emerson and Thoreau (a spot which also plays a role in the closing pages of the book).

ON THE ROAD front under 2mbMy own work is more likely to be grounded somehow in my native state of North Carolina. (My wife too is a writer, from Pennsylvania originally, and those PA roots often run deep in her own fiction.) The adventures in my recent book On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories take those title characters—a small-time crook and his lover—across the country: Del’s supposed “last” heist takes place in Taos, New Mexico, before he begins a legit job with his sister in Victorville, California, and from there this unpredictable pair travel to Napa Valley, to Las Vegas, and to Williston, North Dakota. But along the way, it’s Louise’s voice, grounded in her own North Carolina upbringing, that drives the story, and its those various memories of the past—of her mother, of North Carolina’s sweet muscadine wines, of sucking the nectar from honeysuckles, of small town Southern life—that punctuate the tales and that gradually draw them back to Louise’s home state for the final story.

These observations—how Sherry’s novels and my stories and my wife’s stories too are all informed by place—might simply prove how some details of a story are byproducts of the more central roles that character and setting play in any work of fiction. But I’m curious beyond that.

The Southern literary tradition is a real one—it’s been endlessly studied, even if there are disagreements still about exactly how narrowly to define it—and I’m certain that other regions of the country might be able to trace themes and elements that have dominated and defined the literature of their areas, the mappable landscapes of their literature. But when we writers put pen to paper, how conscious are we of those geographical literary traditions? To circle back to the subheading on the Wicked Cozy Authors page, what does it mean for a mystery to have a “New England Accent” or a Southern accent or whatever? (New York patter? Chicago twang? California surfer speak? …by which I’m not just talking about dialogue, of course.)

To answer that question, I’ve…

Whoops! Sherry just pointed out that I’ve hit my word count here! Oh, well.

Anyone else want to chime in with their own thoughts on this in the comments section? I’d love to chat more, clearly—whatever accent you’re bringing to the conversation.

A native of Richlands, NC, Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, recently published by Henery Press, and the editor of Murder Under the Oaks, the 2015 Bouchercon Anthology. His short fiction has won two Agatha Awards, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards. His story “The Odds Are Against Us” is currently a finalist for this year’s Anthony and Macavity Awards. Art teaches at George Mason University and writes frequently on crime fiction for both the Washington Post and Mystery Scene. www.arttaylorwriter.com.

Readers: What is the answer to Art’s question — “When we writers put pen to paper, how conscious are we of those geographical literary traditions?” Writers, how much do you put into this? Readers, are you drawn to books set in a particular region? Which region?

Best Short Agatha Nominees on Ideas

Edith, north of Boston, wondering if we’ll ever see bare ground again.

I am so delighted to be one of this years nominees for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story. My fellow nominees are an extremely august group: Kathy Lynn Emerson, who has published 54 novels and was last year’s Malice Domestic Guest of Honor. Barb Goffman, who has won the Macavity award for Best Short Story and has been nominated for an Agatha eight times. And Art Taylor, who won last year’s Agatha for Best Short Story, and who is nominated for two stories this year. Wow! What an honor to be part of this group.

Since Barb Ross was nominated for Best Short Story last year, I asked her to come up with some interview questions for the four of us. Take it away, Barb!

Barb R: How do ideas for short stories come to you? Is it a character, a setting, opening lines and a voice? Is it the same every time or different? And when you have these ideas, how do you know which ones are worth pursuing? How did you get the idea for your nominated short story?

Art: Ideas for stories come from a variety of places for me: an overheard bit of "Art Taylor"conversation, a dream (or more likely a nightmare), musings about “what if?” in the middle of everyday activities, something I’ve read that prompted my own imagination in fresh directions, or even simple writing prompts and challenges. Just the other day, a student in my creative writing class at George Mason University was trying to talk about the witness protection program but talked about “victim replacement” instead—and I immediately called “dibs” on the idea! We’ll see where that one goes.

EQMMNov14“Premonition,” my Halloween story from Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, was sparked by a dream that kicks off the story—and then I wanted to pursue a little style experiment with the second-person narration, which drove the story the rest of the way. For “The Odds Are Against Us” from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, I had an idea about friendship and duty and the two coming into conflict with one another, motivated in part by a David Goodis story I taught at few years back, “Professional Man,” though mine’s not nearly as noir, of course.

For the project I’m working on right now—a novella—everything centers around a postcard that I found in an used book many years ago and have been hanging on to ever since, just waiting for a plot to spill out of it. (I finally think I’ve found one, but really, I never know which ideas will ultimately come together and which won’t until the story is done.)

Kathy: Almost all my short story ideas have started out as titles. They pop into my head, usually without any story attached. Some, like “Lady Appleton and the Creature of the kathywithbooks2 (298x400)Night” clearly call for me to use one of my series characters. That one, typically, came without any other details. If a title sticks with me long enough, I write in on the tab of a fresh Manila folder so I have a place to put random ideas, usually written on scraps of paper. Some folders go years without any attention, but they’re there, waiting, when I have time and inclination to think about writing something shorter than a novel.

Toward the end of last year, I worked on four of these. Two of them have been submitted. The other two need more work. One may actually end up being the proposal for a new contemporary cozy series. The other is “Creature” and I think all it needs is a better ending. I just haven’t thought of one yet.

As for “The Blessing Witch”—yes, title first again, only it started out as a title for a novel.
RogueWaveFrontCoverMy agent had asked me if I’d ever thought about writing an Elizabethan thriller, possibly with witches. Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches had just come out to rave reviews. I gave it a try but my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted instead to go back to my Face Down series and spin off Lady Appleton’s foster daughter, Rosamond, in her own series. I’ve since done that. As of this week, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe is available in both hardcover and ebook formats.

But to get back to the question, in the course of working on the witch/thriller idea, I put potential characters together and let them interact with each other. The result was Old Mother Malyn, the blessing witch of the title, and her granddaughter and apprentice, Joan, who was originally intended to be the protagonist in the thriller and is now the point of view character for both “The Blessing Witch” and the “Cunning Woman” and considerably more cozy. I currently have a folder labeled “The Finder of Lost Things” that in time may turn into a third short story featuring these characters. At the moment it is empty.

Barb G: My story ideas come in all different ways. Sometimes whileCleaned-up version cropped reading a news article, an idea will spark. Other times, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, with a voice in my head, saying a sentence or two. I jump up and write that down. Ultimately, however, I need to also hear a voice for the main character. Without the voice, the idea goes nowhere. You can have an interesting conflict, but without the right main character/voice to react to it, causing the plot to unfold, the story will not work (at least for me). That’s how I know which stories to pursue–the ones with the exciting voice.

For my nominated story this year, “The Shadow Knows,” I started with a conflict in mind: A man who lives in a cold climate that always has a lHomicidal Holidays coverong winter truly believes his town’s groundhog is to blame, so he decides to get rid of that groundhog. I wanted to make the story funny. But it wasn’t until I started hearing my main character, Gus, grumbling about the cold and about Groundhog Day to his two best pals that the caper began to unfold in my mind. Considering this terrible and long winter we’re having, Gus might have had the right idea indeed.

Edith: I’m like everyone else. Sometimes a line or a character just Edith Maxwellpops up and won’t go away, and I think it’s different every time. Sometimes I see a person or situation on the street that demands a story. Right now, the line “Who wouldn’t fall in love with Adam?” is insisting I write a story about a cute thirty-something who wears vests and a pony tail. I’m trying not to give in because I have too much else to do. But don’t be surprised if…

My first crime story ever published, “Obake for Lance” (in Riptide, Level Best Books) sprang out of a true story I heard when I lived in Japan for a couple of years. The next tale of murderous revenge, “Reduction in Force” (Thin Ice, Level Best Books) I wrote after I lost my hi-tech job in a RIF: reduction in force. That was quite satisfying, as was my nominated KRLMagstory, “Just Desserts for Johnny” (Kings River Life Magazine). When I was trying to sell my first novel-length mystery, Speaking of Murder, I had a near miss with what turned out to be a fraudulent small press. The editor said his name was Giovanni Gelati. Really? So I could hardly not write a story of murderous revenge on a literary thief named Johnny Sorbetto, right? Voila, “Just Desserts for Johnny” was born.

Thanks so much to Art, Kathy, and Barb G for stopping in today, and we’ll see you in Bethesda. And great questions, Barb R!

Readers: Other questions for the nominees? Do you read short stories? If you’ve written them, what’s your process?

The Agatha Best Short Story Nominees

by Barb
I know it seems impossible, but still waiting for spring on a cold, rainy day

It all started with Leslie Budewitz and the great blog post she wrote about the Agatha-nominated books for Best First Novel. I thought it was such a good idea, I “borrowed” it and blogged about the Agatha-nominated Best Contemporary Novels over on Maine Crime Writers.

Today I’m going to continue a good idea and blog about the Agatha-nominated Best Short Stories. As a lover of short stories, and one of the co-editors of an annual anthology of crime stories, it’s easy for me to share my enthusiasm about these wonderful tales. There are links to all the stories here on the blog. My best advice is, try them, you’ll love them!

The Agatha Awards honor the “traditional mystery.” That is to say, books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie as well as others. The are given in six categories: Best Contemporary. Best Historical, Best First, Best Short Story, Best Nonfiction and Best Children’s/Young Adult. The winners will be announced at the 2013 Agatha Awards banquet to be held at the Malice Domestic conference on Saturday, May 3, 2014.

And the Agatha nominees for Best Short Story are published in 2013 are:

“Evil Little Girl” by Barb Goffman

Don't Get Mad Get EvenBarb Goffman has not one, but two stories nominated for Agatha Best Short. Both appear in her powerhouse collection Don’t Get Mad, Get Even: 15 Tales of Revenge and More, published by Wildside Press.

About “Evil Little Girl” Barb says:

I went to a wonderful sleep-away camp in Connecticut as a kid. I remember the smell of the grass, the songs, the sports, the friendships…That was the world I wanted to recreate for “Evil Little Girl.”

You can read the complete short story “Evil Little Girl” by clicking here.

“Nightmare” by Barb Goffman

Barb’s second Agatha-nominated story is “Nightmare.”

About “Nightmare” Barb says:

Sometimes I wake up in the night hearing voices in my head. Characters fully developed, telling me their story. On good nights, I get up, grab a pen and paper, and write down what they say. That is how “Nightmare” was born.

You can read the complete short story “Nightmare” by clicking here.

The Hindi Houdini by Gigi Pandian

Fishnets the Second Guppy Anthology“The Hindi Houdini” debuted in Fishnets: The Second Guppy Anthology, published by Wildside Press.

About “The Hindi Houdini” Gigi says:

In “The Hindi Houdini,” magician Sanjay Rai, aka The Hindi Houdini, solves a locked room mystery at the Napa Valley winery theater where he performs. A magician and escape artist, Sanjay chose the moniker “The Hindi Houdini” because it paid homage to his Indian heritage and his favorite illusionist—and because he liked the rhyme better than Hindu Houdini.

You can read the complete short story “The Hindi Houdini” by clicking here.

The Care and Feeding of House Plants by Art Taylor

Ellery Queen“The Care and Feeding of House Plants” was published in the March/April 2013 issue of Ellery Queen Magazine.

About Art Taylor, Ellery Queen says:

Art Taylor is becoming one of the most distinguished short-story writers of his generation. Since his debut in 1995, he’s sold nearly three dozen short stories, several of which have received critical recognition.

You can read the complete short story “The Care and Feeding of House Plants,” by clicking here.

Bread Baby by Barbara Ross

Best New England Crime Stories Stone ColdI am thrilled to have my story “Bread Baby” in such distinguished company. “Bread Baby” was included in Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold published by Level Best Books.

Here’s how I describe “Bread Baby.”

“Bread Baby” somehow combines an Oprah-like figure, a powerful cartel of Manhattan executive assistants, and tantawawa, bread figures made by the Andean Indians and offered to their ancestors on the Day of the Dead.

You can read the complete short story “Bread Baby” by clicking here.

I can’t wait for next week and our panel at Malice Domestic (9:00 am Saturday in the Lalique Room.)