Agatha Best Short Stories 2017

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

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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.

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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?

 

What We Did in New Orleans

Most of you know five of the six Wickeds spent last week in New Orleans at Bouchercon, the huge all-genre annual mystery and crime fiction convention (which changes locale every year: last year Raleigh, next year Toronto). logoHere are some of our pictorial highlights!

First a dinner with Barb and her husband Bill, Sherry, Julie, and Edith at Commander’s img_0683Palace. The food amazing, the company better, and the restaurant beautiful!

Wednesday morning was about getting registered and heading into the book room to select six books. That was like being a kid in a candy store — so many wonderful books to choose from!

Wednesday afternoon Barb, Edith, Julie and Sherry attended the Sisters In Crime SinC into Great Writing event on diversity. Speakers included Walter Mosley, Greg Herron, Cindy Brown, Linda Rodriquez, and Frankie Bailey, with Terri Bischoff in the wrap-up discussion. Each of the speakers gave a wonderful (and different) perspective on a wide range of topics.diverstytworkshop

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Thursday Barb, Edith, Liz, and Sherry attended the Librarian and Booksellers Tea sponsored by Kensington. Edith and Barb read. It was great fun to meet new people!

On Thursday the Wickeds with Kensington Publishing got to meet our editors! Gary Goldstein on the left edits Sherry and John Scognamiglio (don’t pronounce the Gs) edits Edith, Barb, and Liz.

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Friday was the Cozy and Proud meet up!

Friday was also the Second Line parade, closing down Canal Street for a grand musical march with guests of honor in floats, and Sisters in Crime founder/goddess Sara Paretsky posing with the woman on stilts. sarapandstilts

Then there were panels — so many great panels to choose from!

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Visiting friends is always a huge part of going to any conference!

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Editor/author Ramona DeFelice Long (right) and her cozy mystery superfan sister Annette Defelice Gavigan

Saturday brought the Sisters in Crime breakfast. Outgoing president Leslie Budewitz

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Diane and Leslie with Celine

summed up the year’s considerable accomplishments and handed the seal of office (named Celine) to incoming prez Diane Vallere. Then we toasted 30 years of this fabulous organization with champagne!

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Paula Benson, Terrie Moran, Debra Goldstein, and Edith at the breakfast

 

And then the sights of New Orleans!

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beignet And the fabulous beignets at the Cafe du Monde!

Readers: Have you been to New Orleans? Do you have a favorite spot?

 

Prioritizing…or Avoiding?

Edith here, trying not to get whiplash from the New England winter weather of the last couple of weeks.

I recently faced a conundrum and put it out, as one sometimes does, on Facebook to gather insights from others.

I wrote, “Saturday poll: When you’re kind of stuck on a project (like a book…) and you have three other smaller projects looming (like TAXES, writing a short story, and final read-through on another book), do you power through on the first one, or knock off the other ones so they’ll stop looming?”

This wasn’t only a case of muddling through the middle, which we’ve discussed before on this blog here, among other places. The “stuck” part did have something to do with where I was in my fifth Local Foods mystery, but this isn’t that post.

My conundrum was more a product of staring at my whiteboard, which is directly above 20160225_125719my writing computer, and seeing:

  • Taxes
  • Ch breaks & recipes for GRITS
  • New short for Bouchercon

Every time I sat to write, those items stared at me from directly below the “WRITE THE %&!$@# story!” graphic.

All four of those things needed to be done, in a certain order of urgency. GRITS was due March first. The story, March fifteenth. Taxes, well, you know, April fifteenth. And the book I’m writing, May first. Still, I wanted to get the first draft of the book done before I go on a trip on March tenth.

I know that often when I’m a bit stuck I just need to stay in my chair and start typing (thus the “Write the Blankety-Blank Book” bit). I type, stuff comes out, and I get unstuck. But this particular book has been going more sludgelike than most lately, and I wondered if it was because of those other tasks looming. If I prioritized my to-do list, would I be helping myself or just avoiding the inevitable?

PrioritzeWhat do you think the 52 replies to my highly unscientific Facebook poll said? You got it. The vast majority suggested knocking off the small things so I’d have the peace of mind to do the big thing. Here’s a sampling of suggestions on that theme:

Ramona DeFelice Long started the reply thread with, ” I have to do the small stuff, because they drive me nuts.” Another friend wrote, “Gotta remove distractions from my creative flow.” Author Anna Loan-Wilsey said, “I get at least one of the other small projects done so I feel like I’ve accomplished something and gotten a break from the project I’m stuck on.” Cori Arnold chimed in with, “I’m totally on board with everything Anna is saying [wink emoticon]. One small project and take a walk.”

My friend Elizabeth added,  “Use each one as the relief task when you get sick of working on one of the others.”  And Sisters In Crime President Leslie Budewitz offered one of the only views from the other side: “Oh, Lordy. An eternal debate. Today, I’m choosing the big project, but other days, other choices!”

So here’s what I did last Saturday. GRITS was nearly done. Besides being first on the “due” list, it was also the easiest and most straightforward to accomplish. I touched up the recipes, inserted chapter breaks, made a final copy, and hit Send. One item to cross off the list! And it only took two hours of my morning.

Then I went for a long fast walk, which always helps me when I’m stuck on anything. Not only did the exercise start to unstick the book, it also let me talk through the short story to myself. Yes, out loud. In public. I think by now people around town know me as that crazy author lady who talks to herself on her power walks.

I took the next two days to draft and revise the short story for the Blood on the Bayou bloodonthebayoulogoanthology. The tale almost wrote itself, which in the past has led to some of my best stories (I hope it’s true this time!). Another item was well on its way to being crossed off. I let it mull for a few days, read it to my critique group, and gave it a final polish before sending it in on Tuesday for consideration in the anthology.

Now I’m back on the book, Mulch Ado About Murder. I needed a new suspect and he gave birth right there in my mind. I needed one character’s secret and, bingo, she told it to me on another walk. I’m at over the 56000-word mark and heading into the end. I’ve finally removed enough obstacles to let the story flow again.

Taxes, you say? Hey, I still have six weeks…

Wickeds and Readers – What works for you to remove obstacles? Do you power through, or wash the kitchen floor/do your taxes/knock off an easy task so you can keep going? Share your tips!