Welcome Guest Carla Coupe of Black Cat Mystery Magazine

It’s always scary walking into a room full of strangers. But it’s a heck of a lot easier if one of those people is Carla Coupe! That’s exactly what happened to me the first time I attended a meeting of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Carla is funny, generous, and smart. I’m so glad to have her here with the Wickeds today!

As part of our Thankful for Our Readers month Carla is giving away an e-copy of Black Cat Mystery Magazine to one commenter.

So You’ve Always Wanted to Start a Mystery Magazine…

by Carla Coupe

Congratulations! Wonderful news! You’ve decided to start a magazine devoted to short stories with a mystery theme. Excellent!

Now what?



A name. A name would be good. Essential, even. But what name? Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen are already spoken for, and you might have legal problems if you tried to use Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers. So…

An animal! What animals are associated with mysteries? A raven? A dog that doesn’t bark in the night time? What about your company’s mascot: a black cat? Black Cat Mystery Magazine. Not bad. Plus it harkens back to a string of “Black Cat” magazines that started in the 1910s and were resurrected in the ’50s and again in the early ’80s.

Now the theme of ‘mysteries’ covers a lot of ground. What type should you focus on? Cozies? Noir? Police procedurals? Suspense? A little of everything? (Hint: choose a theme that you can cheerfully—or at least without rapidly descending into madness—read several hundred variations of over the course of your submission period.) And what don’t you want to read? Horror? Magic? Romance? Mindless action? Make sure you have these choices clearly in mind when you get around to writing your submission requirements. (True, some authors won’t follow the guidelines, but at least you can reject their stories outright and quickly clear them from your inbox.)

Then you need to decide what will set your magazine apart from all the others out there. Sure, you can blend into the crowd, but why? Established magazines have name recognition—somehow you need to grab attention for your new venture. Will you offer more stories for a lower cost? A higher per-word rate for authors? Only offer e-book versions? Faster turn-around for submissions? Maintaining a viable business is a balancing act, so choose something you can live with for at least a year or two.

Which leads to another important point: who will decide which stories to include? Will you, alone, read everything and make the decision? Or would two or three readers work better, spreading the load and allowing consultation and double-checking? You’ll need to put in place a process for checking in stories, distributing them to the readers, writing evaluation notes, making the accept/reject/rewrite-and-resubmit decisions, notifying the authors of your decision. And if their story has been accepted, you’ll need to send them a contract (N.B.: you’ll need to consult a lawyer!) and payment.

Oh, and you also have to decide on boring stuff, like format, size, page count, author payment rate, cover art, publication schedule, submission guidelines and schedule, printer, distributor, retail price, as well as creating the contract for stories you accept. But whatever.

So, name: check. Magazine theme: check. Stand-out item: check. Boring stuff: check. Now…

Money. You need enough to pay authors for the first 3 or 4 issues. By then, you (hopefully) will have enough single sales and subscriptions to repay your outlay and provide some profit. (Employees and bank balances will dance with joy.) You check your bank balance, flinch, and discuss loans/credit/lifetime servitude with your Helpful Bank Liaison. Once that is settled (or at least grimly tolerated), you can move on to the most interesting element:

The stories!

When your submission period opens, you’ll discover: It was the best of stories; it was the worst of stories.

And there will be a flood of stories. A deluge. Lots and lots and lots of submissions. Be prepared for brilliant, exceptional tales that you devour in huge gulps, sated and satisfied at the end, as well as painfully amateur efforts full of misspellings and bad grammar, that manage to include (and misuse) every trope and cliché the genre possesses, and everything in between.

Keep an open mind. You’ll discover professional cover letters with hackneyed stories; rambling cover letters with wonderful stories; and authors who obviously didn’t read, or chose to ignore, your carefully crafted submission guidelines, asking questions already answered in the guidelines and submitting stories that have nothing to do with your magazine’s theme. (You’ll start to recognize repeat offenders and reject their submissions unread. Hey, your time is valuable, too.)

You’ll love some stories and despise others, which is why it’s useful to have more than one reader. Maybe your knee-jerk reaction to one part prevents you from seeing a wonderful tale, or your love of a particular writer/plot/story element blinds you to the utter tedium experienced by other readers. But in less time than you expected, you have chosen enough great stories to fill several issues—and you’re only three weeks into your three-month submission period!


So now you need to contact all the people whose submissions you haven’t read and let them know that you’re closing the submission period early. Most will accept this graciously. A few will reply with snide comments. (Authors might want to refrain from this activity. It is not the way to endear oneself to one’s prospective employer, i.e., it’s a career-limiting move.)

All you have to do at this point is edit the stories, typeset them, share proofs with the authors, make corrections, arrange for cover and interior art, submit everything to the printer, update your website, and wait for the sales and money to roll in.

Now wasn’t that easy?

Readers: Do you have a favorite short story?

Carla Coupe has worked for Wildside Press in a variety of capacities, including editor of the recently launched Black Cat Mystery Magazine. (You can order a copy or subscribe to the magazine at http://www.wildsidepress.com.) Her own short stories have appeared in several of the Chesapeake Crimes series, and most recently in Malice Domestic’s Mystery Most Historical. Two of her short stories were nominated for Agatha Awards. She has written many Sherlock Holmes pastiches, which have appeared in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Sherlock’s Home: The Empty House, The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, Part VI, and Irene’s Cabinet. Her story “The Book of Tobit” was included in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2012.

Who is Emily?

Edith here, north of Boston but delighted to be heading out of town soon for some down time

My good friend KB Inglee had casebookemilylawrencekbing__00633.1460751519.190.250a book published last spring, The Casebook of Emily Lawrence (Wildside Press). It is an intriguing, compelling collection of stories that reads like a novel. I wanted her to join us and talk about how this happened. She has impeccable history credentials, by the way, working as a living history interpreter in Delaware. She also graciously reads each of my Quaker Midwife Mysteries before I send them in to catch anachronisms and other errors.

KB is going to give away a copy of The Casebook to one lucky commenter here today. Take it away, KB!

Before I started writing Emily short stories I had read every Linda Barnes/Carlotta Carlisle mystery I could find. Carlotta is six feet tall with red hair. While I loved the detective dearly, I knew that if I were to write a mystery story my detective would be a small plain woman with dark blond hair. She would have two abilities: she could vanish into the woodwork, and people would find her easy to talk to.

smythsonianSomething else intrigued me about the Barnes stories: the sense of place. I could follow Carlotta on a map of Cambridge and Boston. I knew I would have that in my work, too. My mother worked at MIT Press and she gave me a series of their books with details of architecture in Cambridge. I spent hours looking for the perfect house for Emily and her friends. Like Carlotta, Emily had to live in Cambridge, though I had long ago moved away.

I thought the hard part of writing would be making up the characters. Actually that turned out to be the easy part. On one eight hour train trip from Boston to Wilmington, Delaware, I came up with a whole household of characters. Emily lived in a boarding house that I moved from Fayette Street to Dana Street, because Dana Street was where the trolley fair changed from five cents to seven cents. I filled the house with the appropriate things for the era, especially a square piano that belonged to…well, never mind.

I had no plot, no idea where I was going, only a house full of people that Emily met at the beginning of the book. I thought if I put the characters together they would write the story for me. They didn’t. I actually had to work hard at the plot. A member of my critique group constantly cries, “You need to put some story into this story.”

It was a long time before I realized that you can’t start a novel by introducing someone to a house full of strangers. Another critique partner pointed out that I had way too much “furniture” and that I should get on with the story. To this day I am far more intrigued by the furniture than the story. Three cheers for critique groups.

washingtonEmily became the hero of short stories when I reread the first novel and realized it was a series of stories rather than a single linear narrative. When I started writing about Emily she was 40 and had retired from the detective agency that she and her husband Charles ran. I thought the short stories I wrote were merely to fill in her history. I discovered that we were both better suited to short stories than novels. I now have maybe 100 short stories in various degrees of doneness.

I am not sure where any of my characters come from. I don’t know how much Emily is like me, but I know she is a lot like the person I wish I were. I discovered by accident that one of her jobs is to solve problems for me so I toss her into a situation to see what she does. Only after KB yes1I have finished the story do I realize that Emily was working through something that had been bothering not her, but me. I am more likely to model my behavior after hers than the other way around.

If I had her courage I would have been published much earlier.

Edith: Remember, one commenter today will receive a signed copy of the Casebook of Emily Lawrence!

Readers: Have you read other episodic novels? What’s your favorite historical fiction era? Stop by and ask KB a question!

KB Inglee’s short stories and episodic novel, The Case Book of Emily Lawrence, are set in America from the early colonial period to the end of the 19th century. She works as an interpreter at a water powered gristmill in Delaware and has cared for a flock of heritage sheep.

Day of the Dead

By Edith,
thinking of the dead north of Boston

Tomorrow is Dia dos Mortos in Brazil. When I was an exchange student in southern Brazil in 1970, the family drove to the cemetery on November second (which happens to be my birthday) and cleaned up the graves of relatives. It was somber, but many other families were there, too.


From the Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico City.

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, is a much bigger deal and can encompass three days: yesterday (Halloween), today, and tomorrow. According to wikipedia, this is the “Christian triduum of Hallowmas: All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.” There is whimsical art work featuring skeletons. Families picnic and drink in the cemeteries. People dress up as skeletons. Shrines to the recently departed are created.


From a recent party in Ajijico, Jalisco, Mexico. Photograph by Allan MacGregor.

My dear friend and fellow Scorpio Sarah Hage, whose birthday is today (happy birthday, Sarah!) is a former technical writer who now creates art full time. Some of her favorite papier mâché sculptures are associated with Day of the Dead. sarah_hage_5_31_smAs she writes on her blog,

As a kid, I loved Halloween, which was the day before my birthday, doubling the fun. When I learned about the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico, I was fascinated and wanted to participate. It seemed like a much happier and less creepy celebration of the holiday. As an adult, I traveled to Mexico several times and collected Day of the Dead art, my favorite being a green papier-mâché skull or Calavera, which I still have. As an artist I was drawn to the bright colors that, in themselves, mocked death, and the elaborate patterns that evoked the tangled jungles and forests where the monarch butterflies migrated each fall like souls returning to earth.

SarahLiveFreeskull SarahPushDaisiesSkullWhen I migrated from New England to Southern California, I took to papier-mâché like a butterfly to marigolds. The climate made it not only possible, but imperative for a sculptor with no kiln other than the sun. I was wowed by what traditional Mexican artists could do with the medium and, instead of joining their ranks, have made the art my own. My series of Dead Heads infuses the traditional with themes that lend meaning and joy to me. Life is short; make art!Sarah4elements_masks_sm-e1360369805350

Sarah also created four masks that:

…capture the darker aspect of the tradition where ancient meets modern, life courts death, and earthly and spiritual worlds collide.



In my short crime story, “The Stonecutter” (Fish Nets, Wildside Press 2013), I include a short scene toward the end from a cemetery in a town north of Boston where many Portuguese and Azorean immigrants live.

FISHNETS_hi-resCOVERI walked slowly through the cemetery late Saturday morning. Families sat in the cold on picnic cloths. A slender woman in black laid a mass of flowers on a grave then raised a glass of red wine to the headstone. Children played hide and seek. The sad All Soul’s Day festivities seemed to include almost the entire Portuguese community.

Shortly after this scene, the narrator Eleanor learns news that surprises and horrifies her, and then hears sirens approach.

At this time of year in the northern hemisphere, sunshine vanishes. Darkness prevails. A writer’s thoughts turn to death. When a bitter wind blows and the sun sets at four PM, we hunker down indoors and write scenes of inner turmoil, revenge, and death.

Here’s my own shrine in my home office: atop a bookshelf one of Sarah’s papier mâché angels watches over IMG_2935pictures of my sons (blessedly very much alive) from their high school days next to the ashes of their two Maxwell grandparents. I have a bit of the Day of the Dead with me every day and it’s quite comforting.

Do whimsical skulls make you happy? Do you imagine new death hiding behind century-old gravestones or in the dark shadows of late fall?