Monday, March 27, 2017

Celebrating the Short Story: the 2016 Agatha Short Story Nominees

by Paula Gail Benson

Malice Domestic has become a wonderful homecoming for me each year. Held in late April or early May near Washington, D.C. (for the last several years in Bethesda, Maryland), it celebrates the best in the “traditional mystery,” written in the style of Agatha Christie, where the emphasis is on resolving the puzzle of the crime rather than delving into the more gruesome aspects of the deed.

Excellence is recognized at Malice Domestic by the annual Agatha Awards, given to living authors for works published during the previous calendar year. Short stories are included in the nominated categories and this year’s group of nominees features a group of outstanding writers. Not only are the authors well-respected and prolific, but also the publications demonstrate how short fiction is experiencing a new golden age for mystery readers’ enjoyment.

Following are the nominees and links where you may read the short stories:

Best Short Story:
"Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story" by Gretchen Archer (Henery Press)
"The Best-Laid Plans" by Barb Goffman in Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional (Wildside Press)
"The Mayor and the Midwife" by Edith Maxwell in Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 (Down & Out Books)
"The Last Blue Glass" by B.K. Stevens in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
"Parallel Play" by Art Taylor in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (Wildside Press)

Gretchen Archer, who writes the Davis Way Crime Caper series for Henery Press, uses the setting for her novels, the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, for her short story about a holiday host investigating the death of a slot machine tournament player. Henery Press issued the story in electronic format on Amazon. Gretchen is a Tennessee housewife, who lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son, and a Yorkie named Bently. Her first Davis Way Crime Caper, Double Whammy, was a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award and appeared on the USA TODAY Bestsellers List.

Barb Goffman has won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her mystery short stories. She received the Silver Falchion was for her collection, Don't Get Mad, Get Even. She also has been nominated for the Anthony and Derringer. Her nominated story was published in  Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional. It’s a great joy to see Malice Domestic resume its practice of issuing short story anthologies, particularly this volume that concentrates on mysteries at conventions. Barb’s story reveals how the best laid plans of two honored guests at Malice Domestic can take a bad turn for the worse.

Edith Maxwell, an Agatha nominated and Amazon bestselling author, writes two series under her own name (the Quaker Midwife and Local Foods Mysteries), two under the name Maddie Day, and previously wrote the Lauren Rousseau mysteries as Tace Baker. Her nominated short story appeared in the Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 edited by Greg Herren (Down & Out Books), and featured her Quaker midwife protagonist, who must solve the mystery of a death in a New Orleans’ family that has come to Amesbury in 1888.

B.K. Stevens has published over fifty short stories, most appearing in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and eleven of which have been collected in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime, published by Wildside Press. In addition, she has written a novel featuring a deaf interpreter, Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), and a young adult martial arts mystery, Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen Press). She has won a Derringer and has been nominated for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Her nominated story, published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, was described by editor Linda Landrigan as: “A young wife finds her life’s disappointments measured in broken glass.”

Art Taylor, associate professor of English at George Mason University and frequent contributor to the Washington Post, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and Mystery Scene Magazine, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories. For his short stories, he has won two Agatha Awards, two Anthony Awards (one for his own short fiction and the other for editing Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015), a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards. His nominated story, about a parent’s efforts to protect her child, was published in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning.

If you haven’t already discovered these extraordinary authors, I hope you’ll take this opportunity to read their nominated work. And, if you already love their writing, as I do, enjoy these wonderful nominated selections!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Revision and Television

Revision and Television by Debra H. Goldstein

Lately, I’ve been fast forwarding through a lot of television shows, avoiding the commercials. It makes it possible for me to quickly get to the gist of each program, but also makes me realize how much of normal program running time is taken up by ads. Perhaps the most egregious one was a recent airing of Beaches.

Because I loved the Bette Midler/Barbara Hershey version, I was a little leery about the remake, but having been an Idina Menzel fan since seeing her in Rent and Wicked, I decided to bite the bullet. Joel and I had other plans the night it was telecast, so I taped it. When I finally sat down with my remote control to watch the multi-hour presentation, I discovered that almost a third of it had been commercials. Good for me, but a bummer for those who watched the original broadcast.

For me, first drafts are much like watching a show with its commercials intact. They are bloated and often contain spots I can do without. Revision is comparable to using a remote control. I can fast forward or edit through garbage, but slow down if there is a passage (advertisement) that catches my eye or I’ve hit the spot where the plot actually flows. Sometimes, I fast forward too quickly in terms of my revisions, and must backtrack a bit; other times, it is a stop and start method until I get the wording exactly like I want it. The key is to make my manuscript as tight as a script must be to fit into its limited time. A thirty-minute show must move the acts of its plot within twenty-two minutes. My work must be equally concise or I will lose a reader’s attention.

That’s why I am going to end this blog now. Or, perhaps I should insert a commercial – want to know more about me? Check out my new website at and sign up there to follow my personal blog, It’s Not Always a Mystery, and, if you haven’t already done so, follow The Stiletto Gang, (and like the gang’s facebook pageJ).

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Clicking Our Heels – Astrology and the Stiletto Gang

Although every member of The Stiletto Gang is a writer, that’s where a lot of our similarities end. This month we decided to investigate if astrology impacts our differences. We specifically addressed what our respective birthday months are and whether we reflect our astrological signs or stones.

Dru Ann Love – March.
Strengths: compassionate, artistic, intuitive, gentle, wise and musical
Weaknesses: fearful, overly trusting, sad, desire to escape reality, can be a victim or a martyr
Pisces likes: being alone, sleeping, music, romance, visual media, swimming, spiritual themes
Pisces dislikes: know-it-all, being criticized, the past coming back to haunt, cruelty of any kind

Cathy Perkins – I don’t know much about astrology but I think being on the cusp gives me a blend of Aquarius’ intellectual approach to life and Pisces’ artistic empathy.

Linda Rodriguez – I am quadruple Scorpio, which means my sun sign, rising sign, Mercury, and Venus are in Scorpio. This means passion-and not necessarily only sexual passion, but passion for all kinds of areas in life – and I am an intensely passionate person. It also means fierceness, loyalty and commitment, and that I would make a terrible enemy. All that is true about me. The saving, softening grace is that I’m on the cusp of Libra, which adds a tendency to see all sides and natural diplomacy and a desire for everyone around me to be happy.

Paffi S. Flood – My birthday month is September. That means I’m a Virgo, and, oh, yes, I do. J

Sparkle Abbey – Mary Lee aka Sparkle’s birth month is February and so falls under the sign of Aquarius. The traits of the Aquarius sign say those born under this sign are progressive, original, independent and humanitarian and look at the world as a place of possibilities. I’d certainly like to think that’s true J. Anita aka Abbey’s birth month is October which means she’s a Libra. Libra’s are balanced with an analytical mind, have a social nature and deep commitment to loyalty. They tend to be idealistic, easy going and rarely feel that fighting or arguments are the best solution to a problem. That sounds about right.

Debra H. Goldstein – Pisces ….. fluid while I cut through the water

Jennae Phillippe – I am a September baby, and Virgo. I am amazed how much my work as a therapist finds me pushed up against astrological signs. People love feeling like they have an inside track to who another person is, and I feel like signs or the Myers Briggs personality tests help people feel like they can get a broad sense of who someone else is. But I think it relies pretty heavily on confirmation bias – we see Virgo signs in Virgos and ignore everything they say or do that does not match our idea of them as a Virgo. That being said, people think I match my sign pretty well.

Bethany Maines – I’m a May baby, so that makes me an emerald Taurus Snake (Chinese astrology). I’m not very green, but I’ll own stubborn, and “physically attractive”? My two year old told me I had nice hair, so I’ll take it.

Paula Gail Benson – My birthday month is September. I try to be trustworthy, loyal, and hard-working, Virgo traits. Sometimes my Virgo tendency toward perfectionism can deter me from getting things done. I love sapphires and have heard them called the “wisdom stone.”

Kay Kendall – My birthday month is February. Although I sometimes read my daily or monthly Aquarius horoscopes in newspapers or magazines (never online), I really don’t think in astrological terms.

Kimberly Jayne – I’m a September Libra. If you look in he horoscope guides for the definition of a Libran, you’ll see my face there – or you should. I’m a classic Libran with the good and not-so-good character traits. My gemstone is the sapphire, and I do love that stone when it’s lightest blue, as in the Ceylonese sapphire. They’re gorgeous!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reading vs. Writing

by Bethany Maines

On Monday night fellow Stiletto author J.M. Phillippe (visiting from Brooklyn) and I attended the local open mic night from Creative Colloquy.  The evening celebrated Creative Colloquy’s third anniversary and featured the Washington State poet laureate Dr. Tod Marshall. Creative Colloquy’s mission is to connect writers with their community and celebrate their works. And in keeping with that mission, Dr. Marshall reminded us in the audience to both battle for the arts and to rejoice in our creative communities. 

As with every time I go to a reading event I'm struck by what different skills reading and writing are. It's difficult to differentiate the presentation from the work being presented. For every rushed reading, there’s one that gives space for the audience to savor the moment. For every mumbled poem, there’s one that echoes from the rafters.  For every awkward and misplaced laugh in the middle of a story, there's one that ought to be a comedy special.  Delivery, timing, and pronunciation, all take a reading from blah to amazing.  Or at least important enough to make people stop talking to their friends at the table.  Are the amazing readings better?  Or just benefitting from better delivery?

It makes me wonder: what could I be doing to present my own work better in live readings? Should we authors all be forced to take public speaking classes? Improv classes? Should we be forced to listen to recordings of ourselves (God nooooooooooo!!!)?  Is there a secret trick that I could be using?  What if I just I hire an actor to read for me?  In all probability I shall simply have to rely on the very exclusive, top secret trick of practice and repetition.  As long as no one makes me watch a recording of it, that will probably be fine.


Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Wild Waters, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.