Monday, April 25, 2016

Meet the Authors of the 2015 Agatha Best Short Story Nominees!

Each year at Malice Domestic, writing excellence is recognized by the Agatha awards. This year’s nominees for Best Short Story are:

“A Joy Forever” (PDF) by B.K. Stevens (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, March 2015)
“Suffer the Poor” (PDF) by Harriette Sackler, History & Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
“A Killing at the Beausoleil” (PDF) by Terrie Farley Moran (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2015)
“A Questionable Death” (PDF) by Edith Maxwell, History & Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
“A Year Without Santa Claus?” (PDF) by Barb Goffman (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Jan./Feb. 2015)

Please enjoy the opportunity to read these stories, if you haven’t already. We are so fortunate to have with us today B.K. Stevens, Harriette Sackler, Terrie Farley Moran, Edith Maxwell, and Barb Goffman. All are not only fabulous writers, but also delightful people. Thanks, Bonnie, Harriette, Terrie, Edith, and Barb for stopping by to share your work and thoughts with us!Paula Gail Benson

What are your writing habits?

B.K. Stevens
B.K. STEVENS:         Usually, I spend a lot of time planning, especially if I’m working on a whodunit and have to make sure all the evidence will come together. I may or may not make some sort of outline, but I almost always take a lot of notes on the computer—exploring various plot possibilities, planning clues, writing profiles of characters and describing their backstories, and so on. Usually, my notes are much longer than the final story; for the last story I submitted to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, they’re over three times as long. I like to have a clear idea of where I’m headed before I begin to write, even though I usually end up making lots of changes during drafting and revising. I draft fairly quickly and try (often not successfully) to resist the temptation to revise while I’m drafting. Once the first draft is done, I put it aside for at least a week and then spend a long time revising and editing. For me, revising always involves a lot of cutting—my first drafts are always much too long. I try to have at least two projects in progress at all times. That way, if I get stuck on one, I can put it aside for a while and focus on the other.

HARRIETTE SACKLER:      Since I’m involved in many different projects, I write when I can. Once I have a kernel of a story idea in my mind, I put it down on paper. I do seem to accomplish more when I’m under deadline. I’m a great procrastinator.

Terrie Farley Moran
TERRIE FARLEY MORAN: I write seven days a week. I get up every morning leave the house and do some kind of exercise (walking, visit the gym, water aerobics or bike ride) then I come home and sit at the keyboard. I write until I break to eat lunch and watch a few minutes of news. Then I go back to the keyboard until about six o’clock when I go out for a walk or a bike ride. If I am falling behind on a deadline I write after dinner until bedtime. Under the heading “writing” I include all writing related chores: editing, research, website, blog posts, etc. And, of course, I still try to have an actual life!

EDITH MAXWELL:  I am a full-time fiction writer now and I treat it like a job. I’m always up by six AM and am working by seven. Whether I’m working on the first draft of a book, a short story, or revision, I do my creative work before noon. Then I head out for my brisk long walkoften plotting the next day’s scene as I go – and reserve the afternoon for admin jobs like writing blog posts, arranging author events, and other items of author business. So far it’s workingI have three multi-book contracts, so I have to write three books a year, plus one or more short stories.

Barb Goffman
BARB GOFFMAN:    When I come up with a story idea—be it organically, or more often, in response to a story call—and don’t have the time to write the story immediately (that’s ninety-nine percent of the time), I’ll write some notes about the idea: the beginning, the end, maybe a bit of dialogue or the voice I hear in my head. Then those notes will sit, sometimes for a long time, until I find the time to write that story. I prefer to write in large chunks rather than a few minutes a day, so I can go a long time between writing stretches when my day job keeps me busy.

Once I start writing, I’ll write a few paragraphs, then read them out loud, revising them before I go forward. Any time I take a break or get stuck, I’ll re-read the last few paragraphs out loud, trying to get a feel for what comes next (and, of course, revising as I go). While I’m writing a story, I may also sleep on it, take a short drive, or a hot shower, trying to think on it—consider if I have plot holes, how I could spice up the dialogue, create a plot twist, and more. Once I finish, I try to let the finished story sit for a few days (or longer if I have the time) before I read it again and try to spot and fix any problems. And then I send the story out to a trusted friend or two for feedback before I revise once more and then send the story out for submission. (Though I must admit I’m often so eager to see what my friends think that I may send a story to them before I’ve cleaned it up perfectly. Letting the story sit for a few days is hard, even though I know that’s the best way to proceed. I keep trying to reign myself in. It’s a work in progress.)

How long does it take to plan and complete a short story?

B.K. STEVENS:         Generally, it takes a long, long time. Once in a while, I’ll get an idea, do only a little planning, and sit down and write the story straight through. That doesn’t happen often, though—maybe four or five times in the last thirty years, usually for flash fiction stories, and even then I’ll spend days cutting and revising. Most of the time, depending on the length and complexity of the story, the whole process takes several weeks or several months. (But remember, I work on more than one project at a time.) If I’m not satisfied with a story, I may put it aside for months or even years until I think of a way to fix it. Right now, I’ve got a half-written story that’s been sitting in a folder for at least three years, waiting until I come up with a better murder method.

Harriette Sackler
HARRIETTE SACKLER:      I’m not one to churn out stories in a short time. It takes me a while from conception to finished story. But that feels fine to me.

TERRIE FARLEY MORAN: I am a very slow writer and writing is a very contrarian occupation. If I think a story is going to take a long time to write, it usually gets itself down on paper without a problem. If I expect the story to be a quick slam dunk, it generally turns out to be torturous to write. Basically when I see a call for submissions that interests me, or when I get an idea for a potential story, I tend to think about it for a good long while. Once I think of a direction the story could take, I begin to research anything that could possibly relate. I do far more research than necessary because…I love research. Then I think some more. While all this thinking and research is going on I am generally working on another project or two. Eventually I write the story. I don’t outline, I just plunge into it. Of course if there is a deadline that sets the time frame.

Edith Maxwell
EDITH MAXWELL:  That really varies. Once the story emerges in my head, sometimes I can talk it through on my hour walk (see previous question, and yes, I’m the crazy author lady who talks out loud to herself on the rail trail). Then I take a day or two to write the first draft. But the finishing, editing down, and making sure it works can take a lot longer. And with historical stories set in a real location, there’s always more research to be done, too.

BARB GOFFMAN:    It varies. If I get a detailed idea, I might finish the first draft in a few days. (That’s how I prefer to proceed. I like to know the beginning, a few high points, and the end before I start writing. It makes the process easier.) But sometimes I’ll hear a voice in my head—a story’s beginning—and I’ll start writing. I might write a couple of paragraphs or a page or two, and then I’ll get stuck, really stuck, because I have no plot to go with the voice. Those stories can become big problems because I’ve found my writing flows best when I come up with conflict first and let character react to it, and the plot unfolds from there. When characters show up first without the conflict—those are my problem children.

That’s what happened with my nominated story “A Year Without Santa Claus?” I saw a call for whodunit stories set in New Jersey. I woke up soon thereafter with the main character’s voice in my head. I wrote the first page, and that was all I wrote on that story—for years. Whodunits are hard to write (at least for me). I needed a mystery and suspects and all that good stuff. I needed a plot in which my character could solve the crime when the police couldn’t. And I had none of that. Perhaps three years later, one morning out of the blue, I had an idea in the shower—a plot that worked. I hurried to my computer (thank goodness I had the time to write that day and week) and banged out a solid draft within a few days. So sometimes it takes a few days to come up with an idea and write a story. Sometimes the planning can take a few years and then the writing a few days. It’s nice when it all comes together fast.

What shoes would you, your protagonist, or another character from your story wear to the Agathas banquet?

B.K. STEVENS:         I’ll wear boring, sensible shoes, because I always wear boring, sensible shoes. Gwen seems like the type to wear boring, sensible shoes, too. Considering the way the story ends, though, this time she might just wear stilettos.

HARRIETTE SACKLER:      I’m at the age when comfort is my most important priority. Gone are the days of high heels and pointed toes.

I’ll be at the banquet in a pair of strappy and low-heeled shoes.

TERRIE FARLEY MORAN: I intend to wear this pair of MUNRO AMERICAN bright red shoes. I think Sassy and Bridgy would wear similar bright red shoes but with fewer straps and a higher heel.

EDITH MAXWELL:  I’m SO not a shoe person. And my Quaker midwife Rose Carroll from “A Questionable Death” would wear something very modest, as well. But her unconventional friend and co-conspirator, postmistress Bertie Winslow? She loves fancy hats and colorful clothes. She’ll wear these satin embroidered evening slippers to the banquet.

BARB GOFFMAN:    Kyle Coyote, my main character’s security chief, would wear rocket skates from the Acme Company because when something goes wrong, he needs to reach his destination fast. Plus, he loves Acme’s innovative products (how many companies are selling rideable rockets?), despite his boss’s concerns about defects.

I’ll be wearing open-heeled black shoes with a tiny heel because I believe in comfort.


  1. Hi Paula, Thanks so much for inviting us to visit the Stiletto Gang. In your honor I have now placed the strappy red shoes in my suitcase where they sit forlorn and alone waiting for me to realize that I am going to need clothes to go with them.

    1. Terrie, I look forward to seeing them and you in person soon!

  2. Great post here! I love to see the range of approaches. Can't wait to see everyone at Malice!

    1. Isn't it fascinating and also reassuring? So looking forward to seeing everyone at Malice!

  3. Thanks for the interview, Paula! And Edith, I wish I could wear those shoes you sent a photo of. Though they don't look like slippers to me. Too nice and fancy. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone in a few days.

    1. Many thanks to you, Barb, and to all of you for being such gracious interviewees.

  4. Thanks so much, Paula!

    1. I appreciate you all participating. Thank you for such terrific answers.

  5. Enjoyed reading your different ways of working but what you each show is dedication. Thanks.

    1. Absolutely. Well said, Debra. Congratulations on you own dedication that produced Should Have Played Poker!

  6. Thanks for hosting us, Paula! It was fun to hear what everybody had to say. See all of you very soon!

    1. Bonnie, you are all so wonderful. I appreciate all I've learned from each of you. Many thanks!

  7. Thanks for such great questions, Paula!