Monday, January 28, 2019

Calling All Short Story Writers: Check Out Bouchercon's New Bill Crider Prize!

by Paula Gail Benson

I’m incredibly proud that Carol Puckett and Kendel Lynn of the Bouchercon Dallas committee asked me to help with the inaugural Bill Crider Prize for Short Fiction that will be awarded by Hank Phillippi Ryan at Bouchercon in Dallas this October. This contest will recognize excellence for short story writing with significant monetary and scholarship prizes. And, the final round will be judged by Janet Hutchings (editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine) and Linda Landrigan (editor of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)!

Please see the information below and consider entering. It’s a great way to remember a respected member of the mystery community while giving a marvelous opportunity to talented short story writers.

Bill Crider Prize for Short Fiction

Debuting at the 50th Anniversary of Bouchercon, Carol Puckett and the 2019 Bouchercon Dallas committee launched the Bill Crider Prize for Short Fiction to celebrate this treasured literary form, both the short story and the widely-admired mystery author and reviewer, Bill Crider. Designed to encourage writers from all over the world, these distinguished prizes award stories with fascinating characters and twisty plots, all in the mystery genre.

  • First Prize: $1000
  • Second Prize: $750
  • Third Prize: $500
  • Bill Crider Memorial Scholarship: Registration to Bouchercon 2020
  • Longlist Finalists
    • An anonymous judging panel of published authors will select an initial round of finalists (no public announcements will be made).
  • Shortlist Finalists
    • A second anonymous judging panel of published authors will select the shortlist finalists (no public announcements will be made).
  • Winners
    • Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Linda Landrigan, editor of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, will choose the winners from the shortlisted writers.
    • Please note that no automatic publication in either EQMM or AHMM is attached to winning or being a finalist in this contest. All contestants (whether they make judges cuts or not) are welcome to submit to either magazine—but not both at the same time.
    • Once the final four writers have been chosen, all shortlisted authors will be notified on or near October 1.
    • Bouchercon Dallas Guest of Honor, Hank Phillippi Ryan, will recognize the shortlisted authors and award the top prizes during Bouchercon 2019 in Dallas, Texas.
All decisions are final and may not be contested.
  • Deadline: Mar 1, 2019
  • Open to all writers regardless of Bouchercon registration or residency
  • Stories must be an original work, not previously published, submitted anonymously (as provided in these rules), and without identifiable series characters
  • Theme: Deep in the Heart (relating to Texas, whether locale, characters, history, etc.) with an element of mystery or crime
  • One submission per person
  • Manuscript Guidelines:
    • Word count: 3,500 - 5000 words
    • Format: Standard font Times New Roman at 12 pt size; no fancy fonts
    • Denote scene breaks with asterisks: ***
    • Double-space with one-inch margins on all sides
  • Email as an attached Word doc to:
    • Contact info (body of email only, not in Word doc):
      • Name: Actual
      • Pen Name: If applicable
      • Mailing address
      • Phone number
      • Email address
      • Story Name
      • Word Count
  • No identifying information anywhere in the story or document
  • Entrants retain full copyright of her/his work with the stipulation it cannot be published until Bouchercon Dallas ends on Nov 3, 2019.
  • No automatic publication in either EQMM or AHMM is attached to winning or being a finalist in this contest. All contestants (whether they make judges cuts or not) are welcome to submit to either magazine—but not both at the same time.
  • There is no entry fee, nor will any monies be paid for stories other than the four prizes stated.
  • Bouchercon Dallas LOC Chair: Carol Puckett
  • Contest Coordinator: Paula Gail Benson
  • Submissions Coordinator: James M. Jackson
  • Prize Ceremony Host: Hank Phillippi Ryan

Friday, January 25, 2019

Cinderella, Mount Doom and The Plot Dragons--by T.K. Thorne

If, like me, you break out in hives at the word “outline,” plot dragons can lie in wait before you get to the end of your book.  
Courtesy of Photo by Tarik Haiga on Unsplash

But knowing the ending, even the first draft of an ending, is critical to driving your story. Two things can help you shape an ending —location and character.

Terrain can be a constriction that limits your plot choices or it can suggest opportunities. Your story may require a specific place or type of location. JRRTolkien (Lord of the Rings) had a super-powerful ring that needed to be destroyed. That meant either a very hot forge or nature’s forge—lava. Lava was definitely the more dramatic choice, so he needed a volcano environment for his climax scene. The trip to Mount Doom pushed the entire plot of the trilogy.

Using a location that is already familiar territory requires less description at a point when you need to focus on what is happening. For her climax scene, Cinderella is home. No need to rehash the general layout or the characters. We can focus on what decisions characters make and what happens physically and emotionally. In Lord of the Rings, the reader has never seen Mount Doom, but by the time Frodo and Sam get there, it feels familiar from the previous references. We don’t need many clues to imagine the bubbling lava, the smell of burning sulfur, and the stark rocky terrain.

Another way to approach the ending is to look at your character arc.  How does she change and how can you show that? Cinderella is a retiring, quiet, obedient girl, but she casts caution to the wind to go to the ball. When the prince appears, she defies her sisters to put her foot in the glass slipper. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo faithfully bears the burden of the ring to the edge of the cliff, but at the last moment, he can’t overcome the ring’s power. At the same time, that power is the ring’s doom.  Tolkien made his ending work in a complex way that satisfies.

Make sure the central character plays an integral part in the solution, either by wits or bravery—or, like Frodo, by failing—but not by coincidence or employing a contrived solution. Cinderella’s decision to attend the ball and be her true self caused the prince to fall in love and search for her. Sure, the fairy godmother could have poofed them together, out of reach of the clutches of her conniving family, but the reader would have felt cheated. Your ending needs to be surprising or, at least, not completely foreseen by the reader and, at the same time, inevitable in the sense that it needs to arise out of what has come before. The reader should say, Oh yeah, I should have seen that coming when Cindy lost her shoe. When Gollum appears at the end of Tolkien’s trilogy and grabs the ring, we are surprised, but it is not contrived. Gollum’s actions are entirely in keeping with his character and previous behavior.

Use location and character to help shape your ending as soon as possible to outwit the plot dragons, keep out of a writing lava pit, and have a happily-ever-after writing your book.

T.K. Thorne’s childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama.  “It was a crash course in life and what motivated and mattered to people.” In her newest novel, HOUSE OF ROSE, murder and mayhem mix with a little magic when a police officer discovers she’s a witch. 

Both her award-winning debut historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, tell the stories of unknown women in famous biblical tales—the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. Her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, the inside story of the investigation and trials of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, was featured on the New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list. 

T.K. loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. She writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap. 

 More info at Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Shape of Tales

by Bethany Maines

Last year two other authors and banded together to invent GalacticDreams—a shared sci-fi universe for novellas based on fairy tales. As I mentioned in a blog at the time I was shocked to go through the fairy tales and realize how full horrible things they really were. The shock only deepened when I learned that these were the sanitized versions. Apparently, the Grimm brothers put out a first edition and found out that they were a little too gory and horrible for even their 1800’s audiences. So they switched some of the baddies to step-parents (instead of full parents) and pulled out some of the most egregious elements and put out a new edition that is more similar to the stories we’re familiar with today. However, as the shock of cannibalism, incest, and limb removal wore off, I began to notice another strange thing about the stories: they don’t make sense.

The story I’m using this year for my sci-fi novel The Seventh Swan is based on the story of the Six Swans. The story involves at least 2 witches, 2 kings, and 3 queens and not one of them has a name.  But you won’t need to worry about which is which because they never interact. The witch at the start of the story disappears after she’s set events in motion. Ditto to the evil queen witch step-mother.  The doting father of the swan brother and heroine puts them in a tower to protect them from the evil queen witch step-mother, but when his daughter says “Dad your wife turned my brothers into swans.” He’s all “Nah, she wouldn’t do that.”  And the story is called the Six Swans, so clearly it must be about the brothers, right?  No.  They show up once and disappear again until the end.  And then the heroine, now sworn to silence to save her brothers (and how did they know that was what had to happen to save them?) gets married has not one, but three children, and her mother-in-law steals them and accuses her of eating them. Because… that was so common that people would buy that story? Eventually, (after the third baby) the husband’s like “I guess she’s a cannibal” and he decides to burn her at the stake. But fortunately the six years of silence is up and she saves the brothers and avoids the stake.

None of that makes sense. However, the story still makes sense.  A girl must save her brothers from an evil curse by suffering in silence and setting herself to a menial task.  The flow of the story works, but the actual events and characters are insane.  And in fairy tale after fairy tale the same holds true.  Characters pop up and then disappear. Characters contradict their own statements.  Random events occur. But they all move the story toward the mandated happy ending.  Fairy tales are not a lesson in how to write beautiful descriptions or develop fully fleshed out characters, but they have been an amazing lesson in how stories function and how much a reader will forgive to get to the happy ending.

Buy now on Amazon - $4.99 - Look for Volume 2 in February 2019!
Welcome to the universe of Galactic Dreams, where fairy tales are reimagined for a new age—the future. In each Galactic Dreams novella you’ll find an old tale reborn with a mixture of romance, technology, aliens and adventure. But beware, a perilous quest awaits behind every star and getting home again will depend on a good spaceship, true love, and maybe just a hint of magic. The Galactic Dreams Volume One boxed set features three novellas inspired by Mulan, Thumbelina, and Sleeping Beauty, from authors Bethany Maines, Karen Harris Tully, and J.M. Phillippe.

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous short stories. When she's not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her fourth degree black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

How To Beat the February Blues

By Lynn McPherson

I’ve always found my least favorite time of the year starts sometime near the end of January and lingers until the beginning of March. I suppose I could just call it February. It may be the ongoing cold weather or the pinch of the holiday expenses coming in—I couldn’t say for sure. But this year, as it quickly approaches, I’ve made the conscious decision not to let it get the best of me. I’m going to beat the February Blues. I’ve come up with a few ideas of how to accomplish this feat. I thought today I’d share my thoughts, in case you find yourself with the same approaching aversion.

To start, I’m going to set daily and weekly writing goals. I do this most of the time anyways, but in February I’m going to increase the word count—just by a bit—in order to try to maximize my feelings of satisfaction and achievement. It shouldn’t be hard to do—I have few social engagements for the month and even less distractions that interfere with writing time.

Next, I’m going to plan an overnight hotel stay with my family using reward points I accumulated over the last few months of holiday spending. Not anywhere far—just somewhere with an indoor pool and room service so entertainment and dinner is covered. This might switch to UberEats, but the point is that I will not have to prepare the food myself.

My last idea is to get outside more. I have all the gear I need to stay warm out there. Instead of trying to avoid the cold and wish it away, I will attempt to embrace it. I need to remind myself that the crisp air will invigorate my spirit and get my endorphins going. Even a few minutes will accomplish this challenge.

So, there you have it. None of these are particularly lofty goals. But if I aim too high, I may fail and then feel worse for it. It will be an interesting experiment whether I can change my experience through thoughtful planning and a better attitude. If anyone has other suggestions, I’d love to hear them. It’s a work in progress, so these are just my initial ideas. I’m open to add or substitute anything that might work.

Here’s to a great start!

Lynn McPherson has worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ran a small business, and taught English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. She now channels her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing, where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Her cozy series has two books out: The Girls' Weekend Murder and The Girls Whispered Murder.  


Monday, January 21, 2019

The Novels Not Read

by Paula Gail Benson

I grew up in a home where reading was encouraged. No book was off limits, although some with graphic battle photos were not placed in my hands. However, they remained on the shelf where I had access, if I wanted to look. If I had questions, I could ask my parents for an explanation.
Only twice did I make the decision not to read a book. The first time, I was in the eighth grade and learned the students in another class could only read To Kill a Mockingbird with their parents’ permission. Approval to read a book was a new concept for me and signaled that there must be reasons why books should not be read. It gave me the impression that there was something wrong with the novel. For years, that kept me from reading Harper Lee’s masterpiece. When I finally did in college, I was upset with myself for having delayed.
The second book I put off reading was M.C. Beaton’s The Quiche of Death. It had been the selection of a mystery book club prior to my joining. Several members I respected disliked the novel and made disparaging comments about it, so I decided not to read it.
Fast forward to the Agatha Raisin series being produced on Netflix. I was visiting a friend and suggested we give it a try. The stories completely surprised me. Agatha was an intriguing person, for her flaws as much as her initiative, and the plots, based on Beaton novels and shorts, had symmetry and logic.
I went to Barnes and Noble and found that The Quiche of Death had been reprinted to coincide with the program’s debut. It contained a forward by Beaton. Reading her background intrigued me. Here was a person who persisted to enter the business of writing and let no obstacle stop her from reaching her goals. She had published 25 Agatha Raisin books as well as another series about Hamish MacBeth.
The Quiche of Death was written in the 1990s. It opened with Agatha’s retirement from a business she built. I was surprised how much of Agatha’s backstory worked its way into the first chapter and wondered if it might be rejected if submitted today. However, by the end of the first chapter, the murder had occurred, and Agatha was poised to solve the mystery.
Now, I’m delighting in reading the books in this series (as well as The Agatha Raisin Companion) and learning from Beaton’s story structure and character development. It’s a great way to start the new year!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Halloween in February? Reading Out of Season

by Shari Randall

Back when I worked as a children’s librarian, there was a little boy named Jamie who loved to read Halloween books – no matter the season.  And when I say Halloween books, I don’t mean just scary books. He liked books set on the holiday itself. He loved Halloween.

So what did he check out when his family gathered books for a trip to the beach? Halloween books.
When his family picked up books to read over spring break? Halloween books.
Christmas break? Halloween books.

I myself tend to save holiday reading for the holidays. It feels funny to take a A Christmas Carol to the beach.

I set my latest mystery, DRAWN AND BUTTERED, at Halloween. I have to give it to Jamie – there’s something so enticing about Halloween, all the excitement, the thinning-veil-between-the-world-of-the-living-and-the-dead, the masquerades. The nights are longer and the dark itself is heavy with excitement and deception – perfect for a mystery.

But my publisher is releasing DRAWN AND BUTTERED on February 26. They know what they are doing and I put my trust in them but I can’t help thinking, Halloween in February?

So what do you think, Dear Readers? Do you read Halloween books all year round? Was Jamie onto something? Let me know in the comments.

Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series from St. Martin's Press. She loves lobster, but may be a teensy bit allergic to it.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Top Ten Writing Tips

Top Ten Writing Tips

By Cathy Perkins

I can’t believe it’s already the middle of January! How are you coming with your New Year’s Resolutions?

One of my resolutions was to transfer the organization I always implemented in my day job to my writing life. Since my writing space and habits were a bit (cough, a lot) disorganized, I got together with some author friends. What quickly evolved was a set of writing tips. Many of these I’ve done without conscious thought. I’m attempting to be more mindful, however, and plan to use this structure as additional motivation to, as one friend puts it, finish the damn book.

So, without further fanfare – the writing tips:

Ten - Make lists. Every day I make a list of the things I want to accomplish that day. (I’m not sure what it says about me that I love drawing a line through an item when it’s done.) The first line (every day but Sunday) is always, Write. Long-term-goals are listed on my white board: things I want to be sure I don’t forget, but I don’t have to do today.

Nine – Sprint.  A group of us grabs our first, or next, cup of coffee and checks in, then we all ignore each other, turn off the internet and the phone, and work steadily for an hour. It’s a writing club, a mutual support group, and a fabulous technique for working without interruption. I write until I meet my word count goal for the day. (Thank Steven King for this one.)

Eight – Work on one series at a time. I try my best to immerse myself in one setting, one set of characters, one story, whether I’m working on a first draft or revising a draft. Avoiding the “new shiny” keeps me focused.

Seven – Finish what’s due first. Except #8 blows up sometimes. I’ll be in first draft mode on Pony Ring and edits will come in from Beaver Pond. I operate on the First Due principle. I knock out the edits, because they’re due in a week or two, then get back to the longer work. The problem with doing that, of course, is getting back up to speed with the work-in-process, so I can re-immerse myself in that world.

Six – Take time away from the desk. By the end of a writing session, my creative brain is mush. I usually go for what I call my plotting walk, especially if I’m writing a first draft. There’s something about the rhythm of walking that brings the next scene or a plot problem into focus. It makes the dogs happy to get out of the house, too.

Five – Separate creative time from admin time. I’m most creative in the early morning, so I do my writing then. A corollary is, Keep creative time sacred. I don’t schedule anything else for mornings. I try to keep writing blog posts, scheduling author events, record-keeping, and all the other business stuff for the evenings.

Four – Work ahead. Know what you want to accomplish – I’ve written my goals for the year and set up a time table to implement them. That means I work now on upcoming items instead of waiting and scrambling at the last minute.

Three – Outsource what I can’t do. While I tinker with art and photo-editing, I know my limits with graphic design. I hire a wonderful cover artist. I like formatting my books, but it’s something I can do in the evening while my husband watches TV. The key point is identifying what I’m good at and enjoy, versus what I can outsource. Why waste time on things it would take me forever to do and rob me of the hours I need to do what I’m good at – writing stories?

Two – Stay healthy. I always have a full flask of water on my desk. Fluids in, fluids out. It makes me get up and move around every hour or so. And if I forget, my Fitbit buzzes at me with a reminder. I try to eat lean fresh foods, and I get regular exercise even if it isn’t always a sweaty gym workout. And the exercise doubles as creative time - see #6!

One – Butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. This is really the most important one. If I get distracted, schedule other things, or simply don’t do the writing, then...I’m not doing the writing. And that’s my job. Of all the varied jobs I’ve held, I’m lucky and blessed to have this one I love.

What tips can you add?

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.  Visit her at or on Facebook 

Sign up for her new release announcement newsletter in either place.

She's hard at work on sequel to The Body in the Beaver Pond, which was recently presented with the Claymore Award.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Hearing is Believing

Recently, I stepping into a recording studio. Well, I stepped into the comfortable production room outside the actual recording booth.

All the Country Club Murders are on audio, but my input as to their production ended when I said, “Yes, I like her voice.” That voice, belonging to Callie Beaulieu, is now Ellison’s voice.

Recording Fields’ Guide to Abduction was a completely different experience.

A partner at Outpost Worldwide and I have been looking for an opportunity to work together for years. Poppy’s adventure was that opportunity. “I have a marvelous actress,” she told me.

And because I’ve seen Outpost Worldwide’s work, I believed her.

I met Cathy—heard Cathy—the morning we recorded. I gave her the briefest of character sketches then settled into a club chair. Cathy disappeared into a box with a glass door and settled earphones on her head.

Then she read—acted—the first chapter.

Cathy Barnett - the voice of Poppy Fields

I followed along in a word document.

And, wow. Poppy came alive.

Hearing Poppy and watching the people who sat on my side of the booth react—such fun.

Hearing them laugh—more fun.

Saying, “He’s a bad guy. You might want to make him sound less sympathetic”—beyond fun.

Especially when the villain, who sounds an awful lot Ricardo Montalbán from Fantasy Island, came alive, too.

We paused for things like pronunciation (Chariss rhymes with Paris), the odd bit of Spanish, and lunch.

It took two days. Two days when I learned more about the music words can make, about pausing for a laugh, and about character arc. 

Poppy will be available on audio sometime in the next few weeks. I'm counting the days!


Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders and the Poppy Fields Adventures. 

She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean--and she's got an active imagination. Truth is--she's an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions.