‘Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.’
‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’
‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.
‘I won’t!’ said Alice.
‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.
–Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
You wouldn’t normally associate the Queen of Hearts with thoughtfulness, but Her Mad Majesty is on to something here, at least as it speaks to writers. Our first and most basic task is conceiving, birthing, nurturing–wait for it–a sentence. The noun plus verb kind.
First, a numbness. A chill that says you shouldn’t have gone and bit in, that something wicked this way comes. The heat does not flood in, yet. It builds. The nose starts to run, and your voice catches. Your body knows only to sweat. Because it’s too late to run. With Nashville hot chicken, the flames pause just that moment before they consume.
Lately, hot chicken has gone from cult food to kind of a thing. Even KFC is in on it–not authentically, mind you. Lest you think I’m the latest bandwagoneer, my 2015 “Let It Burn” submission to Alfred Hitchcock beat KFC to the punch by some months. The publishing world is itself a sweet, slow burn.
I’m incredibly proud that last year’s “The Cumberland Package” (AHMM, May 2016) has been named a finalist for the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Derringer Awards. I mean, like busting-at-seams proud.
Of being named, because the crime space these days is terrific in its voice and depth. The stuff that leaves me vibrating explores in stark terms human nature at core. Not much more human than the crimes we choose to commit–or choose not to.
And there’s the bust-at-seams honor. Any story of mine is thought even near the best of that buzz level?