Behind the Story: “Problems Aren’t Stop Signs”

I like writing about problems. As in, you know, their problematic nature. It’s the stuff of a great story. And I had this idea for a writing challenge: take one self-inflicted problem and make every next sentence add a specific complication. Why, transgression zero’s blowback would mount and mount and surely hit a sublime ridiculousness. In the end that’s what crime and punishment often are, aren’t they? Sublimely human things we did to ourselves.

To be clear, I’m not meaning that each next sentence would deepen a plot element or characterization (or both). Such writing craft proven over the millennia would’ve made too much sense. No, I would daisy-chain every next sentence with a direct new complication to or consequence of what came before. 

The set-up: A small town mayor (eventually our Tori) embezzled taxpayer money as a down payment on snatched-up Panhandle scrubland she believed would skyrocket in value. There’s a water management project set for state funding that will keep her land high-and-dry from the rising Gulf levels. Well, state revenue shortfalls nixed discretionary waterway plans. Open then to Tori in her swamp and hatching a skunk ape craze bound to draw in beaucoup sun seekers and cryptozoologists. She’ll flip that land to resort developers yet. Tori, though, can barely keep her half-brother in the shaggy costume (she’s in charge of whipping up media interest), and mud and snakes and owls abound, and her local paper contact wants to investigate the town finances.

Problems stopped the works. Not Tori’s. Mine. Oh, I Continue reading “Behind the Story: “Problems Aren’t Stop Signs””

Behind the Story: “Book of Hours”

So I had this idea for a novel.

There was this gentleman thief, see, and he needed to steal something. Wait. There was more. This something, see, was hidden in the pit network underneath the Colosseum. The hypogeum, if you’re into archeology. A caper in front of ten thousand tourists. Say crooks or spies did drop exchanges there, payoff money or hacked secrets. Glam Rome, high stakes, chases through crumbling passages. Toss in the yucks. It sells itself, right?

Some ideas know better than to come together. I worked on the first draft, got 15,000 words in. And froze. Several times. Even with the leeway of a comic premise, story problems kept clogging the works. No thief, see, could get past modern security, polizia squads, and ten thousand smart phone cameras. And why the hell would any mobster anywhere choose the Colosseum to stash diamonds or jump drives? The pits where tour groups flock through all the Italian day? Out of a million less complicated alternatives? No, my idea wouldn’t be selling itself.

But the first chapter worked. It stood alone more or less, no Colosseum-sized plot problems. Our hero, see, just had to steal something stealable from a place such things get stolen from. A super-valuable book. The scene zipped like a Bond movie opening, a slam bang action setpiece launching into the main plot.

We’d last left our hero in a bad way. Ed, our once-brash gent, had been outfoxed by a mademoiselle high on Holmesian deduction and low on morals (“Aix to Grind,” AHMM September 2014). Now a few months later, Ed is in crushing debt to the Corsican mob for his Aix sins, and worse, he’s in the cold, cold clutches of the Marchesa Isabella Ruggieri. In “Aix,” Ed bragged over stealing a haul from her. The haul, it turns out, Continue reading “Behind the Story: “Book of Hours””

Behind the Short Story: “Let It Burn”

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.

Prince’s hot chicken, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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 digress. Lester, the sorta-hero of “Burn,” describes hot chicken thusly: Continue reading “Behind the Short Story: “Let It Burn””

Derringer-ered!

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?

Thank you.

B

* * *

Here’s my Derringer finalist Q&A.

And here’s each of the finalists’ Q&A. Fascinating behind-scenes stories. Writer-to-writer, what it took is where it’s at.