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Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing Uncategorized

Title Fight

You can do a lot with fiction. You can remove all narrative or all punctuation. You can go stream of consciousness and remove spelling norms and paragraph breaks. Cormac McCarthy removes the dialogue quotes. Do it right, and you can remove most everything in fiction and still have terrific writing. Except for one unavoidable thing: a title. Every piece has a title, to include those forever “Untitled.” It’s called something or else it ultimately can’t be something.

I’m doing a workshop soon for Sisters in Crime on short story writing, and I’ve been playing with the importance of titles. I know, because I’ve horked up some bad ones.

Smarter authors than me have held forth on title strategies, so I’ll just recap what I’ve learned by experience. A story’s best title is like the primed wick to its fireworks. It’s just sitting there, waiting on a spark — a reader or editor’s eye. Said best title catches said eye and promises to light the works. A promise it delivers when the thematic meaning and story unity plays out on the page.

For grins, here are three past stories of mine with their initial title idea, excluding working titles.

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Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing

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.

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Crime, Mystery & Suspense Humor Short Stories Southern Fiction

Humor: In Which Vernon Stagg Self-Lawyers Up

March 24, 2016

By Certified Mail

 

Mr. Robert Mangeot, Author of Shameless and Baseless Works of Fiction

Dear Mr. Mangeot:

The venerated and venerable law firm Vernon Stagg and Associates represents the selfsame Vernon Stagg, Esq., a noted figure of legal and civic stature in the greater metropolitan Nashville area. We mean none other than the capitol of the great state of Tennessee. Music City.

As you must surely know, having authored such a mistaken and misguided mischaracterization as “The Cumberland Package,” published in the May 2016 edition of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, you present to Nashville’s reading and voting public a grievously and grotesquely false depiction of Vernon Stagg. For the legal record and for all other records of important nature, now and in perpetuity, in his representation of Mr. Chit “Big Kick” Bowling, Vernon Stagg at no time and in no way engaged in any of the following: conspiracy to commit murder;

Categories
Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories Southern Fiction This Whole Writing Thing

Born Under a Bad Sign: Behind “The Cumberland Package”

IMG_2653 (1) (2)Vernon Stagg was born from a bad book.

A manuscript actually, mine sadly, and fortunately for us all I abandoned it before the querying stage. This was 2011, early yet for me into This Whole Writing Thing. The manuscript was a sort of Westlake-ian, Hiaasen-ian lovechild romp, and no matter what I did, it came out low on cohesion but high on character.

Such as somewhere in Part Two, when one of the baddies, a gold-digger who can’t believe her luck–or abide her fiancé’s creepy attachment–needs a lawyer on her side. The chapter opens with her asking for help busting a prenup, and suddenly this Vernon character