Saturday, March 26, 2005

No Review For You!

Having posted every day for almost four months, I have decided to take a page from La Weinman's book and take the weekend off. I might still post random thoughts as they occur to me, but otherwise, see you Monday.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Seanachai with Patrick McLean

The Seanachai with Patrick McLean

Rather than a short story, this is the website of a storyteller (that’s what a Seanachai is, an Irish storyteller). Every week Mr. McLean posts an MP3 file of a new story that runs on the order of 4 to 15 minutes. So far there have been 14 posted, and the subject matter runs from the humorously supernatural of “The Vampire In My Attic” to the criminous of “Death In B-Flat”, a PI story.

The production values are top-notch, and Mr. McLean has done this before. I felt like he was sitting next to me telling me the story rather than sitting in a studio reading from a script. He is a talented man, doing all the voices himself. At least I think he does since he doesn’t credit anyone else. Some of the voices are so different from his “normal” voice that I couldn’t swear it was him.

Mr. McLean has one serial going on called “How To Succeed In Evil,” the fourth episode of which was posted last Wednesday. The story follows a man, Edwin Windsor, who has chosen the career of a consultant. But not some mundane business consultancy, oh, no. Edwin earns his considerable fee being an Evil Efficiency Consultant. He is a business consultant to various villains and other nefarious figures.

Edwin is enormously successful at what he does, but he is not a happy man. His clients don’t listen to him. They don’t maximize their potential the way he tells them they should, and that drives him batty. Finally, in the third episode Edwin decides to quit giving advice and show the world how it is done by becoming a villain himself, or so it seems.

All of the stories are well-plotted, well-written and professionally performed, but “How To Succeed In Evil” is especially fun.

Since the stories are recorded at a sampling rate of 128 kbits/sec, the files are fairly large. If you have a dial-up connection it will take a while to download them, but the wait will be worth it.

In short, I subscribed to the RSS feed and listen to every one as they are posted.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Devil's in the Details by Craig McDonald

Devil’s In The Details” by Craig McDonald, Philadelphia Citypaper.net, March 17-23, 2005

Joey Grapelli, home from college because of an emergency, is finding out more about the family business first hand than he ever wanted to know. Angello Grapelli, Joey’s father, is in the process of torturing one Tommy Russo, a kid two years younger than Joey. Joey’s grandfather, Carmine, too old for this shit, is watching with a combination of disapproval and regret.

This is Sunday morning. Friday night Joey’s sister, Laura, was kidnapped in an escalation of a war between two crime families, the Russos and the Grapellis. A new restaurant opened in what the Grapelli family thought was their territory. One of the Grapelli lieutenants, not knowing that it was a Russo enterprise, shook it down for a $4,000 protection fee.

The Russo family was not pleased. In retaliation they snatched the Grapelli girl saying that they will free her when the Grapellis return the $4,000 along with a $10,000 fine. If the Russos don’t have the money by 11 a.m. Sunday, Laura will be gang-raped. If by noon they still don’t have the money, she gets a bullet in the back of the head.

Rather than give up the money, Angello decides to pull his own snatch and grabs the Russo kid at 1 a.m. Sunday. Ever since then Angello and his henchmen have been torturing the kid to get Laura’s location out of him.

They have a second deadline, too. Joey and Laura’s mother has been out of state visiting a sister. She doesn’t know anything about the kidnapping, and she is due to get home around noon or a little after.

Carmine keeps trying to convince Joey to take off, go back to school. He knows this thing won’t turn out well no matter what happens. It’s basically the opening shot of a war. Joey wants to leave, but he doesn’t seem to be able to make himself take off.

At 10:50 they check the webcam that the Russo’s have set up showing Laura tied to a chair. Now the chair is empty, turned over on the floor surrounded by the ropes that used to hold the girl. This can’t be good. The Russo kid still isn’t talking. Then just after 11, Mrs. Grapelli shows up. Things are going to hell in a handbasket.

This is a well-written story and the winner in the Crime Fiction portion of the City Paper’s 19th Annual Fiction Contest. Ken Bruen, the Pope of Galway Bay, judged this category of the contest and provides an intro to the story.

Mr. McDonald builds suspense through the course of the story very well. You have the torture on one side and old Carmine urging Joey to get out before this act contaminates him beyond redemption. And there is Joey’s inner conflict between family loyalty and disgust at what is happening.

In short, I’ll echo Mr. Bruen in saying that this story has one hell of an ending.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Witness by J. A. Jance

“Witness” by J. A. Jance, Dangerous Women Edited by Otto Penzler, Mysterious Press, Trade Paperback, $13.95

Francine has spent the last twenty-five years as a high-school guidance counselor. Now her friend Mindy comes to her for help. Mindy tells a tale of suffering, the result of mental abuse by her husband of a year. The way Mindy dresses, Francine suspects that the abuse is more than mental.

After receiving a call from her husband, Larry, Mindy leaves their impromptu lunch. Francine goes home. She starts cleaning out the belongings of her husband who died three years ago. As she is packing things up she remembers how happy they were and how much he cared for her. She wanted those things for Mindy, and she is upset that Mindy is having to endure abuse.

Then Francine starts thinking about Larry, how little she knows about him. Then she remembers from a party at their house that Larry has a large gun collection. She then makes the rather illogical leap that Larry will shoot her. He will shoot her this afternoon.

Francine then jumps into her car and drives to Mindy’s house. When she arrives she overhears something that turns her world upside down.

Ms. Jance is a skillful writer. She shows Francine working herself from mildly concerned to desperate fear for her friend’s life completely within character.

In short, well done with a nice twist at the end.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Limp Puppets by David White

Limp Puppets” by David White, Shots Magazine, March 2005

This is a short-short about curiosity and how it killed . . . well, there aren’t any cats in this story, thank goodness.

Greg and his lady friend, Rebecca, are in Greg’s car on their way out for a night on the town. Rebecca, as women will, has picked this time to grill Greg on a past incident that has apparently affected his life in a negative way. It happened when Greg was a freshman in high school. Up until that point, he had good grades and was a model student. After that, his grades suffered, he didn’t go to college, and he now works in his father’s pharmacy stocking shelves.

This subject had come up before, but Greg wouldn’t talk about it. Now Rebecca, as women will, has decided that she will no longer take NO for an answer. Events escalate.

I have one quibble with this story. In the seventh paragraph of the story, a very short story with, otherwise, few wasted words, Rebecca spends FOUR SENTENCES adjusting her wardrobe! It was like a compulsion, whether Rebecca’s or Mr. White’s I don’t know.

Now the good. For such a short story, the characters are well-drawn. I liked the way Mr. White showed Rebecca’s determination to get the story out of Greg. Rebecca just keeps pushing and pushing, as women will. At one point Greg finds a radio station with music he hopes Rebecca will sing along with. One single-sentence paragraph: “Rebecca doesn’t sing.” Nicely done.

I also liked the way Mr. White showed Greg’s increasing agitation with very short paragraphs interspersed between longer paragraphs of dialogue.

And the ending. A very nasty twist.

In short, with the exception of the OCD paragraph, I liked it.

Monday, March 21, 2005

A Thousand Miles From Nowhere by Lorenzo Carcaterra

“A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” by Lorenzo Carcaterra, Dangerous Women Edited by Otto Penzler, Mysterious Press, Trade Paperback, $13.95

The story starts with Frank sitting in a deserted airport bar, his back against a window, waiting out a snowstorm. No flights will leave that night. Almost everyone has found someplace to go except him and the bartender.

Then a beautiful woman walks in. This is Josephine, or Joey as she prefers to be called. Frank and Joey strike up a conversation. Joey is a prosecutor from LA. Frank is a hitman. He doesn’t say that, of course, but I’ve known what he does from the second paragraph of the story. It wasn’t stated, but there was enough information that I knew.

The conversation turns to the perfect crime. Joey says that she has seen one perfect crime, the murder of a young woman more than twenty years ago. As the conversation progresses we discover that Frank knows who Joey is, the sister of the woman he murdered all that long time ago. He knows she’s been hunting him. He’s always been a few steps ahead of her until tonight, until a snowstorm and two canceled flights.

Not a lot happens in this story, but that’s OK. The conversation between Frank and Joey is done well enough to keep your interest. The conflict is there, at first between Mother Nature and two people who need to be somewhere else, then between a prosecutor and a businessman who is really a criminal, then between hunter and hunted.

The ending was a little disappointing, but I think that was more due to something small the author missed than anything to do with the way the story turned out. I can’t tell you what the mistake was without giving away the ending, but I have given you a hint above, something you can also find in the story.

In short, a good story that could have been better had Mr. Carcaterra paid attention.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

J. A. Konrath Interview

Today I have an interview with J. A. (Joe) Konrath, author of the “Jack” Daniels series, the novel Whiskey Sour and a couple of short stories. He also writes horror short stories.

TSOI: Which do you enjoy writing more, Joe, short stories or novels?

JAK: Short stories. I think a finished novel is more satisfying, but I usually knock out a short story in two or three days, so I don't have time to get sick of it.

But the thing I really love writing is poetry. Here's one:

My grandma wears a diaper,
I really hate to wipe her.

TSOI: In addition to mystery/crime short stories you write horror. Which genre is easier for you to write?

JAK: They're both pretty easy. The really tough genre is gay cyberpunk chick lit ethnic sci-fi.

Beware writing in genres you don't read. I tried to do a inspiration book, but didn't know enough about the format, and couldn't sell it. It was called "Soup Chicken for the Dyslexic's Soul."

TSOI: Periodically you hold short story contests on your website. Why? Do you get a lot of entries, and what are the prizes?

JAK: There aren't many short story markets anymore, and most contests have a submission fee. My contest is free, and first prize is fifty bucks and a free book. I've gotten a few hundred entries. Lots of talent out there. Many of the submitters are better writers than I am. But that's really not that hard to do.

TSOI: You are the poster child for perseverance having written nine unpublished novels before you hit with Whiskey Sour. Did you publish any short stories before you got Whiskey Sour accepted?

JAK: Nope. Whiskey Sour was the first thing I've sold. Since then, I've sold about two dozen shorts. And three pairs of pants.

TSOI: Do you see your short stories as a way to promote your novels or yourself?

JAK: Short stories are the best form of advertising. Not only are they cost-free, but a big magazine like Alfred Hitchcock has a circulation of 300,000. How else could I get that many people to see my name? Other than renting a billboard on I-90?

Another good promo idea is to tattoo you book cover on your wife's forehead while she's asleep. Plus, that's a tax write-off.

TSOI: Do you have any more Jack Daniels short stories in the pipeline?

JAK: Jack has another story called WITH A TWIST coming out this summer in EQMM. Her sidekick, Phineas Troutt, also has an EQMM story coming out soon called SUFFER. Plus Phin and Harry McGlade (also from the series) have some shorts on submission to various mags and anthos. I try to always have five to ten stories on submission.

TSOI: Do you outline for either short stories or novels? If yes, to what level of detail?

JAK: For novels, I have to outline because my publisher requires it. If I had my way, I wouldn't outline. For short stories, never. Sometimes I'll jot down notes. The new Jack story is a locked room mystery, and it has about twenty clues in it to help the reader figure out the ending. I needed to preplan those clues perfore I tackled the story.

Hmm. That answer really wasn't very funny. Here's another poem:

I am choking on a yak!
I am choking on a yak!
Please somebody hit me!
On the back!
Yak yak!

Hmm. That really wasn't very funny either.

TSOI: You inject a lot of humor into your stories, though few or none could be considered humorous. Do you think that helps sell your stuff?

JAK: Life is pretty hard, and laughter is always good. That's why I often visit nursing homes and point at the sick old people and just laugh and laugh and laugh. I'm sure it makes them feel better.

TSOI: You mentioned in your interview on Writer's Roundtable (BTW, I listened to the WHOLE two hours) that you have a numerical basis for determining if your work has reached a level of quality suitable to be sent out into the world. Can you give us a brief explanation of that and/or a place where we can learn more about it?

JAK: You listened to the whole two hours? I was the one interviewed, and I didn't even listen to the whole two hours. Did I look fat?

To answer your question, you can learn to critique your own stories by using a point scale. There's a free download on my website explaining it here: http://www.jakonrath.com/tips6.html. It works pretty well--many of my students at the college where I teach have used it with some degree of success.

TSOI: You were pretty intimately involved in the audiobook version of Whiskey Sour including voicing one of the minor (but in a major way) characters and in reading one of your short stories which was included as a bonus. Was that a lot of fun? Do you like listening to fiction? Would you like to see (hear) audio short stories become more available on the web?

JAK: I love audiobooks. They're like getting a massage--pleasurable without having to make an effort. I'm going back to Brilliance Audio and doing the same thing with Bloody Mary, the second Jack book.

The more audio, the better.

Don't listen to erotica on audio, though. You can get an ear infection.

TSOI: BTW, Whiskey Sour is not available on Audible.com. You ought to have a serious talk with Brilliance (publisher of the Whiskey Sour audiobook) about that.

JAK: I'll get my beating stick and whap some heads.

TSOI: You teach writing, I understand, and, unusually in my experience, you teach courses in how to get an agent and marketing. Is marketing more important in getting an agent or in getting a publisher?

JAK: Get the agent first. Many publishers won't even ocnsider your work unless you're represented. How I got an agent (after 450 rejections) is also a fee download on my site. Basically, you market yourself to the agent the same way the publishers market books to consumers.

Fed-Exing an agent a box full of cash also works.

TSOI: What do you think about the future of the short story?

JAK: Eventually, they'll be available as pills. You'll eat one, and the whole story will unfold in your head.

Just be careful you don't mix genres, like taking a Harlan Ellison with a Larry Block. Major bad trip, man.

TSOI: The sequel to Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, is due out in June. What is your favorite part of the new book?

JAK: Whiskey Sour was very much a formula book. This one is not. No one will guess the ending. No one will even guess the middle.

There's also more humor. And absolutely zero poetry.

TSOI: Do you have any other thoughts you'd like to share with us on short stories or writing in particular?

JAK: 1. Write everyday.
2. Finish what you start.
3. Submit what you finish.
4. Repeat.

And make sure you study your market, and read the magazines you submit to. It's the main reason for rejections. That, and your story probably stinks, and you have no talent.

But don't let lack of talent stop you. It sure didn't stop me.

This was fun. But next time, I get to ask the questions.

TSOI: Thanks for taking the time to put up with me, Joe. And for all my faithful readers, buy Joe’s books and read his stories. You’ll thank me. And him. (I highly recommend Joe's Tips section on his website. You'll learn something, I promise.)