Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How I Came to Write "The Toll Collectors"

Today, at the lovely and talented Patti Abbott's blog, I talk about how I came to write my short story "The Toll Collectors". This hot on the heels of my last post, in which I talked about the inspiration behind my newest short, "Pretty Little Things". And, since people love a trilogy, no matter how slapdash, feel free to pop in on this old post on Patrick Shawn Bagley's blog, where I talked about the writing of "The World Behind".

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Pretty Little Things"

Saturday morning, Kat and I were in our office, doing our usual Saturday morning stuff (which in this house consists of coffee and clattering keyboards), when we were distracted by a low, persistent buzzing. At first we couldn't place it (we live in an old house, so strange noises are commonplace), but eventually, we pegged it: it was my cell phone. And it was going nuts.

(An aside: can strange noises be commonplace? It seems as if they definitionally cannot. And yet the regularity of their occurrence has no bearing on the oddity of the sounds themselves. But I digress.)

I should state for the purposes of this post that a) I am a bit of a technological curmudgeon, and b) I'm also a tad misanthropic, which is to say I don't often use my cell phone, and when I do, it's usually to talk to the woman that, on the Saturday in question, was sitting right next to me. So when I opened the phone to find I'd missed several phone calls (no messages) and received a text ("PLEASE CALL") -- all from the same number -- I was puzzled to say the least. The calls all came in between midnight and three AM on Friday, which somehow only added to the intrigue.

I looked up the number online, expecting nothing more than to find a listing of "Cell Phone" and maybe a city of origin. Turns out, the calls weren't from a cell phone. They were from a landline in Manhattan registered to a company called Perfect Things. Curiouser and curiouser. (Did you know you can text from some landlines? Until Saturday, I didn't.)

You can see where this is going, right? Mystery writer receives a series of calls and a cryptic text from what sounds like a house of ill repute? Yeah, I called them. Turns out, Perfect Things is a self-serve Laundromat on Broadway. It further turns out that they're closed at the time the calls came in. When I asked who might have made the calls, the woman I was speaking to told me in broken English, "Don't know. Maybe the boss."

The question is, who the hell's the boss? Springsteen? Danza? Gotti? Inquiring minds want to know!

The upshot of all this is, my telephonic adventures drew to a close maybe ten AM Saturday. By ten AM Monday, I put the finishing touches on a 2,700-word short story called "Pretty Little Things". The beginning will be familiar to anyone who's read this post. The end, I'm willing to bet, you'll never see coming. And I'll say this: from idea to final draft, I've never written anything so quickly in my life.

So where will "Pretty Little Things" end up? Dunno. An editor friend's expressed some interest. For now, that's all I can say. More details as I have them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Congratulations to David Cranmer and his lovely wife Denise, who, this Valentine's Day, welcomed baby Ava into the world. By all accounts, mother and child are doing fine, so pop on over to David's blog and wish them well!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Flash Fiction Contest!

The inimitable Julie Summerell is running a flash-fic contest in which the spooky-scariest* entry wins 8 POUNDS! Details here. Deadline, Valentine's Day. Enter early and often.

*Why yes, I do now have Werewolf Bar Mitzvah in my head; thanks for asking.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Spinetingler Interview

Recently, Brian and Sandra at Spinetingler interviewed me about 8 POUNDS as part of their series on e-publishing. You can read that interview here. I leave it to you to decide whether or not I've anything of merit to say, but it was a kick to participate either way. Thanks, Brian and Sandra!

"The Hitter" to appear in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011!

A few months back, this dude named Steve Weddle told me he and John Hornor Jacobs were putting together a new print mag, and asked if I'd like to contribute something to their second issue. I said sure.

I started kicking around a couple ideas. One was lean and mean at maybe 3,000 words. The other was a monster, a behemoth. The kind of story you know could get away from you. The kind you know could be a risk. It was big and burly and ambitious as all hell. Here's what I said to Steve about the latter when I emailed him to see which he'd prefer:
I had this idea about a week ago. Got me out of bed. Sat down in the dark and cranked out a bunch of notes, all the while thinking I really had something... it's big, and it's dark, and there's no place else for it.
I told him how long I thought it'd be. I pitched the other story, too. I thought for sure he'd take the safe bet. The one that looked like all my other stories. But then, I hadn't seen issue #1 of Needle yet.

Here's what Steve replied:
The problem with online writing (which I love and have nothing against and love and did I make it clear that I love online?) is that folks have a tough time scrolling through a 10k word blog post of a story. So if you have a piece that's longer than 5k, being in print would be the way to go, I think. AHMM and EQMM and those folks have limits to size. I mean, they can't just run 20k of something because it's cool. Needle can. It's what we were built for. Yeah, some quick punch is great. But something longer, developed, intricate, high-concept would be great to see in print.
So, caution thrown, I sat down and wrote "The Hitter." It came out fast. Crazy fast. And it felt huge to me, more novella than short story. Then again, at 11,000 words, it kind of is.

This past Saturday, I got a letter. From Otto Freakin' Penzler. When you get a letter from Otto Freakin' Penzler, you don't toss it on the kitchen island with a stack of bills to open at a later date; you tear that mofo open at the mailbox. So I tore that mofo open at the mailbox, where I discovered Mr. Penzler and Harlan Coben (middle name also Freakin', no relation) had selected "The Hitter" to appear in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011.

When I stopped jumping up and down and hollering in the middle of the street (true story; ask my neighbors), I ran inside and emailed Steve. 'Cause "The Hitter" wouldn't have been written without him. As I said lo those many months ago, there was no place else for it. And as Steve told me, that's what Needle's built for.

THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011 is scheduled to be released this fall, but if you'd like to read "The Hitter" before then, you're in luck. Not only can you buy Needle #2 right here, but if you hop over to Stephen Blackmoore's blog right now and leave a comment, you might just win yourself a copy.

Huge thanks to Otto Penzler, Harlan Coben, and all the folks at Needle. Looks like we did a hell of a thing...