Writing Short

By Edith, scribbling north of Boston where a chilly rain is falling and I’m grateful for light, heat, and a solid house.

I’ve been working on a couple of short stories this fall. One was inspired by an article I read in the New Yorker about hyperpolyglots – people who easily learn more than a dozen languages and are always eager to acquire more tongues. My mind naturally turned to crime fiction. What if such a person overheard a conversation in an obscure language she happened to speak and decided to take advantage of it?

By Paul C. Babin [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
The other one is for an anthology of stories inspired by Joni Mitchell songs, edited by Josh Pachter. I’ve been listening to master singer/songwriter Joni since the early seventies and have many of her songs committed to memory. So yeah, I can be inspired by “Blue Motel Room.”

Many have talked about the difference between writing novels and writing short stories. I’m not going to list the differences here except the obvious one: they are so much smaller than novels. 3000 words is an entirely different creature than 70000 words. I like to play around with darker themes in my short fiction. The protagonists in my novels are pretty much decent, honest, caring women. In short stories I often make the narrator the criminal and explore getting inside that mindset.

What I’m finding interesting with both stories this fall is that I’ve started out thinking I know where the stories are going and both have veered in a different direction. The second one is still revealing itself. I realized I hadn’t had a word of dialog in it yet, and also realized narrator Robin needs to meet her victim – who might also be a criminal. I’m not sure where it will end up, but we’ve already seen the main character in her depressing blue motel room with the blue bedspread.

Another thing I’m changing up is aiming high. Even though I’ve had fifteen stories published in juried anthologies, I still haven’t had a tale accepted by either of the two premier short crime fiction venues, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I want to keep honing my chops until I make it in.

Wraith ghost

So stay tuned for news, and wish me luck. I have to get the second story finished so I can get started writing Country Store Mystery #7!

Readers: Do you read short stories? Where is your favorite place to find short crime fiction? I’ll give away a copy of That Mysterious Woman to one of you, an anthology in which I have a story. To another lucky reader I’ll give a copy of my new ebook release of three previously published Rose Carroll short stories, Black Cat Thrillogy #9: Three Historical Mysteries, from Wildside Press.

55 Thoughts

  1. You simply amaze me, Edith. I’ve teally enjoyed many of your books and keep trying to get all of them read. I’ll be anxious to read the next Country Store mystery.

  2. Wow, I’d love to read those 2 short stories. I love Joni Mitchell. I’m a MA girl and love reading books about places I’ve been to and/or know about. pgenest57(at)aol(dot)com

  3. I subscribed to EQMM for year, and now I wish I had kept them. Good luck on making it into one of those magazines. I have no doubt that you will.

  4. I think I would have more trouble writing a short story than a novel. Too little room for the big picture!
    My dad, an avid reader and the reason I love mysteries, always had Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen magazines. I remember reading them. I was drawn to the Ellery Queen version more. It probably had to do with the cover art!
    Good luck on the stories! They sound very good and a tad scary!

  5. Tantalizing tidbit for us! I love when writers talk about the direction their story is going in and then it veers off. Must be as exciting for the author as the reader. I do enjoy short stories, something I can read in one setting. However I don’t seem to find many – sometimes I can find the Alfred Hitchcock but I never find the Ellery Queen. I suppose I should bite the bullet and subscribe.

  6. Love short stores every now a then. It’s great to break up that pace and sometimes there just isn’t the time to read a full length novel or life if too hectic to wrap your head about one. At the same time, a day without reading means something is majorly wrong. 🙂

    I personally think that shot stories seem to do better in big cities. It’s like you expect things to be fast paced and to change at the blink of an eye. Unlike small towns where nothing seems to change and time slows down to a snails pace. At the same time, reading about some place you can connect to is absolutely wonderful because you can connect with it faster or on a more personal level. Guess when it boils down to it, I read them all and enjoy short stories as well as full length novels.

    Good luck in the writing of both the short stories and the upcoming book. I’d love the opportunity to read them all. <3
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  7. Nice piece, Edith — and thanks for the shoutout! The Joni book will be richer for having you in it — and so, eventually, with EQMM and AHMM! I’m looking forward to “Blue Motel Room”!


  8. •will EQMM and AHMM! (Proofread before clicking “Post Comment,” Josh, not after!)

  9. Good luck, Edith! I haven’t had any short story ideas lately, but I have a couple out, including one to AHMM. So fingers crossed for both of us!

  10. I don’t tend to read short stories. I’m not a fan of criminal main characters and sometimes find no one likable in short stories. Also, I can do many novels calling my name, I don’t have time to pick up a short story.

  11. Always interesting to get a little insight into an author’s process. I have some copies of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine going back to the 1970’s and was introduced to it and short stories by my mom years before that. It has only dawned on me in the past few years when I’ve been following writer’s blogs that it really is hard to write a good short story; it’s not just something you write when you have a few minutes free. I’m sure we’ll see your name on the cover, Edith!

  12. I just bought a subscription to Ellery Queen a month ago. I LOVE it! I hope I can read a story of yours in it soon. Best of luck!

  13. I’m not a big short story fan. I used to get Ellery Queen, but I found that In enjoyed few of the stories. The big exception was Edward Hoch. I loved all the series he wrote. I love really getting into a story which I can’t do when it is over so quickly. Now, Edith, I love your writing, so I”m more that willing to make an exception, and read your stories if I win. 🙂

  14. When I was teaching, short stories were the perfect break from the planning/grading treadmill and a way to turn off school thoughts before bed. Longer works are harder to keep track of when reading time is scarce and scattered. Now I have time for sustained reading, but I still enjoy shorts as a palate cleanser between longer works and as in introduction to new authors. Good luck on your quest. Either magazine would be fortunate to have one of your stories. <3

  15. I take anthologies of short stories out of the library occasionally. It’s a good way to try new authors but unfortunately not everyone is good at writing short stories and the quality of stories in an anthology is usually a mixed bag

  16. I never used to like mystery short stories, but I find I’m reading and enjoying them more and more. It started with one of the Malice Domestic anthologies and since then, they’ve really begun to appeal to me. I’ll look forward to reading the two you have in progress. – Melanie

    1. The Malice anthologies are of excellent quality, I find (and I don’t say that only because I’ve had stories in three of them and will have one in next year’s, too).

  17. Well, you know I love short fiction in general and consider the short form my writing comfort zone–but rarely mysteries, though my last couple included crimes. I think a short story can capture a significant moment in a person’s life and accomplish that one small thing in a memorable way, and that’s all a reader needs to make a connection.

  18. Enjoyed this, thank you for posting. As something of an unofficial self-appointed fire-breathing evangelist for short mystery & crime fiction, I always love reading views like this and like those in the comments above.

    As a mystery/crime reader I enjoy novels and shorts, but I write shorts exclusively (for reasons I won’t bore you with).

    For those who shy away from reading mystery/crime shorts, especially those who find they too often don’t enjoy every story in the publication, I like to suggest the low-risk approach of anthologies, collections, or magazines from the local library. And/or themed anthologies: if you like the theme — Cops ‘n’ Robbers, Dangerous Dames, Crime SciFi, whatever — you’ll probably like enough stories to enjoy the book overall.

    And for me, that is the key: Did I enjoy the book/magazine overall? With a novel, if I don’t enjoy every chapter I can still enjoy the book as a whole. (Granted, if I didn’t like all or most of the chapters I probably won’t like the book, but sometimes that happens.)

    That key, overall enjoyment of the publication vs. the sections, is no different for me when reading multiple shorts in anthos, collections, mags, except — to channel Elmore Leonard — I do think it’s crucial for shorts to “leave out the parts people tend to skip” because short word counts need to be tight.

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog, Peter. I totally agree about libraries – for novels, too. And with anthologies and magazines alike – if I don’t enjoy a story, I stop reading and move on to the next.

      Definitely agree on writing tight as well as short.

  19. I started reading short stories with Agatha Christie and Isaac Asimov. Getting short stories by my favorite authors is one reason that I bought my Nook. I like that they may focus on a minor character that may not get much attention in a regular novel.

  20. I do love short stories! Sometimes a short story is all you have time for! I do love anthologies

  21. I enjoy reading short stories every now and then. I usually read short stories from anthologies that I downloaded during the year.

  22. Good post on writing short, Edith. Good luck with your current stories. I know you’ll crack EQ and AH, and I’ll look forward to reading you there.

  23. I’m in awe of short story writers. I have only been successful once with a story I created out of a discarded scene from a novel. I hope to try again soon!

  24. Sometimes I read short stories. I used to find them a lot in paperback anthologies back in the 80’s and 90’s. Ones like Crime for Christmas or some similar title. Now it’s easy to find novellas as e-books. In print I also like to read Sherlock Holmes short stories written by modern authors.

  25. I like to read and I will read short stories or full length books. I prefer books, but sometimes when you know you just have a short time frame available to read, a shorter story is nice because you get it all read and don’t have to wonder what is going to happen next in the story when you can’t get back to it for a while. I have a few Sisters In Crime books and then a few newer books with short stories in them. Renee

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