Tag Archives: best new england crime stories 2012

Peggy McFarland

Peggy McFarland lives in Nashua, NH with her family, and is the general manager of a restaurant in Chelmsford, MA. Her stories have appeared in numerous on-line venues as well as in Shroud Magazine, and anthologies published by Absent Willow Review and Six Sentences. She is currently working on a longer story (using the word novel intimidates her). Baby steps. Peggy blogs at http://pegjet.blogspot.com. You can also find her at the Facebook page for Friday Flash http://www.facebook.com/groups/fridayflash/?view=permalink&id=10150361001945568. Her Twitter address is @peggywriter.

In your story in Dead Calm, The Red Door, a aspiring author mourns the failure of his relationship. What was your inspiration for this story?

I find it fascinating how people see the same situation in such different ways. Perceptions become our reality, and often get us into trouble. I think many relationships have their rocky parts because one partner’s interpretation of an event, a comment, or even a look is so different than the other partner’s interpretation.  “The Red Door” has the protagonist mourning his loss, and his perception of what went wrong with their relationship. Even as Shamus thinks about it, he gets a glimmer, though he refuses to accept it, of Cheri’s point of view. Even though I chose to write this with only one point of view, I hoped to get across that Cheri had valid perceptions too, but ultimately, they couldn’t find the sweet spot where both points of view meshed.

You started out writing short shorts and your bio in Dead Calm says using the word novel intimidates you. Can you tell us something about your journey as a writer?

My first “success” as a writer was at a blogspot called Six Sentences. Yes, every story on the site is six sentences long. Learning to tell a story in such a short space became a challenge, but one that helped me hone word choices. From there, I had longer shorts printed in various places, including a “best of” anthology, won a flash contest at a horror magazine and eventually, stumbled upon a community of flash fiction writers (under 1000 word stories, in this case) through Twitter. Some of those flashes have been printed in various print and on-line publications too. I finally have the confidence to say I’m writing a novel, but the sheer volume of words that will need to be edited is overwhelming! The editing to get rid of the extraneous words is much more intimidating than the writing.

My most current publishing credit is a flash story that I wrote for the Twitter community, which will be out in April. “Charlie Makes His Way” will be in the latest Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, Flush Fiction

What are you working on now?

I am trying very hard to come up with a clever crime story/mystery for “Blood Moon”; I am working on a horror short story for a challenge at a new venue; I have a story that has been through three edits and refuses to be done, but refuses to let go; and I’ve started the official first novel, working title “The Bleeding Spot.” It will be a story about accepting responsibility, atonement for hideous crimes and redemption, but only after an evil journal refuses to be lost. Maybe I’ll get one of these completed before the year ends!

Woody Hanstein

Woody Hanstein lives in Farmington, Maine and has been a trial lawyer for thirty years.  He is the author of six published mysteries: Not Proven, Cold Snap, State’s Witness, Mistrial, Sucker’s Bet and Alibi Blonde and a number of short stories. He teaches at the University of Maine at Farmington and coaches that college’s rugby team. He is also the founder of the Smiling Goat Precision Juggling Corps.

In “Endgame,” a lonely young man befriends an older neighbor toward the end of his life and as a result receives a legacy.  What was your inspiration for this story?

There really was no inspiration for “Endgame” – I started with an overly timid school teacher and decided he should receive a letter which might shake him out of his doldrums.  I play chess infrequently and badly, but somehow that game still ended up being the passion which tied the young teacher to his elderly neighbor.

The villain in your story, in some ways, is a big bank. Given the turmoil of the last few years, are you making a statement here?

I really never thought of the bank as the villain – it really just got (to the penny!) what was coming to it for cheating an employee.  It’s not a very lawyerly thing to say, but “self-help” can sometimes be a far better way of obtaining justice than simply accepting what a courtroom will produce.  (And now that I think about it, a number of my past Level Best stories have had a “self-help” kind of theme).

What are you working on now?

In my spare time I’m working on another Pete Morris mystery, but I am getting side-tracked both by my efforts to recruit jugglers for the Smiling Goat Precision Juggling Corps — Maine’s pre-eminent (and only) troupe of marching jugglers and also to help prepare my UMF college rugby team to defend its Maine Championship next month.

Adam Renn Olenn

Adam Renn Olenn was born in Providence, Rhode Island and figured out how to read by the time he was three.  He studied English at the University of Virginia and music composition at the Boston Conservatory, and lives near Boston, Massachusetts with his wife and children. He blogs at http://adamrennolenn.tumblr.com and you can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Adam-Renn-Olenn/236562506396117 and Twitter at http://twitter.com/adamolenn

In “Coronation”, a young writer travels to the home of a Famous Writer to discover the source of his inspiration.  The answer is quite surprising. What was the source of your inspiration for this story?

Accomplished authors invariably get asked where their ideas come from, and often answer to the tune of “I just keep working and they show up.”  I wondered what would happen if the writer’s answer was simply that he was acting as a journalist to his own bizarre experiences.

The idea seemed to come from nowhere.  I was walking to my writing space, wondering what I’d write about that day, and then this notion just materialized in my mind.  It smelled like a good one, so I picked up the pace to get right to work.

“Coronation,” your first published fiction, was nominated for a Derringer Award for best short. Can you tell us something about your journey as a writer?

I wrote poetry and prose through college, but after that I mostly focused on writing orchestral music.  I played in bands for several years after that, and returned to writing in 2008.  I wrote a short story that blossomed into a novel, and have been working exclusively on fiction ever since.

What are you working on now?

I have a few pots simmering on the stove.  I’ve finished a draft of my second novel, and will begin revising it in the next few weeks.  I’m also pushing myself to finish as many pieces as possible for the 2012 edition of Best New England Crime Stories.  I have three ready to go and another three in-progress.  That way I’ll have to decide which stories are the very best fit for Level Best Books.

Pat Remick

Pat Remick is an award-winning short story author and veteran journalist, and has co-authored two non-fiction books. She won the 2007 Al Blanchard Crime Fiction Award and her stories have appeared  in previous LBB anthologies. A member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, Pat is working on a novel. Her web site is www.PatRemick.com. Her personal blog is at http://patremick.blogspot.com and she blogs with the Working Stiffs at http://workingstiffs.blogspot.com

In your story, “The Lesson,” a schoolteacher gets a series of messages that at first seem benign, but then get steadily more threatening. How did you come up for the idea for this story? 

I wrote “The Lesson” as a birthday gift for a dear friend and modeled the main character, Richard Springfield, after her cheating, no-good, slimy ex-husband. Having him get his due this way provided great satisfaction. There are clues to his identity in the story but fortunately; taking revenge through fiction doesn’t automatically lead to an arrest or lawsuits. The escalating series of threatening messages was modeled after a successful prank I learned about years ago, but I probably shouldn’t say any more about that.

You’ve been a winner of the Al Blanchard Award, and then a judge on that panel. What do you think makes a good short story?  

I believe a good short story captures the reader’s imagination and conveys setting, character and plot with tight but vibrant prose. Because of the length, a short story author must carefully control all the elements and carry the reader to the conclusion without being obvious. But it’s also important to “play fair” so the reader can solve the mystery if he or she looks closely enough. Being able to lay in the clues and red herrings in a short mystery without the reader becoming aware of the mechanics—or solving the mystery too soon—is a true art form requiring great skill and creativity.

What do you look for as a reader? 

I am extraordinarily fond of stories with a good twist. I absolutely adore being surprised at the end and realizing the author has nimbly manipulated me without my knowledge. Like many authors, I devour books but it’s a rare — and exhilarating occasion – when I finish a short story or novel and think, “I NEVER saw that coming.” I love that experience.

What are you working on now?

I am working on several short stories that are in process and preparing to return to “Murder Most Municipal,” my novel in progress.  I’m doing some non-fiction writing, as well.

C. A. Johmann

C. A. Johmann, Ph.D., is a research biologist turned science reporter turned pharmaceutical R&D manager turned children’s author of seven non-fiction books, among them the award-winning The Lewis & Clark Expedition. This is her first short story, her first mystery, and her first fiction for adults. A former director of the Rochester (NY) Children’s Book Festival, Carol lives in Connecticut. Visit her website at http://www.caroljohmann.com

In “Death by Deletion” you tell an entire story in 504 words. You describe “Death by Deletion” as your first short story, your first mystery and your first fiction for adults. What drew you to flash fiction?

I had not heard of flash fiction before attending a panel discussion by several Level Best authors at my local library in Cheshire last spring. During the discussion, one of the panelists (I think it was Leslie Wheeler) mentioned this very short style and I immediately saw the benefit of trying it. For me, writing too short has never been a problem. Going on and on, explaining ad nauseam, has. I figured telling a story in 500 words or less would be a good way to practice paring down my writing, editing it before making an editor groan. The same panelists provided the inspiration for my mystery when they spoke about editors making them groan over requests to cut word count, plot lines and even characters. Within minutes my mind was spinning a tale of a writer having to “terminate” a favorite character on orders from up high, the Editor.

One reviewer called “Death by Deletion” his favorite story in the entire collection. How does that feel?

That was a real “wow” moment. Very nice, very gratifying. Then I started to hear the same from writing buddies and began to wonder if the reader who wasn’t also a writer would think as highly of the story. Being a scientist by training, I experimented, though in the end in a not-so-scientific way. After a few so-so comments, including one from my own mother (“Well, that wasn’t much,” she said after reading the two-page story.), I decided against going for statistical significance and to listen only to fellow writers!

By profession, you’re a science writer and an author of children’s non-fiction. What are you working on now?  Any plans to write more short stories for adults?

I’ve got too many things going right now – a proposal for a series of activity-based biographies on American entrepreneurs for kids 8-12, four picture books that need paring down before I can submit them again, a fictionalized family memoir that’s begging for a middle, an idea for a mystery series for children that focuses on the science of forensics, and a full-length mystery for adults. Among all that, around the edges of my brain, an idea for another Level Best mystery short is creeping about. I may need to attend another panel discussion to get it to gel.

Daniel Moses Luft

Daniel Moses Luft has written numerous reviews for Mystery Scene Magazine and mostlyfiction.com, and was formerly a copy editor for sovlit.com. Excluding a few quotations he made up for his college newspaper, “Boxed” is his first published fiction.

Your story in Dead Calm, “Boxed,” is about a man named Skinner who is trapped literally and figuratively.  How did you come up with this idea?

Men’s adventure paperbacks from the 70s and 80s all had tough guy names like The Penetrator or The Executioner. I’d like to use my character again and wondered what name could be used and re-used in titles that might feature puns. I will eventually write one called “Skinner Alive.” The story in Dead Calm takes place in a small room with the character reacting to his conditions, so here he’s “Skinner Boxed.” I dropped his name out of the title because I thought it was just too goofy.

“Boxed” is your first published short story. Congratulations! How long have you been writing? Submitting?  Tell us a little about your journey.

I have been writing since I got out of college 20 years ago but mostly I’ve been noodling in my spare time. I wasn’t sending out. About three years ago I decided to write some book reviews and that worked out so last year, after my first Crime Bake 2010, I decided to write some short stories. I’ve had two other stories accepted since Dead Calm came out and they will be published online at PowderBurn Flash, and Beat to a Pulp.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on a longer story about a middle-aged guy who moves out of the suburbs back to Allston while he’s getting divorced. Of course horrible things happen—it’s Allston and he’s middle aged.

Cheryl Marceau

Cheryl Marceau is a human resources executive at a technology company near Boston. Her first short story, “Unleashed” appeared in Thin Ice: Crime Stories by New England Writers. She is also working on her first novel, a historical mystery. When not exploring the back roads and ice cream stands of New England, she and her husband live in Arlington, Massachusetts.

Your story in Dead Calm, “Nameless” is about a desperate woman traveling north. The editors loved it’s great atmospherics and strong, very real New Enlgand setting. How did you come up with the idea for this story?

I read a short news item in the Boston Globe about a mysterious woman found dead in a Vermont motel room.  All of the tags had been cut out of her clothes.  She had died in a way that seemed really gruesome.  The death was ruled a suicide, but the local police were skeptical that it could have been self inflicted.  I started thinking about what might have driven this woman to such lengths.  How fearful or desperate (or both) would she have been?  The town in the story is fictional, but it is based on a real town in northern New Hampshire, near the Canadian border.  For me, setting becomes like another character in the story.  I want the reader to feel as if he or she is there in that place along with the character.

Though it’s a relatively short story, “Nameless” is written in a narrative structure where two stories told from two different points of view move forward in two close, but different time frames. How did you come up with the structure for this story?

It was trial and error, to be honest. I wanted the story to open with the discovery of the body, and to build the tension as the victim was driven inexorably to her fate. I also wanted the victim to come alive and to have the reader care about what happened to her.  In order to have the emotional impact I wanted, the story had to start and end with the woman’s death.  The police were important for the story, as a way to underscore the desperation and horror of the victim’s situation.  The only way I could make it all come together was to cut between the present and the past.

Your long form work, a historical mystery, is set in 17th century Massachusetts. Your two Level Best short stories have been contemporaries. How do you manage the time travel in your fictional worlds?

Both of my Level Best short stories are drawn from actual events, and there was so much material to work with.  I find it much easier to write about the present.  The idea of writing a novel set in the past came from learning about local history and visiting house museums in the area.   I became intrigued by what it must have been like to live in colonial New England – to wear the clothes, eat the food, feel the cold.  It was also fascinating to read written records of the time, showing that these were people with the same emotions and drives that we have.  They were not cardboard people.  The “time travel” is easier if I surround myself with sights and sounds that remind me what it was like in the 17th century.  I’ll put on some music of the period, and put out photos of antique New England houses to look at as I’m writing.  The biggest challenge has been trying to figure out how investigations would have been carried out – and evidence evaluated – in a time before modern forensics.

Mary E. Stibal

Mary E. Stibal lives in Boston’s Seaport District, has published in Yankee Magazine, and this story marks her third appearance in a Level Best Crime Anthology.  She grew up in Iowa and has five sisters, to whom this story is dedicated.  She says that while they don’t necessarily dress in black, they are all firm believers in good, old-fashioned retribution.

You hint in your bio at the end of your story “Sisters in Black” what your inspiration might have been. How did you go from inspiration to story?

When starting this story, I had a snippet of a scene, an argument at, of all of terrible places and times, the funeral of one’s mother.  In the beginning I had a priest and just two mourners at the service, the narrator (the daughter of the deceased), and her mother’s ex-husband.  I knew there would be a confrontation between the two during the service, and I knew the narrator hated her mother’s former husband, but I didn’t know why until I got more into the story.  I also realized it was unlikely there would be only two mourners and a priest at a funeral.  And so I “gave” the narrator my own five, beloved sisters as her aunts.  (And yes, my oldest sister is named Shay.)  And then I added another 190 mourners as friends and neighbors.  One’s mother’s funeral should be well attended after all.

I was more than three-quarters into the story before I knew how it would end.

And actually, I’m the only one of the six Stibal sisters to wear black.  Basically all the time.  My mother would always say, “You would look so pretty if you’d wear something besides black ALL THE TIME.” ( Her voice used to rise up at the end every time too).  I told her I was afraid bright colors would burn out my retinas.

Your story contains two characters, the DEA Agent narrator and Mass State Police Detective Lieutenant Donia Amick, who seem like they might have more stories to tell. Any chance they may be continuing characters?

I will absolutely write another story with the DEA narrator and the State Cop Donia.   Donia Amick is a real person, and a cop.  She is my first cousin’s daughter, a sweet, young woman.  Until you see her in uniform.  Then you see the “take-no-prisoners” side.  She makes a swagger look feminine and dangerous at the same time.

There may be a Level Best “first” in Dead Calm. You may the be first author who inspired a character in another author’s story. Would you like to say something about that?

I had to smile when I read Julie’s story “Her Wish.”  Much in that story is true.  And I am honored that she included me as a character.  After “Elizabeth” died, Julie and I joked that we should break her husband out of prison as a tribute to our friend.  And here Julie actually did it — in a literary sort of fashion.  “Elizabeth” would be so proud!

Janice Law

Janice Law is a novelist and short story writer. Her first novel, The Big Payoff, was nominated for an Edgar, and her stories have been frequently reprinted, including pieces in The Best American Mystery Stories, The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, Alfred Hitchcock’s Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense, Riptide, Still Waters, and the New Fabulist anthology, Paraspheres.

Her most recent novels are The Lost Diaries of Iris Weed and Voices. She lives with her husband, a sportswriter, in Hampton, CT.

Her website is www.janicelaw.com. She blogs at www.jolt462.tumblr.com, and http://sleuthsayers.blogspot.com. You can find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/janice.law.trecker

In your story in Dead Calm, “The Armies of the Night,” a woman makes an incredibly difficult choice for the sake of her children. What was your inspiration for this story?

Years ago I had read, and saved, a news story about a serial killer who buried his victims on the family’s big suburban property. He was finally caught and his wife and children discovered that their yard was a cemetery. I thought at the time that serial killer stories were a bit of a cliché, and I was interested less in the killer than in the consequences for the family.

My first thought was to tell from the children’s point of view and I was actually going to have the killer a beloved grandfather but I decided that was maybe not too plausible. Finally, I focused on the woman and her relationship both to her father and to her boys.

You describe your protagonist as a woman who has a lifetime of training of “keeping stray thoughts at bay.” Yet as the story goes on that becomes impossible for her to do. How did you figure out how to structure this story?

I’ll be honest, I don’t figure out very much when I am writing. That is, the story tends to come to me in pieces and I just have to be patient. The key thing in getting those ideas, I think, was the whole business of the house. I tend to watch the house and garden shows when I am doing my back exercises and the narrator’s house-mad friend came right out of the gushing realtors and renovation freaks that inhabit the shelter programs. I’m rather fond of flashbacks anyway, and the narrator’s relationship with the house led nicely to her relationship with her father and then to the conflicted feelings of her homecoming.

You write both novels and short stories. Do you know right away if an idea is right for one or the other, or is that something you discover along the way?

I pretty much know. Some people start with short stories and then work them into novels. I started writing novels first and only later moved to short stories, mostly, but not exclusively, mysteries. Ideas for novels have to have a certain amplitude, if I can put it that way, while the short stories often rely on a clever solution or a peculiar situation or even an eloquent narrator for their effect. They are just smaller in scale, although I always like to think that there is a lot in a compressed form with the stories.

Some of my short stories could have grown into novels, but there is usually a reason why I didn’t go that route. Sometimes the character is one I liked well enough for a short piece but not well enough to spend nine months to a year with. Sometimes I know enough about the setting and time frame for 14 pages max but not for 250 pages and I don’t feel like committing to the research required for that particular idea.

What are you working on now?

I’m embarrassed to say, not much. I have several novels I want to sell and two forthcoming in e-book form- Homeward Dove for Wildside and Fires of London for Mysteriouspress.com. I have a couple of stories coming out – the MWA’s Vengeance has one of mine as well as the next Sherlock, but really there are very few outlets for short fiction at the moment. Having said that, I am researching Kansas Territory in the run up to the Civil War – we’ll see what that produces.

Louisa Clerici

Louisa Clerici’s short stories and poetry have been published in literary anthologies and magazines including; The Istanbul Literary Review, Carolina Woman Magazine, City Lights, Off the Coast, Shore Voices, Bagels with the Bards and The Shine Journal. Louisa is the host of DreamSpeak, a popular venue for writers in Downtown Plymouth, MA. and has just finished her first novel.

The narrator of your story in Dead Calm, “The Rose Collection,” is, to put it mildly, a piece of work. How did you come up with this woman?

I’m fascinated by all the layers of a person’s character. On the news every day, we hear about “seemingly normal” people robbing stores and murdering family members. But what drives someone to commit a crime? Can the same person who is able to enjoy beauty, be capable of doing something terrible? I’m infinitely curious and wanted to explore those themes in The Rose Collection.

When a character comes into one of my stories like my narrator Laura, it’s as if she already exists, whole and complete. Something inside me begins to speak for her in her voice as I hear it. And I love the feeling of letting go and seeing where the story will take me. Laura took me for a wild ride and the puzzle of her personality fascinated me. I had no idea how it would end when I started The Rose Collection.

The narrator collects collectible fashion jewelry, among other things. Is this something you knew about before you wrote the story or did it just fit the character or something in between? How did you research this topic?

I’m a huge fan of jewelry of every kind. I’ve worked in design and sales and have dabbled in collecting.  My character, Laura Peckham lived a life of such containment and quiet desperation that it took jewelry to light up that captive part of her.

It seemed like the perfect hobby to give Laura. I wanted to see where it would lead her, what it might drive her to do. Though I have to admit it, I’m so passionate about jewelry myself, that I find I’m always adding a pretty trinket to a story. I love to point out the character who is wearing a gorgeous sapphire ring or draw the reader’s attention to the Timex on a skinny black band on the wrist of a suspect.  Jewelry is so revealing.

You’re a poet, a novelist and you write literary short fiction, but “The Rose Collection” represents your first published crime fiction. What inspired you to try your hand at crime fiction?

I’ve always loved crime fiction from Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie. I grew up seeing the world through those writers’ eyes. It took me a while to see that there was this part of me patiently waiting to commit a crime. I began to notice that my flash fiction and even poetry were like little stories that often contained some wrongdoing and even suspects. When I won a place in the National Poetry Slam in Austin, Texas in 1998, I chose to perform my piece called, Road Noise in which a guy gives his girlfriend a gun as a gift and there are consequences!  I had to admit it. Maybe there was a mystery writer hiding in the verses of my poems, waiting to be revealed.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on some women’s fiction that I’m getting ready to send out and a cozy murder mysteries series. I have a thousand partial stories hiding in my files. I write all the time. I need to finish more! New focus for 2012!