The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

May 21, 2012

WGI update: mea culpa!

Due to an error on my part there will be one more contestant in this year's WGI.  I inadvertently announced on Twitter that Fiona was one of the invitees this year (I thought I was announcing Fiona Glass's name), thus raising false hopes. I decided that the only way to make it right was to make it true. So make welcome if you would, Fiona Johnson.

May 20, 2012

Recent reads

Catching up (as usual)...

THE LOCK ARTIST (Steve Hamilton) was in my TBR stack prior to publication. With all the hoopla and awards, one would think I would have read it sooner. Just as well I didn't, as the story didn't capture me as thoroughly as it did the Edgar Award committee. The story revolves around a mute teen boy, Michael, with a skill for lock-picking and safe-cracking. The prose pretty much lies flat except in one or two places, and though much is made about the circumstances that rendered our hero mute, those circumstances had little to do with the plot. The passages that detail lock-picking and safe-cracking are certainly interesting, but the teen love story dropped the suspension on my disbelief.

THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X (Keigo Higashino) was a much more interesting book, though again the prose sometimes felt off-key or a-kilter. I don't like to automatically blame the translator though; it could be the author's doing. Nevertheless the story is a wonderful cat-and-mouse tale of psychology as well as being a story of unrequited love. When Yasuko and her daughter inadvertently kill Yasuko's abusive ex-husband, a neighbor, Ishigami, weaves a complex web of protection around her. Ishigami is a math genius who proves to have a talent for real-life applications. But his foe turns out not to be the detective investigating the case, but an old college friend and physicist, another very bright thinker. Though there is a plot twist at the end that crushed the beauty of the tale rather than enhancing it, it's wonderful to watch two labyrinthine minds contest Yasuko's fate.

A KILLING WINTER (Wayne Arthurson) is the follow-up to the author's 2011 debut, FALL FROM GRACE. Newspaper reporter Leo DesRoches is exploring the world of Edmonton's homeless when one of his contacts, a Native street kid, goes missing. The search for the boy takes Leo into the violent world of Native street gangs, all the while Leo must deal with his own gambling addiction. The author has eliminated the expository passages that revealed his journalism background in the previous book, but the overall story arc staggers, though does not collapse, in the final third of the book. The ending is saved by a surprising scene as Leo's past sins appear to be catching up with him. It's a manipulative device, some might say, to get readers like me to buy the next book, but I would do that anyway. I like the character of Leo, I want to know his fate. And it's clear that the author has worked to improve his skills from book to book.

AS THE CROW FLIES is the latest novel in Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series. As with all of the books in this series, what's not to like? Walt and his friend, Henry Standing Bear, witness a woman's fall from a cliff. Or was it a fall? The book is filled with well-defined, complex characters and Johnson's trademark Western humor. If you're unfamiliar with Johnson's novels, you don't have to start at the beginning (THE COLD DISH) but the truth is, you'll be cheating yourself if you don't.

Darrell James makes his debut as a novelist with NAZARETH CHILD. And a terrific opener it is, too. James has created a smart, modern heroine in Del Shannon, a Tucson field operative with a reputation for being able to find anyone, anywhere. The only person Del has never been able to locate, or even learn her name, is her mother. Until one day the FBI comes calling, and Del learns she has inherited a house right in the middle of Nazareth Child, Kentucky, a town run by a religious zealot named Silas Rule. Silas has more on his mind than saving souls though, and the FBI wants Del to find out what. I see the term "best-seller" all over James's future.

I could, maybe even should write an entire blog post about William Goldman's first novel, THE TEMPLE OF GOLD. First published in 1957, the book is a fitting start for the man who would later write MARATHON MAN, MAGIC, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, and the screenplay for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. Technically this book is a re-read for me, but I first read it around 1968 and I remembered little about it save the names of the main characters and that I liked it. And after reading it I now know why I was never enamored of CATCHER IN THE RYE. Holden Caulfield was never as funny, as interesting, or as male as Raymond Euripides Trevitt. Ray's coming of age story takes a bit longer than many such, as Goldman skillfully guides Ray through the teen years, the Army, and married life.

This must be the month that I re-discover Goldman's work. I was hoping to re-read his SOLDIER IN THE RAIN when TCM aired the film version this past week. A Steve McQueen film I had never seen, and based on a Goldman novel I enjoyed (although the screenplay was co-written by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin)? Oh, yeah. I'm there, I'm right there. And what a satisfying film it is, too. McQueen's none-too-bright Eustis Clay's friendship with Gleason's beautifully underplayed and erudite Maxwell Slaughter works a treat. Gleason was never better. ("Let me tell you something, my friend: being a fat narcissist isn't easy.") I'll be watching it again soon.

And of course I wouldn't dream of skipping the latest episode in John Sandford's Lucas Davenport series, STOLEN PREY. No one can accuse the author of shortchanging the reader on pace, tension, action and body count. This time around Lucas is after money launderers, hackers, thieves, and a trio of hit men for a Mexican cartel. It's a tough job for Lucas and his pals but a fine old time for the reader.

May 18, 2012

'They hath the drowning mark upon them...'

(With apologies to Shakespeare and ThĂ©odore GĂ©ricault.) 

And so we now have a raft of 20 invitees for this year's Watery Grave contest. Before I break the happy news about the lucky ten whose names erupted from the lottery hat, a word about the judges. We are so, so fortunate this year to have three volunteers for the panel, but even more fortunate that each one of the judges comes with stellar credentials for the task at hand. No, I won't tell you who they are yet, anonymity being the soul of integrity as it were. I'm just saying to all of you invitees, bring your A game, a'right?

Okay, so that's that. There were six invitees participating who received an automatic bid due to where their stories placed in last year's contest, and there are five writers who received the solid gold, once in a lifetime personal invitation. Ten out of those eleven writers are even now sweating drops of blood over their respective keyboards. Those ten writers are:

Chris La Tray
Eric Beetner
Chad Eagleton
Ian Ayris
Nigel Bird
Matthew Funk
Sandra Seamans
Chad Rohrbacher
Fiona Glass
Kathleen Gernert Ryan

And now for the lucky ten who received the remaining invitations, in the order their names came out of the hat:

A reminder to the invitees that there is no theme this year. Just start writing and give the judges a great original crime story of 3500 words or fewer. A piece of advice: check and double-check your work. Triple check it. Read it aloud to yourself to aid in catching errors, because we will not edit or proof your stories, and what a shame it would be to lose because the judges couldn't understand whether you meant "the man had a gun" or "the man had a gut."

Please email your stories to me no later than NOON, EST, FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 2012, at I can open pretty much any type of text file, so use whatever software and format you like. And...


May 15, 2012

WGI-4 Update

I'm delighted to see the applications rolling in for the ten open invitations for this year's Watery Grave Invitational. There's a wonderful mix of writers whose work I follow and writers I've not read for a while and writers altogether new to me. Here are the authors & stories (so far) vying for those ten invitations:

 And not just a mix of authors, but a fine selection of sources as well:
Two stories from Beat To a Pulp
Two from Shotgun Honey
Four from Flash Fiction Offensive
Two from A Twist of Noir
One from Grift Magazine
One from Spinetingler Magazine
One from Powder Burn Flash
One from a published anthology, Off the Record
And one from an author's own website.
And of the automatic and personal invitees, these fine writers have opted in to the competition:
Chris La Tray
Eric Beetner
Chad Eagleton
Ian Ayris
Nigel Bird
Matthew Funk
Sandra Seamans
Chad Rohrbacher
Fiona Glass
Kathleen Gernert Ryan

Only another 48 hours or so to submit your own application/story. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, click here for all the details. And good luck to each of the applicants! Remember, it was an applicant, Chris La Tray, who won first place last year.

May 12, 2012

If it's spring, it must be WGI time!

Update: Link to the applicants' stories are being posted at the top of the rightmost sidebar.

Yes, time once again for that Challenge of Challenges! Time to sharpen your quills and open the inkwell. This is your official announcement of the fourth annual Watery Grave Invitational Short Story Contest. Fourth! Has it really been a year since Chris La Tray took the honors with his wonderful Run For the Roses? The calendar says yes, so like poor old Michael Finnegan, let's begin again.

(Photo, above, courtesy of Toledo Perspectives.)

As ever, there may be some minor rule changes so please read the rules carefully, even if you participated last year. Before I get into the rules though, I want to remind everyone that according to last year's rules, the top five contestants from that contest each get an automatic invitation without any further requirements. Well, we had a tie for fifth place last year, so six writers will get automatic invitations. And they are:
Chris La Tray (accepted)
Eric Beetner  (accepted)
Chad Eagleton (accepted)
Ian Ayris (accepted)
Patricia Abbott (declined)
Nigel Bird (accepted)
In addition to those six writers, personal invitations will go to five writers of my choosing before the competition for the remaining ten invitations. Note: writers who get these personal invitations will only ever receive one of these. They may win automatic invitations via the rules, but a personal invitation will be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, whether the invitation is accepted or declined.

Here are the five writers who will receive a personal invitation today:
Sandra Seamans (accepted)
Matthew Funk (accepted)
Chad Rohrbacher (accepted)
Fiona Glass (accepted)
Kathleen Gernert Ryan (accepted)

And now, THE RULES for the rest of you who want to play:

Phase One: Apply for an invitation.
In order to apply for an invitation the author must have a crime fiction story of no more than 3000 words already published in any format that is available for the public to read. Web, print, digital (e.g. Smashwords, Kindle, etc.) -- they all qualify. Your story posted on your own blog does qualify.

The story must have been published between April 16, 2011 and April 15, 2012.

Email a link to your story (the link must connect to the online posting of your story) to no later than 9 pm EST, Thursday, May 17, 2012. For authors whose work is in print or digital format, please email the story in the file format of your choice. The subject line should simply say FICTION SUBMISSION, and the body of the email should contain only your name, the name of your story, and the link to your story or the file attachment with the publication identified. Do not send original, unpublished material unless and until you are invited to do so.

An author may submit only one story. Not one at a time, just one. So choose your best work, as long as it doesn't exceed 3000 words, because you only get one shot at an invitation.
Phase Two: Invitations issued.
If I like your story and style, your name goes into a hat from which I'll do the drawing. Ten lucky writers will join the eleven writers named above in receiving an invitation to write an original story (unpublished anywhere, ever) for the contest. As Corey wrote in his original rules, "you won't know whether your name went in the hat to be randomly chosen. You could have the written the finest story on the web to date and still have Lady Luck give you the cold shoulder. So if you don't get an invitation, don't assume I didn't like your story." Whether you receive an invitation or not, you will be notified.
Phase Three: Original Stories
Writers who receive and accept the invitation will have until noon EST, Friday, June 8, 2011, to submit an original crime fiction story of no more than 3500 words That's only about three weeks to write and polish a good short story, so clear your calendars and knuckle down.There will not be a theme this year, so if you feel lucky about your chances at an invitation, go ahead and start writing. I expect to announce the winners around June 25, or before the end of June at least.
Prizes (sorry, the same as last year):
1st Prize: $50
2nd Prize: $35
3rd Prize: $20
Other notes:

If any of the ten authors who received an automatic or a personal invitation declines to participate, no replacement will be named. However, if any of the ten authors invited via the Phase Two (the drawing) process declines to participate then a new name will be drawn as a replacement. There will not be fewer than ten authors in the final phase of the competition, and not more than 21.

The top five finalists in this year's contest will again receive automatic invitations to the 2013 WGI.
Everybody ready? On your mark... Get set. GO!