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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Interview with SmokeLong Quarterly’s Tara Laskowski

Today, I'm excited to have Tara Laskowski from SmokeLong Quarterly. To add to the excitement, her interview was done by the fabulous Gay Degani. I'll just get out of the way and let these ladies take it away!

Gay Degani: Thanks, Tara, for talking to me about your writing career and in particular your relationship with short stories. You’ve been honored now three times on the storySouth Notable On-line Stories list including this past year’s “Betta Fish,” nominated for a Pushcart Prize, listed by Dzanc’s Best of the Web series for 2009, and won the 2010 literary awards series from the Santa Fe Writers Project. You also serve as a senior editor at SmokeLong Quarterly so I can’t think of a better writer to talk to for Short Story Month this year than you.

Let’s start with reading, if you don’t mind. You say in your biography that when you were a kid, you read everything you could get your hands on. Can you remember what some of your favorites were and how they’ve influenced you over the years?

Tara Laskowski: I still have a mild obsession with kid/young adult books. When I was younger, I loved mysteries like Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown and The Three Investigators. (I’m trying to collect all the Three Investigators series still.)

I also loved loved loved the Chronicles of Narnia, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary. I actually miss those days of reading because I think I read differently then. Now that I’m a writer, it’s rare that I read just for ravenous pleasure—I’m often looking at craft, language, etc. in a different way—and I miss that pure love for story. When I was younger, I used to finish a book and start reading it over again immediately. Now I feel like I don’t have time for that.

GD: Love that phrase “ravenous pleasure!” As an editor, I’m sure you’re still looking for “ravenous pleasure so what exactly do you hope for when you start reading submissions? In other words, what kinds of things cause you to shout “We’ve got to publish this!”?

TL: It’s different every time, which is what I like about the process. I can’t ever say there’s one particular kind of story I want because I always find one I love that breaks the rules. That can be frustrating for submitters who want that magic formula to help them get published, but sadly I think it’s true. It’s like dating—you walk into a bar, order a drink, scan the room, and look for what you think looks like the hottest guy in the place. Maybe you talk to him for a bit and realize that though he had promise, he has no substance. Or his dialogue sucks. Then you’re on the way to the bathroom and there’s this guy hidden in the back, in a dark corner, who you almost ignore, but then he steps out and he smiles and he starts speaking and SNAP—you’re in love. Ok, maybe that comparison doesn’t work at all—and maybe I shouldn’t encourage people to meet strange lurking souls in dark corners of a bar. But you get my drift? Maybe? I guess I want to be surprised and delighted. Luckily, it continues to happen, which makes our job so fun.

GD: Lurking cute guys! I totally get it. What about your writing process? What is your routine? Where do you write? Give us a tiny movie clip of you at work.

TL: I have no routine and no real process. I kind of write in spurts, randomly, or when I force myself to. I actually hate to write. I just love having written. I don’t even know if I can give you a movie clip because I honestly don’t know. I just sit down and type and then it’s there and it either sucks or it’s something I can work with. I’m not much for the idea that writing is a mystical process or magical or beautiful—it is work and it is hard and it takes a lot of energy, but like anything else, it’s worth doing, I think you’re a better, happier person if you keep at something you think is important, even if it seems impossible sometimes.

GD: So now we know how hard you work, which of your stories are you most proud of? Which surprised you when you finished it and in what way? Which piece might you consider the most indicative of “Tara Laskowski?” Why?

TL: I’m working on a series of "etiquette" stories right now that are modular stories told in a kind of voice you’d find in self-help or etiquette books. They are a blast to write, I tell you, and I’ve been really happy with the results so far. “The Etiquette of Adultery” was published in Necessary Fiction last year and “The Etiquette of Dementia” was published in Mid-American Review this year.

I write a lot about women, and I write a lot about my hometown, Wilkes-Barre, PA. I also tend to write a lot about people who were close to, but not affected directly by, violence or a violent act. For example, I have a story about a woman whose co-worker was murdered and another story about a woman who witnesses a car accident in which a little boy was killed. I think it’s really interesting what happens to people when they feel this brush with death or danger. So….if you combine all these elements together, maybe a story like "Little Girls" might be an example of a Tara story?

GD: You have a novel you’re work on, Black Diamond City. Are you willing to tell us something about the story and how far along you are?

TL: BDC was my first novel. It is a love story told over several decades, and it was very ambitious, probably too ambitious at the time. (Though I still love it and hope to go back to it sometime.) I’ve since been writing a second novel which takes place over one summer and in contemporary time; I think plays more to my strengths as a writer. I think I’m better at smaller moments in time rather than larger stories told over years and years, so we’ll see. It’s a family drama, kind of like The Ice Storm only with a fire instead of ice. Ha ha.

GD: Can’t wait to see it in print. With all this experience, do you have any words of advice for new writers?

TL: Read a lot. Read a lot. Read a lot. And learn to take rejection gracefully. There’s nothing worse than a writer who can’t take constructive criticism.

GD: Thanks, Tara, for allowing me to ask questions. I’m going to take the liberty now of giving out some links so everyone can fall in love with your writing.

There’s Someone Behind You

Something More Interesting

The Men and the Women

Where My Boyfriend Lives

About the interviewer:

Gay Degani has published in journals and anthologies including three The Best of Every Day Fiction editions and her own collection, Pomegranate Stories. Her stories online can be read at Smokelong Quarterly, The Battered Suitcase, Night Train, Short Story America, Corium as well as other publications. Nominated for a Pushcart, she has been a finalist or short listed at Glimmer Train and The Fish Anthology and won a first place at Women on Writing’s Quarterly Flash Fiction contest. She edits EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles and blogs at Words in Place.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interview with Gay Degani and an Offer to Vote for Best Short Story at FFC

Gay Degani is the Mistress of Short Stories. Seriously. If you have any doubts (and why would you ever doubt my word?) you can check out a list of her little darlings at Words in Place, her blog. Though now that I think about it, little darlings doesn't quite conjure up the proper image of her fiction, but "little jolts-of-emotion-that-will-knock-you-on-your-butt" seemed wordy.

She's also a former college English instructor and the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles for Every Day Fiction.

The thing about Gay's stories is that you can't make it to the end of one without holding your breath. Again, seriously. When I read her collection,  Pomegranate Stories, I had to take one story at a time so that I didn't pass out. I can still remember the feeling I had at the end of  "Rimshot". I won't tell you more, because I would deprive you of the full experience, and that would be a crime.

Besides writing, Gay is also a talented artist. She painted the cover for "Pomegranate Stories". Isn't she good?

Gay decided to use her facetime on my blog to be generous to other writers. Here's what she had to say:

What are your favorite short stories online? Flash Fiction Chronicles, an online magazine devoted to Flash Fiction, is asking for readers to post links to favorite online short stories at FFC's Facebook page. In honor of Short Story Month, the editors want to know what pieces of fiction have turned you on, blown you away, made you laugh or cry. We originally hoped for 100 wonderful stories, but we have over 80 so far and we want to see how many we can garner by May 30 when we will post the links to all of the stories at the magazine site.

To participate, please visit FFC's Facebook page HERE and leave the title of your favorite story or two, the names of the authors and links to where they have appeared online. Links are important because we don't have time to search for them ourselves so please be sure and includes those.

You've find a list of stories already suggested here
For more information about Gay and her writing process, check out an interview she did with us at Writers in Residence.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Interview with Author Kaye George

Today we welcom mystery author, Kaye George. Her first comic novel is "Choke", starring Imogene Duckworthy. (Love that name!!) She also writes gritty short stories, and is an online mystery reviewer for Suspense Magazine. Her story, HANDBASKETS, DRAWERS, AND A KILLER COLD, was nominated for a 2010 Agatha award. It can be found in the collection, A PATCHWORK OF STORIES, available on Amazon and Smashwords as an ebook.

Welcome, Kaye!

What made you turn to writing comic mysteries?

Writing CHOKE was kind of my way of making lemonade out of lemons. We lived in an economically depressed area of Texas, near Wichita Falls, for three years in connection with my husband's job. The economic depression carried over sometimes to my mental state, so that was my lemon. However, the area was peopled with warm, friendly people, tough, resilient people. People who made their living ranching and cowboying. After we moved away, I realized that living there had been a gift. The area was a treasure trove waiting for me to mine it--my lemonade. I happened to be in the mood to write something funny, and this was a fit.

Was "Choke" a one time shot at comic mysteries?


I'm realizing that I could write at least several more books using the area and the characters I developed, so it's lemonade plus frosted cookies.

Humorous writing was a change for you, right?

 This book may come as a surprise to those who have read my short stories. They tend toward gritty, even venturing into horror. Don't ask me why, but the shorter I write, the darker the story turns out. If you're a fan of my short stories, I'll ask you to give this book a try, even though it's a departure into humor, maybe even slapstick.

You can find her many short story publishing credits here.

What other hobbies do you have?

My main hobby is music. I'm a classically trained violinist and love to compose and arrange, mostly for string quartet, but I've done one full orchestration at the request of a conductor.

That's not surprising, since people often write what they know. Kaye also has a mystery series involving musician/conductor Cressa Carraway. You can read the first chapter of these books as well as of "Choke" here. Choke is published by Mainly Murder Press.

Thank you, Kaye!  Make sure to visit Kaye's website .

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An Interview with Author Stacy Juba Including a Review of "Laundry Day"

Stacy Juba is the author of the mystery novels Twenty-Five Years Ago Today and Sink or Swim (Mainly Murder Press), as well as the patriotic children’s picture book The Flag Keeper and the children’s e-book Victoria Rose and the Big Bad Noise. Her young adult paranormal thriller Dark Before Dawn will be released by Mainly Murder Press in January 2012. Her young adult hockey novels Face-Off and Offsides will be released in 2011 and 2012. She is a former journalist with more than a dozen writing awards to her credit.

For National Short Story Month, I've asked her about her short story, "Laundry Day". Don't forget to check out my review after the post. Welcome, Stacey!

What can you tell us about your new short story Laundry Day?

I'm really excited about this short story as it's a way for readers to get a taste of my writing style. It's a free download on Smashwords and through their distributors, and 99 cents on Kindle. It's about this nice guy, Gregg, who does a favor for a neighbor and snow blows her driveway. While she's on the phone, he goes into her bathroom and finds her sexy lingerie collection drip-drying in her shower. Gregg is mortified, but it gives him an idea, to persuade his wife into spicing up her lingerie. Then this neighbor is strangled with her own fishnet stocking and the neighborhood is turned upside down. I've also included sample chapters from my mystery novels Twenty-Five Years Ago Today and Sink or Swim, as well as an in-depth author interview, in the back of the ebook.

Where did you get the idea for this story?

One day, I was passing a Frederick's of Hollywood store at the mall and this idea popped into my mind. What if someone unexpectedly visited a neighbor and found lingerie all over the place? How embarrassing would that scenario be for the character, and how can I make a mystery story out of this? Then I thought: have someone strangled with a fishnet stocking, of course! I originally wrote the story to submit to anthologies and mystery magazines, but then I decided a better use for it would be to distribute it as a free and inexpensive e-book, to help get my name and book titles out there to readers. It seemed as if I could reach a much larger audience by distributing the story myself.

You mostly write full-length novels. How was it different writing a short story? Do you write many short stories?

I very rarely write short stories. I know some authors who write hundreds of them, but most of the ideas that occur to me are for full-length novels, and then I spend a year or two working on it and move onto the next book. This story was fun as it was quick to write. I wrote the first draft in a few weeks, and then had several critique partners give me feedback. It was gratifying to have a completed story that didn't take months and months to finish. The challenge was writing tight and limiting the characters and subplots, but I outlined the story extensively to make sure I stuck to the main storyline and didn't get off course. Another big difference was that Laundry Day is from the male point of view and my mystery novels are from a female point of view.

What can you tell us about your mystery novels?

I have two adult mystery novels available in trade paperback from Mainly Murder Press and in multiple bargain ebook formats. Twenty-Five Years Ago Today is about Kris Langley, an obit writer and newspaper editorial assistant who stumbles across a 25-year-old cold case on the microfilm and becomes driven to solve it. She investigates the murder of Diana Ferguson, a talented artist who was inspired by Greek mythology.

Sink or Swim is about Cassidy Novak, a young woman who loses a reality game show called Sink or Swim, then returns to her normal life as a personal trainer in a New England town. Cassidy soon finds out that she has attracted a stalker, and meanwhile, her former competitors are getting killed off. To get her life back, she needs to find her stalker. Both books are a cross between cozy mysteries and romantic suspense novels.

What other projects do you have in the works?

I have two children's picture books - The Flag Keeper, which is available in paperback and as a 99 cent ebook, and Victoria Rose and the Big Bad Noise, which is exclusively available as a 99 cent ebook. The Flag Keeper teaches children about U.S. flag etiquette through a fiction story about a bear family, flag facts, discussion questions and an activity. Victoria is about a bear that uses her imagination to overcome her fear of household noises such as the blender. These stories are innocent and cute, the total opposite of Laundry Day!

My young adult paranormal thriller Dark Before Dawn will be released in January 2012 from Mainly Murder Press and is about a psychic teenager who gets involved with a mysterious fortuneteller mentor. I like to bill it as: When ESP Spells D-A-N-G-E-R. I'll also be releasing an updated version of my 1992 young adult Avon Flare novel Face-Off in the near future, along with a sequel. Once all those books are released, I'll finish up my adult mystery novel-in-progress Sign of the Messenger, which was a recipient of the William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Grant and is the first in a series. I'd like to do more short stories also - I'm toying with the idea of a short story featuring Kris from Twenty-Five Years Ago Today and Cassidy from Sink or Swim.

Where can readers find more about your books?

They can visit my web site and my blog  . My Laundry Day short story can be downloaded for free at Smashwords. You can also keep an eye on this page of my web site for more retailers such as Barnes and Noble and the Sony Reader Store.  Laundry Day is a brand new release, so links to more retailers will be added as the story becomes available on those sites.

Thank you, Stacy. Your books sound like a lot of fun, and I love that you're teaching kids all about the American flag!

And now for a quick review of "Laundry Day".

Laundry Day

By Stacy Juba
Smashwords Edition available for free download
Kindle Edition available for 99 cents

Gregg is in an embarrassing situation. He’s ducked into his neighbor’s bathroom to avoid listening in on her telephone argument with her husband, Dennis, and he’s discovered more than he ever wanted to know about Bridget Severin’s lingerie habits. Lacy bras and panties--the kind Greg wishes his wife, Julia, would wear--are strewn across the shower curtain and soaking in the bathroom sink.

Inspired to add romance back into his marriage, Gregg comes home from work early one day only to find Julia sobbing in their bedroom. Her best friend Bridget has been murdered--strangled with a pair of lacy hose. The husband is the obvious suspect. Were the sexy undies intended for a secret lover? Is there more to this murder than a jealous spouse?

Juba takes her short mystery to a twist ending that will take you by surprise. “Laundry Day” includes many extras, including an author interview and several bonus chapters from her novels.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review of "Just Like Old Times", A Johnny Casino Short Story

"Just Like Old Times" appeared in the Sisters In Crime/Los Angeles  anthology "LAndmarked for Murder", published by Top Publications, Ltd. 2006.

When Gayle Bartos-Pool teaches her short story class, she tells the students that this more compact form of storytelling is like a brief car trip. She doesn’t mention how fast the car should go, and in “Just Like Old Times”, it’s full throttle.

Johnny Casino is a former mobster turned private eye. He’s retired to a quiet home in the mountains outside of Los Angeles. When a black tie dinner invitation turns into an attempted kidnapping, Johnny discovers that an ex-jewel thief has been framed for murder. He needs Johnny’s help to pin the rap on the real murderer, Vincent Merrick.

Using a set-up worthy of “The Sting”, Johnny turns the tables on bad guy with the help of a cast of aging movie stars.

Pool’s plot moves quickly, and the dialogue crackles with the kind of zingers and banter that haven't been around since the old black-and-white gangster movies. She deftly paints a group of Hollywood has-beens with more class in their pinky fingers than most current A-list actors put together.

“Just Like Old Times” is a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to meet the characters we hope to see more of in Pool’s Johnny Casino collection (which I hope will come out soon!)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Long and Short of the Short Story by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Gayle Bartos-Pool (who also writes as G.B. Pool) is the author of the Ginger Caulfield mysteries. Her short stories have been featured in several anthologies including "Landmarked for Murder" and "Dying in a Winter Wonderland". She brought the fledgling Sinc/LA Speakers Bureau  to life, holding more than 80 Author Panels and events over her three year term, and she teaches short story writing seminars. Like her Caulfield character, she once served as a Private Investigator, is a crack shot and lifetime NRA member, and is married to the love of her life.

Gayle, can you tell us about your journey into short story writing and what led you to write a Johnny Casino collection?

 After writing my first three published short stories, something happened: Readers responded favorably to one of my characters. They liked this guy’s personality.

Of course a writer is supposed to craft memorable characters, but those are usually found in a novel. A writer has more room to flesh out characters in a 300-page novel, not a 25-50 page short story. But something was happening with my “Johnny Casino” character. His personality was too large to stay within 28 pages.

That’s when I realized I had more Johnny Casino stories in me. In fact, by the time I was finished, I had nine stories and 388 pages. That’s called a book. I had turned a one-shot story into what is basically a series.

But the journey was also a learning experience.

I wrote a batch of these stories and showed them to my agent. She liked them, but…she wanted more information about Johnny. She thought the stories needed a love interest, but I didn’t want the short stories bogged down with schmaltz. That wasn’t what I envisioned for my character. But I hadn’t written any reason why Johnny didn’t have a woman in his life, so I wrote a backstory. That’s when I learned a lot of new things about him. It was so detailed, it turned into the second story in the first collection.

The backstory also gave me a different view of Johnny. He had his dark side as well as his sarcastic side. He was becoming a three-dimensional person. I started learning so much about him, more stories popped up. One was so compelling, it became the focal point of the second collection.

Since I had created a past for Johnny, I could write stories about him when he worked in the mob back in New Jersey when he was younger, after all, I had discovered his father was a high ranking guy in the D’Abruzzo crime family. I could also do a story explaining how he became a private detective after he fled to California.

And here’s a heads up for all you multi-tasking short story/novel writers. The character I created who teaches Johnny how to be a first class P.I. is the heroine in another mystery series I have been writing. I figured, if people like Johnny, they just might like the novel featuring Gin Caulfield.

The last thing I learned on this journey is that there is a different kind of short story out there. In classes I teach about The Art of the Short Story I mention a short story is like an hors d’oeuvre. It’s a few really good things served up in a small bite. Whether it’s a handful of cool characters in a terrific location involved in a catchy plot, the short story gets you to one location in the fastest way possible.

In contrast, a novel can take you far and wide with a cast of thousands with sub-plots and bits of interesting background stuff just for the fun of it, and the writer can use 300 to 400 pages to accomplish the task. But the short story writer has to chop out unnecessary characters, places, plot twists and trim down the description to its bare bones and do it in 5 to 25 pages. Or does he?

I think there is a new kind of short story out there. The Novel Short. The length of each individual story can be anywhere from 25 to 70 pages, but the main thing is to have a single set of characters, or in my case, one main character, in every story. Several characters make repeat appearances, and I mention one sub-plot in several of the earlier stories until it’s solved in a story of its own. Each story reveals more and more about my main character and the final story in book one ends with a haunting question that will be answered in book two.

If this sounds like a television series, you betcha. I called it a series earlier and that is how I visualize The Johnny Casino Casebook, whether it stays in book form or hits the TV screen. His stories might be in the “short story” format, but his entire life is a novel.

And for those of you who prefer to create something completely stand-alone in each short story you write, those individual tales can always be put into your own collection. I have one of those, too.

Write on.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Video Enhanced Ebooks--Oh My!

May is National Short Story Month! Short story writers are gaining an audience through Kindle, but I still think they are overlooked. This month, along with some regular posts, I will be interviewing short story authors and posting reviews of their work.

To start off the month, I bring you the author of the "Skate Crime" series. These are novels, but author Alina Adams has utilized an exciting technology in a novel excerpt (that's a kind of short story!) that I think will benefit authors who write in every form!

Alina Adams is the author of "New York Times" best-sellers "Oakdale Confidential" and "Jonathan's Story," as well as the Figure Skating Mystery series, including "Murder on Ice," "On Thin Ice," "Axel of Evil," "Death Drop" and "Skate Crime," and the romance novels, "When a Man Loves a Woman," "Annie's Wild Ride," "Thieves at Heart" and "The Fictitious Marquis." Her current passion is enhanced e-books with videos embedded directly into the story. The first, "Skate Crime: Multimedia" is available now on Amazon. She can be reached via her website . Welcome!

As the 2011 US Figure Skating Team prepare to make its debut at the World Championships in Russia at the end of April (relocated from Japan due to the earthquake), Alina Adams, author of the figure-skating cozy mystery series of books including “Murder on Ice,” “On Thin Ice,” “Axel of Evil,” “Death Drop,” and “Skate Crime,” takes experiencing her books to an unprecedented next level by adding skating videos courtesy of The Ice Theatre of New York right into the text!

When turning “Skate Crime,” the last novel in my series into an e-book, I decided to try something completely new – I wasn’t just going to write about skating. I was going to show it!

I got the idea after spending ten years as Creative Content Producer at TeleNext Media/Procter & Gamble Productions. While at P&G, I developed two on-line properties for them, www.AnotherWorldToday.com and Mindy’s Twitter, which told serialized, romantic stories in a combination of words and video clips. I thought that if it worked for on-line soap-operas, it would be even better for figure skating, which is such a visually-oriented sport.

What made you decide to add video to a mystery?

I have been fascinated with the potential of enhanced books ever since the idea became technically feasible. However, most of what is currently available is either non-fiction or, if the enhanced book is fiction, it features extras like author interviews, music, special effects, or historical context. I was itching to make the added videos an integrated, vital part of the story itself, like I had with my on-line work. “Skate Crime: Multimedia” fits that bill. It’s not exactly a book and it’s not exactly a movie. I see it more as Storytelling for the 21st Century.

How difficult was the process?

I had no blueprint or precedent to follow. It’s not like I could say, well, this author did it this way and this publisher did it that way, let me see what I can learn from everyone and incorporate it into my own project. I had to start from, more or less, scratch. It wasn’t so much a matter of learning a new storytelling language as inventing one. And the only way to test out if it’s understandable is to see what an audience thinks!

Your protagonist is a bit unusual--not the first image people have when they think of professional ice skaters.

When writing for Black Diaspora Magazine, I did a piece on African-Americans in skating, including the legendary Mabel Fairbanks, who was the first Black ice show star, and initially paired up and coached future world champions Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. When I began writing my Figure Skating Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime, I created the character of Antonia “Toni” Wright as an homage to Mabel and other skating pioneers of color.

To “play” the role of Toni, Adams turned to The Ice Theatre of New York and one of their principal skaters, Alyssa Stith (also a veteran of the “Ebony on Ice” show). It is Ms. Stith’s skating that viewers will see in “Skate Crime: Multimedia,” representing Toni.

When I wrote my original piece for Black Diaspora, it really opened my eyes to the hardships those first African-Americans in skating faced. It was a privilege to be able to retell some of their stories and triumphs through Toni. Hopefully, “Skate Crime: Multimedia,” as well as the successes of such athletes as World Champion Debi Thomas and European Champion Surya Bonaly will inspire other youngster to take up the sport – and the legacy.

While all five novels were initially published as trade paperbacks by Berkley Prime Crime, only one, “Skate Crime” is currently available as an e-book.

Skate Crime: Multimedia Edition” does not contain the entire text of the original but is, instead, a condensed excerpt enhanced with video clips. Was there a reason that you chose an excerpt for your video enhanced book rather than add video to the entire book?

I did it as an experiment to see what the response would be, as well as to test the technical possibilities. Enhancing all five of my skating books is next on my to-do list!

"Skate Crime: Multimedia Edition” retails for $.99 cents in Amazon’s Kindle store here,  and can be experienced through the Kindle app on iPad, iPhone, and your desktop.  Don't forget to check out the other Skate Crime books!

Visit Alina at her blog  and web site.

Thank you, Alina!