HALLIE: Getting a first short story published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is hitting the big time, a milestone worth serious celebration! And today we're celebrating with Robert Daniher whose short story "Pain in the Neck" is being published in the October edition.
Congratulations Bob! What was it like hearing, and how did they contact you with the good news?
ROBERT DANIHER: I received a letter in the mail from Dell Magazines that resembled a subscription renewal. My subscription had run out several months earlier and I often got renewals in the mail. I almost threw the envelope out, if you can believe that. When I opened it and a check fell out in my lap, I fell off my chair.
There was a letter from the Assistant Editor which began with, "Congratulations!" I was ecstatic! I'd been published in a few smaller markets before but this was my first publication in a national magazine (MWA approved) and the first time I was PAID.
The story was the month's winner for their Mysterious Photograph contest. Each month the magazine features a strange photograph and asks the readers to write a crime story in 250 words or less about the photo. I was especially excited because many successful authors have won that contest in the past. Such as: Nancy Pickard and Stephen D. Rogers. Certainly nice company to be in.
HALLIE: Was this the first short story you submitted to them?
ROBERT DANIHER: Oh no. I'd been submitting to both Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen on and off for a decade now. But after receiving nothing but rejections I took a break from submitting and devoted my time to focus on improving my writing. I joined a writer's group, joined the Mystery Writer's of America and participated in the MWA-NY chapter's annual Mentor Program. I only began submitting my work again, recently.
HALLIE: Tell us about the story, and what do you think it is about it that made it a winner?
ROBERT DANIHER: Developing a crime and a solution in so few words is a very daunting task. I find that most winners of that contest seem to focus on a brief situation that takes you in one direction with a twist at the end. A lot of the time, it's all about the twist. Dark humor seems to be consistent in many of the winners as well.
What I tried to do with my story was create just that. A short setup to a funny twist that, hopefully, the reader won't expect. I'm sure a lot of really good stories got sent in that month. But ultimately there's a combination of skill, luck and timing to these things and I guess this time all three came together for me.
I also think persistence is a key factor. You have to write everyday and keep submitting no matter how discouraged you get. I know that sounds cliche, but it really does help you become a better writer. It's like being an athlete. They don't just play a game once a week and become the best. They practice every day with discipline for years. It's the same with writing. You have to respect it and be disciplined. I still have a long way to go in my writing career, but I can tell my work has improved greatly since taking that break and becoming more disciplined. Persistence, even in the face of rejection, can ultimately lead to success.
HALLIE: You've said a mouthful! Every one of us at Jungle Red can attest to how you have to keep at it, keep growing. Can you give us a line or a paragraph from the story, just a teaser?
ROBERT DANIHER: I can't offer too much since it's only 250 words. But I can say, if you hit the lottery, keep your mouth shut about it until you cash the ticket.
HALLIE: I find short stories excruciatingly difficult to write. Do you, and what do you think it is about the form that makes it so hard for some of us to master?
ROBERT DANIHER: I agree. It's easy for writers to fall in love with their words. Sometimes, in order to set a scene, we like to spend a lot of time describing things in order to put the reader into the moment. Raymond Chandler was famous for it. We also love to show our research if there was a lot done for our stories. In a novel, this works and is often needed. But, there's no room for it in a short story.
I learned a lot of that during the MWA Mentor Program. My mentor was cutting things from my work left and right. It wasn't fun to see that but, in the end, it really made a difference. A lot of my details weren't actually necessary. My final drafts are now half the original length. It's heartbreaking for writers to get rid of all that good stuff. That's probably why some writers avoid the short story. For me, it's that challenge that draws me to it, as excruciating as it is.
HALLIE: Thanks, Bob! You are an inspiration! And we're all rooting for you to keep right on publishing. And special thanks for this wonderful photo of you with such an inspirational writing book.