Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hitting the big time with a little story: Robert Daniher

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?

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.


  1. Bob, congrats on the story--that is hitting the big time! I totally agree with your notion that short stories, especially short shorts, are totally about the twist. And that's why I find them hard to write--either you have the twist in mind or you don't!

    Do these just come to you or do you have a way of brainstorming? And if so, share please!

  2. I'm looking forward to reading Bob's story. Congrats!

  3. Robert - thanks for the inspiration. I love this...

    "I also think persistence is a key factor. You have to write everyday and keep submitting no matter how discouraged you get."

    I needed reminding today. Now, to get back to my story...

  4. Thanks everyone for such nice comments! And thanks for your question Roberta. When I write something a bit longer, like a 4,000+ word story, I'll brainstorm for the idea because there is more story to work with and develop. But for me to write a short short, the idea has to come to me. It can come from a story I read in the news, a partial conversation overheard in a coffee shop (eavesdropping is the writer's greatest tool) or, as in this case, the photograph. The idea for "Pain In The Neck" popped into my head when I saw the contest picture. The inspiration came from the bizarreness of the photo.

  5. Woo-hoo! Go, Bob!
    BTW, when should it be hitting the stands? I'd love to see your name in print.

  6. Congrats on the short story Bob. I still haven't been able to write a successful short story, but I was really taken by your analysis of them -- which is dead on.

    Great interview!


  7. Terrific! And cannot wait to read it!

    And I'm with you on the eavesdropping. In fact, you just inspired me to remember a conversation I heard, and then forgot I heard. Now I remember--and it's a great beginning.

    When is your issue out?

    And oh, Roberta..I kind of disagree. I don't think you need to have the twist in mind.

  8. @Lynn - Thanks for your kind words. I'm happy you got some inspiration from my thoughts.

    @Jan - I feel the same way about the novel. As hard as short stories are to write, I find the novel is such a much bigger undertaking. I haven't been able to tackle one yet and I have the utmost admiration for those who have.

    @Hank - Glad to hear you agree with the eavesdropping. It's amazing the kind of inspiration one can get from other people's business. The issue has been out for a while now. It should still be on some newsstands before the November issue pops up everywhere.

  9. Bob, congratulations again on the story. You make some great points in this interview. Now I just have to stop being so distracted enjoying the words of others to scrawl some of my own.

  10. Congrats Bob! Your passion really shines through. Definitely an inspiration to all writers. Keep up the great work!

  11. Holy Sh%t Bob!! That's amazing! So happy for you! When will you send a copy? I cannot wait to read it!

    Don't have an account, so I must be anonymous~ can you guess who it is? from the firstb line?

  12. Congrats Bob!! Can't wait to read your story!

  13. Great interview, Bob. Keep up the good work and I'm looking forward to reading the story.

  14. Hey Bob congrats and many more! Thanks for a great interview.

  15. Bob to think I knew you when. Congrats on the winning story I know how hard you worked on it. The perseverance you have showed me over the years is very inspiring and I only hope to have the success that you have had. Keep up the good work bro. - Seth Money

  16. Congratulations Robert! Having followed your career from film writer and director to author in print, this well deserved publication comes as no surprise (or mystery.) Keep us all inspired!

  17. Congratulations Robert! Having followed your career from film writer and director to author in print, this well deserved publication comes as no surprise (or mystery.) Keep us all inspired!

  18. Congrats Bob! You´re the man! :D Get in touch already!!!! I´m his brazilian roomate from college guys :) All the best! Alex