Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Fishy Business

TODAY'S PRIZE: a signed first edition of Harlan Coben's LIVE WIRE! The winner selected at random from the comments.

HANK: So you send your wonderful story or novel to an editor or to a contest--you hit "send" and cross your fingers. The person on the other end is about to click the "open" button, start to read your words, and make a decision.

Is there nothing scarier? But today we get an up close and personal glimpse behind the scenes at that process. The Guppies--yay, Guppies!--(Are you a member? See below for why it's exactly the right spot for anyone interested in writing a mystery!) have put together the second in their "fishy" short story anthologies.

The Guppies worked together on Fish Tales--writing, selecting, editing, organizing and finding a publisher. And then sharing the fun of seeing the sales go up!

KB Inglee is one of the earliest Guppies--and I wondered if she'd share her experiences. Like all good Guppies, she said yes.

(She's not as "early" as she looks in this photo...she works as an historical interpreter at two living history museums in the Mid-Atlantic. She uses this hands-on experience to improve her historical short stories. She has milled corn using water power, cooked in a wood fired oven, driven oxen, and she tends a flock of heritage sheep. But at home, she uses a computer. I think...)

KB INGLEE: Writers don’t usually get a peek behind the curtain to see what editors are thinking, why they chose the manuscripts they do, why they reject the ones they do, or even why certain authors drive them crazy.

The two publications Fish Tales and Fish Nets, both short story anthologies, came about precisely to give writers that glimpse. The Sisters in Crime chapter, The Guppies decided to use the process of putting together an anthology as an education for members. The call went out for short story manuscripts with a fishy theme.

Since short stories are my love, I offered to field the manuscripts and act as liaison between the authors and the professional editor we hired.

HANK: So how'd you do it? It'd be difficult to choose stories from friends and people you know and love.

KB: We hired a professional editor, Ramona Long. Each author was to score three other stories and the top scorers would make it into the anthology. My job was to field the stories and send them out to be scored. When the scores came back, I pulled out the high scorers and sent them to Ramona. She read them and sent them back to me with comments which I forwarded to the authors. After two rounds of this, Ramona and I compiled the whole manuscript added the table of contents and the introduction by Chris Roerden. At that point I handed it off to others who found the publisher.

HANK: How did reality compare to what you'd imagined?

KB: When I took on the job I made two resolutions, I would not take anything anyone did personally and I would finish what I had contracted to do.

Every step of the way, authors were kept posted as to the progress and problems. Each author received a copy of their scores and comments by the readers. Each time I hit a snag, I alerted the whole group.

The biggest problem I had was the impatience of the authors. When I opened my email at 5 AM, there would be a story waiting. If I had not downloaded the story and responded to the author by noon, I could expect a “did you get my story?” email. I contacted all the authors to let them know they had to be patient, and not keep emailing, that if they did that they would get the reputation of being hard to work with.

HANK: SO funny! Was it a learning process for you? Did people do what they were told?

KB: Most everyone met the deadlines; two authors submitted their stories with the name attached for a blind read. This didn’t seem like much of a stumbling block since the readers didn’t know the authors. They got points off for not following orders, but the manuscripts were not rejected.

Those involved learned how subjective the process was. Both as readers and writers we were of all different skill levels. Had I sent any story to a different reader the score could have been different. One story that didn’t make the cut, showed up later in one of the prominent mystery magazines.

As an author, this was a mind expanding exercise. I now write the best story I can, have someone else read it to fix any errors, follow the submission guidelines like my life depended on it, send it out and then go on to write something else. I do not email magazines to ask if they have received it or when they are going to do this or that. The chances are good it will be rejected, or that I will never hear anything, but every now and then I have a story accepted somewhere.

Fish Tales came out in March and is a volume to be proud of, with 22 excellent short stories of murder and fish. Well worth the read. We hope it will be followed soon by Fish Nets.

HANK: Can we get a sneak peek?

KB: Sure! Here's a sampler of first lines:

***From Thicker than Blood by Leslie Budewitz:

From the shore, the setting sun looked like it had been pierced by two burnt lodge pole pines still standing on a distant ridge. Not even last summer, when the fires raged for months, had she ever seen the sun so red.

And her hands. Nothing more red than fresh blood.

***From Feeding Frenzy by Patricia Winton:

One rarely thinks of fish as a murder weapon, and Caroline Woodlock certainly didn’t have murder on her mind as she surveyed the vast piscine assortment spread out at the market near Piazza Vittorio in Rome.

*** From The Turkey Hill Affair by Warren Bull:

Turkey Hill, Iowa, was a big disappointment until I bumped into Bennie as he was robbing the Farm and Business Bank.

***From Amazing Grace by Betsy Bitner:

I have been planning my husband’s funeral for twelve years. No, he doesn’t have a slow-acting terminal illness. And he’s not some bigwig requiring a send-off befitting his stature in the community. It’s just that, like the Scouts say, you’ve got to be prepared. Everyone has to go sooner or later and, with any luck, my husband’s time will come sooner. Call me an optimist.

HANK: Sounds great! And congratulations to all. ****We at the Guppies are always looking for good fishy titles--any ideas? Let's see--Calling All Cods? No. To Tell the Trout? Come on, you guys can do better than that.****

Fish Tales is available at this address! And make sure you put #guppies on your tweets!

The GUPPIES--for Great Unpublished--is an incredibly active, friendly, educational and always-inspirational on-line chapter of Sisters in Crime. For more info, click here!

And don't forget to comment--you'll be entered to win a signed first editon of LIVE WIRE by Harlan Coben!


  1. I loved the stories in Fish Tales. Sat down and read it cover to cover in one long read. I love shorts too, KB. Thanks for posting about Fish Tales!

  2. The Guppies is a fantastic group. Wonderful support and enthusiasm to tide each other over through the darkest times, writing-based or not. It helps to know there's a group of kind strangers out there, no matter what you're going through. Who doesn't need that? I may be a lurker, but I'm proud to be a Guppy

  3. I've got my copy right here! Treating myself to it like pieces of candy.

  4. such a good idea KB to give folks a sense of the process early on. I loved every one of those openings! Go Guppies!

  5. Thanks for the nudge to renew my Guppie membership...somehow I did SinC but forgot the other...and the Guppies are too polite to remind me I guess :o) One thing I've learned from submissions is to be patient...and to make sure you get the correct e-mail address from agents at a conference. Twice I've had agents "forget" their business cards and scribble an e-mail addy for me that came back "unknown". Off to the agency website I go and find their general one. Even with the "Per your request from( enter workshop here)",I get no response. Every query I send in written form elicits something. So, what I am not doing right with the e-mail process? Since I'm heading to two workshops this summer, each with an agent pitch involved, I'm curious. As for Fish them!

  6. Okay, gang, I'm not seeing any fishy titles!

    The Codfather?

  7. Thanks to KB and to Ramona for the incredible amount of work it took to complete the anthologies. Organization and time requirement are massive for a project like these. I done it on a smaller scale and it wore me out. I am hooked on short stories myself. Luckily the reviewer scooped my story and I'm as happy as a minnow left out of school early.

  8. I think it is worth emphasizing a point KB made... ALWAYS FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. Most contests will disqualify you for putting your name on the header.

    Guppies is a fantastic organization and I'm not just saying that because I'm the Treasurer! It really does rock.

    As to fishy titles:
    The Icefish Cometh
    for Whom the Krill Tolls

  9. Karen wins my fishy title award. "For Whom the Krill Tolls." Tee hee.

    How about "Pollack and Persuasion?" I'd snap that one right up.

    Seriously, the Guppies are a great organization, highly recommended for anyone aspiring to be published. And Fish Tales--what fun, and what a great way to learn about the business, because business it is.

  10. Thanks for posting the ins & outs of the contest. It's heartening to know that these kinds of things really are subjective.

  11. Go Guppies! Fish Tales is a great anthology (even though my story for it was rejected). I was elated to learn that my story for Fish Nets was accepted, though, and am looking forward to following that process through to publication.

    KB is a stalwart saint for processing all the submissions. As for guidelines, as a submitter/judge I was amazed by the two stories I read that went over the required word count. Hello? It's called a SHORT story for a reason. Every word is critical. If you are over the word count, cut something out!



  12. Yeah, it's kind of funny to think about why someone would go over the word count, or not follow the rules.

    They think they don't REALLY apply?

    Their story is so good, the editors will ddecide the rules don't matter?

    HOw about Future Shark? (instead of Future Shock. Okay, it's not good if you have to explain it...)

  13. Applause, applause -- or as we say in the Guppies, "put your fins together" for KB, Ramona, Jim Jackson, Diane Vallere, and the others who worked so hard to make Fish Tales a reality! There's a tremendous variety of stories -- as the opening lines show -- and so much fun!

    I'm sure glad the committee came up with a pair of good titles, 'cause I'm stuck ... .

  14. Oh, oh! How about "The Sternman Always Nets Twice?" Too obscure?

  15. "An Unsuitable Cod for a Woman."

    I am on a ROLL here.

  16. Julia, this is why you get the big bucks.

  17. And riffing off our own Deb Crombie:

    "Dreaming of the Fish Bones."

    I have to stop, though. Ross said, "If you're feeling so creative and inspired, why don't you write?"

  18. Oh, no....put Ross on mute and keep 'em coming! Don't rise to the bait...

  19. I joined the Guppies about a year ago after meeting many of them at Bouchercon and Malice. They really are a great group and their newsletters are outstanding.

    As for titles, how about "Something's Fishy" or "Big Fish in a Small Pond? if you want to keep Fish in the title.

  20. And I just thought of "Sleeping with the Fish."

  21. KB worked very, very hard on Fish Tales. Thank you Hank, for the public forum to say, "Thanks KB." (That sentence needs a copy editor.)

  22. about...?


    and my favorite...*drumroll*...

  23. Catfish Tales
    Salt Water Fish Tales
    Grupper Grabbers
    Sword Fish Stories
    Neptune's Bounty of Short Stories

    I'm going t follow Ross's advice now.