Friday, November 16, 2012

Oh, Canada

HURRAY! THE OTHER WOMAN  is chosen as a Best of 2012 by Suspense Magazine! Thank you so much!
Now back to our regular programming...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Oh, Canada has nothing to do with this blog, really, except that I love the Canadian national anthem, and I've been singing it in my head ever since I began chatting with Janet Costello, the editor of CRIME SCENE, the Toronto Chapter Sisters in Crime newsletter. (So now you're singing it too, right?)

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Toronto Chapter of Sisters in Crime, they produced our first anthology, The Whole She-Bang. And Janet--volunteered!--to edit. Ooh, I thought. Good person to grill about what works and what doesn't--just in case any of us want to submit a short story to someone someday... :-)

 HANK: What a task, Janet!  What'd you do first?

Janet and the tools of the trade
JANET: I read Getting the Words Right by Theodore A. R. Cheney. As with non-fiction editing, Cheney emphasized writing basics.   Reduce the word count. Keep the story moving forward. Important ideas should be at the end of a sentence, a paragraph, a story. 

 Our judging was blind, so when I signed on for the project, I had no idea who I would be editing. Canadian Sisters in Crime includes several best-selling and award winning authors. Once the twenty stories were determined, we had a variety of successful authors, short story writers and first publications. 

 HANK: Did it turn out, in the end, that the best stories were by the already-successful people?

 JANET: While we have some excellent stories by established authors, we were delighted to have some wonderful stories from first-published authors too. While members of the mystery community may know some of our authors as established mystery writers, I challenge you to identify the  story that is a first-time publication for that author!

Now available!
A couple of editing factors I had not considered in advance: you need a position on various things. We wouldn’t allow brand names, but how to handle things like “K----x” (tissue) which is the common term for the item? Being a Canadian publication, we wanted all measurements in metric. But an exception was required. An aviation story required “miles”, and accuracy within the story took precedence over being metric.

For a historical entry, I had to check for anachronisms. Do you know how long the Y-incision has been used in autopsies? 

The biggest adjustment for me was editing dialogue. . Little changed between the quotation marks—characters speak how they speak, even with deliberate bad grammar.  But it didn’t take long for the lessons learned for my Erle Stanley Gardner reading to float to the surface. The requirements for snappy back-and-forth dialogue were clear and consistent in those gems. 

HANK:  Talking about dialogue—what made it work? What ruined it?

JANET: As the editor, I don't think we've let anything through in dialogue that ruined the story or plot.

In one story you might not realize, in the first line or two from the character, that he has a local dialect, but that does become evident. And letting you pick up on that, rather than spelling it out, invites the reader to engage with the story. 

In "An Unexpected Christmas Gift", there is one line, which we included in our youtube video (featuring one line from each story), that just melts your heart.

HANK:  What were the pitfalls in the stories you rejected?

JANET: I cannot emphasize enough that proof-reading your work for grammar and full thought processes, is critical. Reading your work aloud, or having a friend read it aloud to you is an invaluable tool.

Punctuation can sneak by you, especially when you’re making changes. I would have bet a small amount of cash that I’d caught any exceptions to the standard one space after every period, but our formatter would have enjoyed a nice lunch on me if I had. And now I understand why writers break into an animated discussion around the n and m dashes!

HANK:  What do you hope for before reading a short story?

JANET: Well, to be caught quickly. Drawn in by the voice or a character or the situation.  And surprised at least once before the tale is told. I find the shorter the story, the more likely all of these are likely to occur. 

 Many hours went into the editing of The Whole She-Bang, and many lessons were learned. For our next anthology, the process will be more efficient, but I think our result will be the same. We got the words right.

HANK: Want to read for yourself?  Janet is giving away a copy of The Whole She-Bang with a coupon for an e-reader, or sending you a print copy. And Janet will be here to answer questions about short stories!

And to enter—here’s an EASY one. What’s the best short story you’ve ever read?

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For six years, Janet Costello has been the editor of Crime Scene, the Toronto Chapter Sisters in Crime newsletter. There she has also published interviews, articles and puzzles. She enjoys attending mystery conventions, especially when she can volunteer. Janet works as a commercial insurance underwriter to support her reading habit (and to ensure that habit includes a glass of red wine nearby). The Whole She-Bang, e-vailable for 99 cents on Oct. 18th, is her first anthology.


  1. First . . . Congratulations, Hank, for “The Other Woman” being chosen as Best of 2012!

    I chuckled over several of the lines from the stories, most notably “Being a spy takes patience” . . . sniffled over the “I your girl” . . . and put the book on my to-be-read list.

    Best short story I ever read? The list is probably about as long as the list of my favorite books . . . there’s no way to pick just one!

  2. Ah, the to-be-read list. Don't we all have one of those!

  3. Janet, what a great interview. Such helpful insight into how an editor thinks--and we writers should think as we revise too!

    Did you find that your Sisters took your editing well? (I LOVE my current editor for the Key West mysteries--she takes my good book and makes it better!)

    this sounds like a great Christmas gift!

  4. Welcome Janet! And thanks for the advice... I have to say I love my editor even though I sometimes blanch at the pages of comments. She's (almost) always right.

    I have huge admiration for anyone who can write a short story. It's such a demanding form, so little time to develop a character, and it's gotta have a great twist.

  5. Congrats, dear Hank, for this new honor! Good golly, Miss Molly, you're going to have to buy another apartment to hold all your honors and trophies and prizes! Maybe the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC would give you a wing! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  6. Hi Lucy/Roberta,

    My Sisters all took my suggestions very open-mindedly, and I've received warm thanks me for my efforts. We even bonded over some, for eg. I was editing one story as the author was emailing me to point out she'd switched a character's name mid-story in error, (which I had noticed).

    On another note, I've got an answer (for today's one of those questions, where you'll have a different answer later) about my favourite mystery story. The Secret Lives of Cats by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (from EQMM...2 yrs ago?). This cat has a camcorder on its collar, and the investigation is from the first-animal/first-person viewpoint.

  7. Yeah, a short story is daunting. Why is that? The amazing Nancy Pickard says they always must have an that's interesting.

    And funny, too, that when you get an idea for a good short story, you instantly know it. It appears as a story, not a novel. Hmm.

    My favorite short story? Yeah, my own question is too difficult.

    Janet, did the cat talk?

  8. Wow! I've put The Whole She-Bang on my holiday list. I love short stories and love Canada, where I studied for a semester a few years (okay, decades) ago.

    And thanks for getting Oh Canada! going in my head this morning. I love that anthem, especially the line "with glowing hears we see thee rise, the true North strong & free."

    No bombs bursting in air, just a heart bursting with pride. So very Candadian.

    Finally, Hank, big congratulations on more acclaim for The Other Woman!

    Brenda B. in Maine

  9. Woohoo, Hank! What a ride you're on this year, and so well-deserved.

    Is it me, or are there a lot more anthologies being published in the last couple of years? It's a great form, though. I love discovering new-to-me authors via their short stories, especially mystery ones, so I'll definitely look for The Whole She-Bang. (Hank, short stories could be our go-to stopgap for the first, electronics-free 15 minutes of the flight!)

    Favorite short stories: The Ransom of Red Chief, and The Gift of the Magi. O Henry was the master, wasn't he?

  10. I do have at least one all-time favorite short story. "Bullet in the Brain" by Tobias Wolff. It appears in his collection "Our Story Begins." It is so dark and wickedly funny, a little gem, and a great lesson in writing an unreliable narrator.

  11. Thanks, Hank -- now I've got our northern neighbors' national anthem firmly stuck in my head. I may have to go outside and sing!

  12. Congrat to Hank! As I told her at Bouchercon, I suspect that The Other Women will end up on many "best of 2012" lists, including mine.

    As for my favorite short story. While not a mystery, I would rank Everyday Use by Alice Walker at the top of the list. A story about sisters fighting over their mother's (grandmother's?) quilts. Just wonderful.

  13. OH, yes, Hallie, that's a great one! And anyone who's been to MWA-U knows how terrific it is..

    And I agree about O.Henry. And of course--The Lottery. Which I dont even want to think about.

    Janet, get some of the Toronto sisters to come tell us a bit about their stories!

  14. And aww... Kristopher. Thank you. So much. Smooches.

    ANd sorry, Leslie...I'm still singing, too. Especially difficlt because I only know the first two words.

  15. Congratulations, Hank.

    I was in a US crowd that was singing both the US and Canadian anthems. They knew the words to the US anthem, but couldn't really carry the tune.

    They started lustily on the first line of the Canadian anthem -- and then petered out, not knowing the words, but willing to hum along with the singer.

    Best short story? Too tough, because it depends on mood, genre, memory of the moment. However, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" sticks with me.

    ~ Jim

  16. Yay to Hank!!! The accolades for The Other Woman just go on and on!!! You are our star!

    Short stories, oh, they are so hard. I do not have the short story knack, but need to write one, so was very interested in your comments, Janet. Good editors, for novels or short stories, are priceless beyond pearls...

    Favorite short story? "Too Many Cooks," which won the Agatha and the Anthony and was nominated for the Macavity, by my friend Marcia Talley!

  17. Annie Proulx's collection of short stories, "Close Range", is excellent, too. In fact, "Brokeback Mountain" came from that collection. It's more of a novella than a true short story, but still an amazing piece of work.

    Short mystery stories, though, seem much more difficult to write. I've tried, without success. My hat is off to anyone who can craft a good story in such tight confines and parameters.

  18. Congratulations to Hank for YET another honor!

    This was a terrific interview, Janet. Good editing is hard work and vastly important. I always think of the editor as the person who keeps me from going out in public with egg on my face.

    "The Lottery" may well be my favorite short story. Stephen King's "Apt Pupil" is absolutely chilling (as is "The Lottery") and remains in my memory, but it's long enough to be a novella.

    Kevin Prufer wrote a quiet, stunning story called "Cat in a Box" for KANSAS CITY NOIR that just came out.

  19. Congratulations AGAIN to Hank! (This reminds me that I loved your short story On the House...did I get that right? I am so bad at remembering titles.)

    Among my favorites are Gift of the Magi by O Henry,and a story by Joanne Greenberg that was in one of her collections of short stories. I do not remember the name of the short story but I think the collection it is from is High Crimes and Misdemeanors...and I hope I got THAT name right. (My copy seems to have disappeared. I think it fell apart!) Anyway,the story is about a Jewish woman who begins to doubt the existence of God. Her life begins to deteriorate, and soon the law of gravity no longer applies to her. I think her rabbi told her,sure,it's one of God's laws, so it can't apply to you anymore. (She was floating up near the ceiling, hitting her head...) Because it has been so many years since I read it, I probably am wrong on some details. But it was quite amusing, and I recommended it to a lot of people.

    A few years ago I picked up a used Sisters in Crime anthology at a library sale, and that is one of the ways in which I discovered some of my now favorite writers and went on to buy their brand-new books!
    Am not loving captcha today.

  20. Congratulation, Hank, on another well-deserved milestone for The Other Woman.

  21. From outside of mysteries I love A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, where a visitor to the past crushes a butterfly, and the future is changed in that instant. But there have to be more standout short mystery faves. Edgar Allan Poe anyone?

  22. Janet Costello is a fabulous editor, and she put a lot of time into The Whole She-Bang. I'm thrilled to have my story, Crossing Over, in the collection.

  23. Wah-hoo Hank!

    I can't pick just one short story. The Lottery would be on my short list, along with The Nine Billion Names of Good and just about any short story by Kurt Vonnegut.

    I'm impressed by how many of you seem to know our national anthem, but how many of you can sing the bilingual version?

  24. Thanks Hank and Janet!

    My favourite story? That's hard. I wouldn't say it's my favorite, but I remember in about Grade 4 reading a story by Stephen Leacock called "The New Food". Poor Gustavus Adolphus eats some 300 pounds of food that has been condensed to the size of a small pill with disasterous results.

    I do like some of the others mentioned like The Gift of the Magi and The Secret Lives of Cats (where no cats speak).

    I was fortunate to have two stories selected for inclusion in The Whole She-Bang, "The Cookie Caper: An End of the Road Adventure" and "Amber Free Annie"

    In both stories, the main character is a child but these stories are very different. The Cookie Caper is light and I hope will be enjoyable to both children and adults. It is set in Northern Ontario, in a bakery where someone is stealing Cookies...

    Amber Free Annie is somewjat darker. It featurs a young girl who runs from her mother and mother's boyfriend to the streets of Toronto. For a while her life seems better until...

    Finally, congratulations Hank!

  25. I have to say I was tickled pink to have my story "A Ring for Jenny" selected to be in The Whole She-Bang. Short stories are tough for me, but when I saw the call out for submissions I couldn't let the chance pass me by. I decided to write a short story featuring my book's protagonist, Dr. Peter Ainsley, a 19th century morgue surgeon solving crimes during the infancy of forensic science.

    Janet was a very gracious editor. I found her points to be quite valid and deserving. I am glad she was on hand to give my story a thorough critique.

    I also enjoyed meeting the fellow contributors at the launch party in Toronto. Sisters In Crime sure know how to put on a party!

  26. Thanks for mentioning Too Many Cooks, Debs. Re-telling the story of Macbeth from the viewpoint of the three witches was such fun for me!

    My favorite short story has to be "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl ... also made into an episode of Alfred Hitchcock presents staring Barbara Bel Geddes. No spoilers!

    And contrats to the Toronto chapter of SinC for their anthology. I've been involved in all off the Chesapeake Chapter anthologies so far -- five going on six! -- and it's always heartening to see all the talent we have within our chapter among both the previously published and the soon-to-be-published authors who make it into the anthologies.

  27. Lamb to the Slaughter! We were JUST talking about that--and trying to remember the title! Thank you!

  28. I think Apt Pupil by Stephen King is my favorite. Or I could simply like that he loves the Red Sox and the Green Moster.

  29. Thank you, everyone, for your positive feedback and short story affection. Congratulations, Hank, on this latest accolade for The Other Woman.