Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine: A Year in Review 2011

It's been another great year of short stories in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. To make it even better this was the 70 year anniversary. As with last year, I kept a list of my favorite stories in each issue so that I can make my selections for the 2011 EQMM Readers Award. There's still time to get your ballot in if you haven't already done so. Ballots must be postmarked no later than December 2, 2011, so get yours in the mail today!

Here's the list of my favorite short stories for 2011:

January: "The Tall Blonde with the Hot Boiler" by Harley Mazuk, which was the Black Mask feature this month.

Runners-up: "Where the Snow Lay Dinted" by Sue Pike, "Mr. Bo" by Lisa Cody, and "The Advent Reunion" by Andrew Klavan. Also, I enjoyed "The Wood Thief" by Swedish journalist Liza Marklund in the Passport to Crime section.

February: "Beer Money" by Shane Nelson

Runners-up: "Dear Murderer" by Susan Breen, "Seeing Red" by Amy Myers, and "A Study in Scarlatti" by Donald A. Yates. I, also, enjoyed this month's Passport to Crime selection: "Signed "Mutual Trust"" by Richard Macker which was originally printed in Norwegian in 1975.

March/April: My favorite story this month is one of Edward D. Hoch's best stories, "The Long Way Down." I would highly recommend reading it.

Second place: "The Last Days of the Hols" by Robert Barnard.

Runners-up: "The Mentor" by Dave Zeltserman, "Vanishing Act" by Christine Poulson, "Cheating the Hangman" by Judith Cutler, "Tap-Tap" by David Dean, "Icarus" by C. J. Harper, "Lie Like a Rug" by Margaret Maron, and "Half-Lives" by Tim L. Williams.

May: Scott Loring Sanders' "Jim Limey's Confession" was an excellent read.

Second place: "Dolly's Trash and Treasures" by Lawrence Block

Runners-up: "Turning Leo" by Clark Howard and the Passport to Crime feature: "The Wait" by Sunny Singh.

June: My favorite for this month was "A Game of Patience" by Caroline Benton.

Second: "The Killing of Stacey Janes" by Robert S. Levinson

I also enjoyed "The Appointment" by Maynard Allington and "The Chatelaine Bag" by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

July: "The New Slavery" by Robert Barnard. I think many grandparents and caregivers will be able to relate to this story.

Runners-up: "Tomorrow's Dead" by David Dean and "Mr. Monk and the Sunday Paper" by Lee Goldberg

August: My favorite story for this month was "Praying Mantis" by David Dean.

Runners-up: "Murder of a Muffin Man" by Amy Myers, "Something Rather Fishy" by Marilyn Todd, and "Some People Deserve to Die" by Dave Zeltserman.

September/October: This month was a tie for my favorite short story: "Man Cave" by Bill Pronzini and "Hangman's Rhapsody" by Clark Howard.

Runners-up: "The Children" by Lia Matera, "Witness Protection" by Brendan DuBois, "Hedge Hog" by Hilary Davidson, and "A Hostage Situation" by Dave Zeltserman, which featured a seasonal Halloween twist ending.

November: "Beach Girl" by P.N. Elrod was excellent!

Runners-up: "The Intell Club" by Richard Macker in the Passport to Crime Department was a great story. Also, I enjoyed "The Tardy Guest" by Brendan DuBois.

The reprint of "The Adventure of the One-Penny Black" by Ellery Queen was fun too.

December: My favorite story for this month was "The Investigation of Boyfriend #17" by Maureen Keenan-Mason.

The haunting short story, "In Waiting," by A.N. Roland was a close second.

With so many great stories it was difficult to choose the one I liked the best, but there was one standout. My favorite story for this year was "Beach Girl" by P.N. Elrod. My second choice is "Jim Limey's Confession" by Scott Loring Sanders.

May the best story win!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

✰✰✰✰½ Ransom Riggs masterfully weaves together the strange tale of an abandoned orphanage on a mysterious island with a collection of peculiar vintage photographs.

As a boy Jacob "Jake" Portman's grandfather used to show him fantastical photos of kids doing extraordinary things. The stories his grandfather told of the photos were like fairy tales to Jake. But as Jake grows up he becomes disillusioned his grandfather's ramblings.

All that changes when Jake finds his grandfather after he has been attacked. As he lies dying he whispers, "Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man's grave. September 3, 1940." Jake has no idea what those words mean, but after his grandfather's horrific death, he is plagued by the type of nightmares that make one scream. In an effort to try to make sense of his dreams and his grandfather's last request, Jake convinces his parents to let him visit the remote island off the coast of Wales where his grandfather once lived before World War II.

Once there Jake explores an abandoned orphanage, where he comes face to face with some of the mysteries from his grandfather's life. Jake's search to make sense of his grandfather's last words becomes an adventure you won't easily forget.

The Bottom Line: Ransom Riggs' first novel is hauntingly beautiful and deliciously creepy. It will draw you in and leave you wanting more. The text and photographs work fascinatingly well together in this strange coming-of-age story featuring friendship, the supernatural, and time travel. Very highly recommended for both young adults and adults looking for something a little bit different to read.

Details: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Hardcover published by Quirk Books in 2011. 352 p. ISBN: 978-1-59474-476-1

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo: A Month of Writing Dangerously

Let's be honest, I had thought about signing up for NaNoWriMo for many and probably thousands of other people. After all...who doesn't want to be novelist? Somewhere deep in the subconscious lurks a desire to become the famous writer who sets his own schedules and writes whatever pleases him. Maybe one day that will be you...or maybe it will be me. Who knows? One thing is for sure though, we'll never know without trying.

So when I finally got the nerve to sign-up in 2009, I thought it would be a piece of cake. I mean, I had been a columnist, and I had already completed my master's thesis. All I had to do was fire up the laptop and pound away at the keys every night for 30 nights until I reached 50,000 words or more. What could be easier?

Little did I know what I was getting myself into. I kind of had a plot, so I thought I was ready to go. That first year in 2009, I had signed up a few days late, which is perfectly fine and since I was highly motivated I thought I could very quickly make up for lost time. Unfortunately, I just as quickly found out that "No plot? No problem!" was indeed a problem for me. I'm embarrassed to say that I got stuck after only about 400 words. It was writer's block at its finest.

You, dear reader, might be laughing at this point or maybe you are sympathizing. I take full responsibility for my failure. Either way you can learn from my mistakes. Here are a few simple things you can do to make the NaNoWriMo experience a success:

  • Sign up early. Get to know the site and how it works.

  • Have an outline. It doesn't need to be detailed, but obviously the more detail the better.

  • Designate a time and a place to write every day. Keep to a schedule if possible.

  • Stock your writing place with everything you need: paper, pens, pencils, snacks, music, etc.

  • Go ahead and put up that "Do Not Disturb" sign; it's OK...really.

  • When in doubt write about scenery or fill in details about your characters.

  • There is no rule that says you have to write your scenes in order. Pick which ever scene strikes your fancy that day and write to your heart's content.

  • Resist the temptation to check your email or play with your smartphone.

  • Give yourself permission to take breaks.

  • Try writing in short bursts like 30 minutes at a time or 750 words at a time.

  • Write with a group; find a write-in near you.

  • Ignore those typos.

  • Remember...there's no editing. You will have time for that after the holidays.

  • And finally...don't procrastinate. Just do it!
So what happened in 2010, you might ask? Well, I followed my own advice from above. All through the summer of 2010, I worked on creating a story outline for a project I called Dance Hall Days. I also got to know my characters and made a list of potential scenes. Not all of the characters or scenes made it into the raw draft, but I did complete 50,000+ words. I let my raw draft "rest" over the holidays, and I pulled it out again in the Spring. I spent the next 6 months turning the raw draft into the first "real" draft. And you know what? It's starting to look pretty good, if I do say so myself. With any luck, one day soon you'll see Dance Hall Days in print. In the mean time, I have a whole new story outline complete with a new cast of characters. This year I'm focusing on a cozy mystery for my 2011 NaNoWriMo project; it's called Murder Mystery Mayhem.

Good Luck to all participants in NaNoWriMo 2011 !!!