Guest post: Mystery Short Stories by mystery author Warren Bull

Tonight’s guest blog post is brought to you by mystery novelist, short story author and blogger Warren Bull and for something a little different it’s…

Warren Bull and Nancy Pickard discuss the Mystery Short Story from Sisters in Crime. Border Crimes Chapter Meeting, February 5, 2011

“When the two riders appeared out of nowhere, I knew they came to kill my pa.” So begins our own Warren Bull’s short story, “Beecher’s Bibles.” 
That first line gives a sense of time. “Those two riders aren’t on Harleys,” Warren said. The word “pa” also implies it’s historical. Finally, it sets the scene for the story and draws the reader in. What happens next?

Warren invited friend and fellow short story writer Nancy Pickard to help him present the February program on writing mystery short stories. The first line of the story is crucial, and Warren said it can take as long to come up with the right first line as it takes to write the rest of the story. 
Warren got his start writing short stories because of the Manhattan Mystery Conclave’s contest. (For which he wrote the winning story!) Since then, he’s had a number of stories published and now has his own collection of short stories available: Murder Manhattan Style. 
Short stories present different challenges from writing novels. You don’t have a lot of words.

Here are some of the elements discussed by Warren and Nancy:

  • Characterization must be achieved quickly. Warren said that can be accomplished with a few well-chosen words of description, such as this line: “When I met her, I figured she was the sort of girl who ironed her own socks.” Dialogue helps define character and Warren finds writing in first person does, too.
  • Pacing must be tight. Action must start immediately in a short story. It’s a struggle for horror writers who like to set up the mood and atmosphere, said Nancy.
  • A “crucible moment” should be part of every short story, according to Harlan Ellison, Nancy said. That’s a severe test that may be the most important moment in that character’s life.
  • Epiphany is another important element in a short story. Every story needs that “ah-ha” moment, said Nancy. Learning that at a writer’s conference at William Jewell College in the early 1980s completely changed her approach to writing short stories, she said, and she was much more successful after that.
  • The iceberg describes the form of a short story, according to Ernest Hemingway. Warren said what you see and read in the story is only a small part of what’s going on.
  • Endings of mystery short stories do tend to be resolved and tied up neatly – frequently with a twist – and often with plenty of surprises along the way, as opposed to the sometimes ambiguous endings of literary short stores.

You can see these elements in Nancy’s and Warren’s favorite short stories. Nancy likes “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Hemingway (read it at http://www.mrbauld.com/hemclean.html) and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger (read it at http://www.nyx.net/~kbanker/chautauqua/jd.htm).

One of Warren’s favorites is short enough to be reprinted here in its entirety:

The Soap Bubble

It is.

It was.

“It’s a completely satisfying story with a popping good ending,” Warren said.

Other advice: 
Follow the directions exactly for submissions to contests, anthologies and magazines. Don’t believe that if the editor likes the story enough, he or she will take the time to correct grammar, punctuation and format.  (As a former magazine editor, I cannot emphasize this one enough. Editors are stressed-out people with too much to do; make their jobs easier and they’ll love you.)

Markets: 
Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines.
 Anthologies. 
E-zines.  Check out http://sandraseamans.blogspot.com for a list. 
Contests such as the one for Mystery Writers of America. 
More info:
 Warren’s blog at http://Writerswhokill.blogspot.com.

I love your soap bubble. It reminded me of one of my favourite Shel Silverstein poems, Snowball. Thank you, Warren.

Warren Bull is a multiple award-winning author who has been nominated for a 2012 Derringer award.

He has more than forty short stories published, the novels, ABRAHAM LINCOLN FOR THE DEFENSE, HEARTLAND and MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT available at http://www.warrenbull.com/kindle_editions.html and a short story collection, MURDER MANHATTAN STYLE available at http://www.warrenbull.com.

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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with fantasy / SF author Terry Ervin – the five hundred and eighteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me. I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Author Spotlight no.113 – Eleanor Sullivan

Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the one hundred and thirteenth, is of Eleanor Sullivan.

Eleanor Sullivan is an award-winning author of books for nurses as well as the Monika Everhardt medical mysteries. Mining her family history, she’s created a series of historical mysteries set in the 1830s Northern Ohio village of Zoar, the religious settlement of her ancestors. Cover Her Body, A Singular Village Mystery, is the first book in the series that feature a midwife, her cabinet-maker husband, and her real-life distant grandfather. Sullivan is a former member of the national board of Sisters in Crime, a frequent panel moderator at mystery conventions, and an active member of Mystery Writers of America.

In her former life, Eleanor was dean of a university school of nursing, past president of the world’s largest nursing organization, editor of a prestigious professional journal, and author of more than a dozen books in nursing. She has testified before the U.S. Senate, served on a National Institutes of Health council, presented papers to international audiences, been quoted in Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Rolling Stone Magazine, and named to “Who’s Who in Health Care” by Kansas City Business Journal. She earned nursing degrees from St. Louis Community College, St. Louis University, and Southern Illinois University and holds a PhD from St. Louis University.

And now from the author herself:

My earliest experiences in writing were in graduate school and later as a professor, writing more than a dozen books for nurses, numerous articles in health care, and editing a professional journal. And I’m still writing books for nurses. Two books, Becoming Influential: A Guide for Nurses (2013) and Effective Leadership and Management in Nursing (2013) are soon to be released in new editions.

Having read mysteries all my life, I decided to turn my attention to writing mysteries. I thought, “How hard could it be?” I found out. Very difficult! Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master of anything. Now, 10 years later, I believe him!

Heeding other writers’ advice to write what you know, I used my nursing background in my first three mysteries. This contemporary series (Twice Dead, Deadly Diversion, Assumed Dead) features nurse sleuth, Monika Everhardt, who solves murders while managing a staff of intensive care nurses.

Then, looking for a new challenge, I turned to my family heritage. Years of hearing family stories about my brave ancestors who escaped religious persecution in their native Germany to find their way to America and carve a village out of the northern Ohio wilderness intrigued me.

So I began a series of fact-based mysteries set Zoar, Ohio, the town named for the place where Lot found sanctuary just as these settlers—they called themselves the Society of Separatists—did in America.

The stories feature a midwife, her cabinet-maker husband, and my real-life distant grandfather, who ruled the villagers with an iron hand, apparently. Life meets fiction when he becomes a realistic adversary for my midwife protagonist.

In the first book, Cover Her Body, A Singular Village Mystery, a dairy maid is found in the river, but the only person who suspects it wasn’t an accident is Adelaide, a young midwife, who disregards danger to her own life to catch the killer.

About Cover Her Body, Kirkus Reviews say, “…finely drawn murder mystery…expertly crafted, perfectly paced novel.”

The second book in the series, Graven Images, will be released in early 2013.

One more detail about the Separatists’ society: These industrious people carved a village out of the wilderness, cleared the land, planted fields and, in one very fortuitous stroke of luck, built the Ohio Canal through their land.

How lucky? Prior to building the canal, the inhabitants adopted celibacy to keep the women free of childbearing. After money from the canal paid their mortgage, the villagers again allowed marriage. Without that provision, no Eleanor, no stories!

And how grateful are we. Wow. I went to a crime writers’ conference and met a couple of the Sisters in Crime members… joining is on my jobs / wish list. 🙂 Thank you, Eleanor.

You can find more about Eleanor and her writing via…

Website: http://www.EleanorSullivan.com.

Blog: http://www.EleanorSullivan.com/blog.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Eleanor-Sullivan.

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The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with poet, prose and article writer Kimberly Gray – the four hundred and seventieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

St Hilda’s Oxford Crime & Humour Writers Conference Aug 2012 (part 1)

I spent yesterday and today at the St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford 19th (so I’ve missed 18 of them!) Crime Writers’ Conference, this year on the topic of humour in crime writing… crime and humour being my two favourite genres to write and read.

When my editor, Rachel, emailed me the details a few weeks ago I opened the attachment and smiled because not only was it a perfect topic but the final day fell on my 40-something <coughs> birthday I couldn’t resist (I wouldn’t have done anyway).

I had all good intentions of bringing you tonight the notes I created throughout the two days but they have more holes than Emmental so I shall work on them over the next few days and post them when there’s a gap (possibly as a 5a.m. flash after the series of Submission info.s have finished, so next Saturday morning)… which also gives me time to catch up with my 151 emails jumping up and down in my Inbox saying “pick me”.

So, as a taster, here’s the agenda for the weekend…

“Stop, you’re killing me” – humour in Crime Fiction!!

Marcia Talley: Comic Relief Or, What’s So Funny About Murder

Alan Bradley: The Undertaker’s Jest Book Or, I Want Some Red Roses for a Blue Lady

Barry Forshaw: Dark Laughter Hitchcock and his Writers

L.C. Tyler: Mayhem Magna the World of Colin Watson

Natasha Cooper: When You Stop Laughing, It’s Not a Bad Novel

Chris Ewan: Assembling the Team, Some Thoughts on Comic Caper Novels and the Gentleman Thief

Ruth Dudley Edwards: Sacred Cows are for Slaughtering

Val McDermid: What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?

Simon Brett: (After-Dinner Speaker)

Meeting with Sisters in Crime

Peter Lovesey: ‘Amazed Enquiry Sat on her Face’ and Other Embarrassments in Crime Fiction

Gillian Linscott: My Funny Friend the Comic Role of the Side-Kick

Ann Cleeves: Lost in Translation: Does Humour Travel.

As you can see, a great line-up! 🙂

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You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.