A Volunteer’s Perspective: Bouchercon 2017 Anthology

Bouchercon (pronounced Bough-chur-con) is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization, which holds an annual convention in honor of Anthony Boucher, a distinguished mystery fiction critic, editor and author.

In 2017, Bouchercon will be held in Toronto. The first Bouchercon took place in 1970 in Santa Monica, California. Recent Bouchercons have been held in many cities across the United States, including Albany, NY, Saint Louis, MO, Raleigh, NC, New Orleans, LA, and Long Beach, CA.  Future conferences are scheduled for St. Petersburg (2018), Dallas, (2019) and Sacramento (2020).

Because Toronto is my home patch, I signed up as soon as registration opened in 2015, and checked off the “Volunteer” box. It wasn’t long before I agreed to take on the task of working on the Bouchercon anthology. These collections of short crime fiction are a means of fundraising for a local charity; the judges, the editor, and the authors do not receive any payment or royalties. The charity for A PASSPORT TO MURDER is Frontier College, a Canadian national literacy organization.

I learned a lot as a volunteer on this project. Here’s a bit of a rundown:

Step 1: Interview four publishers to determine the “Best Fit.” Important considerations included being an Mystery Writers of America approved publisher, past experience producing anthologies, and a commitment to contributing to the charity after publishing costs had been recouped.

Step 2: Selecting the publisher (with input from the Bouchercon Chairs and other volunteers). The publisher selected was Down & Out Books, who had published prior Bouchercon anthologies, and agreed to contribute all profits to Frontier College.

Step 3: Selecting three judges to read the submissions, and an editor. This responsibility fell primarily on the part of the Bouchercon Chairs, with input from the volunteer committee.

Step 4: Defining the guidelines and timeline. We were open to submissions from November 2016 through January 30, 2017. Here’s the fine print:

  • The story must include travel and at least a strong suggestion of murder or a plot to commit  murder
  • Story length: a maximum of 5,000 words
  • Electronic submissions only
  • Formatting requirements:
    • .DOC format, preferably double-spaced
    • Times New Roman or similar font (12 point)
    • Paragraph indent 0.5 inch (or 1.25 cm). Do not use tabs or space bar to create the indents
    • Include story title and page number in document header
  • Maximum of one entry per author
  • Open to writers who have been previously published, in any format, and those who have never been published
  • The story itself must not have been previously published in ANY format, electronic or print.
  • Please remove your name or any identifying marks from your story. Any story that can be associated with the author will either be returned for correction (if there is time) or disqualified.

Step 5: Set up an Excel spreadsheet to log all submissions. Author name, email, story title, story/batch number, date received, date to judges.

Step 6: Each story received was stripped of any identifying marks (yes, about 50% of authors left them in under “Properties.”) Log the story, author information (from entry form), and rename the stories, i.e. Batch 1, Story 1 would be B1-S1, and so on. Batches of eight stories were sent to the judges. Each story submission was acknowledged within a day of receipt.

Step 7: In all, there were 116 submissions, of which approximately half came in on the last two days. About a dozen came in during the last hour. Three came in after 11:55 but before 11:59 p.m. This surprised me (and the judges). It also served as a reminder to me: Don’t be so last minute! It’s just plain annoying and you run the risk of something going wrong (i.e. internet problems) and missing the cutoff. The latter “almost” happened to one author, who managed to squeeze in at 11:59 p.m. with a panicky email saying their internet had been down all evening. If it had been the next day, it would have been too late. (The dog ate my homework comes to mind as an excuse).

Step 8: The judges did their thing, reading and rating each story as the batches arrived. I did not read any of the stories. Two stories were disqualified for having known characters. One story, judged “the best” by all three judges, was rejected because it did not meet the travel criteria. It was my unhappy task to inform those authors of the decision. One story came in at 4,015 words. Since it was not a last minute submission, I returned it to the author, who managed to get it to 3,999 words. But had it been last minute, it would have been DQ’d.

Step 9: After the judges culled the list down to 24 stories, I submitted them, and their comments, to the editor,  John McFetridge. John pared the list down to 18.

Step 1o: Draft a rejection and acceptance letter, and send them out. It was more than a bit humbling to send myself a rejection letter, but the competition was fierce, and I know a lot of great stories from some very well-known authors didn’t make it in. I’m going to revisit that story, hopefully make it stronger, and find a new home for it.

What’s Step 11? Not sure…yet…but one thing is certain. My work on the anthology is not yet done. To see the list of authors who did make the cut, visit the website. Kudos to all who made it. It’s quite an accomplishment.

To register for Bouchercon, or find out more about it, visit the Bouchercon website

 

New Release Mondays: I Wish You Missed Me by Bonnie Hearn Hill

Author Name: Bonnie Hearn Hill

Book Title: I Wish You Missed Me

Book Genre: Suspense

Release Date: April 1, 2017

Synopsis: Farley Black, Kit Doyle’s former radio co-host, is missing. When Kit and her friend, former street person Virgie Logan, head north to California’s redwood country in search of the truth, a series of menacing incidents convinces Kit that she’s being watched. Someone is tracking her every move. As her unknown pursuer grows bolder and more reckless, Kit realizes she isn’t just looking for Farley – but running from a killer.

Excerpt: Megan puts on the large, white-framed sunglasses, even though it’s starting to get dark out. The dress Will insisted she wear is too low cut for an evening in a pub and too sexy, even for her. She ties his red bandana around her neck and makes a double knot, turning it into kind of a cowboy kerchief.

‘You ready yet?’ Will calls from outside the cabin. Then he walks inside and his boots squeak to a stop on the wood floor when he sees her. ‘Nice.’ He circles her slowly and then stops so they are eye to eye. ‘Very nice. But take your hair down, will you?’

‘I thought a ballerina bun would look better with this dress.’

‘You’re not paid to think.’ He grins and swats her on the ass. ‘Come on, beautiful. Time’s a-wasting.’

She shakes out her hair, pulls it behind her ears and over one shoulder. The cracked bathroom mirror makes her look as if she has five eyes. Megan blinks all of them and says, ‘Let’s go.’

He’s promised this will be the last one and she believes him. Will is many things but not a liar. Not to her, anyway.

They pause at the top of the stairs and the sound of the creek in back, combined with the redwood scent of the deck after a morning of rain, reminds her why she came here with him and why she stays. Not that she needs reminders.

‘What are you thinking?’ he asks.

Just like that, she remembers something. ‘I was supposed to help Priscilla and the other women make blueberry jam tonight.’

‘Like she will care if you don’t show up?’ He starts down the stairs. ‘Priscilla. Michael. I’ll never figure out these people.’

‘Good people,’ she reminds him. ‘They took us in with no questions.’

About the author: This is the third in the Kit Doyle series and Bonnie Hearn Hill’s seventeenth novel. A California native, Bonnie is passionate about how conflict changes us and both allows and forces us to discover new truths about ourselves. A mentor to numerous writers, Bonnie has appeared on a Central California television stations’s book segment for fourteen years. www.bonniehhill.com

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Before They Were Authors: Nalini Warriar

Winner of the 2002 QWF McAuslan Award for her first book, Blues from the Malabar Coast, Nalini Warriar spent her childhood in Assam and Mumbai. She worked as a molecular biologist before turning to writing. She lives in Napanee, Ontario. Her latest novel, Fireflies in the Night, has been chosen as ‘Best Indie Books 2016’ by Kirkus Reviews.

Here’s Nalini’s story:

I set my first novel, The Enemy Within, in the scientific world I’m familiar with. I wanted to portray the inner workings of a federally funded scientific research center and took all the liberty the setting allowed me to. I tried to keep the science part to a minimum but the story got away from me. I followed where the characters and story took me.

The novel is set in Canada-in French Canada-with a female protagonist who is a minority within a minority, a situation perfectly suited to the unique social and political climate in Quebec. I had plenty to work with, inspiration coming at me from all sides: my workplace, the malls and the community. It took me more than six years to find a publisher, partly because I was so out of the literary world in Toronto. And I wrote in English. Local presses did not ‘read’ English, in Quebec City, I must stress. The editors told me they didn’t know what to do with my book. Translation did not come to their minds. Plus my novel was not the story of the ‘immigrant experience.’ With a name like mine in Quebec City, they expected a story steeped in hardship, poverty, violence and I don’t know what else. I was unique. My book is unique. This was too much uniqueness for me to handle. So I moved away from Quebec and now am happy to call Ontario my home.

My second novel, Fireflies in the Night, was published in 2016. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review and it was chosen as ‘Best Indie Books 2016.’ It is a finalist in the Foreword Reviews Best Indie Books 2016. I couldn’t be prouder.

My latest book, Green Monkeys is a cozy mystery, and is about clinical trials and drug research.

I worked as a cancer researcher and around the time I hit my very own mid-life crisis, I remembered a forgotten dream: writing. I’ve loved books and the places they took me. As a child, I devoured fairy tales. Novels set in far off places are my adult fairy tales. In a house full of family and noise, words spoken in a language I hadn’t heard in decades, set off a series of memories. Working in a lab was a perfect balance. In science, the writing is factual, short and concise. And above all, there were guidelines in order to prepare a manuscript for submission to scientific journals. I found these same rules in the literary world as well. They were familiar, un-daunting.

Organization skills and discipline were a few of the other characteristics I took away from my science job and transposed into my writing. In the lab, I followed a protocol; I established parameters; analyzed the results and drew conclusions. This required organizing and following a timetable. At the end of the experiments, I wrote the article with a synopsis, and conclusion. Pretty standard stuff. I did the same with my writing: I organized pretty notebooks and pencils; booted my laptop; and poured over my notes. I always kept one in my lab coat pocket. I observed all the other stressed out crazy scientists, the rooftop terrace that I had my lunch on; and made notes about whatever and whoever struck. This was my raw material.

At home, after dinner, I sat down at my desk, plugged my ears with music and wrote with no obvious purpose. I like novels with good structure and a consistent voice. I disliked change of tense within a paragraph or chapter and I hated it when authors jumped from the first person to third person in their books. So I did none of the things I disliked and embraced everything I admired, aiming for a structurally sound base and strong characters.

Balancing science and writing came easily to me. I put up with science as it gave me the liberty to obsess about writing. I never thought about my science when I was creating. And science never gave me as much pleasure as writing. In the end, I ditched science and opted for writing full time.

 

Find Nalini Warriar on Facebook. Her books are available through all worldwide outlets of Amazon.

New Release Mondays: Edith Maxwell & Maddie Day

Today we have one very prolific author joining us for New Release Mondays. Welcome Edith Maxwell, aka Maddie Day, aka Tace Baker.

Book Title: When the Grits Hit the Fan (written as Maddie Day)

Book Genre: Cozy foodie

Release Date: March 28

Synopsis: When chef-carpenter Robbie Jordan and a friend go snowshoeing one morning in scenic South Lick, Indiana, and find a body frozen under the ice, police suspect her friend, who’d had a public tiff with the victim. To prove her friend’s innocence, Robbie absorbs local gossip about the victim’s past and slow-cooks her own ideas on the homicide—even if that means stirring up terrible danger for herself along the way . . .

Book Title: Called to Justice (written as Edith Maxwell)

Book Genre: Historical

Release Date: April 8

Synopsis: 1888 Quaker midwife Rose Carroll is enjoying Independence Day when a mill girl is killed. After a former slave is accused, Rose delves into the crime, convinced of the man’s innocence. A mill manager, an Irish immigrant, and the victim’s boyfriend come under suspicion. Rose delivers babies and hears secrets– only to be threatened by the murderer, with three lives at stake. Can she rescue herself, a baby, and her elderly midwifery teacher in time?

Book Title: Mulch Ado About Murder (written as Edith Maxwell)

Book Genre: Cozy foodie

Release Date: May 30

Synopsis: When a hydroponic farmer is found dead clutching rosary beads, organic farmer Cam Flaherty has a new murder to solve. There’s no shortage of suspects, including the dead woman’s embittered ex‑husband, the Other Man, and Cam’s own mother. Lucky for Cam, her father turns out to have a knack for sleuthing—not to mention dealing with chickens. Will he and Cam be able to clear her mom’s name before the killer strikes again?

About the author: Agatha-nominated and national best-selling author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. She also writes award-winning short crime fiction and has stories in the 2016 Bouchercon anthology and the 2017 Malice Domestic anthology. Maxwell writes, cooks, and lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats, and blogs at WickedCozyAuthors.com, at Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors. Find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and at www.edithmaxwell.com.

Find Edith Maxwell’s Books

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Before They Were Authors: Judy Penz Sheluk, Act I

One of the most common questions I receive when I attend author events is “What did you do before you were an author?” The question sparked the idea for a blog series, and so far it’s proven to be very popular with authors and readers alike. Because the reality is, none of us were born authors, and most of us have worked in a variety of jobs.

I was a teenager, about sixteen, when I got my first part-time job at a grocery store. It was called Sunnybrook Food Market and it was located at Midland and Lawrence in Scarborough, Ontario, about a mile and a half walk from my house, and a ten minute walk from school. To say Sunnybrook Food Market—long since out of business— was a discount grocery store would be putting a gloss on it,  but they were willing to train, and they paid us every Friday without fail.

Now you might be wondering how that job impacted my writing all these years later, and the short answer is, it didn’t, with one exception. There was another student there, Camilla. Once Camilla knew that I liked one of the stock boys, she made it her mission in life to date him. And she succeeded. Fast forward a few decades to The Hanged Man’s Noose and you’ll meet Camilla Mortimer-Gilroy. Those of you who have read the book know that Camilla is the woman responsible for breaking up Arabella and Levon’s marriage. Coincidence? I leave it for you to decide.

I left Sunnybrook a year later (not entirely my idea, if I’m being honest — it seems they actually expected me to pay for all the chocolate bars I ate). As for Camilla, I don’t know what became of her, and I don’t remember the name of the stock boy, but in my fictional world, they got married at eighteen and divorced at twenty. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

New Release Mondays: Heavy Metal by Andrew Bourelle

Author Name: Andrew Bourelle

Book Title: Heavy Metal

Book Genre: Suspense/coming of age

Release Date: Feb. 7, 2017

Synopsis:  Danny is a high school freshman on the fringes of teenage society. While his peers are dating, playing sports, or hanging out with friends, Danny spends his time alone, taking solace in hard rock music. Danny’s mother is dead, his father is an alcoholic, and his older brother Craig is as damaged as he is. The book starts on a Saturday night as Danny and Craig sneak off with their father’s pistol, looking for trouble.

Excerpt: Craig kneels on the floor, like he’s going to pray, and pulls out a box of ammunition. He plugs a cartridge into each empty slot. He works slowly and deliberately, as if thinking about each bullet. He rises, takes the box of shells and tucks it into his jean jacket pocket. He sucks his stomach in and tries to tuck the pistol into his belt. It’s too big. He pulls it out, and holds it at his side, his finger outside the trigger guard.

The gun is fourteen inches long from grip to front sight, the barrel eight inches. Empty, the gun weighs four pounds. Loaded with six bullets, I imagine the weight increases exponentially. I imagine each bullet multiplies the weight by a power of two, as if they carry something else—the weight of the future.

Craig lifts the Magnum and gestures with it toward the door as if the gun weighs nothing at all.

About the author: Andrew Bourelle is the author of Heavy Metal, winner of the 2016 Autumn House Fiction Prize. He is the coauthor with James Patterson of the short thriller The Pretender, which can be found in Patterson’s collection Triple Threat. Bourelle’s short stories have been published widely, including in The Best American Mystery Stories. More information can be found at andrewbourelle.com.

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Before They Were Authors: P.A. De Voe

P.A. (Pam) De Voe is an anthropologist and Asian specialist who writes historical mysteries/crime stories immersed in the life and times of Ancient China. Her short stories, From Judge Lu’s Ming Dynasty Case Files, have been published in various anthologies and an ezine. In her historical, Chinese YA trilogy, Warned received a 2016 Silver Falchion award in the Best International category; Trapped is a 2017 Agatha Award nominee. 

Judy: What was the best job (besides being a writer) that you ever had, and how has it influenced your writing?

Pam: Hands-down the best job I’ve ever had was when I worked for the International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis, which I believe is the largest refugee resettlement organization in the Midwest. As an applied anthropologist, my job was to work with the leaders and influentials of the various refugee communities. I developed a series of workshops to help them create and maintain their own ethnic organizations. I also co-developed a multi-ethic and intra-ethnic mediation training programs for not only the influentials, but also refugees coming from Somalia. From all of these survivors of war and chaos, who had so little economically, I learned the power of resilience and generosity, and the willingness to trust and be committed to a larger community. I try to bring some of that redemptive and positive energy to the characters in my stories—whether I’m writing contemporary mysteries or historical adventures and mysteries set in historical China.

Judy: What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you at work?

Pam: When I was an undergraduate, I worked on an archaeological dig in Illinois (Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site). One afternoon, I was kneeling at the bottom of a trench, painstakingly troweling dirt away in order to expose a dark stain in the soil. The temperature hovered around 100 wet, humid, degrees (Fahrenheit) and I had started to blend in with the surrounding dirt walls. As I scooped up layers of the fine dirt, I heard a woman call down, asking if anyone knew where a Pam De Voe was. I looked up from my ditch and saw my mother standing a few feet away. She’d come for a surprise visit, and I was so covered in dirt that she hadn’t recognize me.

Judy: Do you have any writing advice for aspiring authors?

Pam.: If you like to write: write. Write poetry, essays, short stories, plays, novellas, novels, anything and everything. Everything you write feeds into your journey as an author. Don’t get discouraged if agents, publishers, and readers aren’t flocking to your door. Keep working. Develop your own voice. Know your craft and be independent.

 

 

To get a free Judge Lu short story go to padevoe.com.

 

New Release Mondays: Barn Shadows by Laura Wolfe

Author Name: Laura Wolfe

Book Title: Barn Shadows (Dark Horse, Book Two)

Book Genre: Young Adult Mystery

Release Date: March 14, 2017

Synopsis: A year after her tumultuous exit from the prestigious Foxwoode Riding Academy, Brynlei returns determined to win Foxwoode’s Top Rider Award. When she accidentally unearths an antique doll, a series of inexplicable occurrences force her to question whether her condition as a “Highly-Sensitive Person” is to blame or if something more sinister is at play. Could a decades-old tragedy and the dangerous happenings at Foxwoode be more closely entwined than she ever imagined?

Excerpt: A jolt of anxiety rushed through her as she held the doll, her chest heavy. She gulped back a feeling of overwhelming sadness. Who used to love this doll? How long had it been buried underground? Surely it had been special to someone. The abandoned toy seemed to have an energy all its own. Although it was silly, Brynlei felt as if she had saved it from something. If she hadn’t tripped on its hand, the forgotten doll might have been lost forever under the cement foundation of the new barn.

“Looks like an antique.” Brynlei brushed more dirt off of the dress, the fabric so thin in spots that she could almost see through it. Rebecca had a knack for finding discarded items at garage sales and later selling them on eBay for hundreds of dollars. This doll could be worth something, especially if she restored it.

“Dolls creep me out.” Anna took a step back. “Get that thing away from me.”

“How old do you think it is?” Brynlei ran her fingers over the molded hair. “1920s or ‘30s?”

“Dude. I have no idea, but she looks like she’s seen better days.”

The sound of laughter and chattering erupted from around the bend. Brynlei hid the doll between her arm and her body, darting to the safe side of the construction tape. She didn’t want to explain her rare find to anyone else. Anna bolted after her and they resumed their journey toward Cabin 5. They passed the wiry construction foreman and the heavy-set driver of the bulldozer who now sat on a bench eating egg sandwiches, nodding at the girls as they passed.

“Don’t tell me you’re keeping that thing,” Anna said when they were a safe distance away.

“I’m going to fix it up when I get home and sell it on eBay.” Brynlei squeezed the doll against her chest. “Rebecca makes money selling antiques all the time.”

“Okay. As long as you don’t sleep with it—that’s where I draw the line.”

Brynlei laughed. “Relax. I’m going to hide her in my suitcase. You’ll never see her again.”

 About the author: Laura Wolfe is a lover of animals and nature. When she is not writing, she can be found playing games with her highly-energetic kids, riding horses, or spoiling her rescue dog. She lives in Michigan with her husband, son, and daughter. Laura’s YA mystery, Trail of Secrets (Dark Horse, Book 1), was named as a Finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards—First Novel category. Laura holds a BA in English from the University of Michigan and a JD from DePaul University. She is an active member of multiple writing groups, including Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the SCBWI. For more information, please visit: www.AuthorLauraWolfe.com.

 

 

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