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Essay: An Appreciation of Margaret Maron in Mystery Scene

October 3, 2013

131cover250I’ve been following Margaret Maron’s career for more than twenty years now, helping to document many of the highpoints for magazines including The Armchair Detective, Mystery Scene, and North Carolina Literary Review—and I couldn’t have been more thrilled about her being named Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America earlier this year. It’s a special honor then to have been invited by Mystery Scene to pen a short appreciation of Margaret and her career. Check out “Tales from the Tar Heel State: The North Carolina Mysteries of Margaret Maron” in the magazine’s Fall 2013 issue, out on newsstands this month. — Art Taylor

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Review: Lillian & Dash by Sam Toperoff

August 26, 2013

Dashiell Hammett has figured frequently as a character in other writers’ fictions, often with a swift plot and a sharp dose of mystery and intrigue. But Sam Toperoff’s new novel Lillian & Dash takes a different approach to the iconic author and his long-time lover, playwright Lillian Hellman. Check out my review here. — Art Taylor

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Upcoming Event: Northern Virginia Writers Club Workshop

July 22, 2013

This coming Saturday—July 27—from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.—I’ll be leading the workshop “Bring Life to Your Characters and Shape to Your Plot” for the Northern Virginia Writers Club. The workshop distills a number of lessons that I’ve used at times for my semester-long fiction and creative nonfiction workshops at George Mason University: the benefits and drawbacks of character inventories; direct and indirection presentation of character; the direct relationships between character and plot; stories as conflict versus stories as connection/disconnection; linear versus modular storytelling…. While it’s likely going to be a lot to cover perhaps, my plan is to introduce concepts and idea for folks to both work on during the sessions themselves and then to develop later on their own. We’ll see how it goes!

Please note that the workshop is free for members of the Northern Virginia Writers Club, the regional chapter of the Virginia Writers Club, but registration has already closed. — Art Taylor

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Catching Up On My Reading….

July 21, 2013

Over the last week or so, I’ve been catching up on recent issues of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, taking some time to check out short stories by several friends—each of them a writer I admire tremendously. Just wanted to give a quick shout-out to those stories and to what stood out to me about each:

Harley Mazuk‘s “The Road Les Traveled” (EQMM‘s August 2013 issue) is another of the author’s Frank Swiver stories, about a PI in 1940s San Francisco. This one centers around a burlesque theater, a blacklisted screenwriter, and his wife—trouble with a capital T. While the plot is great fun, what I enjoyed most was Mazuk’s playfulness with details and language. When that troubled wife puts one some records and does a little shake and shimmy to lure Swiver into bed, he resists at first—and then comes a nice touch: “When Bessie Smith sang ‘Do Your Duty,’ I took Mrs. St. George to bed.” Later, during a fight scene, comes another like bit of language play: “He swung the other arm at me like a leg of mutton, and he caught me on the chops.” And cleverness too in the quantity and variety of alcohol that permeates the story as well—definitely put to good use!

In the latest EQMM, the September/October issue (on newsstands now), a trio of friends and fine writers have really delivered the goods:

  • In Dana Cameron‘s taut, tense “Dialing In,” a government-mandated assassination attempt goes badly wrong, leaving the shooter with lots of questions and some new missions of her own to carry through.
  • In David Dean‘s “In a Dark Manner,” a confession of teenage misdeeds takes some surprising turns—with just a hint of light peeking through the darkness.
  • And Brendan DuBois‘ “Breaking the Box” follows the ups and downs of a high-stakes police interrogation—and then, in a bit of brilliant sleight-of-hand, takes a very unexpected turn.

These tales reveal once more why these writers have long since been considered among the genre’s finest practitioners of the short story. Plenty more I’m still looking forward to reading in that issue as well, with stories by Doug Allyn, Jon L. Breen, and Ed Gorman and Ricky Sprague, among others—and so proud to be a part of it myself.

Beyond EQMM, I’ve also been sampling a few more of Cornell Woolrich‘s tales from the new Centipede Press collection Speak to Me of Death, but I have to admit that I think I’m going to give up on pushing through the rest of the book. While stories like “From Dusk to Dawn” and “Marihuana” (the last couple I read) offer those surprise endings that seem to be the hallmark of so much of Woolrich’s work—satisfying endings, I should stress, often with a cruel twist—the prose itself strikes me as so overwritten, both stylistically and in terms of sheer quantity, that it’s often tough going. And too often the characters act less like real people than like symbols for an idea or theme or like cogs in a plot, slowly turning and turning relentlessly in the same direction because that’s what the machinery needs. Historical interest there, of course, but there are simply other, better things for me to be reading right now…. — Art Taylor

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New Fiction: “Ithaca 37″ in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine

July 9, 2013

img004I’m thrilled to have had two stories appearing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine this year—the second of which has just been published in the September/October 2013 double issue. “Ithaca 37″ takes its title from one of the guns that Michael Caine’s character used in the film Get Carter—a gun that this story’s narrator and film aficionado tries to put to good use as well and for some of the same reasons (or at least that’s what he thinks). This story is the first time I’ve tried to work pretty comprehensively with a less than reliable narrator, and I hope that the whole thing holds together straight through to the end.

I’m also pleased to be sharing space in this issue with some extraordinarily talented short story writers, including Doug Allyn, Dana Cameron, David Dean, and Brendan DuBois. Just got the chance last night to read David Dean’s contribution, “In a Dark Manner,” and it’s another terrific tale of his—marked both by keen suspense and sharp surprises and by the sense of moral weight that’s such a hallmark of his work. Looking forward to reading the rest of the issue soon too. — Art Taylor

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Macavity Award Nomination: “When Duty Calls”

July 4, 2013

My story “When Duty Calls” has been very good to me—as have the members and supporters of Mystery Readers International and the subscribers to Mystery Readers Journal, who have just named the story a finalist for this year’s Macavity Award for Best Short Story. I’m stunned, thrilled, and humbled by the honor—and by the generous response overall to this story, which earlier this year won a Derringer Award and was a finalist for the Agatha. And so nice to see fellow Agatha nominees Barb Goffman and B.K. Stevens joining me on the same ballot again, along with Jeffrey Deaver, Jim Fusilli, and Karin Slaughter. Good luck to all!

Here’s the complete list of this year’s nominees:

Best Mystery Novel: 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
The Black House by Peter May (Silver Oak)
The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
The Other Woman by Hank Philippi Ryan (Forge)
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro (Algonquin Books)
The Twenty Year Death by Ariel S. Winter (Hard Case Crime)

Best Mystery First Novel: 

Low Country Boil by Susan M. Boyer (Henery Press)
Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman (Minotaur Books-Thomas Dunn) 
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (Random House -Bantam)
The Expats by Chris Pavone (Crown)
The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)

Best Mystery Non-Fiction: 

Books to Die For: The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels, edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke (Simon & Schuster – Atria/Emily Bestler)
Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French (Penguin)
In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero, edited by Otto Penzler (BenBella/Smart Pop)

Best Mystery Short Story: 

“The Lord Is My Shamus” by Barb Goffman in Chesapeake Crimes: This Job Is Murder (Wildside)
“The Unremarkable Heart” by Karin Slaughter in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance (Little, Brown – Mulholland Books)
“Thea’s First Husband” by B.K. Stevens in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, June 2012
“When Duty Calls” by Art Taylor in Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder (Wildside Press)
“Blind Justice” by Jim Fusilli in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance (Little, Brown – Mulholland Books)
“The Sequel” (a novella) by Jeffrey Deaver in The Strand Magazine, November-February 2012-2013

Sue Feder Historical Memorial Award: 

A City of Broken Glass by Rebecca Cantrell (Forge)
Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal (Random House-Bantam)
The Confession by Charles Todd (HarperCollins)
An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd (HarperCollins)
Elegy For Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear (HarperCollins) – See more at: http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2013/07/macavity-award-nominees-2013.html#sthash.UijDskcU.dpuf

And the awards will be presented during the opening ceremonies of this year’s Bouchercon in Albany, NY. — Art Taylor

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Not-So-New Fiction: “Visions and Revisions” at Redux

June 17, 2013

Nearly 10 years ago, I was fortunate to be a finalist for North American Review‘s first Kurt Vonnegut Prize for my story “Visions and Revisions”—a little tale I’d tinkered with on and off over a period of about five years, as I recall. The story follows a woman who may be witnessing her new boyfriend abusing her daughter—or maybe not, as it turns out, and there’s the trouble she’s encountering: what to believe or not, and what to do about it. Here’s the opening couple of paragraphs:

Tending the spaghetti, Sandra studied the cabinets on the wall beside her. Their whiteness, she knew, was proof that she had painted them, wasn’t it? After all, they had been brown once, surely. She remembered picking them out with her ex-husband before the house was built, choosing them from the builder’s ragged catalog, and later she had painted them white when the marriage was over, just to make them hers alone. One hand on the stirring spoon, she raised the other to smooth her fingers across the face of the nearest cabinet’s door. It was slightly wet with steam from the boiling pot, and there was a small smudge near the handle. She’d need to clean that up. These too—the cabinets, the steam, the smudge—were real.

Her eyes swept across the kitchen: the sink, porcelain not stainless (her choice); the sponge perched on the corner, sticky with soap and destined for the trashcan; the microwave, the toaster, the can opener; the pass-through window separating kitchen and living room, its ledge decorated with a small gathering of imitation Herend rabbits, and beyond that her boyfriend Curt slapping her nine-year-old daughter Wendy; a spice rack; a series of containers for sugar, flour, coffee and tea, ceramic containers whose surfaces were shaped like basketweave; the jolt of the cabinets as his hand struck her cheek; a stray red oven mitt, just out of reach.

Sandra gripped her thumb and forefinger around the counter’s edge, pressed it hard. Then she turned her attention back to stirring her spaghetti—turned her attention, in fact, more completely to its swirl and tumble in the big black pot….

“Visions and Revisions” appeared in NAR‘s Summer 2004 issue, and this week it’s been given a fresh life, thanks to Leslie Pietrzyk, the editor at Redux, an “invitation-only literary journal of writers’ favorite, previously published stories and poems, not found elsewhere on the web.” You can find Redux‘s “reprint” of  “Visions and Revisions” here.  Hope you enjoy! — Art Taylor

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