Three Mystery Shorts…the gestation of a small collection

 

When I first thought about bringing Bitter End, Oscar Chump and Bermuda Short together, I wasn’t sure what connected them.  The differences were easy to pick out; each story is unique to its setting, both in time and place, and their central characters are as idiosyncratic as you and me.

But what they did have in common was the desire for revenge.  They might go about it in different ways, and for different reasons, but at the end of the day, it’s about getting your own back even if it is only on the page!

Which led me to my title:  Revenge With A Twist, three mystery shorts varying in length from 2,999 words to 5,200.

The longest in the collection is Bermuda Short, my first adult fiction.

I had just returned from a family holiday in Bermuda with the sights and sounds of the island still fresh in my mind, when there was a call for submissions to Cold Blood IV, part of a long-running anthology edited by Peter Sellers, and published by Mosaic Press.  They were looking for original stories and dangling a huge carrot…the book would be launched at Bouchercon, the international convention for mystery writers, to be held in Toronto the following autumn.

Talk about motivation!  I confess it took me several months to “get it right,” but by then I’d made the leap from writing exclusively for nine-to-12 year olds.

And then there’s Oscar Chump, a small-town mystery with a fifties’ feel.  For years, all I had was the title and the lyrics from a 1956 rock-and-roll song by Jim Lowe.  He kept asking “Green Door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?”   I had no idea, so I asked Oscar Chump.  I’m pretty sure the secret I came up with wasn’t exactly the answer Jim Lowe had in mind, but I had my story.

We’ll file that one under writer’s revenge; I had way too much fun with my cast of characters!

And while divorce does turn deadly in Bitter End, I swear this one’s total fiction.  Except for maybe the odd bit about sailing (I had a part interest in a twenty-one-foot Shark at the time), and an article I had recently read about forensic accountants searching for the hidden assets of a deposed dictator.  In my short story, the assets are, shall we say, far more personal…and it definitely ends with a twist!

Bitter End first appeared in the May, 2016, edition of Mystery Weekly Magazine which publishes original short stories in print and digital form.  Once they no longer hold exclusive rights, authors are free to publish elsewhere which is exactly what I did.

I had my title ready and waiting, and a few ideas for the cover which I sent to Heather McIntyre at Cover&Layout in the U.K.  And voilà, in March, 2017, Revenge With A Twist appeared “in print” as an eBook with an eye-catching cover and a brand new audience.

Kobo & Amazon &  iBooks

Why I still make cold calls…

 

Picking up the phone and calling someone you have never met before, and likely has no idea who you are, can be daunting, especially if you’re interviewing an expert in a field of which you know very little.  Like agriculture or mining.  Who knew, for example, that triticale was a cross between Durham wheat and rye or that kimberlite pipes, those unique, carrot-shaped rock formations, could indicate a cache of diamonds thousands of feet below the surface!

I certainly didn’t, but, for a few years, this was my life.  I was a freelancer, working for a small communications firm in Ottawa.  They had a contract to produce a monthly publication on research and development in Canada. I wrote the copy.

It was fascinating, once I grew more comfortable making those calls, and I came away from that job with a greater assurance, and an idea for  juvenile mystery involving an abandoned gold mine, an enterprising thirteen-year-old with a nose for crime, and one cranky old guy named Weirdo who refused to sell his shares.

Great concept, one small problem:  I knew little about reopening dormant mines other than the fact that, thanks to new technology and better processing methods, getting the gold out of the ground was now easier and more cost effective.

So I phoned a company I knew was in the process of acquiring an old mining concern.  I’d done my homework; I knew they needed to control at least fifty-one percent of the shares before they could proceed, and I knew exactly who I wanted to speak with; what I didn’t know was how complicated it would be to track down the original shareholders, many of whom would either be quite elderly or have already died.

Now here’s the thing about cold calls.  No matter how well prepared you are, or how well you know your subject; whether you’re trying to interest someone in your work or simply looking for information, finding a personal connection really is worth its weight in gold.

Well didn’t the chairman of the company I was calling, have a daughter who just happened to have lived in the building next to me at university.  I wouldn’t have known her if I fell over her, nor she, me, after all this time, but that didn’t matter.  My cold call just got a little warmer.

I got the information I needed, pitched my story idea to my publisher and two years later, the book was in print.

I called it Paper Treasure.

The reviews were good.  Paper Treasure was picked up by Polish publisher Tajemnica (as was The Mysterious Mr. Moon, an earlier title also published by General Paperbacks) and then a Toronto producer acquired the rights and hired me to write the script.

Although the film never did get made, I was able to write and develop other projects for television.  All because of that first cold call twenty-odd years ago.

 

 

 

Why your back-cover blurb matters…

 

Like a pitch, or a synopsis, writing a blurb for the back cover of a book is one of those incredibly-challenging “extras” that go with the job.  And it’s not just the words you write, it’s how they look on the page.

My co-author, Susan Brown, and I drive ourselves crazy trying to get it right.

Every time.

And it has paid off in unexpected ways.  Last year, we entered  Making Up is Hard to Do, our third romance writing as Stephanie Browning, in GSRWA’s first-ever “Open the Book” Back Blurb Contest — all one hundred and eighty-six words worth!  Not only did we get to pitch to agents and editors, as finalists we were invited to share the excitement with our fellow authors, members of the general public, local and regional librarians, and book club members at ECWC’s Passport2Romance!

 

Here’s how we broke it down:

From the author of

OUTBID BY THE BOSS and UNDONE BY THE STAR

Thirteen words above the title to let our readers know we have two other books “on the shelves.”  We used upper case, “block” lettering to echo the font which appears on their cover pages.

Making Up is Hard to Do

Six words for the title, the same font as the front cover and centred to match the text above.

One hundred and forty-nine words of text.  Three paragraphs in which to grab a reader’s interest with the set-up, character, setting, background and end with a flourish, because who wouldn’t want to know what happens next!

   If she’d known Jack Rutherford would walk back into her life, more ruggedly handsome than the day he left, Nicki Hamilton would never have agreed to run the small-town accounting firm of Gammage & Associates for the summer. She would have stayed in Toronto and left the past where it belonged.

   A committed loner at thirty-four, Jack is finding everything about the lakeside community of Bedford County tantalizingly familiar. Including the pithy Miss Hamilton…but the timing isn’t right. The Bedford Inn, once owned by his grandfather, is now Jack’s, and what he really needs is an accountant.

   Resisting the urge to throw Jack out of her office when he doesn’t immediately recognize her, Nicki hides her fury and takes the job. Jack’s plan to refurbish the Inn intrigues her. Besides, he owes her. Big time. For fifteen years of silence, a dozen unanswered letters, and one broken teenaged heart.

And finally, right-justified so that it sits just above the barcode, a lovely eighteen-word quote from reader and reviewer, Alice Best Jackson.

“The rest of the world can wait when you’re reading a Stephanie Browning romance!”

Alice Best Jackson

 

 

The Goddess of Single Women

 

When Susan Brown and I were working on Outbid by the Boss, our first co-authored romance, we had no idea our heroine would suddenly invoke the Goddess of Single Women.  In fact, we didn’t even know there was one until Samantha Redfern found herself in dire straits…although to be fair to the Goddess, it was Sam who made the decision to blow off her trip to New York.

But to get caught by one’s boss at an estate sale north of London…now that’s just asking for trouble!

Two books and one boxed set later, we’re still amazed by the Goddess’s serendipitous appearance on the page…

From Chapter One, Scene Three, Outbid by the Boss:

Clutching the candlestick to her chest, Sam hurried for the exit. She had a plane to catch. And now, she realized with a frisson of panic, she not only had to nip back to her flat, she also had to stop at the bank. It would take all her savings and half her rent money to replace the firm’s cash, but her purchase was worth every penny.

As she dashed through the open doorway, Sam remembered thinking how nice it was that the morning rain had given way to a sun-filled afternoon and then…

Woof!

She ran smack into a wall of solid masculinity, gasping as the base of the candlestick dug into her ribcage.

She staggered backwards. A pair of strong hands grabbed her upper arms to steady her, holding her fast as she regained her balance.

And then he spoke.

The “thank-you” Sam was about to utter caught in her throat.

“In a hurry, are we?” The voice was well-bred, well-schooled and awfully familiar.

She squeezed her eyes shut.

And began to mentally chant.

Please, please, please…anybody but Chas bloody Porter. Please, please, please…

 “Anytime…” the voice said, rudely interrupting her pleas to the goddess of single women caught in compromising positions.

Stupid woman must be on a lunch break, thought Sam.

Her lids fluttered open and she followed the buttons of the beautifully-stitched, pale-blue oxford-cloth shirt he wore beneath his soft leather jacket to the button at the base of his neck. It was open. Revealing enough of the man to make one feel that every inch of him would be just as enticing as the dark stubble on his chin, the slightly battered but still patrician nose and…the steel-blue eyes washing over her like an icy Arctic wind.

“Miss Redfern, isn’t it?” Chas Porter said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I could have sworn you were representing us in New York this week. You do remember the two-day sale at Sotheby’s? Previews in….what?” He removed his left hand and checked his watch. “Twenty-four hours?”

“Which, allowing for the time change,” replied Sam choking back an urge to flee “gives me twenty-nine hours…

“Now, if you don’t mind…” She pointedly eyed the hand grasping her left bicep, an amazing feat given the fact that her knees had turned to water and her brain was sending high-pitched alarm signals to every nerve in her body.

Chas dropped his hand and stepped back, his eyes resting on the candlestick nestled protectively between her breasts. “Very nice workmanship. Get it for a good price, did you?”

Sam flushed and like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar, whipped the candlestick behind her back. Which of course thrust her chest forward.

She raised her chin defiantly.

Chas Porter gazed down at her, his eyes slightly hooded, impossible to read.

She stared back at him. The candlestick was hers. Or was it? She felt an unexpected stab of fear. Had he seen her use her expense money to pay for it?

A young couple coming up the steps dropped hands and gave them a wide berth. “We are blocking the entrance,” hissed Sam. “And, as you so rightly pointed out, I have a plane to catch.”

“Not today, you don’t,” Chas shot back. He crooked his finger and abruptly turned away leaving her little choice but to follow him down the steps and around the side of the building.

For an instant, Sam rebelled. Who did Chas Porter think he was, calling her to task as though she were a lowly serf. He was her boss, she reassured herself as she hurried to catch up, not some feudal lord who expected her to do his bidding. Perhaps she should just tug her forelock and be done with it…

As expected, Chas and Sam had their happily-ever-after, and as the Goddess of Single Women has yet to reappear, we like to think she’s found hers too.