It’s Been a While

When I first started writing, all I wrote were short stories. I loved working on them. I could start one and usually finish it in a week or two. It was almost like instant gratification. And I placed enough of them in anthologies and magazines that they boosted my confidence. Novels are a bigger commitment. A book can take months, sometimes most of a year, to write, and then they take as much time and work to submit and try to place. But they garner more attention.

It’s really difficult to make a career out of selling short stories. I thought, though, that at least I could use them to get my foot in the publishing door. Not so much. When I finally wrote a novel and sent it out, no one cared about anything except if they needed the kind of book I wrote and if they liked mine. I suffered a lot of misses before I got a yes. Then, once I started selling books, they took up all of my time.

Now that I’m self-publishing, I have more freedom again. And I can say yes to things that interest me.

A writer I know asked me if I’d be interested in writing a short story for a podcast she and her husband do together. They’re collecting twelve authors, and later this year, they’ll read or perform a story once a week, and when they’ve shared them all, then they’ll collect them into an anthology to publish the year after that. I was flattered she’d asked me, so I immediately said yes. And then I worried.

I haven’t written a short story for so long, I couldn’t think of anything that would work, and when I finally did, I couldn’t find a rhythm I liked. I was out of practice. Usually, the more stressed I get, the worse I write, so I just pushed the entire project out of my mind. Until, that is, I had to get my blood drawn last Friday. I’m diabetic, and my doctor keeps an eye on me twice a year. Our hospital’s lab is usually efficiency itself, but not last week. When I sat down in the waiting room, a nice woman looked at me and said, “Get comfortable. I’ve been here an hour and a half.”

Uggh! I hadn’t brought my Kindle with me, and I knew I’d get the fidgets if I just sat there doing nothing, so I pulled the three by five cards out that I always keep in my purse. And I asked myself, Which of my characters would make a good short story? I chose Nick and Laurel because their novel was more of a straight mystery than Jazzi and Ansel or Karnie and Matt. Then I had to decide how they’d get involved in solving a murder. And before I knew it, they were calling 911 but the ambulance didn’t get there in time, and a woman was dead. I had one idea after another and the whole story played out for me before a nurse came to get me. Being stuck in a waiting room with nothing to do was the best inspiration I could have had. This time.

It made me realize how much I miss writing short stories. And how easy it is to lose the feel for something that was once comfortable for me. Even if I only publish them on my blog, I’d like to write a few stories a year just to remember how to do it. And because they’re fun.

Short Stories

I wrote a blog about noir and got enough comments to read and answer that they made me think. A dangerous thing for me:) At least, that’s what my husband tells me. He says my brain stays switched on way more than normal. LOL. Maybe a common writing complaint? At least for spouses… Anyway, when I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, I had most of a noir type story plotted out in my mind.

I didn’t have time to write it right now. I’m just starting the new Jazzi and Ansel, and I don’t write noir, so I pushed it away. But it kept coming back, so I wrote down all the notes I could remember on Scapple to look at another day. Which I worried would come sooner than I expected because the story’s sort of making a pest of itself. And I was right. This last weekend, I wrote the darn thing just to have some peace.

I like short stories. I enjoy writing them. And at the moment, Staci Troilo is trying to write one a week for an eight week challenge. The site offers a prompt you have to use. You can check Staci’s stories out here:

And that made me think that October will be here before we realize it, and October was MADE for short stories. C.S. Boyack wrote a short story once a week for his blog in October one year. Darn good stories, too. Horror, thriller, weird, and dark abound during Halloween month. My friend, Kathleen Palm, has written a story for the Midnight Society every year for 7 years, and she’s going for it again. I love her idea of creepy, but if you think you have a story in you, here’s the information if you want to give it a try.

If you DO write horror, etc., you might want to try out Teri Polen’s October promotions in Bad Moon Rising:

And while I’m at it, I might as well do a shout-out for a blog friend of mine, Mary Angela, whose latest cozy is set at Halloween, and a witch is the murder victim:

Come to think of it, my 5th cozy, The Body From the Past, takes place at Halloween, too.
There! I’ve given you an idea of where to send a Halloween story if you write one AND where to find Halloween stories if you want to read some…and I’ve given you plenty of time to get ready.

I have favorite movies I like to watch in October: Hocus Pocus, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with Johnny Depp, The 13th Warrior with Antonio Banderas, and Van Helsing with Hugh Jackson. What about you? Any movies you watch to put you in the mood? Books or short stories? Hope you have plenty of treats and no tricks.

Mystery Musings

I recently finished reading Anna Lee Huber’s A STROKE OF MALICE, a Lady Darby novel. Her writing is so rich in detail, it always takes me longer to read her than most of my favorite authors. I’d been reading a little more than I usually do, anyway, and I wasn’t ready to pick up another book. Then I remembered that she had a novella in an anthology with three other authors. The idea of shorter reads appealed to me.

I’d recently written a Jazzi and Ansel story for MURDER THEY WROTE, the anthology I put together with six other writers, so I was curious to see what THE DEADLY HOURS was like. I haven’t finished reading the entire thing, but the concept interested me.

I like short stories, so for years, I used to buy the Sisters In Crime annual anthology of top women mystery writers. These often had twenty different authors in them, and the stories were short and usually had a punch. I found I liked anthologies more than story collections, where each story was by the same author. Anthologies had more variety of voices and styles.

Our anthology had seven longer stories by seven different types of authors: historical, speculative, psychological, literary, and cozy. And each story was different. THE DEADLY HOURS has four authors, and each story is novella length. What interested me the most, though, is that instead of being a variety of plots, they each continue the theme of a cursed gold watch.

Susanna Kearsley starts the overall story with her novella in Italy, 1733, and tells how the watch came into being and how it was cursed. At the end of her tale, a Scottish assassin steals the watch and takes it to Scotland with him. Anna Lee Huber takes up the watch’s evil doings from there when Lady Darby and her husband Gage desperately search for it to put an end to the disease that’s ravishing Edinburgh, 1831. Lady Darby tries to rid the world of the wretched thing and its curse, but of course, Christine Trent finds a way to bring it back in her Edinburgh story in 1870 when a series of murders rocks society. And that’s as far as I’ve read so far. But fingers crossed C.S. Harris finally puts an end to the foul time piece in her novella, set in England, 1944, ending the anthology.

It was fun to see how four different authors advanced the story in each quarter of the book. The longer novellas made a nice bridge between short stories and full length novels. I enjoyed it. But when I finish the last one, I’m going to be ready to dig into a book again. I’ve had my break, and I’m ready for the long haul and luxury of more pages focused on one tale.

Do you like psychological creepy?

I’m really excited to have Kathleen Palm visit my blog today. She loves horror and YA, so when I invited her to submit a story for the anthology MURDER THEY WROTE, it threw her:) But IN THE PLUM ATTIC has been mentioned as one of the favorites in reviews a few times. And for good reason. Two sisters haunt an attic. Why? And how does the new family who moved there get rid of them? That’s mystery enough for me!

Welcome, Kathy! Thanks so much for visiting my blog.

1.  What worried you the most about writing a story for the anthology, MURDER THEY WROTE?      The fact that it was a mystery. *cue laughter* My brain isn’t a plotting, mystery thinker. So…I relied on what I know. Creepy. As I thought about writing a mystery, I focused on ghosts, for the mysteries that catch my attention, the ones where I follow the clues and deduce the truth involve spirits. How they died. Why they continue to haunt the world. And how to free them. Which is how Within the Plum Attic came to be.

2.  You usually write in first person, present tense, don’t you?  What draws you to that?      The immediacy. You are right there with that character as terrible events unfold and there is no escape. I love first present for my horror shorts. Because that deep POV, that feeling of no way out is very important to the creepy, scary vibe. Though I have written in third person, past tense, and the middle grade I’m working on now is third present.

3.  You love horror.  I know you go to every horror movie you can and host a twitter horror movie night for Midnight Society.  Is that once a month?  Can you tell us more about that?       I haven’t been to a theater in such a long time. I miss it. And yes, I’m part of the writing team of the Midnight Society blog, which celebrates all things horror. Once a month I host Midnight Society Movie Night on Twitter, where I live-tweet a horror movie. Usually the last Friday of each month at 9 pm EST under #MidnightSocietyMovieNight. Pretty much, it’s me tweeting all my thoughts and reactions into the Twitterverse to entertain myself.

4.  What are some of your favorite horror movies?  Books?      Oh. That’s a tough question. I love the range horror offers. The Elm Street series is fun. Freddy is one of my favorite slashers. But my very favorite movies involve ghosts and demons. Poltergeist. The Conjuring. Insidious. The Orphanage. IT. The Babadook. On the book side of horror, I love Stephen King, and The Shining will always be one of my favorites. Right now, I’m reading the middle grade horror series Lockwood & Co. and enjoying it immensely.

5.  You also love YA.  The twin girls who are the protagonists in your story are in high school.  What draws you to YA?      I hated being a teenager. It’s this awful place of trying to be yourself without having any idea how, existing between still believing in magic and moving into the land of being an adult, which no one wants to do. I like to tap into the part of teens that still believes, that doesn’t want to fully grow up, and maybe help them realize that they don’t have to…not completely.

6.  Who are some of your favorite YA authors and their novels?    Neal Shusterman is my very favorite YA author. His Unwind series is fantastic and will always be on the top of my list. I was hooked after reading his book Downsiders. A couple others that stand out are The Schwa was Here and Scythe. Holly Black’s Curse Workers series, Tithe, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and co-wrote The Spiderwick Chronicles (middle grade) are all books I loved. Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds is a mighty fine read as well.

7.  You have another short horror story due out soon.  Would you share the particulars?     My horror short “The Path” has been accepted into the Gothic Blue Book Vol VI: A Krampus Carol, which will be released October 31st! I am excited to be a part of this Krampus themed anthology with my interpretation of what happens after Krampus stuffs someone in his sack and carries them away.

8.  Care to share your social media links with us?  And thanks so much for visiting my blog.   I like to haunt Twitter. Please come find me @KathleenPalm and say hi. I also have an author Facebook page (Kathleen Palm, @writerkathleenpalm), where I post things sometimes.


One of my favorite authors, Ilona Andrews, is doing a Q&A on her blog right now.  I caught the link on twitter.  This time, two writers sent in questions and I thought she gave great answers.  One of the writers asked whether it’s better to try to sell some short stories before you try to sell a novel.

I’ve had some experience with that.  I started out writing and selling short stories.  When I finally decided to submit a book, I’d had short stories in 10 Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines, 2 Ellery Queen mystery magazines, 3 Barnes & Noble anthologies, and 2 WomenSleuth anthologies, among others.  It helped to get editors to look at my submission, since I looked like a serious writer, but it didn’t help sell my books.  Editors only take what they’re sure they can sell.  If you send them a book that they think readers will buy, you’re in.  If you send them books that they think are in a market they consider glutted or “dead,” (like cozy mysteries were then), you’re pretty much doomed.  But Ilona Andrews gives the best answer.  You can see for yourself:

Which leads me to say, Do any of you have questions for me?  If you ever do, just ask.


Writing: cleansing my palate

I’ve enjoyed reading a variety of twitter and blog posts about writers gearing up for NaNoWriMo this month. There’s been advice for plotting ahead (which I always do), doing character sketches (ditto), and different methods for pacing yourself. A lot of writers have done their homework, and they’re ready to go. Since this is the second day of November, I’m guessing some of them already have one or two thousand words on the pages. If you’ve signed up to write a novel and intend to stamp The End on it by the last day of November, I wish you good luck. May the Muses smile on you. I, on the other hand, am gearing up to do rewrites of the romance my agent approved.

No small feat. Sometimes, I get lucky and I only need to change a few scenes or add a scene at the end of the book–a common occurrence for me. I tend to rush endings. A mistake. Readers, experts say, buy books because the opening paragraphs or pages hook them, but they buy a writer’s second book because the end of the book they read satisfies them, and they’re willing to give the writer another try. As usual, I need to add another scene at the end of the romance. More than that, though, I need to tweak or eliminate an entire subplot. If I eliminate it, I need something new to take its place. AND I need to beef up a minor character who plays a major part in the plot. I’m not discouraged. For my first romance, I think I got off pretty easy. I expected the whole thing to be a bust. But I’m going to have to spend some serious time to make the book work, because I want the thing to be as good as I can possibly make it. I ended up really enjoying everything about the book–my characters, the plot, and the actual writing itself. I even have ideas for two more spin-off romances.

The thing is, though, I just finished doing rewrites for one of the urban fantasy novels I was working on. And I’ve learned that my brain needs time to doodle–to play with short, obscure thoughts–between books. I used to ignore those inner rhythms when I was in a rush to get books done, but somewhere along the daily grind of pumping out words and scenes, my writing went flat. No matter how many active verbs I smacked into sentences, my characters yawned and said, “Give us a break, will you?” And now, I do. When I finish a book, I play with a few short stories before I start the next book. I’ve read that Stephen King used to do the same thing. I’m not comparing myself to him, but I understand the need. Short stories are a time for me to find something close to writer’s instant gratification because I can finish short-shorts in a day or two and “lunch hour reads” in a week or two. Short, by novel standards. Oops, forgot. Not if you’re racing through NaNoWriMo. Then I’d have a book finished in a month:) But short stories between novels works for me, regardless. They cleanse my palate before I settle in for another long haul.

Whatever you’re working on this month, happy writing!

Writing Puzzles & Mysteries

I used to write mystery short stories.  I’m a lifelong fan of Agatha Christie.  And my daughter, Holly, used to read most of my manuscripts before I sent them off.  She still reads a lot of them, and she enjoys my stabs at urban fantasy, but she started to bug me to write a good, old Agatha-style cozy again.  She said she missed reading the types of stories I used to create.

The thing is, since I’ve started writing urban fantasies, I yearn for a touch of magic in my plots, so I squirmed and protested.  But she wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I played with the idea of adding supernatural elements to a nice, cozy murder.  And not just any murder.  I decided to try my hand at a locked room mystery.  Nothing mundane like a latch that automatically falls when the killer shuts the door behind him, either.  I wanted a murder where the crime is committed and solved by a paranormal.

I have to admit, killing an evil warlock in his own living room was a lot of fun.  Trying to decide how someone got past all of his magic wards was even better.  And doing it all in a short format–I gave myself 40 pages–was the icing on the cake.  Holly was right.  I’d missed writing short, and I’d missed writing mysteries.  So this summer, I’ve given myself permission to write as many 40-page stories as I can get done.  It’s my treat to myself.  And to Holly.  And hopefully, other readers might like them too.  (It’s free).