Today is Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, when we remember the men and women of the military to whom we cannot say, “Thank you.”
There are many stories about when and where Memorial Day, formerly called Decoration Day, began. Originally, it honored soldiers fallen during the Civil War, and was first officially celebrated in 1868.
Wikipedia, however, points to an earlier beginning: “On May 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC, formerly enslaved African Americans honored hundreds of Black soldiers who were killed in the Civil War but who were buried in a mass grave. They unearthed the bodies and gave each a proper burial and held a parade in the soldiers’ honor. This is the first major honoring of fallen soldiers that is believed to have begun the tradition.”
In honor of the day, I’ve chosen a poem by British poet and novelist Thomas Hardy.
My Boy Jack (Television film based on play by Daniel Haig) (Link leads to complete film on Youtube.) The title My Boy Jack comes from a poem written by Rudyard Kipling for Jack Cornwell, “the 16 year old youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross who stayed by his post on board ship during the battle of Jutland until he died.” The poem “echoes the grief of all parents who lost sons in the First World War. John Kipling was a 2nd Lt in the Irish Guards and disappeared in September 1915 during the Battle of Loos in the First World War.” His body was never found. (Wikipedia). Haig’s play deals with Kipling’s grief at the loss of his son.
Almost every great detective has a great sidekick. Leading the pack, of course, is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s with his team of Sherlock and Watson.
In the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Dr. John Watson is Sherlock’s sidekick and the narrator. The character created by Doyle to support Holmes is modest and intelligent—but not as smart as Holmes. A former military doctor wounded in India, Watson is far from dull. Still, like most readers, he doesn’t share Holme’s detecting capabilities, powers of observation, and lightning-swift reasoning, which is a blessing for readers, for it’s Watson who explains and shows the readers Holme’s admirable characteristics through his narrative and descriptions.
Another of the best-loved investigating pairs are Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.Wolfe is a New York City private investigator. His sidekick, Archie Goodwin, does the lion’s share of investigating because Wolfe doesn’t like to leave the brownstone, but it’s Wolfe who provides the keen intellect. Archie’s role is to bring wit and a fast-paced narrative to the reader. Rex Stout has published around 80 novels and novellas detailing their various cases. Wolfe and Archie are right up there with Dr. Watson and Sherlock.
Contemporary author Faye Kellerman created the Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus team.Decker is a Los Angeles cop investigating crimes in a conservative Jewish community. His supporting character is Rina Lazarus, with whom he falls in love. He converts to Judaism for her, and they are married. Together they become involved in several mysteries in Jewish communities. Although she isn’t a police detective, she is vital to the investigations for her deep understanding of Jewish culture and faith.
A little outside this norm is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, who seems to work alone. She is an independent woman of independent means. Elderly, and unassuming Miss Marple uses her advanced years and knitting needles to stay out of the limelight to observe without being noticed. She is a student of human nature and able to solve complex crimes not only because of her shrewd intelligence but because over her life living in St. Mary Mead, she has had the benefit of infinite examples of the nastier side of human nature.
Her friends and acquaintances function in the role of supporting characters, and they are sometimes bored by her frequent analogies. Still, these analogies often lead Miss Marple to a more profound realization about the true nature of the crime. It isn’t until her later years that her companion, Cherry Baker, moves in and makes her first appearance as the sidekick in The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side.
Perhaps one of the most unique and unexpected characters in a supporting role is M. Hercule Flambeau, a reformed criminal in the Father Brown series by G. K. Chesterton. Flambeau is always amazed at how a priest could have such a depth of understanding and insight into the criminal mind. The good priest explains that while he must protect the sanctity of confessions and not give specifics, people reveal their sins and show the evil in the human heart.
In the first chapter of The Secret of Father Brown, the priest tries to explain that he doesn’t look at criminals scientifically from the outside.
“I am inside a man. I am always inside a man, moving his arms and legs; but I wait till I know I am inside a murderer, thinking his thoughts, wrestling with his passions; thill I have bent myself into the posture of his hunched and peering hatred; till I see the world with his bloodshot and squinting eyes, looking between the blinkers of his half-witted concentration; looking up the short and sharp perspective as a straight road to a pool of blood. Till I am really a murderer.”
Flambeau was a skilled and highly successful thief with an intellect equal to Father Brown’s. In The Secret of Flambeau, he reveals, “Have I not heard the sermons of the righteous?… Do you think all that ever did anything but make me laugh? Only my friend told me that he knew exactly why I stole, and I have never stolen since.”
There are as many famous sidekicks as there are famous detectives, including Captain Hastings, in the Hercule Poirot books by Agatha Christie and Brother Eadulf in Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma series. In Dashiell Hammet’s The Thin Man, Nora Charlesis a glamourous sidekick to her husband, Nick. But why do authors create these characters?
Like the supporting stage and film actors, the mystery book sidekicks have a vitally important role, both to the principal characters and to the readers or audience.
A good sidekick is usually the polar opposite of the detective. Watson is kind, patient and loyal, and in many ways ordinary. The opposite of Holmes. Like Watson, Captain Hastings, Hercule Poirot’s supporting character is also ordinary, loyal, and determined but lacks Watson’s military experience.
The sidekicks showcase the detectives’ intelligence but cushion the readers from feelings of inferiority. The sidekick usually seems to be a rather ordinary person, with exceptions, like Flambeau, who is anything but ordinary.
For the sake of storytelling, good detectives have quirks and personality flaws. They allow the sidekick to show opposite and balancing characteristics, provide an avenue for readers to understand what the main character is thinking, ask the readers’ questions, explain the detective’s reasoning and methods and any cryptic or scientific terms. Sometimes, the sidekick inspires the detective to look at a situation in a new way, which wouldn’t be evident without the secondary character’s input. This can provide a stalled plot with an escape valve, but most importantly, the sidekick can never be interchangeable with the main character.
From the outset, Nora Charles is a Nob Hill socialite. Nick Charles is a retired detective who has been exposed to the seedier sides of life. This seemingly incompatible couple marry and combine wits to solve crimes.
In my Housekeeper Mystery Series, Mrs. B. is the leading amateur woman detective. She’s impulsive, willful, nosy, outspoken, likes people, loves to cook, and loves cats.
Father Melvyn Kronkey is her boss and pastor of St. Francis de Sales, Roman Catholic Church. He is a good man and a devout priest who will serve as an anchor for the curious and impulsive Mrs. B.
Even our lovable and independent Miss Marple, who doesn’t have one sidekick, has a group of friends to whom she talks and explains. Still, she too takes on a supporting character, in the person of Cherry Baker, in later mysteries.
An essential part of a mystery writer’s tool kit, the sidekick provides color, contrast, relief, and assistance to the reader. They often help the main characters grow, evolve, and sometimes change course altogether.
Tales of Matthew Shardlake, C. J. Sansom and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall
—by Renee Kimball
Book hang-o-ver (hang-oh-ver) noun 1. The inability to start a new book because you are still living in the old book’s world 2. The inability to function at work/school because you were up all-night binge-reading —The Urban Dictionary
Is a Book Hangover a real condition? The answer: a resounding “YES!”
Avid readers frequently suffer a feeling of despondency after the ending of a riveting novel, and often refer to that despondency as a “book hangover” (Urban Dictionary). Similar to a hangover from alcoholic overindulgence, a book hangover can be just as painful, and last a lot longer.
What causes a reader to yearn to remain in the literary world of certain books, and what causes that thorny depression following the ending of an engaging novel?
Clare Barnett writing for Book Riot in 2020, found some answers to those questions in reading research focused on the “effects of reading on theory of mind and empathy,” conducted by Maja Djikic, PhD, Associate Professor and the Director of Self-Development Laboratory at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, (Barnett).
According to Barnett’s article while citing Djikic’s research, the despondent feelings felt at the end of an engaging novel might be a kind of “simple sadness” (Barnett). Sadness that the novel has ended, and the beloved characters and the world they inhabit are gone. Yet, the interior self won’t let go, and the reader enters into a type of mourning where ‘inside one’s psyche, . . .the reader wishes for more time to reflect and unravel whatever complexities still plague them.” (Barnett, Djikic).
For some readers, the loss is magnified, it blooms and stays. Djikic contends this might flow from two other sources, “emotional transportation and empathy.” (Barnett).
“Emotional transportation” is the reason most avid readers read. That wonderful feeling of getting “lost in a book,’ the one read through the night. The reader becomes unaware of the world around them, a feeling of lost time, all while the characters envisioned in their head are so present that they feel they are in the room (Barnett).
According to Djikic, “in reading psychology, the experience of losing reality is called “emotional transportation” (Barnett). Most obsessive readers readily relate to the concept of “emotional transportation”—that is the reason they read, to be transported away to another realm, another reality, the reality within the story.
The second source, “Empathy,” allows the book characters to feel like “. . .close friends because your brain processes feelings for them in much the same way as it does for real-life connections” (Djikic). Reading research found that “reading fiction activates empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”—a very good thing (Barnett) (emphasis added).
How intense and how long a book hangover lasts depends upon a variety of internal causes. Djikic believes that if the hangover is short, then possibly it is merely a simple sadness that comes at the end of an engaging story. While book hangovers lasting longer, several weeks or more, could result from an inner need to rationalize and understand the actions and story line that struck a chord within the reader’s psyche. The story has brought to surface personal unresolved issues needing examination. Djikic offers that even this can be a positive experience that results in self-improvement, increased empathy, and promotes a deeper self-analysis establishing positive behaviors and awareness (Barnett).
Having a book hangover is uncomfortable, but it can also be an impetus towards a broader view, a need for more, a push towards research and more reading. A suggestion or need to delve deeper within one’s self. It is an evolutionary process: you start at point A and follow the “yellow brick road” to other universes–you become immersed and words, characters, and worlds become alive.
“When a ‘hangover’ evolves into a more continued emotion of discomfort – that usually comes from still pondering and struggling with some personally relevant issues that were brought up in the book – it could lead to a personal transformation. Fiction reading can be a powerful dysregulator of identity, allowing readers to ‘exit’ themselves, and be in a state that is more receptive to personal change or transformation.” (Barnett- Djikic)
My Hangover. . .
Historical fiction is not for everyone but by chance, I was led to C.J. Sansom’s Tudor England and the inimitable Matthew Shardlake. Sansom has written a masterpiece of history and suspense, and it is a masterpiece, stretching through seven books and over 4100 pages – The Matthew Shardlake Series.
Shardlake is the character who held me through the series that resulted in a terrible book hangover. I only felt that lost after reading King’s Talisman in the ‘80s, and I was moved to tears when Wolf died. If you have read it, you will relate. I was bereft and miserable then, and felt the same after the last Shardlake novel. Mourning Shardlake, feeling empty and wanting more, led me to Hilary Mantel’s expansive Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and the Mirror and the Light—I am still reading.
What exactly is so riveting about Shardlake? Shardlake is no Columbo, he isn’t Jack Reacher or James Bond, maybe a bit of Sherlock Holmes, Perry Mason, and a Tudor MacGyver, generously spiced with Umberto Eco’s formulae found in The Name of the Rose. Mostly, he is likeable and relatable.
In Sansom’s novels, Shardlake is forever deftly stepping into and away from threats-and his own imminent demise by means unfair and foul. While Shardlake tries his best to avoid Court intrigue, the Court and its powerful inhabitants find him, drag him back to face danger through seven volumes. Lawyer Shardlake is nobody’s fool. He always gets his man.
Reading Sansom, I am transported to Tudor England, I am there. Matthew Shardlake is all too human, questioning, doubtful, the favorite relative, cousin, uncle, that you remember with deep affection, who plods, pokes, and unearths the unimaginable.
Shardlake’s home is located in Chancery, London. A simple man from all appearances, Matthew is a brilliant tactician, astute, aware, and sadly, physically disfigured, he is a hunchback. He knows what it is to be made fun of, shoved aside, set apart, and to face scorching loneliness. Yet, despite his deformity, he cares for others, even those who treat him with aversion. He is generous to the poor and disadvantaged, he is kind to people of every station and kind to animals, he is empathetic and a gentle soul. Shardlake believes in courtly love, but he loves from afar –his love remains unrequited, he does not get his girl.
An honest lawyer, Sergeant Shardlake, is employed by Lord Cromwell to ferret out the evil doer, the thief, the immoral noble. Matthew’s successes cause him to become a much sought-after sleuth – he is tenacious in his dealings. In the first novel Dissolution, during the year 1537, a royal commissioner has been murdered at the Monastery of St. Donatus the Ascendant, Scarnsea, Sussex. Lord Cromwell directs Shardlake to leave London and investigate the murder. And so, with Dissolution, the first of the seven Shardlake books begins.
Book two, Dark Fire, takes place three years later in 1540. Again, Lord Cromwell demands Matthew leave the security of his private law practice and enter the fray of court politics. In Dark Fire, Shardlake must find an ancient missing formula for a fiery combustible liquid and the weapon crafted to handle and disburse the highly volatile liquid. The formula was created during the Byzantine era and lost for centuries, now, the liquid is in London and Cromwell must have it for the King. Murder, madness, and greed propel the plot forward, while Lord Cromwell loses favor and is eventually beheaded. Will Matthew now be able to live in peace or will his reputation draw him back? Book 3 through 7 along with more plots and near misses follow.
The setting for the Shardlake series is a time of high intrigue: Tudor England under Henry VIII, the dissolution of the Catholic Church, the unending wars between England and France, and of course, Henry VIII’s love life and merry-go-round of divorce, beheadings, courtships, children begot and dreamed of, and the wives! Henry the VIII’s court was stormy, unstable, and full of trickery– what a cast of characters!
The last novel, Tombland, ends with an aging Matthew, now in his early sixties, holding a baby girl that he was in the process of adopting. The baby, who he had pulled out of the arms of her murdered parents and had refused to leave behind at the end of an especially long and bloody battle, is now safe in his London home. We leave Matthew looking out the window of his study in London late at night, baby in arms. Despite the war-torn setting of this last novel, the tale seems to end with a new beginning and much hope for the future–hope from his readers too, that C.J. Sansom will bring Matthew Shardlake back, and soon.
While mourning Shardlake and hoping Sansom will continue his legacy, I turned to other historical fiction authors in an attempt to remove my lingering book hangover.
My search found Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy of Thomas Cromwell’s ascendency and fall—it is another historical fiction masterpiece. Wolf Hall, the first book of the trilogy, introduces Cromwell while he was in the service of Cardinal Woolsey.
Cromwell, fiercely loyal to Woolsey must remove him from service to the King because Woolsey has failed to obtain a divorce from Catherine of Aragon and a dispensation from the Catholic Church. Henry’s push to divorce Catherine—his wife of twenty-five years — and his desire to marry Anne Boleyn destroyed Woolsey’s standing with the King. The Pope refuses to acknowledge the dissolution of Henry’s marriage nor will he grant dispensation, Woolsey becomes a scapegoat, is forced out, and eventually dies, alone and disgraced.
After Woolsey’s fall and death, Cromwell rises in the Court hierarchy. Cromwell’s rapid ascendency towards the King’s most trusted advisor and the accumulation of his immense administrative power are exhaustively researched in both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Bring Up the Bodies, ends with the beheading of Anne Boleyn, her reign a short one. The third and last book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror & the Light, begins where Bring Up the Bodies ended, a court without Boleyn and the King’s marriage to Jane Seymour.
Mantel’s writing is soothing, intricately woven, and psychologically deep. Mantel removes the secrecy surrounding the interior workings of the Court, the machinations of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and the multi-faceted psychology of Thomas Cromwell, a brilliant, driven man. Under Mantel, Cromwell becomes flesh, at times cruel, lonely, self-directed and self-controlled, but more than that, kind, concerned, aware of those outside Court, and loving to those who mean the most to him.
Like Mantel’s, C.J. Sansom’s writing is England’s historical voice. With Sansom, the reader is steeped in the sights, smells, and violence of Tudor England. His detail of the pageantry, clothing, colors, smells, and food are highly sensory – you see and taste and smell everything. Sansom realistically portrays the struggles of the everyday man, his despondency, his urges, his needs, his losses, the daily struggle to merely survive under Tudor reign. Stunning with brutal descriptions of war, blood and loss, as well as the intrigues of the court are bold and shockingly real, Sansom is a word master, it is “emotional transportation” at its finest.
So, while I will continue to hope for Shardlake’s return, I will read Mantel to the end. The plan going forward will be to complete one of many biographies of Thomas Cromwell. After all, Cromwell was a prime mover and shaker at the center of Henry the VIII’s Court, although sadly and eventually, its victim.
Maybe, just maybe, that book hangover will gradually disappear.
Images courtesy of Pixabay.com Book covers from Amazon.com
A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading, writing, and animal advocacy. She fosters and rescues both dogs and cats and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.
We’re always searching for a new adventure, a new love. Have you ever pulled a book from the shelf, glance at the back cover, then (with hope in your heart) the first page, and then pushed the book back on the shelf, sure this one won’t do? I have, so many times. Same drill at the library. We usually know from page one (or at most page two) if we’re going to like a new author. If we don’t like the setting, the protagonist, the voice, forget it. But if we do, if we give that book a chance and like it, we look for a series. Bonus points if we find a new series we like! A series is efficient: we already know the protagonist, the repeating characters, many details of the setting. We plunge straight into the story.
Yet sometimes—even when I really like an author’s book—they run together. I may find them exciting, may remember specific scenes, may like the ending. But often a week after I finish a book, even one in a series with a protagonist who enchants me, I can’t quite remember who died. Now that’s embarrassing. As a murder mystery reader, shouldn’t I remember the victim?
If the victim, stuck there on the page, could talk back, maybe he or she would say, “C’mon, reader, give me a break! Don’t you remember how my body was pulled from the [canal] [truck] [hidden grave]? Don’t you remember how hard I was to find? Don’t you remember how excited the [police team] [sleuth] was to figure out who killed me? Can’t you remember me for at least three minutes? I mean, I’m the one your beloved protagonist investigated! I’m the whole point of the book!” And then in a more querulous tone, “Aren’t I?”
Maybe not. We get caught up in the badinage between DI Dalziel and his sidekick Pascoe. They go off to a pub and suddenly we find we’ve opened the refrigerator. We want to be there with them, sitting at that table near the dart board, sipping beer. Or our protagonist is reviewing the grisly evidence while listening to Madame Butterfly, and we find ourselves humming the first phrase of the aria (the only one we know). Maybe we’re really more interested in a favorite protagonist than in the victim. Sorry, Victim. The Protagonist will be in the next book––but you won’t.
On the other hand, now and then, there’s a death that sticks. One that even haunts me, after the denouement, after the explanation, after I finish saying “aha, I spotted that,” or “Hmm, very tricksy.” After all the figuring-out, occasionally I’m still thinking about the victim.
I started wondering about the ones who stick this week when I read two mysteries from Donna Leon, who just published her 30th book, Transient Desires. The title puns on what Donna Leon terms the “Nigerian Mafia” which she describes as smuggling young African women into Italy, promising them jobs which will let them send needed money home to their families, but instead enslaving them as sex workers or—occasionally—taking their transport money while throwing them into the Mediterranean to drown. In Transient Desires, Leon introduces us first to a young woman who survived the sea crossing but is being driven mad by her enslavement. Then we meet a naïve young Venetian man, desperate to keep a job with his boat-owning uncle which allows him to support his mother. The young man is slowly being destroyed by what his uncle forces him to do. These two portraits stick in my mind.
I also read Leon’s 22d book, The Golden Egg, where her protagonist, Venetian Inspector Guido Brunetti, must determine whether a young deaf man committed suicide by swallowing his mother’s tranquilizers, or was murdered. Which? Brunetti is stunned that the Serene Republic of Venice, which keeps tab of virtually every aspect of every inhabitant’s life, has no record of this young man. He’s unaccounted for: no school, no paying job, nothing. Brunetti learns he toiled his life away ironing clothes in a laundry, unpaid, speaking to no one, with no one speaking to him. He was never taught sign language, never taught how to interact with people. He lived in Venice where people know and speak to their neighbors and shopkeepers…but no one spoke to him. Brunetti doggedly unearths the peculiar cruelty of the people who kept him alive but didn’t teach him to live…parents who never talked to him, never taught him, never allowed anyone to reach out to him. Even worse, if worse is possible, Brunetti discovers the boy had a rare artistic talent—appreciated only by the boy’s doctor—that the boy never knew was worthy of recognition. Donna Leon’s description of one of the boy’s drawings, one the doctor has on his wall, brings home to the reader the two-fold tragedy: that the boy never knew his creations were beautiful, and that the world was deprived of knowing the human being who created such beauty. He was trapped. And he died without ever escaping. That’s a victim I cannot forget.
What aboutThe Nine Tailors(1934), by Dorothy Sayers?. This classic tale, often called her best, has all the charming hallmarks of a carefully constructed village-and-vicar English mystery, including the peculiarly English tradition of bell-ringing. We’ve got it all here: stolen jewels, a letter written in cipher, and an unidentified male body with no hands. The setting: the fens of East Anglia, with drainage ditches, locks, and ever-shifting floodwaters, and the contrasting grandeur of the ancient fen churches whose spires, with their enormous bells, mark the landscape. On New Year’s Eve, with the great influenza raging, Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet Bunter wreck the car and become lost in a snowstorm. They’re rescued by the vicar of Fenchurch St. Paul, who proudly announces that his bell-ringers are going to ring in the New Year with “no less than fifteen thousand, eight hundred and forty Kent Treble Bob Majors”—nine hours of bell-ringing. When one ringer, Will Thoday, is struck down by influenza, the vicar begs Wimsey to take his place. Wimsey later finds a recently buried man with no hands. As to why the victim has no hands, and how he was killed—is it a spoiler to emphasize, reader, that you do not want to be tied up, unable to escape, in a bell-chamber just above those enormous thousand-year-old bells while they ring unceasingly for nine hours? That victim’s death has stayed with me. But also, the circumstances which led to in his entrapment in the bell tower resulted in such grief for three characters that their lives are changed forever. That stayed with me too. No happy Sayers-esque denouement here. Instead, characters are condemned to remember. As to the title, the Nine Tailors are the nine strokes of the tenor bell—three, three, and three more—rung to mark a death in the parish.
Fans of Tony Hillerman will remember The Wailing Wind, where NavajoDetective Joe Leaphorn is hired by Wiley Denton, a wealthy older man recently released from prison for shooting a man named McKay, who had promised Denton a map to a fabled gold mine. Denton wants Leaphorn to find out what happened years ago at Halloween to his beloved young wife, Linda. The convoluted plot takes the reader through numerous twists and turns, but the gold mine convolutions aren’t what I remember. Instead I remember that McKay, all those years ago, drugged Linda and left her in a locked bunker (one of hundreds of identical bunkers in an untravelled area on the vast grounds of Fort Wingate), hoping to use her as leverage to get the deal he wanted from Denton. Denton shot McKay, not knowing that McKay had hidden Linda. So she died, slowly mummified, in a bunker in the Arizona desert. Now that’s one that sticks with me.
I’ve been wondering why I found these particular victims so hard to forget. You’ll have noticed that all were trapped.Transient Desires involves economic entrapment—slavery, really. Both the young Nigerian and the young Venetian have no economic hope, no way to escape doing what they hate. The Golden Egg reveals a young man cruelly trapped by isolation, deprived of human communication, deprived of any way to express an enormous talent. In Nine Tailors and The Wailing Wind, the victim’s death by physical entrapment creates another trap: those involved are trapped by their memories.
I wonder if the rank injustice that Leon depicts is part of the staying power of Transient Desires and The Golden Egg. Particularly in The Golden Egg, Brunetti feels helpless, and we share his frustration, his horror, really, at the young man’s death, and at the society that allowed it to happen. To that extent I’m still identifying with Brunetti, not the victim.
I’ve hidden my murder victims in enclosed spaces. Ghost Cave.
Maybe we identify more with the victim when reading about a death caused by physical entrapment, whether the victim’s tied up in a bell-tower or locked in an isolated bunker, where no one can hear the call for help (the bells are too loud, or the bunker too soundproof). Doesn’t that reverberate with all of us? We’re generally confident we could escape from most situations, could chew off the ropes on our wrist, pick the lock, find a secret passage, get a message to our rescuers. Fool the witch and chop down the beanstalk. But what if there’s no one to hear? No one to help? No way to get out? End of story. Not comfortable. Awfully memorable. Awfully.
The very last step in submitting stories is to continue submitting until you succeed. Persistence may be to the main key to success in the entire submission process.
For example, one of my short stories was recently accepted for publication by Black Cat Mystery Magazine. The story will appear in the magazine’s Cozies issue early in 2022. As near as I can tell in my records, I wrote the first draft of this story sometime in 2011. It sat in a file on my computer for several years, forgotten, until I sorted through my old stories, reread it, tweaked the ending, and finally submitted it to a market in 2018. It was rejected, so I revised it again, and resubmitted it five more times, but it was rejected each time. I submitted it next to a market that looked open on their website, but they advised me they were closed and asked that I resubmit later. I waited and resubmitted, but never received a response, which, for some markets, is the equivalent of a rejection.
Eventually, I came across the BCMM call for cozies, which seemed like a good fit for the story. So, once again, I reviewed the story, changed a few words here and there, and submitted it. By my count, BCMM was my ninth submission of the story to a market.
And so, “It Came Upon a Midnight Ice Storm” has finally found a home and will be published in 2022. If I’d given up after the first or even the fifth rejection, the story wouldn’t be under contract to be published right now.
2. Response Times
How long does it take to hear back from a publishing market rejecting or accepting a story? Response times for short story markets differ dramatically. In the world of science fiction short stories, I discovered one market where I submitted the story after 5 pm and received a rejection by email at around 1 am the next morning. Receiving a rejection in eight hours or less is apparently not unusual for that market. At the other end of the spectrum is Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine which, based on the data on Submission Grinder, is currently taking approximately 350 days, almost a full year, to respond to submissions.
Some markets post on their guidelines page how long they expect to take to respond to your submission. Others do not give any information. Currently, I have a story submitted to an anthology call for submissions that did not provide any estimate for when they will respond with either acceptances or rejections. They’ve had the story for about three months. All I can do is wait patiently to for the editor to eventually respond. I won’t be surprised if I have to wait six months. Waiting months for a response to a submission is much more common than waiting only hours in the world of mystery short story submissions. However, I have seen mystery anthology editors reject stories within a matter of days.
3. Finding calls for submissions and open markets
Be on the lookout for calls for submissions and market opening dates. The Submission Grinder has a tab on their home screen labeled “Recently Added Markets.” New calls for submissions and updates on markets are posted there regularly. You can also find calls for submissions by joining groups that inform their members of new calls. The Short Mystery Fiction Society, for example, informs members of calls for submissions via an online group chat and a website market page.
To find markets that open and close on set dates throughout the year, use the search feature on Submission Grinder and uncheck the box eliminating temporarily closed markets. Then, when you search for markets, all the temporarily closed markets will appear in your search. Some of these magazines and e-zines only open for submissions for a week or two at a time in various months of the year. Unless you know when those dates are, you will miss your chance to submit to these markets.
Good luck with your submissions!
N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is currently working on a paranormal mystery series called Bad Vibes Removal Services. Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.