Facing a Writing Challenge

by N. M. Cedeño

Many writers find motivation in challenging themselves in various ways. Some attempt to write a novel length manuscript each November as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Some writers set daily, weekly, or monthly word count targets as challenges to meet. Most do this because they know that when they challenge themselves, they find out what they are capable of accomplishing and learn to push themselves to accomplish more.

Sometimes we writers set these goals for ourselves, other times someone, like an editor in need of a story, provides the challenge for us.

Opportunity Knocks:

In the last week of May 2022, I received an unexpected writing challenge. It arrived in the form of an email from an editor, inviting me to submit a short crime fiction story for an anthology. The catch was that the original deadline, which the editor was willing to extend for me, was only about a week away.

I read the submission criteria, considered my options, and reviewed what was already on my schedule. Then I asked for a month, June, to submit the story, not knowing if that would work for the editor’s timeline.

Could I have said no? Sure. But I recognized that the challenge was also an opportunity to show myself and the editor what I was capable of doing. I was afraid the editor might need the story sooner than my suggested deadline and that he might say no.

The editor replied to my email, agreeing to give me until the end of June to submit the story.

Hooray! And Yikes! I had a deadline to meet.

Meeting the Deadline:

The short story had to fit the specifications for the anthology in question which meant that it had to be set during a particular time period and incorporate some historical event. The time in question happens to be the decade in which I was born, so I have no personal memories of historical events from then. I had to do research. Normally, I research until I get a good grasp for an era before writing. I’ve been known to fall down research rabbit holes and find far more material than I need. My research process had to be curtailed to cover only what was essential: the time and place where I was going to set the story.

Next, I selected a previously created character to make a second appearance in my new story. That character, a private detective named Jerry Milam, appeared in a story called “Nice Girls Don’t” which I wrote for the anthology Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties. Already having a protagonist saved me from having to create a main character from scratch.

After researching the decade and selecting a protagonist, writing the first draft took about three days, resulting in a manuscript that was missing some details. Then, I left on a previously scheduled, nine-day, family vacation, taking my laptop, but knowing I wouldn’t have time to do much work. As it turned out, I only opened the laptop twice during my trip, both times late in the evening.

Once I returned home, I went to work in earnest adding the details I knew were missing. The middle of the story felt muddled, so I reworked it in another draft the following day. Satisfied that the manuscript was complete, I emailed the story to two of the world’s best beta readers, two analytical and detail-oriented people who know that I WANT them to point out every possible error. They know I can take criticism. (I’d rather hear about errors from them than have the story rejected for those same errors!) Both returned notes on the story within a few days, for which I am extremely grateful. (Thanks, Mike and Deb!) After reviewing what errors my beta readers noticed, I corrected and completed the final draft of the story.

In the next few days, I reviewed word choices and line edited the entire document. I made MSWord read the story to me, so I could proofread by listening for errors. Finally, I submitted the story to the editor on June 18, almost exactly four weeks after I received the initial invitation to submit.

Did I hesitate before hitting “send” to submit the manuscript, wondering if I needed to review it one more time?

Yes.

Did I send it anyway?

Yes.

Results:

A week later, I heard back from the editor. The story was accepted for the anthology. I’ll provide more details on the story closer to publication.

I met the challenge and learned something. I could have done it in even less time. I’m glad that when an opportunity dropped in my lap, I was able to rise to the occasion. I’m grateful that the editor gave me the opportunity to meet this challenge.

Leave me a comment on writing challenges you’ve met!

*****

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.

Submitting Short Stories: It’s Like Baseball

By N. M. Cedeño

Many of the stories I write aren’t accepted the first time I submit them for publication. The majority have to be submitted over and over again to find a publication home. The process made me think of a batter stepping up to the plate in baseball because I may strike out repeatedly before scoring a run.

Most of the time, I write stories with no specific publisher in mind. I write the story because I want to or because the only way to get it out of my head- and make it stop bothering me- is to put it down on paper. Then, after the story is written, I begin the process of looking for a place to submit it. “It Came Upon a Midnight Ice Storm” is one of these stories. I wrote it for myself because I like light-hearted mysteries stories set at Christmas.

I first submitted this Christmas story for publication in mid-2018. It was rejected, struck out, eventually a total of eight times. I put it through workouts, strengthening it several times between ‘at bats’. Then, I saw a call for submissions that I thought it might fit, a call for cozy mysteries. On my ninth submission, the story was accepted. It will appear in Black Cat Mystery Magazine in a couple months.

from Murderous Ink Press, 2022

Sometimes, I’ll write a story based on requirements for a specific call for submissions, and it’s not accepted. I strike out. If the call was general enough, I can turn around and resubmit the story elsewhere with no changes. It’s ready for its next ‘at bat.’ That was the case for my story, “Reaching for the Moon.” After being initially rejected, and then rejected again, I submitted it to Murderous Ink Press, where editor John Connor accepted it for inclusion in the Crimeucopia: Say What Now? Anthology.

In other cases, the call for submissions may be in such a specific niche that I need to change the story in order to submit it elsewhere. Continuing the baseball analogy, I prepped the story to face a specific pitcher and have to make changes to face a new pitcher for the next ‘at bat.’

For example, my story “Serenity, Courage, Wisdom” was written for a very specific call for submissions for stories inspired by the music of a particular group and was rejected. In order to resubmit it elsewhere, I changed the title, which was originally a song title, and stripped out the details related to the song. Stripping those details left a hole, so instead of referencing a song, I settled on referencing a prayer that hung in my parents’ kitchen my entire childhood and that I have a copy of in my own kitchen.

After making these changes, I submitted the story to Black Cat Weekly, where the editor said the story needed a little work before he’d publish it and gave me some suggestions. In this case, I made a base hit, which requires more work on my part to make it to home plate. To get to home plate, I have to listen to the coach, aka the editor. I have to review the editor’s suggestions and work on the story with those suggestions in mind. If I don’t do the work, I get left on base and never make it home. If I do the work and send the story back to the editor, and he’s pleased and accepts the story, then I’ve rounded the bases to home plate and scored a run.

In this case, I did the work to earn the run. “Serenity, Courage, Wisdom” will be published in Black Cat Weekly #37 coming out in May 2022.

from Down & Out Books, 2022

Only one of my stories so far has been accepted on its first submission, which is the equivalent of hitting a home run. That story, “Nice Girls Don’t,” was written specifically for the anthology, Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties edited by Michael Bracken. I saw the call for submissions months ahead of the deadline and went to work researching material and writing the story. The anthology was published last week, debuting on April 11, 2022.

I have yet to retire any stories from the line-up. Eventually, I may have to set one aside, waiting to come out for the right call for submissions.

A Note: I’ll be participating in a panel discussion on mysteries, talking about my short mysteries, on Friday, May 13, at Hearth & Soul in Austin. Check the “Gather” tab on their website for time and location. Additional information will be posted soon.

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.

Writing “Reaching for the Moon” for Crimeucopia: Say What Now?

by N. M. Cedeño

Although I may veer off into other areas, my reading pile usually comprises two main categories of books: mysteries and histories. Sometimes when I’m writing, those two categories collide, and I write historical mysteries. Two of my historical mystery short stories will be published in March and April 2022.

Available March 2022 from Murderous Ink Press

The first story, “Reaching for the Moon,” is part of an anthology edited by John Connor entitled Crimeucopia: Say What Now? from Murderous Ink Press. The second story, entitled “Nice Girls Don’t,”  will be published by Down & Out Books in Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties edited by Michael Bracken. 

I wrote about the inspiration for “Nice Girls Don’t” in my last post. Today, I’ll review what inspired “Reaching for the Moon.”

Moon landing, NASA photo, from Pixabay.

I’m a fan of the history of space exploration. From Hidden Figures to Apollo 13, I’ve always been fascinated by the massive effort behind sending the first people into space and bringing them home safely. The space program’s tragedies – from Apollo 1 to Challenger and Columbia – and triumphs – from the Mercury Program to the International Space Station – are the stuff of legends.

Anyone who has read anything about the first US astronauts knows that the test pilot / astronaut lifestyle took a toll on marriages. Marital infidelity was common among the astronaut corps who were frequently away from home for training. Consequently, the divorce rate after leaving NASA was very high. But, NASA wanted to present a wholesome, clean-cut image of their astronauts that didn’t include divorce or infidelity. Life Magazine did full spreads on each of the first astronauts that presented the men as squeaky-clean Boy Scouts with perfect home-lives. This discrepancy between the public persona and private reality of the astronauts inspired ideas about the possibility of blackmail.

Because I live in Texas, I’ve toured the Apollo mission control center at Johnson Space Center in far south Houston several times. Anyone who has visited Space Center Houston knows that a mere thirty or so miles farther south down Interstate 45 is Galveston Island on the Gulf of Mexico.

Walking on a granite jetty, Galveston Island, Cedeño family photo 2021

Galveston Island has its own remarkable history. The barrier island was used as a pirate base before it became a major port city in the 1800s. Then, the 1900 Hurricane nearly obliterated the city, forcing port activity to move inland to Houston. The island became a vacation and pleasure spot infamous for ignoring the laws against drinking and gambling during the Prohibition era. Galveston enjoyed a lawless, mafia-run heyday between 1920 and 1950. Much of the illegal activity centered on the Balinese Room, a Maceo Family owned gambling joint and restaurant that perched on a pier over the Gulf and drew top talent from Hollywood, including Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope, to provide entertainment for guests.

The space center’s proximity to Galveston made me wonder: what if a 1960s astronaut wandered south to Galveston Island to see the places once made famous by Hollywood stars and mobsters and got himself into trouble? What if he had to seek the aid of a private detective to resolve the issue? And so, with a few name changes here and there to protect the innocent or the guilty, as the case may be, my story “Reaching for the Moon” was born.

I’m thrilled to have my story published with so many other great stories in Crimeucopia: Say What Now?, the 10th anthology in the Crimeucopia series from Murderous Ink Press and editor John Connor.

****

For additional historical reading, I recommend Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Moon Shot by Barbree, Slayton, and Shepard, Failure Is Not an Option by Gene Kranz, Light this Candle: the Life and Times of Alan Shepard by Neal Thompson, and Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson.

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.

Writing “Nice Girls Don’t” for Groovy Gumshoes

So what if I wasn’t born in the 1960s? I can do research!

In 2020, I came across a call for submissions for mystery short stories to be included in an anthology. The anthology was to be called Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties. The editor, Michael Bracken, wanted stories set in the 1960s featuring private detectives, with bonus points given if the story included a major historical event.

The call caught my attention, but not having been born in the 1960s, I searched my brain for any specific event that I might use as starting point for a story. Two events for which I had a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips came to mind. One was the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. When you grow up in Dallas, this one comes to mind quickly. But I thought that event, given its extreme historical prominence, might be covered by too many other authors submitting stories.

So I selected the second event: the UT Tower Shooting.

The University of Texas Tower Shooting on August 1, 1966, is a dark shadow on Austin’s history. It was a mass shooting at a school that happened decades before such events became regular occurrences. The Tower Shooting, like the JFK assassination, is reviewed regularly by the local media on anniversaries of the event. And I am intimately familiar with the locale where the shooting occurred since I attended the University of Texas at Austin and walked in the shadow of the Tower daily for four years. Additionally, the shooting is well-documented. Video taken that day is even available online. I knew that finding background details for a short story set around the time of the shooting wouldn’t be hard.

However, none of that is why the Tower Shooting came immediately to mind.

It came to mind because I knew someone I could question about life in the 1960s in Austin, Texas, and about the Tower shooting in particular: my father.

My father, whose grandparents were all Czech immigrants who arrived in Texas after the Civil War, graduated from tiny Rogers High School in rural central Texas and set out be the first in his immediate family to graduate from college. He worked his way up: first attending a junior college, then transferring to a small private college, then transferring, finally, to the University of Texas at Austin. On the fateful morning of August 1, 1966, my father turned in the final paper for the final class he needed to graduate. He arrived on campus early in the morning and left to report to his job at an Austin grocery store.

My father- Dec. 1966

He had a lot on his mind that day. With his upcoming graduation at the end of the summer term, my father should have been considering his improved employment prospects. But he wasn’t looking for jobs. He knew that his draft number was coming up in October. He had to make a decision: volunteer for the draft or wait to be drafted into the military in the midst of the Vietnam War. He volunteered for the draft in September 1966.

Twenty-seven years later, on my first day living in the dorms at UT, my father showed me where people had died near the balustrade on the South Mall. He pointed out the bullet holes marking the stone. He recounted his memory of leaving campus and listening to the shooting on the radio while at work. His story of that day, woven into the story of his life, became a piece of family lore, embedded in my memory.

And so, after picking my father’s brain and doing a ton of research, my short story “Nice Girls Don’t” came into being. The story features a private detective hired in September 1966 to investigate the death of a young woman, a UT student who died the day of the Tower Shooting. The girl’s parents believe their daughter’s case was ignored because the police were too busy dealing with the Tower Shooting to give her death the attention it deserved. The parents want the detective to find out what really happened.

After completing my story, I submitted it to the editor, hoping it might be selected for inclusion in the anthology… And the editor, Michael Bracken, chose my story to be included in Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties, coming from Down & Out Books in April 2022!

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.

Book Review: FULL DARK, NO STARS by Stephen King

“From the start . . . I felt that the best fiction was both propulsive and assaultive.  It gets in your face.  Sometimes it shouts in your face.  I have no quarrel with literary fiction, which usually concerns itself with extraordinary people in ordinary situations, but as both a reader and a writer, I’m much more interested by ordinary people in extraordinary situations.  I want to provoke an emotional, even visceral, reaction in my readers.  Making them think as they read is not my deal.” (Full Dark, No Stars. p.365).

There are some who avoid works by Stephen King.  Literary elitists have shown distain towards King for years, dismissing his writing as story-telling for the masses.  This review isn’t about the literary merits of King’s works, or his overwhelming success, or even about the monumental effect King’s life-long dedication to writing has had on the horror genre.  This is a brief review and discussion of two of four novellas found in Full Dark, No Stars, released in 2010.

Short stories and novellas are not a new format for King.  King has published very successful short stories and multiple novellas over his 35-year-long career.  He has clearly succeeded yet again, with Full Dark, No Stars.

Full Dark contains a common theme within each novella, a theme exploring the darker side of the human psyche, retribution, revenge, and a sense of twisted justice.  Redemption is not a theme, but revengeful retribution is revealed in each.  Even evil has the opportunity towards a twisted kind of justice—a black and damaging kind of justice, but justice nonetheless.

The first novella, 1922, is set in Depression era Nebraska.  The story involves a barely working family farm, constant work, brutally harsh, and unrelenting.  The wife and mother, Arlette, is a bitter and manipulative character who harps without end her wish to sell the 100-acre farm that she inherited from her father.  Arlette’s dream is to leave the country life and move to the progressive city of Omaha.

The husband, Wilfred “Wilf,” dominated and hen-pecked, is a browbeaten, beleaguered husband whose only desire is to stay on the land.  Wilf tells Henry, their only child, of his mother’s, Arlette’s, plan.  Wilf then convinces Henry to help him murder his mother.  Wilf intones that if Henry does not help with this, they will be forced to leave the farm, and Henry will never see his girlfriend, who lives  close by, ever again.  Henry, a meek and obedient boy, resists but finally agrees to help murder his mother.

When Arlette’s demands to sell increase, Wilf and Henry determine they must go through with the murder.  It is a clumsy and brutal murder; both father and son are deeply shaken afterwards.   Arlette’s murder acts as a horrific prelude to a story which evolves into a twisted tale of backwoods justice and supernatural interference.

The vicious murder results in the destruction of both father and son.  The darker psyche of Wilf bobs and weaves throughout the tale, and in the end, destruction follows.

(Spoiler:  If you have a phobia against rats, you may not want to read this dark tale).

A GOOD MARRIAGE:  A Good Marriage is both thought provoking and highly believable.  The main character is a stay-at-home wife, Darcy, whose children have gone to college and left home to start their lives.  Darcy has been married to the same man, Bob Anderson, for over 25 years.  She believes she is living the American dream, or a semblance of it – not perfect, but predictable, comfortable.  It is by sheer accident that she trips over a misaligned carton residing in the garage.  Darcy opens the carton and realizes that the man that she believes she knows as well as herself, not only has a double life, but is a serial killer.

Once Darcy confirms her suspicions, she realizes that there has not been a killing for 16 years.  She attempts to come to grips with what she knows for certain.  Her husband, Bob, intuits that she knows about his secret life when he realizes that the garage carton has been moved.  Bob confronts Darcy, and manages to convince her that it is all up to her what happens next; his life and their life together, as well as their children’s, hang on her decision.  Bob assures her that as long as she keeps quiet, he will suppress his killing urges; he promises her won’t kill again, but she must make her decision to stay and keep their secret.

Bob explains to Darcy the reason he took a break from killing was because of her, that being with her has allowed him to suppress and ignore his urge to kill.  But if she breaks her word, the killing will start up again, and Darcy will suffer the consequences, will be ostracized by the very people she believes to be her friends.

Bob and Darcy’s lives resume; he goes back to work, Darcy takes up her house-wifely duties, and they ignore their shared secret and there are no killings.  But Darcy, never feels at ease; she is ashamed and feels responsible.

After years of silence, Darcy stages an accident and succeeds in killing Bob.  After an evening celebration with family and friends, Darcy manages to push Bob down a flight of stairs, and he falls to his death.  Although Darcy is cleared of any foul play, she knows someone will come knocking on the door sooner or later.  And the day does come, and that someone comes knocking, but it isn’t who she expects.

Retribution comes in the end, along with a good dose of twisted justice, but you have to read the book to find out.

You will enjoy this collection.  Both 1922 and A Good Marriage have been made into movies.  The book will make you think, and may even surprise you.

After all, no one knows what they might do if pushed to the absolute edge.

*

From the Afterword:
“I have tried my best in Full Dark, No Stars to record what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire circumstances. The people in these stories are not without hope, but they acknowledge that even our fondest hopes (and our fondest wishes for our fellowmen and the society in which we live) may sometimes be vain. Often, even. But I think they also say that nobility most fully resides not in success but in trying to do the right thing…and that when we fail to do that, or willfully turn away from the challenge, hell follows.” (Stephen King).

“Stephen King has proven himself to be one of the finest chroniclers of the dark side of the human psyche over the 35 years of his successful career. While literary snobs sometimes cock a snoot at his mainstream appeal, there is no doubt that on his day he can spin as compelling a yarn as anyone” . . . These tense tales delve into the dark heart of a knitting society and a serial killer’s last stand.” Doug Johnstone. Independent. November 14, 2010.

***

References

King, Stephen.  FULL DARK, NO STARS. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Kirkus Review.  “Deals with the darkest recesses of the human soul. . .”   Nov. 10, 2010.

Johnstone, Doug. Independent. November 14, 2010. 

Photos: Courtesy of Pixabay

Book Photo: Courtesy of Amazon

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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.

Why Read Short Stories?

By N. M. Cedeño

If you don’t read short fiction, 2020 is the year to start. Busy, stressed, out of time, out of energy? Then short stories are for you. Here’s why:

Created with WordClouds.com

1. Finding the time to read isn’t a problem:

Even people with limited free time can find a few minutes to read a short story. While immersing readers in tightly woven plots, short fiction provides complete story arcs that can be consumed in minutes rather than the hours needed to read the average novel. Short stories may be read in small spurts rather than in long hauls, perfect for a lunch break or mental health break.

2. Short stories are the literary version of instant gratification:

Short stories are the chocolate cake of reading. photo from Pixabay.

Short fiction packs a powerful and entertaining punch into very few pages. By crafting concise prose to engage and captivate readers before quickly releasing them, short fiction authors grant even the busiest readers the sense of fulfillment that comes from finishing a work of fiction. Readers might feel bad that they never opened that massive tome on the nightstand, but a short story, quickly started and finished, gives readers a sense of accomplishment.

3. Find new authors within a favorite genre:

What if a reader wants to find a new author within a favorite genre? Maybe the book store and library only allow pick-up because of the pandemic, so no one can browse. Readers can browse by reading a short story collection. In one anthology, readers can try a dozen or more new authors and get a feel for how an author writes. Many novelists write short stories featuring their series characters for anthologies, collections, and magazines. These short stories give readers a chance to sample an author and meet characters before diving into a series.

from Pixabay

4. Try new genres or subgenres:

Readers can look to short fiction when they want to try something completely new. Anthologies, short story magazines, and e-zines contain samples of a wide variety of genres and subgenres of fiction. With magazines and e-zines filling a variety of niches, readers can get a taste of multiple genres for a low price. Some of these magazines provide sample stories on their websites or via newsletters for free. “Best of” anthologies collect award-winning stories in a variety of subgenres into one book. Reading a ‘best of’ anthology can introduce mystery readers to the year’s best science fiction, or science fiction readers to the year’s best horror. (See list below)

5. Build or rebuild a habit of reading:

Life gets busy, or even completely crazy, like this year. For some people, that causes reading to fall by the wayside. After falling out of the habit of daily reading, getting back into reading by diving into a novel might seem daunting. Short stories can provide a simpler, less time-demanding reintroduction to reading for those looking to establish the habit.

6. Perfect for emotionally or physically exhausted readers:

This year, 2020, has been hard on everyone emotionally and physically. If you’ve been trying to work, educate kids from home, care for the sick, and survive trying times without collapsing, starting a novel might seem an impossible task. For people low on energy, too exhausted to put forth the brain power a full-length novel might require, short stories are a better choice. Quick but meaningful bites of fiction like short stories can be a breath of fresh air for the exhausted mind.

Now you know why you should give short stories a try. Where do you find them?

Here is a nowhere-near-comprehensive list of mystery and science fiction short story magazines. Some provide sample stories on their websites or via newsletters. Check them out.

Don’t want magazines? How about books?

Try these anthology series. Your local library may have copies.

  • Best American Mystery Stories
  • Best American Mystery Stories of the Century
  • Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Best American Short Stories
  • The Best American Noir of the Century
  • The Best Science Fiction of the Year
  • The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror
  • The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

Enjoy some short stories! They are perfect for 2020.

~~~~~

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. The second novel in the series, entitled Degrees of Deceit, came out in August 2019.  Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter.

Agatha Christie Wrote Paranormal Stories?

Do you enjoy books that make a chill dance down your spine by invoking the otherworldly or the supernatural?

As a teen, I read all of my mother’s Agatha Christie novels, which fixed Christie’s place in my mind as a writer of traditional mysteries. I somehow dismissed the short stories written by Christie that fall firmly into the paranormal category until I picked up a copy of The Last Séance: Tales of the Supernatural. This collection of Agatha Christie’s short stories was put together and republished in 2019 by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. I’ll try to review the paranormal stories presented in the collection without too many spoilers.

The Last Séance: Tales of the Supernatural contains 20 stories of crime, murder, and suspense. Some of the stories feature clearly paranormal elements: otherworldly beings, premonitions of danger or death, possession or other transference of souls, and the ability to call upon supernatural forces. Other stories in the collection involve criminals using technology, complex cons, or gaslighting techniques to create the illusion of the supernatural, or malefactors taking advantage of an atmosphere of superstition to suggest a paranormal cause for a crime they committed. These latter stories hardly count as paranormal since the supernatural element is faked by the criminal. One or two of the stories fall into both camps, with the crime being committed from a mundane motive, but with the suggestion that perhaps the criminal wouldn’t have acted except for the influence of evil in the atmosphere weighing upon them.

Ghost from pixabay

Of the stories that contain clearly supernatural components, premonition is the most common element employed by Christie. The stories The Last Séance, In a Glass Darkly, S.O.S., The Gipsy, Philomel Cottage, and The Red Signal use premonition, either via dreams or via a sixth sense that something is wrong, to build suspense. The characters recognize that they are in danger, but don’t know the source and aren’t sure if they should believe the bells of warning ringing in their brains. Some heed the warnings as best they can, but still fall into dangerous situations. Other characters dismiss the warnings until circumstances force them to pay attention. From story to story, the results of heeding or ignoring the warnings vary as the characters dance to Agatha Christie’s tune.

A couple of the stories feature ghosts or supernatural beings. The title story, The Last Séance, features a medium channeling the soul of a dead child for a grieving mother. The second story with a ghost, The Lamp, involves a family moving into a long vacant house. The house has stood unoccupied for years because the ghost of a child is haunting it. While The Lamp is a pure “ghost story,” The Call of the Wings and The Dressmakers Doll both deal with nonhuman, otherworldly beings. The Call of the Wings describes a man’s interactions with a pan-like creature and angels. The Dressmakers Doll revolves around a doll with a mind of its own.

from Pixabay

Reincarnation and the suggestion of lost supernatural knowledge from ancient civilizations appear in Christie’s stories as well. However, little can be written about these stories or the ones featuring possession or transference of souls without spoiling them. Christie’s use of these story elements can be easily traced to the author’s own travels in Egypt and interest in archaeology and to the Egyptian archaeological discoveries of the early 1900s which aroused public interest in ancient belief systems and mystical powers.

The collection The Last Séance: Tales of the Supernatural is a mixed bag of suspense stories, mystery stories with a crime that needs to be solved, and stories that feature no crime at all. Christie’s two main detectives, Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot, appear in a few of the stories. Poirot takes the stage in The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, The Dream, and The Flock of Geryon. Miss Marple reasons her way quietly to answers in The Idol House of Astarte and The Blue Geranium. While the crime provides the mystery in some of the stories, in a few of the purely paranormal stories, the only mystery lies in the paranormal or supernatural event itself.

*****

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. The second novel in the series, entitled Degrees of Deceit, came out in August 2019.  Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter.

Inspiration for My Short Stories

Sometimes, as an author I am asked where I get ideas for my short stories. I get my inspiration from books and articles I read, places I visit, and events in the world around me. The six new short stories in Arson Vibes and Other Tales, which came out recently, can all be traced to these sources.

ArsonVibesAZBThe story Victorian Vibes features my characters Lea and Kamika finding a gory, sealed room inside of a house under renovation. This story, which opens the collection, was inspired by a driving tour of Victoria, Texas, an old Spanish colonial town south of San Antonio. Victoria is home to more than 114 historic properties all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These buildings are mostly restored architectural gems. A driving tour through town will take visitors past 80 of them. Creating a similar house with a haunted past and ‘bad vibes’ for my characters to explore wasn’t a difficult task.

Feline Vibes, the second story in the collection, features Lea and Patrick trying to solve a murder in which the police have made no progress. The story was inspired by the many scattered properties I’ve driven past in the Texas Hill Country on the way to Fredericksburg and Enchanted Rock State Park. The natural beauty of the area draws hikers and campers and people looking to escape the fast-paced life of city living. But the isolating hills, cactus, and long distances between neighbors also make a wonderful backdrop for murder.

abstract-2726482_1280Texas Frontier Vibes was partially inspired by reading the book Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne. The long and bloody battle between the Comanches and every wave of settlers that tried to take their land is fertile ground for ghost stories. In the story, a collection of arrow heads is bound to the ghost of the person who died being shot with the arrows. While the injuries sustained by the character in the story are drawn directly from history, the idea that the arrow heads could be haunted was inspired by my father’s inheritance of a collection of points, axes, scrapers, and other stone tools from his deceased brother who had been a lifelong collector of these items.

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Monument to Columbia, by Pixabay

Space Shuttle Vibes owes its existence to my memory of the disaster involving the Space Shuttle Columbia when it came apart catastrophically over Texas in 2003. That accident led to the largest search and recovery effort ever carried out in the United States and is well-detailed and explained in a book that I read entitled Bringing Columbia Home by Michael Leinbach and Jonathan Ward. Sixty percent of Columbia remains lost in the swamps and thickets of East Texas. This fact inspired my tale of a man who dedicates his retirement and apparently part of his afterlife to finding and returning the pieces.

Museum Vibes, the story of a haunted living history pioneer farm, was inspired partially by my interest in all things historical, from gold-rushes and frontier life to the tuberculosis epidemic that plagued the world in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s also based on my many visits to pioneer farms with living history exhibits in the Dallas area and in the Austin area. What ghosts wouldn’t want to stay in a place that looked and felt like the time period in which they lived?

The final story in the collection, Arson Vibes, was inspired by a terrible fire that engulfed a lovely wood-frame church in a small community in Texas a few years ago. Texas has a number of famous, painted churches built by European immigrants in the late 1800 and early 1900s. The Painted Churches Tour in Texas is a great way to see a handful of them. While the fire in the real church was accidental, the one in my story is, of course, an act of arson which needs my investigative crew to solve it.  And old churches, with their adjacent graveyards, should come with a ghost or two, shouldn’t they?

These new stories in the collection Arson Vibes and Other Tales are on sale this week, May 4 to 11, 2020. At the moment the stories are only available on Amazon, later in the summer they will be available from other retailers. I would have the stories available everywhere, but the coronavirus and its attendant issues have put a crimp in my schedule at the moment.

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is currently working on a series called Bad Vibes Removal Services. The second novel in the series, entitled Degrees of Deceit, came out in August 2019.  Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter.

How to Submit Short Stories to Magazines, Anthologies, & Contests

With so many self-publishing options available to writers, no one has to submit work to a publisher to see it in print. However, magazines, anthologies, and contests provide opportunities for authors to reach new readers. Getting published in a magazine or anthology can be great targeted advertising and winning an award can bring attention to one’s work.

The basic steps to submitting fiction manuscripts to magazines, anthologies, and contests are as follows:

STEP 1: Find calls for submissions.

Check blogs and websites that aggregate information on contests, submission openings, and publishing markets.

door-1590024_640One great place to find publication openings is The Grinder, which provides a searchable database with no login or fee required. Another site, Submittable, posts calls for submissions and provides the submission system through which to submit your work. Both Submittable and The Grinder will allow you to track your submissions. You have to create a login to use the tracking systems for both sites, but it’s free.

A blog called Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity provides a running list of contests, calls for submissions, and open markets for writers. Many writers’ organizations, such as Mystery Writers of America, also keep lists of publishing markets on their websites. Upcoming conventions typically have anthologies associated with them, so check convention websites for submission information. Authors can also join Facebook groups or other online discussion sites that post calls for submissions.

STEP 2: Avoid scams.

Always check the background of publishers or contests to which you are considering submitting work. Make sure they are not scams. Check the internet for complaints! Check WRITER BEWARE.

road-sign-464653_640Avoid licensing rights grabs in click-through contracts. Some contests will try to claim rights to your work simply because you entered the contest. If the contest claims rights to your work, you might not be able to publish the work elsewhere even if you lose the contest. Most legitimate publishers and contests will revert rights to the author after some period of exclusivity. Examine what rights to your work the publisher or contest is seeking. Make sure the licensing rights requested are appropriate. Read the fine print to avoid being scammed.

STEP 3: Verify your work is appropriate for the publisher.

Each publisher tries to carve out a niche so that their readers know what to expect. Magazines will look for stories that match their chosen tone, style, and niche. You must match your work to the market’s niche and tone for a better chance at publication. Read samples of the work published by different magazines. If you are considering submitting to an online e-zine, read their stories. Get a feel for the market to make sure your work matches what the editor is publishing. Then, target the highest paying, professional markets first. You don’t want to send something to a token market that might have been picked up by a pro market!

STEP 4: Read the submission guidelines!

After you sort the options, you may have several legitimate places to submit your work. Now read the submission guidelines carefully. Some, but not all, publishers allow for “simultaneous submissions.” This means you can submit the same piece to multiple venues at once. Most don’t allow “multiple submissions”- sending them more than one piece at a time- so send your best work only.

social-1206610_640Format your submission as directed. For example, some editors request William Shunn’s manuscript format. Other editors will make you jump through hoops with specific word usage, margins, and spacing. Follow the directions precisely.

Some markets use submission systems such as Submittable to receive manuscripts. Others ask you to attach a file to an email. No matter which method is required, always verify the file formats accepted! Some publishers reject .docx files in favor of .doc.

Once you submit your work, wait to hear back. Consult The Grinder to find out average response times.

STEP 5: Get used to rejection.

If you submit your work for publication, you will be rejected at some point!

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Thousands of people submit work for publication every single day. Most will not be selected. Not being selected doesn’t mean that your work is bad. It only means that it wasn’t the right choice for someone at a given moment in time. Hold on to that work and resubmit it elsewhere. You may know of a place to submit it right away, or, in a year, you may see a call for submissions that fits your piece perfectly.

If you are worried about rejection, google “famous books rejected by publishers.” You will be amazed by the lists.

STEP 6: Continue submitting until you succeed!

As with most things in life, effort is required to achieve success. Don’t give up. Keep submitting work until you succeed.

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All pictures provided by Pixabay.

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is currently working on a series called Bad Vibes Removal Services. The second novel in the series, entitled Degrees of Deceit, came out in August 2019.  Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter.