In the past few years, I’ve been writing a lot more than I realized. Without realizing it, I’ve managed to publish more than a dozen new short stories! Some of these have come out of various writing classes and workshops, but others have just popped out of my head onto the page.
All of these new pieces are listed on my Publications page now. Feel free to stop by and read some of my work for inspiration!
Things in the world are pretty chaotic at the moment. It’s easy to be pulled into a world of grey hopelessness. A reminder that anyone can still create something beautiful can be good for the soul.
Poe was a writer, literary critic, and editor, the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living exclusively through writing. In spite of his prolific output, he didn’t earn enough to support himself, let alone live comfortably.
Although Poe died at the age of forty, this book contains 119 short stories and poems and one novel. His literary criticism isn’t represented at all in this volume, nor are his essays on writing, such as “The Philosophy of Composition,” “The Poetic Principle,” and “The Rationale of Verse.” His first publications were poetry, and he published 53 of them, but his work covers a much broader spectrum: 27 tales of mystery and horror; 25 stories of humor and satire; 14 that veer toward fantasy and science fiction. His novel is an adventure yarn. “Eureka” is a disquisition on the nature of the universe, and his vision has been largely confirmed by science, for example the Big Bang Theory.
Despite the breadth of his writing, he is best known for poetry and suspense/horror. He is often called the father of detective fiction—preceding Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins by decades—while his contributions to cosmology and cryptography are known to relatively few. Besides being brilliant, Poe was a fine athlete. (He once set a broad jump record of 21’6″.) But he is most remembered as a man who suffered bouts of depression, whose career and life were burdened if not destroyed by gambling and alcohol, and who was plagued by scandals ranging from his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin to courting multiple women simultaneously.
To this day his death is shrouded in mystery. Where had he been for the previous several days? What was he doing? Why was he wearing someone else’s clothes? And who was the “Randal” he called out for from his deathbed?
This post also appears on the Virginia is for Mysteries blog. Click here to read it and more stories from Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume II.
In high school, I hated Ohio and American history. I didn’t want to memorize the dates of battles, the names of generals, the placement of Ohio’s 88 counties and their county seats. In college, I avoided taking a history course of any sort. But after graduate school, historical fiction, biographies, and memoirs ignited my interest. I find social history, and the civilian parallels to military history, fascinating. Thus, I am more interested in sex during the Civil War than in mapping troop movements at Gettysburg, what was happening in medicine and sources of corruption than who was in charge of which part of the armies. Thus my story for Virginia Is For Mysteries,“Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery” was born, with the amateur detective being Clara, a good-natured prostitute who specialized in serving men with benign fetishes in and around Richmond during the Civil War.
I enjoyed writing Clara, and readers seemed to enjoy the story, so for Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume II, I decided to take Clara from Richmond to the West. But why Nimrod Hall? For one thing, it’s historic, the property established as a farm in 1783. For another, I’ve enjoyed summer writing workshops at the modern (but rustic) Nimrod Hall of today for more than 10 years. It still stands near the Cowpasture River, and has the original fieldstone fireplace.
I’m familiar with Bath County, Millboro and Millboro Springs, and Warm Springs. In addition, the Bath County Historical Society is the baby of Richard L. Armstrong, the man who wrote a booklet titled, The Civil War in Bath County, Virginia. He was very helpful and willingly shared his thoughts. If you are ever in Warm Springs, stop by—and then enjoy the waters at what are now called the Jefferson Pools.
Ultimately, I was able to weave local war history and the names of its actors with the Civil War railroad system, the history of Nimrod Hall and its public scandals into a story in which Clara arrives at the farm to become enmeshed in murder and intrigue that never happened—but could have!
Learn more about Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume IIhere.
The anthology of nineteen short stories, set in and around the Commonwealth, features Virginia landmarks and locations such as Virginia Wine Country, the Poe Museum, Luray Caverns, Colonial Williamsburg, the Great Dismal Swamp, Nimrod Hall (my story!), the Barter Theater, and Mill Mountain, to name a few. Visit VirginiaIsForMysteries.com to learn more.
The stories transport readers across the diverse backdrop of the Old Dominion to a unique and deadly landscape, filled with killers, crooks, and criminals.
Authors: Meriah Lysistrata Crawford, Adele Gardner, Debbiann Holmes, Maria Hudgins, Teresa Inge, Maggie King, Kristin Kisska, C. B. Lane, Vivian Lawry, Michael McGowan, Kathleen Mix, Jayne Ormerod, Yvonne Saxon, Rosemary Shomaker, Rosemary Stevens, Linda Thornburg, Heather Weidner, Lee A. Wells, and Ken Wingate
This is a sequel to “Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery,” which appears in Virginia Is For Mysteries. It follows Clara as she escapes war-torn Richmond in 1862 only to encounter wounded soldiers and spies in Bath County.
Preorders are the way that the big stores judge how many to order. It’s an opportunity to support local authors and reserve your copy. Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume II releases on February 1, 2016.
Sometimes things just come together. I’ve had a long-standing interest in graveyards and cemeteries. My all-time favorite is Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The primary picture on my website was taken there! It is the first garden cemetery in the United States, established in 1834.
So, of course, when I moved to the area, I visited Hollywood Cemetery, the third garden cemetery in the United States.
At that time, I lived in the McMurdo house in Ashland, built in 1858. Apparently Stonewall Jackson headquartered there briefly during the battles around Richmond—briefly meaning only a few hours. But it piqued my interest in the Civil War.
After touring the White House of the Confederacy, I visited the gift shop there. After visiting historic sites or museums, I always check the gift shop for off-beat books. In this instance, I found The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War.
So when the call went out for stories for Virginia Is For Mysteries, it all came together. I wrote “Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery.” My amateur detective is Clara, a good natured prostitute who plies her trade with fetishists in Richmond and the surrounding area during the Civil War.
Sometimes life gets on top of you. You aren’t dead, just buried. And accidents happen. Such was the case for me recently. When two on-line journals went live nearly simultaneously, I realized that I had granted first rights to both of them. My attempt to set things right follows.
I am embarrassed and extremely regretful to have to tell you that I inadvertently granted publication rights to two literary journals. On May 8, 2015, when I granted OxMag rights to my short story “Trust,” I did not recall that I had previously (on March 27) granted publication to Diverse Arts Project Journal. All I can say in my defense is that over the last several months I’ve been distracted by two surgeries, daily hospital care for a persistent non-healing wound, various other health complications, family issues, and a flurry of short story acceptances. Once I discovered my error, notifying you seemed the only honorable thing to do.
As an on-line publication, I suppose that you can—and may wish to—remove my story from this issue. Alternatively, should you choose to allow the double publication to stand, please add an appropriate footnote acknowledging the Diverse Arts Project Journal.
Again, my apologies for the error. Please let me know how you decide to handle this. And thank you for your time and efforts on my behalf.
A little more than three weeks later, I received the following response.
Thank you so much for coming forward with this issue, we appreciate it.
Because it is our policy generally to only publish previously unpublished work, we will remove your story “Trust” from our Spring 2015 issue. We did enjoy your story, and re-reading it gives us time to again appreciate why we chose to publish it initially. We encourage you to continue submitting work to OxMag, but also remind you to in the future keep us informed of the status of any simultaneous submissions. (Submittable actually has an option to withddraw stories from consideration once they’ve been accepted without you having to notify everyone.)
We wish you good health, and also congratulations on the other short story acceptances—that’s very exciting!
Avoid First Rights Blunders
There are several take-aways for writers. One, with e-publishing, this sort of error can be corrected. Unlike a print journal, where making changes of this sort would be prohibitively expensive, it’s a relatively easy fix. Two, if you screw-up—regardless of the medium—admit it. Besides easing your conscience, doing so reflects well on you. In this case, OxMag thanked me and invited future submissions. And, three, take care of the paperwork (either yourself, or through a third party). It’s much better to avoid this sort of situation than to try to repair it!
I had to leave home at 8:30 a.m. and didn’t get home till nearly 10:00 p.m. But it was definitely worth the time! The commute was a reconnect with Heather Weidner and Maggie King. Lots of conversation about everything from work life to pets.
The Center for Cultural Arts is attractive—white columns, brick walkway, garden sculptures. On the way in and out, I was too encumbered to take pictures. Oh, sigh. Opportunity lost.
Our table location—just inside the door, first on the right—was a blessing and a curse. The blessing was that everyone entering passed our table first, all adhering to the U.S custom of keeping to the right. The curse was that we were backed by a bank of windows, and all my photos there are dark and sinister looking. Heather got better pictures.
But I did get seeable pictures of Mary Miley, Fiona Quinn, and Maggie King. Mary Miley, former president of the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters in Crime, is the author of the Roaring Twenties mystery series. Two are published (The Impersonator, winner of the Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel award, and its sequel, Silent Murders.) Two more in the series are forthcoming.
Maggie King is author of Murder in the Book Group. Fiona Quinn is the author of the Lynx series: Weakest Lynx, Missing Lynx, Chain Lynx, and co-author with John Dolan of Chaos is Come Again.
Our panel presentation on getting published was scheduled for 5:00—the last hour of the festival—and I was a bit skeptical. But the room was packed! We talked about everything from traditional to DIY, short stories to novels, pen names to web presence. The attendees were engaged, asked lots of questions, no one left, and when the 6:00 end time arrived, the security guard had to clear the room because he was closing the building. What a high!
Advice for book signings: Be Prepared. Never go to a book signing with only one pen!
Read More About the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival
One question that non-writers often ask is, “Where do you get your ideas for stories?”
My short answer is, “Everywhere.” The somewhat longer answer is newspapers (especially news of the weird), magazines, tidbits on TV, conversations (overheard and otherwise), photos, books, life events (mine and others’), obituaries—i.e., everywhere. I tend toward the dark and the odd.
The recent blooming of a corpse flower at the Denver Botanic Gardens reminds me of my story “Bunga Bangkai” in Different Drummer. All of the stories in that collection are weird, but this one is extremely exotic and esoteric. It started when I came across a news story about a corpse flower blooming in the University of Connecticut greenhouses at about the same time that I somewhere heard or read the phrase “garden of heads.” The result was magical realism, with touches of animism and number symbolism—a story of the search for lost love and reconnection. Here are the opening paragraphs:
I came to The Huntington Botanical Garden to assist at the blooming of the Amorphophallus titanium—the huge shapeless penis. The other botanists here call him Johnson, or sometimes Titan arum, but I prefer to call him Bunga Bangkai, his name in our native Sumatra. Bunga Bangkai is wondrous. In bloom, the spadix—the penis—is fleshy and red, cloaked by a frilly-edged, leafy spathe (or petal) the shape of an upturned fluted bell, pale green on the outside and burgundy velvet on the inside. He resembles his distant cousins the Calla lily, skunk cabbage, and jack-in-the-pulpit, except that the bloom of Bunga Bangkai is three feet across and six feet tall—nearly eight feet if his potato-like corm is included in the measure. This Bunga Bangkai’s corm–his tuber—looks like a water chestnut and is the size of a small curled-up child.
For this blooming, I have tended Bunga Bangkai since his bud tip first pierced the earth, nearly three weeks ago. He has grown six inches a day and his bloom-time is near. Two weeks ago, we carried him from the conservatory to the garden, to share this rare spectacle with the people. More than four thousand come each day. At home in Sumatra, he would bloom every year. But here, it will be at least three years before he blooms again. Since his immigration in 1935, fewer than a dozen bloomings have graced the United States.
Funny, but reading that story now, I realize that there are ever more corpse flowers blooming in the U.S. and abroad—which I find very gratifying!
Who but Nimrod Writer Women would be passing around a paper mâché wedding cake at breakfast? A few years back, NPR put out a call for short stories about the wedding cake in the middle of the road (or something close to that). But story possibilities are endless!
I’m not sure what the central decoration is supposed to represent, but think about it. Imagine the symbolism! I’m just saying…
Here’s one thing at Nimrod that’s even less needed than fake wedding cake. No writer is ever disturbed between breakfast and lunch–and seldom otherwise.
Speaking of meals–as I sort of was–the food is great, especially the salads. Tomatoes grown here. Crisp sweet peppers. Corn cut off the cob. Black beans. Green beans. Asparagus. Shredded kale. Quinoa. And I, for one, had never considered thinly sliced raw Brussels sprouts!
Frances and I walked near the old boys camp mess hall. Even in their heyday, I’m sure the food was nothing to write home about!
Frances Webb Burch and I walked past the old mess hall after lunch today. She is my most frequent walking partner. She writes wickedly funny essays about sex and aging, touching memoirs about coming of age in the 50s, gritty stories about mothers and daughters–and sometimes dips into magical realism. She is one of the Founding Mothers of the Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Programs, first visual arts and then writing.
Frances was “on” today, as was I. And as Monday is my preference, I was a happy camper. I workshopped 15 pages of a new novel. Tonight I read a short story in progress. And now I must stop this, for Cathy Hankla, writer in residence, assigned me to read “Brokeback Mountain” and consider point of view, distance, and narrator as I revise 3-5 pp of my new novel!