VL: Today’s guest blog is by Teresa Inge, whose novella “Hounding the Pavement” is the opening work in the recently released To Fetch a Thief. Teresa has contributed to several anthologies both as author and as organizer. Today she will share her perspective on collaboration.
Just as writing is a lonely experience, collaboration is a group effort. As a short story author, I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with many authors on several writing projects.
These projects have included the coordination of joint mystery anthologies. Some years ago, I came up with the idea to create the Virginia is for Mysteries series, a collection of sixteen short stories set in and around Virginia. I first discussed the series with the Sisters in Crime Mysteries by the Sea chapter members and the Central Virginia chapter members. Once members were on board to move forward, I organized an anthology committee. This began the wonderful partnership of writers joining together to create great mysteries. Along the way, we teamed up to generate timelines, book titles, number of contributors, submissions guidelines, promotion, and securing a publisher.
VL: As a contributor, I can say Teresa did a great job!
We also learned that working with multiple authors can be challenging with schedules, editing, and finding time to promote the books.
VL: What Teresa may be too polite to say is that it was sometimes a real pain in the neck—or somewhere! For example, people missing deadlines, arguing over suggested edits, and/or never being available for talks or signings.
Next, I created 50 Shades of Cabernet, a mysterious wine anthology with authors I knew from Malice Domestic, a fan-based mystery writer’s conference. But I took a different approach and solicited authors who were established, had a following, and created well-crafted mysteries. I knew from experience that these authors would put in the time needed to make the book successful.
More recently, I collaborated with three authors on To Fetch a Thief, the first Mutt Mysteries collection, featuring four novellas that have “gone to the dogs.” In this howling good read, canine companions help their owners solve crimes and right wrongs. Since I’ve been in several books with this particular group, we now have the knowledge and experience to create well developed mysteries and a strategic marketing plan.
Collaborating with multiple authors combines efforts to develop great mysteries and create a strong network, since there is strength in numbers.
VL: Teresa, thank you for sharing your insights. From your closing remarks, it sounds as though collaboration—like so many other things—gets easier with practice. No doubt many authors would benefit from working with and learning from you!
Teresa Inge grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today, she doesn’t carry a rod like her idol, but she hotrods. She is president of Sister’s in Crime Mystery by the Sea Chapter and author of short mysteries in Virginia is for Mysteries and 50 Shades of Cabernet.
VL: Thanks to Rosemary Shomaker, we have a chance to vicariously experience the struggle of a writer stretching into a new challenge. Although Rosemary doesn’t get into her story in To Fetch a Thief directly, “This is Not a Dog Park” is great. She should definitely go long again/more in the future. And as an added bonus, check out her dog!
I’ve commented to friends (and to anyone asking about my writing) that completing a novella was difficult for me, a short-story writer. As I reflect on this, the words to “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway musical Rent keep floating through my brain. Let me plant the ear-worm for you:
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure,
Measure a year?
In cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure a year in a life?
Now, let me connect the dots. Short stories have a word count of 4,000 to 8,000 words; those are the targets many publishers suggest when soliciting short story submissions. How long is that? At 250 words to a double-spaced manuscript page, you’ll find short stories weighing in at sixteen to thirty-two manuscript pages. What does that mean in a book? For a 5.5” x 8.5” book size, that translates to ten to twenty pages.
In writing a short story, you typically write twice the length and then cut, edit, and rewrite to produce a tight short story—eliminating half of what you initially wrote. I chose short story projects for several reasons. Primarily, I liked the compressed focus—of both the length and the writing period. I could assess my time and plan accordingly. Violà! I’d finish and see results within weeks or months.
For the first in the planned Mutt Mysteries series we aimed to produce a book including four novellas. “What are those?” you ask. Simplistically, a novella is a short novel or a long short story. To check what I tell you, I Googled “novella,” and found one explanation that a “novelette” runs 7,500 to 17,499 words, and a “novella” is 17,500 to 39,999 words. How precise! You guessed it—40,000 words and more is a novel. The varied fiction genres, however, have specific expectations. A mystery novel runs 80,000 to 90,000 words, for instance. The To Fetch a Thief novellas run about fifty pages each.
I wrote my first draft of “This is Not a Dog Park.” My word count was 8,300 words—and that was only the first draft! Remember my comment about expecting to cut half of a first draft? I was sunk. Clearly, this novella task was a different animal than a short story. Yes, but I didn’t realize the different animal was a beast! I floundered for several weeks, trying to “gin up” my plot and visualize the long mile to 17,500 words. (“Gin up”? Who says that? I looked up the idiom—see * below for the very interesting origin—I love words—but I digress!)
My first attempts at adding volume to the story were horrible. I found myself cranking up meaningless descriptions. I added useless comments. Each time I did this, my short story writing training rebelled at the waste and at the imprecision of the prose.
It took me adjusting to a completely different mindset to make any useful progress. The place to start for me was the plot. In a novella, I could have more happening than I could in a short story, and I explored that. In addition, my characters could interact more and build their relationships over several scenes. I gave myself permission to relax the compactness of short story boundaries. Still, my product was unfocused. It’s only when I deleted some useless scenes and repurposed others that I felt progress.
Back to the song. Here’s how the words translated to my novella ordeal:
Seventeen thousand—then add five hundred words.
Up to thirty-nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine.
More than seventeen thousand five hundred words.
How do you measure,
Measure a plot?
In scenes or in lines?
In pages, in edits, in words by the ton?
Seventeen thousand—then add five hundred words.
How do you measure when your novella is done?
The beauty of this novella-writing exercise for me was that finally the “organicness” (that’s a dodgy word—“organicity” is worse—that layers on medical meanings) of writing emerged, finally, and I received the gift of having a glimpse of the work of a true novelist. Yikes, that’s some hard work! My regard for any novelist has increased, and my awe of good novelists compounds exponentially.
In my learning experience writing this novella, I did, as “Seasons of Love” reminds us, “You got to, you got to remember the love.” I do love writing!
* “Gin up” – one Googled source yielded the explanation below. You bet I checked the definition of “feague”! That definition used the euphemism “fundament” . . . I love words!
“Gin up” means enliven, excite or enthuse. Its probable derivation is from the 1800s British slang term “ginger up,” which referred to the practice of putting ginger up a horse’s butt to make him spirited and prance witha high tail, for purposes of show or sale. The other term for this practice is the verb “feague.” This is confirmed both by the online Phrase Finder from the UK and the OED. (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gin%20up)
VL: Thank you Rosemary! I appreciate your candidness and rich language. In addition, I think you are an inspiration to other writers striving to expand their writing lives. I do hope we collaborate again sometime. And to close out, just one more great photo.
Rosemary Shomaker has called Virginia home for decades. After a state government career writing inspired nonfiction, she now writes fiction. You can find a few of her short stories in anthologies such as Virginia is for Mysteries – Volumes I and II, 50 Shades of Cabernet, and several of the Shaker of Margaritas anthologies. Her “This is Not a Dog Park” novella is included in the Mutt Mysteries collection To Fetch a Thief. You may recognize her if you shop at thrift stores, attend estate sales, visit historic sites, or poke around abandoned buildings—she cannot resist the lure (and lore) of the past.
In a few days I am leaving for Portugal and Spain. For the modern traveler setting off on such an excursion, the expected reading is likely to be a travel guide. In that type of book, I highly recommend the Lonely Planet guides. They are clear, accurate, and comprehensive.
But those are not the only books people turn to for travel guidance. At one point, Virginia Is For Mysteries was ranked #3 in the Amazon list of travel and tourism—presumably because each story was set in a different Virginia location. People at book signings have said they actually used the book to decide where to go on vacations. One woman said she and her friend were in the process of visiting all the places written about!
A similar volume is likely to appeal to the armchair traveler. My story in this volume is set in Civil War Richmond, but other authors chronicle death and destruction from Puritan Massachusetts to post-WWII settings, and from Buffalo to Wales.
Although not always writing of travel, when he does, Bill Bryson is one of my favorites. He has a slanted view that appeals to me, along with rich detail, humor, and a fresh take on familiar places.
Perhaps you read Blue Highways when it first came out in 1981. It was a bestseller. And it has staying power, for it was reissued in 2012! William Least Heat Moon traveled what one might call secondary roads or scenic byways—the ones shown on road maps as blue lines. He has an amazing voice for taking one off the interstate!
Bottom line: Travel reading is good, and travel is made even better by reading!
An anthology is a published collection of writings (such as poems or short stories) by different authors.
One of the basic characteristics of anthologies is that the works included are relatively short. They are good for days when focusing for a long time may not be feasible, or when one wants a literary bite before bedtime.
By definition, because anthologies include works by different authors, they include different voices, styles, and maybe genres. If you don’t like one story, move on to the next.
When anthologies draw from previously published sources, the work has already been vetted for quality more than once. Indeed, many anthologies are published annually with titles like The Best X Short Stories of (Year).
Anthologies can be selected by format. Most recent anthologies are available both as physical books and ebooks.
Anthologies are often broad in scope.
100 Great Short Stories by Dover Publications
Great Short Short Stories, edited by Paul Negri
The World’s Greatest Short Stories, edited by James Daley
120 Great Short Stories, by Oldiees Publishing
Doubletakes: Pairs of Contemporary Short Stories, edited by T. C. Boyle et al.
40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology, edited by Beverly Lawn
Some anthologies are mission driven. A couple of examples of these would be Drumvoices Revue (where my short story “Aunt Fan’s Private Journey” appeared), which celebrates diversity, and the Chrysalis Reader series, which describes itself as “original essays, poetry, and short stories illuminating the world of spirit.” One volume included my story “Solid Line.”
Sometimes they are focused by geographic region.
The Best American Short Stories, published annually by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Great American Short Stories, edited by Wallace and Mary Stegner
The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
100 Years of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor
The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, Oxford University Press
Yes, the Radford Reads Festival had the expected panels, speakers, and workshops (which I’ll get to soon), but it had so much more–just ask any of the attendees who came for the classic cars. . .
. . . or the blacksmithing, music, quilters, or Civil War reenactors.
There were crafters selling soaps, lotions, jewelry, and leather goods—and books, of course.
This breadth resulted from the joining of Radford Reads with the Celebrate Radford Festival, two events in their 3rd and 4th years, respectively. Both events are free and open to the public.
And then there was the location!
Both events were held on the grounds of the Glencoe Museum, housed in the post-war home of Brigadier General Gabriel C.Wharton, C.S.A., built in the 1870s. The museum includes an art gallery, and for the festival, there was art on the grounds as well.
I arrived a day early and toured the museum and art gallery with great pleasure. Even in the midst of preparing for the festival the next day, Scott Gardner, director of the museum, and Maryann Whited graciously guided me.
I loved the woodwork—and the 12 to 13-foot ceilings—as well as the objects, such as this horn, carved in the shape of a fish.
And fascinating historical artifacts—fascinating for me anyway. Note the exhibit about niter (also called saltpeter). I mentioned train loads of niter in my story “War and Murder at Nimrod Hall” in Virginia is for Mysteries: Volume II.
But to the book festival itself.
Because you are reading this, I assume you are a reader and/or writer, so these are the things that might interest you most.
Karen White presented the keynote address. She was terrific! If you have an opportunity to hear her, do. She’s had a number of best-sellers. Her most recent is Flight Patterns. A number of seats had slips of paper taped under them, each giving the holder a free copy of her book—and I was lucky enough to get one! This seems like a great ploy for speaking events. Karen White’s favorite author is Diana Gabaldon, and she says she tries to write the sort of book she likes to read, so I am looking forward to this gift read.
Immediately after that, Linda Thornburg and I presented our workshop on pathways to publication. I thought the attendance was a bit light, but the festival organizer was quite pleased with our attendance compared to the subsequent workshops. Several members of various Sisters in Crime chapters were there, even though our Central Virginia Chapter members were all busy elsewhere. Other workshops covered writing poetry and memoir.
At 1:00, I spoke on the mystery panel. The moderator/host of all the book sessions was David Horton. He was amazing. He had really done his homework on all the presenters. He even mentioned that we share a love of carved wooden Santas!
I enjoyed sharing the panel with Webb Hubbell, Stewart Goodwin, and Mollie Cox Bryan. Check out their books. This panel was sponsored by the Rockwell family.
Other sessions were for writers of children’s and young adult fiction, Southern fiction, memoir, history, and poetry.
The festival had many sponsors. Radford Reads was inspired by the Rockwell family in honor of Jean Rockwell, a former Radford Public Library employee who loved the Virginia Festival of the Book. Besides the Rockwells, other sponsors were the Cheryl Blackwell Book Club, the Jervey Family, Ben Crenshaw Art Studio, The Lamplighters, Radford University Foundation, the Radford Heritage Foundation, Ridge and Valley Reader, the Radford Visitor’s Center, and LaQuinta Inn & Suites—at which I had a very pleasant stay!
It was a real community and family event. Reader or Writer, next year, check it out! It’s a two-fer, and the price is right.
Last weekend I participated in the 7th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival, and I cannot praise it too highly. It had something for everyone! There were writing workshops for adults, teens, and children. The Children’s Village features storytellers, puppeteers, jugglers, authors, and magic, all encouraging reading, writing, and a love of books. There were exhibitor booths catering to adults and children, a variety of food vendors, and live performances by poets and singer-songwriters. And there were book sales!
The official bookseller for the even was Politics and Prose. They sold all of the books represented on the program. I bought two, having been captivated by the authors’ presentations I attended after finishing my own presentation and signing. Thomas Murphy by Roger Rosenblatt, who had an engaging conversation/interview with Alice McDermott.
The second book I bought was “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs” by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf. They presented jointly. She is the author of The Hemingses of Monticello, and a professor at Harvard. He is the Thomas Jefferson Foundation professor of history at the University of Virginia. They were a dynamic duo, talking about what promises to be an atypical biography of Jefferson (e.g., covering music and religion), and answering questions clearly—and patiently!
There was also a used book sale by Friends of the Library Montgomery County, MD. I bought two books related to three of my passions: popular culture, old books, and dictionaries! For which I spent a total of $8.
Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms was published in 1848! It explains what a chore is (the equivalent of char in England), and polk, meaning sack. Needless to say, it’s my oldest slang dictionary, and it nicely illustrates that what was slang 200 years ago has moved into—and sometimes through—mainstream English!
GBF drew participants from near and far. I met authors from New York, Texas, and London—to name a few. Some of the famous authors were highlighted on the festival poster, for example, Juan Williams.
Well-known or not, everyone was articulate and professional.
But enough about attending. As an author presenting there, I couldn’t have been treated better!
Before the event, my primary contact was Carolyn Crosby, the Senior Program Supervisor. She was not only friendly and gracious but well-organized and responsive. She made sure I had all the info I needed ahead of time, from hotel reservation to maps to advice on rain gear.
The festival hotel, Homewood Suites by Hilton, was spacious, comfortable, and provided shuttle service to all events. They gave us our GBF book bags, containing all the important stuff (program, shuttle schedule, maps) and no throw-away junk. It’s a classy bag, heavy canvas.
On Friday evening, there was a VIP Reception from 7:00 till 10:00. The food was great and plentiful, and there was an open bar. Presenters mingled with those involved in producing the event. I met Jud Ashman, Founder and Chair of GBH and currently mayor of Gaithersburg. He is articulate and humorous! He’s shown here with me and M.Tara Crowl, who writes fantasy fiction for middle-schoolers.
Gaithersburg Book Festival is a rain-or-shine event.
All of the programs are under tents—and this year it was rain, with temperatures in the low-50s. GBHis a class act, and they provided all the presenters with umbrellas.
The weather dampened people but not spirits. Attendees could choose among 10 presentations at a time, each in a tented pavilion: Dashiell Hammett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allan Poe, H.L. Mencken, James Michener, Gertrude Stein, Rachel Carson, Jim Henson, Willa Cather, Ogden Nash.
I was on at 10:00 a.m. in the Dashiell Hammett Pavilion. Debbiann Holmes and I talked about Making Fiction Real. We seem to make a great sister act. Maybe we should take it on the road.
Enthusiastic, upbeat volunteers were everywhere.They kept the presenters on time starting and ending. We were escorted to the pavilion for the presentation, then to the signing area after. People seemed okay waiting in the rain to get books signed.
By definition, presenters were VIPs. Besides umbrellas and book bags, we had reserved parking, special registration, and a VIP lounge with refreshments all day.
But perhaps the most striking aspect overall was the universal enthusiasm and the breadth of community support. Just look at the number of partners and sponsors they have!
I want to go again! And you should go, too. It might even be sunny!
I’m honored to have my story “War and Murder at Nimrod Hall” in the anthology. My story is set at historic Nimrod Hall. Over on the Virginia is for Mysteries blog, I shared how Nimrod Hall inspired me.
I hope you’ll join me and the Sisters in Crime–Central Virginia to celebrate the publication of Virginia is for Mysteries: Volume II on February 27, 2:00-3:30 p.m. We’ll begin with an author panel, “Paths to Getting Published–Mystery Authors Tell Their Tales.” A book signing and celebration will follow.
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.