Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: craft of writing

A new mystery book—sort of     

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Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words was published more than seven years ago—about the time I started this website—and I decided to take another look at the book.  The result of this look is a new edition.  I edited and revised some stories, deleted others and added about a dozen new stories with twist or mystery endings.

Can a 100-word story have a surprise ending? Yes, it’s part of the challenge. As I wrote in the introduction to the previous edition of the book, the challenge to tell a complete story in exactly 100 words is the lure of this genre.

Here is the Amazon link for the ebook:   https://amzn.to/2mIfC0s   It will soon be available at barnesandnoble.com and the other places.

Extremely short, tiny, miniscule bits of fiction have been around for a long time.  Aesop’s fables are a good example. Written in the sixth century BCE, Androcles (and the Lion) contains only 265 words, and The Ant and the Grasshopper uses only 150 words. Ernest Hemingway reputedly wrote a six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Welcome to flash fiction.  Books and a broad variety of online literary magazines and some print magazines feature these short-shorts. Actually short-shorts is not an appropriate description  as it often refers to short stories of a few pages or more, not a few paragraphs or a few sentences. Flash fiction seems to be the most commonly used name for these snippets of creative writing, although some online magazines refer to micro fiction, nano fiction, sudden fiction, or quick fiction.

As to the best length for flash fiction, there’s little agreement. Even though the 100-word limit is common, a variety of print and online magazines and published anthologies restrict flash fiction stories to 1,000, 2,500, and even 5,000 words. Compared to a 100-word tale, the longer stories could hardly be read in a flash. Wikipedia does little to establish a common length saying, “flash fiction is a fictional work of extreme brevity.”

Journals such as 100 Word Story and 101 Words need no explanation. Some other online publications are looking for what Wikipedia calls twitterature, that is, stories of 280 characters or less. Everyday Fiction sets the limit at 1,000 words but encourages writers who can tell a story in 50.  

Before publishing the first edition of this book I published stories in a variety of online flash fiction literary magazines, including my favorite, 100 Word Story.  Editor Grant Faulkner says the 100-word limit is an arbitrary marker that “forces the writer to question every word.”

It’s a good discipline. A number of years ago a friend of mine told me his writing group was working on an exercise in which they had to tell a story in just 100 words.  I had never heard of flash fiction before and was intrigued.  At first I wrote cop stories, then branched out into the variety of genres represented in the book.  More than half the stories in the new book have to do with detective work, crime, or general law enforcement.  The balance include humor, speculative fiction and a little romance.

Yes, each story contains exactly 100 words.  And you have to know the rules.  Hyphenated words count as one word and titles are not included in the word count. Numerals, even those separated by commas count as one word. The counting function on MS Word seems to have its own rules, so I count by hand as well.

I agree with Faulkner.  This genre makes you question each word.  But now that I’m spending most of my time on novel-length mysteries, I still try to remember the value of each word.

Here’s a sample story from Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words:

 On the House

Starting her workday baking before sunrise always made Sophie’s concentration sag by 9 a.m., but looking across the counter at a gun barrel got her immediate attention.

“Gimme the money,” the gunman said.

Sophie glanced over the man’s shoulder, moved toward the cash register—then ducked.

The cop standing behind the robber threw him against the counter, as another officer grabbed the gun.

“You gotta be the dumbest crook I ever met,” said the first cop. “Okay, maybe you didn’t see our car in the lot, but really…”

“Thanks, Kelly,” Sophie said. “From now on, doughnuts are on the house.”

—————–

“…it is rather remarkable that the author is able to introduce a cast of characters, set a stage for them to act upon, and play out a scenario—sometimes involving cops and crooks—in which something unexpected happens, all in exactly 100 words.”
MysteriousReviews.com

Publishing news, free books, reviews and surprises to come on this blog

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Welcome mystery fans.  It seems I took an extended hiatus from writing in this space.  I can explain.

Launching a new book takes time.  So does switching publishers. I was in the middle of the former but am now neck-deep in the latter, or maybe both.

All three Nostalgia City mysteries are available again on Amazon, both e-book and print.  They will soon be available elsewhere, although for the time being the e-book versions of two of the mysteries, numbers 1 and 3, are exclusively with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

Each of the three Nostalgia City mysteries has a new international standard book number (ISBN) used to identify and locate books and identify the publisher.  As a result, some website links, if they’re older than two months, may not connect you to the books.  The easiest way to find them is to go to Amazon and type in the title.  Details and links are also always available on this website.

Articles (posts) in upcoming weeks will be book and movie reviews, observations about readers’ particular interest in authors, offbeat and background information on (my new book) The Marijuana Murders, hints about mystery #4 that I’m working on and a few surprises.

As you may have noticed, Death in Nostalgia City was recently–for two days– on sale for free.  Does that qualify as “on sale?”   I dunno, as one of my characters would say, but thousands of people snapped it up.  If you missed the sale, Death in Nostalgia City will be offered for free again on Amazon.  Stay tuned.

Free book:

Right now you can register to win a print copy of The Marijuana Murders. Kings River Life magazine is giving the book away. To be eligible, simply comment on the reviewer’s article about my book or simply send him an email.  Details here:  https://www.krlnews.com/2019/08/the-marijuana-murders-by-mark-s-bacon.html

Writing a novel is easy.  As you can see, I nailed it on the first draft.

I’ve been meaning to share this picture.  Many authors’ protracted blog explanations about the task of writing to the contrary, I don’t think many readers are interested in how we create a story.  Does it make a story more meaningful if you know, for example, it was written on a Mac, on a yellow pad or an old fashioned typewriter? 

So, I’ll make this brief.  Although I compose and edit on my computer, every so often I need to print out my latest chapters and go over them with a pencil. When a complete manuscript is finished, I redo things.  Several times.  Critique groups, beta readers and an editor all contribute to draft after draft.  Then it’s done.

Actually deciding it’s done is one of the most difficult tasks in writing a novel.  Thus my stack of drafts gets taller.  I usually save the drafts until the book is in print—sort of like a cloud backup, only this paper backup is recycled when the job is done.

‘Hearts of the Missing’ and the Tony Hillerman Prize

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By Carol Potenza, guest writer

During late March of 2017, I received a call from an unknown New York area code. I answered with a wary hello and a woman introduced herself as an editor for St. Martin’s Press. She asked me if I’d remembered entering my manuscript into the Tony Hillerman Prize earlier that year. Then she asked me if I was sitting down. My book had won the prize over seventy-five other submissions.

Hearts of the Missing was released on December 4, and is the first of what I hope will be a series of mysteries with sleuth and protagonist, Sgt. Nicky Matthews, a law enforcement officer on the fictional Tsiba’ashi D’yini Pueblo in central New Mexico. Winning this prize has changed my life, but I’m actually not here to discuss that because it’s a given. I want to talk about what the Tony Hillerman Prize is and why it should be a top priority for writers unpublished in the mystery genre.

Tony Hillerman (1925-2008) was the author of 18 mysteries set in the Southwest. The first of these books, The Blessing Way, was published in 1972, and the final book, The Shape Shifter, in 2006. So popular were his books and beloved his characters, that for years after his death people would ask his daughter, Anne Hillerman, if there was just one more manuscript—maybe in a drawer somewhere—he’d left to be published posthumously. What a legacy. Hillerman’s mysteries feature Navajo police officers Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee with the Navajo Nation as his setting. Hillerman’s books have won or been nominated for awards like the Edgar (Dance Hall of the Dead, 1974), the National Book Award (Listening Woman, 1980), the Spur Award (Skinwalkers, 1987), and a Nero (Coyote Waits, 1990). Many of his books have been adapted into movies and for TV.

The Tony Hillerman Prize for the Best First Mystery set in the Southwest is sponsored by Macmillan Publishing and the Western Writers of America and honors the spirit of the Hillerman mysteries. Full-length manuscript submissions are due early in January every year (for 2019, January 2). The winner receives a single book publishing contract with an advance of $10,000, no agent necessary. Two major stipulations need to be followed. (1) The story’s primary setting must be in the Southwest and include one or more of the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and/or Utah. (2) The winner can’t have published in the mystery genre. Since first awarded in 2007, eight prizes have been given and eight novels bearing the Tony Hillerman Prize seal have been published. To maintain a high standard of quality, some years the prize is not awarded.

Tony Hillerman Prize Winners

Christine Barber: The Replacement Child (2007)
Roy Chaney: The Ragged End of Nowhere (2008)
Tricia Field: The Territory (2010)
Andrew Hunt: City of Saints (2011)
CB McKenzie: Bad Country (2013)
John Fortunato: Dark Reservations (2014)
Kevin Wolf: The Homeplace (2015)
Carol Potenza: Hearts of the Missing (2017)

So mystery writers, polish up your best novel set in the Southwest and submit to the Hillerman Prize. Most of the winners have gone on to publish more books. That’s what I hope for my future.

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Hearts of the Missing is Carol Potenza’s debut novel.  She teaches biochemistry at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Before teaching became a full-time position, she conducted plant genetic engineering research, also at NMSU, and worked briefly on the Jornada Experimental Range north of town and at a drug-testing lab.

She loves the desert Southwest and the beauty of New Mexico is the inspiration for her books.  She and her husband whose family has lived in the state for generations have traveled throughout New Mexico from the ancient pueblos of Bandelier National Monument to the Lincoln County Courthouse where Billy the Kid escaped by murdering two deputies, from the Plaza in Santa Fe to the depths of Carlsbad Caverns.

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