Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: craft of writing

‘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 I want to talk about what the Tony Hillerman Prize is and why it should be a top priority for writers unpublished in the mystery genre.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.

———-

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.

New books: So many ways to get killed

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Murder Unscripted
Clive Rosengren
Coffeetown Press  2017
240 pages
Kindle $5.95  Trade paper $14.95

The first of Rosengren’s Eddie Collins series begins with actor Josh Bauer on a bearskin rug in front of a roaring fire with buxom, but temperamental, Ruby Landreaux in his arms. What comes next is up to Eddie Collins, a part-time actor and ex-husband of Landreaux—who is really actress Elaine Weddington—when Weddington turns up dead, her bearskin escapade simply a scene in an unfinished movie, Flames of Desire.

The production’s insurance company hires Eddie to represent their interests in the Americana Pictures film. Private eye is Eddie’s main gig now, although he doesn’t turn his back on acting jobs when they come his way.

Weddington was a star of sorts, though her pictures were B-movies and never up for major awards. Encroaching middle age meant her leading-lady days were numbered, and she worked with a lot of jealous wannabes. Did one of them off her? What about her personal assistant or live-in boyfriend? While searching through Weddington’s  trailer, Eddie finds a list of initials with corresponding phone numbers. As he gradually ticks off the entries, he begins to form an unwelcome, less idealized version of Weddington. Then an assistant director is killed as she is about to share a damning revelation. The quest to identify one set of initials almost puts him in the hospital. Can Eddie handle the truth? Will it set him free, or kill him?

Clive Rosengren is a recovering actor. His career spanned more than forty years, eighteen of them pounding many of the same streets as his fictional sleuth Eddie Collins. Movie credits include Ed Wood, Soapdish, Cobb, and Bugsy. Among numerous television credits are Seinfeld, Home Improvement, and Cheers, where he played the only person to throw Sam Malone out of his own bar. He lives in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, safe and secure from the hurly-burly of Hollywood.

 

Wicked River
Jenny Milchman
464 pages
Sourcebooks Landmark  May 1, 2018 (available for pre-order on Amazon)
Hardcover: $26.99  Trade paper $15.99  Kindle 15.99

Six million acres of Adirondack forest separate Natalie and Doug Larson from civilization. For the newlyweds, an isolated backcountry honeymoon seems ideal—a chance to start their lives together with an adventure. But just as Natalie and Doug begin to explore the dark interiors of their own hearts, as well as the depths of their love for each other, it becomes clear that they are not alone in the woods.

Because six million acres makes it easy for the wicked to hide. And even easier for someone to go missing for good.

As they struggle with the worst the wilderness has to offer, a man watches them, wielding the forest like a weapon. He wants something from them more terrifying than death. And once they are near his domain, he will do everything in his power to make sure they never walk out again.

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer from the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Her debut novel, Cover of Snow, was published by Ballantine/Random House in January 2013 and won the 2013 Mary Higgins Clark Award for best suspense novel of the year.  Milchman is a board member and Vice President of International Thriller Writers and the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, celebrated in all 50 states and four foreign countries 2013. She also teaches writing and publishing for New York Writers Workshop and Arts By The People.

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Potentially intrusive—and/or boring—questions from Anastasia Pollack in her blog Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers (Abridged)

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One of the mandatories when you publish a book is getting mentioned on book-related websites. 

You can hire Internet publicists who schedule you on “blog tours.”  A tour is simply a collection of “posts” on different websites.  The options for these posts usually include an interview, a summary of your book, an excerpt of your book or, in some cases, a column or article you write about your genre, your book or both.  My preference is the latter, but in many cases you don’t have a choice and must succumb to an interview.

When this new book came out recently I was eager to gain exposure for it. One of the ways you do that is take a ‘blog tour.”

Usually these blog tour interviews consist of a series of stock questions you are to answer.  You receive a list of questions and you type up your answers.  There are no follow-up questions based on your answers because the whole process is prepackaged. And depending on the website and how you got booked there, the questions even may not be focused on your book type.  The questions often sound as if they are directed at someone who has just published his or her first book. 

Such interviews can be a challenge for the writer.  You want to sound spontaneous and conversational even though you’re really not interacting with an interviewer.  You’re just answering a list of stock questions. Like taking an exam in school. 

With this in mind, here is an abridged sample “interview” from a website published by Anastasia Pollack. 

Anastasia: When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
Mark S. Bacon: Relatively recently. I’ve been a writer all my life: newspaper reporter, copywriter, business writer. I wrote several business books some years ago but had always been a mystery fan.  So about six years ago I started writing and publishing mystery flash fiction stories then moved on to mystery novels.

Anastasia: How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Mark S. Bacon: You’re probably talking about “my new, first book.”  That was years ago, but let’s go farther back. I sold my first magazine article, to a national men’s adventure magazine, when I was 16.  Some years later I sold my first book, on business writing, by writing query letters to three big New York publishers. Selling a novel is a different animal. That took years.

Anastasia: Where do you write?
MSB: In my home office with my golden retriever at my feet and a concrete crow statue looking over my shoulder. (It could be a raven.)

Anastasia: Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
MSB: Although I learned to write in a noisy newsroom, I’ve become spoiled at my home office. Quiet is best. However, I sometimes listen to mood music, depending on what I’m writing. For one chapter of the book I just finished, I listened to Ravi Shankar. Does that give you a clue to the story?

Anastasia: Describe your process for naming one of your lead characters.
MSB: How many people do you know named Lyle? It’s a retro name to go with my retro setting. Also, his initials are LSD. I was going to use that in the plot of my first Nostalgia City mystery but never worked it in.

Anastasia: If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
MSB: You could pick any Lew Archer novel by Ross Macdonald. He was the master of language and characters, not to mention atmosphere.  Raymond Chandler was a pretty good PI writer, too.

Anastasia: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
MSB: We’re talking books, not politics here, right?  I’d say people who ask for free copies of my books.  People think authors get unlimited free copies of their books.  Not true.  We have to buy them from the publisher.  Yes, some publishers give authors free copies when the title comes out.  Back when I was writing for John Wiley & Sons, I received 20 hardback copies of each new book.  My new (mystery) publisher sends me one trade paperback.  Sign of the times?

Anastasia: What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
MSB: One of my first jobs out of college was at a small, neighborhood newspaper in Los Angeles.   My primary duty was to rewrite stories out of the LA Times. I quit after a week. 

Anastasia: You’re stranded on a deserted South Seas island. What are your three must-haves?
MSB: An Adirondack chair, plenty of books, and a lifetime supply of Krispy Kremes.

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