End of the Road

I started researching new markets to potentially submit short stories to–after my breakthrough that my stories cannot be described, as a rule, as ‘mystery’ tales–and I was very surprised to see how few magazines actually are interested in stories that could be considered mysteries. The stories I have–that I am thinking about sending out into the void–are technically not mysteries, but then again…will markets not looking for mystery stories consider them to be mysteries?

I guess the only way to find out it to actually submit stories.

What was also really interesting to me was that there are still markets that want you to send them hard copies through the mail, with the SASE for response. Ten years or so ago, when I was doing an open call for Blood Sacraments, I wanted hard copy submissions, and was surprised (and more than a little appalled) at some of the emails I received from authors who demanded to know how very dare I not want to take electronic submissions? Needless to say, those were writers I put on the “never work with” list; I would never presume to write an editor and demand an explanation for their submission guidelines, never ever ever ever. But with the passage of time, my own reluctance to read submissions electronically and get them in my inbox has gradually eroded away; times change and you have to change with it. If I want to submit to those markets, I will have to get large envelopes, print out copies, and purchase postage.

I am certainly not going to send them a pompous email demanding they explain why they don’t take electronic submissions.

And, FYI? Blood Sacraments was the last time I did an open call for submissions untilt he Bouchercon anthologies. And yes, the entitled attitude in the emails from people who saw the call and “had questions” about my guidelines is entirely why.

Helpful hint: editors and publishers don’t owe anyone explanations for why they set their guidelines the way they do. And when you send snarky emails questioning them, all you do is point out to them that you would be an enormous pain in the ass to work with. And unless you have the kind of star power that will guarantee lots of sales, you aren’t worth it.

Sad, perhaps, but true.

And I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with disqualifying stories that are not submitted properly or ignored the guidelines in any way, shape or form. That’s my first system of weeding out stories from “possibles” to “rejects”: did they follow the guidelines?

I won’t read anything that doesn’t–nor will I write the person back to tell them they need to. You get one chance.

I have myself submitted things and not followed the guidelines–primarily out of stupidity–and you know what? If that got me rejected without being read, it’s only fair and I have no one to blame but myself.

Next up in Florida Happens is Barb Goffman’s story “The Case of the Missing Pot Roast.”

Barb Goffman
 

Barb Goffman has no idea how to cook pot roast, but it sure was fun to write about. She’s won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national mystery short-story awards twenty-two times, including eleven times for the Agatha (a category record). Her book Don’t Get Mad, Get Even won the Silver Falchion for the best collection of 2013. Barb is thrilled to be a current Macavity and Anthony award finalist for her story “Whose Wine is it Anyway?” from the anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet.  She works as an independent editor and proofreader and lives with her dog in Winchester, Virginia. Learn more at www.barbgoffman.com.

About her story, Barb says, “My story is about a woman whose husband has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She wants to care for him at home, but it’s proving challenging, with strange things going on, including a missing pot roast. I can’t say any more about the plot without giving things away, but I will say that I loved writing this story. It’s heartfelt but also funny and–perfect for an anthology about Florida–also a little bit weird.”

Looking back, I should have known something was wrong when the pot roast disappeared. Sure, everyone misplaces something sometime. I once searched for the remote control for an hour till I spotted it in the bathroom. And for years I’ve found my husband, Charles’s, false teeth all over the house—they’ve never fit quite right so when they bother him he takes them out and puts them down, never paying attention where. But the pot roast? I was sure I’d left it defrosting on the counter when I went to get my hair done, yet when I came home, it was gone.

I searched for it in vain. It wasn’t in the fridge or freezer. Not in the garbage. Not in the oven. Charles was clueless. There was no way he’d cooked and eaten it in the hour I was gone. So what happened to that pot roast was a mystery. In the back of my mind, I wondered if I’d only dreamed I’d bought the roast. But I couldn’t admit my faculties might be failing. So I dismissed the missing pot roast as weirdness and whipped up some pasta.

That was a month ago. Perhaps if I’d forced myself to figure out what happened to the pot roast, I wouldn’t be in this position now. But back then, I had bigger problems. Charles had started suffering from short-term memory loss and personality changes, and he was getting worse every day. One minute he’d be the man I’d loved for decades, optimistic and kind; the next, he’d be surly and paranoid, acting like a wary stranger. He’d accused me of stealing from him—me, his wife of fifty-one years. And then, in a heartbreaking moment, he’d accused me of trying to kill him.

“Alzheimer’s,” his doctor had diagnosed.

I’d figured that was the problem, but having it confirmed was a terrible blow. His doctor gave me all kinds of pamphlets and urged me to look into long-term care for Charles. I cried when he did that. I knew eventually such care would be necessary. But not yet. I was only seventy-one years old and in relatively good health. I was determined to care for Charles in our home for as long as I could. He was my husband. My love. I owed him that.

It’s easy to see why Barb’s work is so award-worthy with this tale. She really gets inside the head of her main character, who is dealing with a raeally difficult situation–complicated with her own issues of dealing with her husband’s illness in addition to questioning, at times, her own sanity and whether the things her husband says to her when in the grips of his dementia are true, real, or based in anything even slightly reality based. Can she trust the home health-care worker who is helping out with things around the house? Where are the pot roasts going?

And that last paragraph is chilling, absolutely chilling. Well done, Barb!

R.O.C.K in the USA

Happy Sunday and a good morning to all y’all.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked; running my errands in the pre-rain humidity literally wore me out, and then when I got going again I started cleaning and doing laundry and well, once I start doing that–as well as going through and trying to organize the books–I am pretty much done for the day….especially after I discovered Burnt Offerings was available for streaming on Prime. Oliver Reed! Karen Black! Bette Davis (who was totally wasted in her role)! I’d seen the movie years ago, I think when it first aired on television after it’s theatrical run, and while it’s still has some moments, it overall doesn’t hold up as well as I would have hoped. I read the book for the first recently in the last few years, and it was wonderful. But watching Burnt Offerings put me in mind of an essay about horror in the 1970’s; the 1970’s was a time when the suburbs really developed because of ‘white flight’ from the cities and desegregation; this was this whole movement of back to the country from the urban centers, and at the same time, there was horror that specifically focused on this phenomenon (without the racism and white flight issues); namely this book, Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon, The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, and even Stephen King lightly touched on this in ‘salem’s Lot; the dangers of the country to people from the city.

One could even argue that James Dickey’s Deliverance also belongs in this category, and it put me in mind of an essay that I may never write. I also thought up another yesterday while running my errands, after car after car after car violated traffic rules and almost caused me to be in in accident (three times, to be exact; which might be a new record): “Right of Way,” in which I would extrapolate the American contempt for traffic rules and laws for everyone’s safety can be directly correlated to contempt for law and order, the system, taxes, everything. I made some notes, and this is one I may actually write. Essays are fun and I do enjoy writing them but I don’t very often, unless one is requested of me for something, and perhaps that’s the wrong approach.

Today I am going to go to the gym and I am going to start rereading Royal Street Reveillon and make notes for the big revision that is coming. I’m also going to start reading Jackson Square Jazz out loud for copy editing purposes, and I’d also like to work on “A Whisper from the Graveyard” today. I should at some point also work on finished “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which means I should also make a to-do list for everything I want to get done in July.

Hmmm. Perhaps not a bad idea, at that.

I also remembered I have notes on a short story I need to read and decide what revisions I need to be make.

It never truly ends, does it? But I am looking forward to Sharp Objects tonight on HBO; I actually liked this book by Gillian Flynn better than Gone Girl, which of course made her hugely famous and hopefully hugely rich. I still haven’t read her Dark Places, but that’s because I still subscribe to the “if I don’t read all the canon then I still have something by her to read” mentality, which is partly why I still have not read the entire canon of either Daphne du Maurier or Shirley Jackson or Patricia Highsmith.

So, I have a lot to do today–only one more day after today before I return to the office, but at least it’s only a four day work week–and so I should probably get back to the spice mines.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Bloodletting”:

The damp air was thick with the scent of blood.

It had been days since I had last fed, and the desire was gnawing at my insides. I stood up, and my eyes focused on a young man walking a bicycle in front of the cathedral. He was talking on a cell phone, his face animated and agitated. He was wearing a T-shirt that read Who Dat Say They Gonna Beat Dem Saints? and a pair of ratty old paint-spattered jeans cut off at the knees. There was a tattoo of Tweetybird on his right calf, and another indistinguishable one on his left forearm. His hair was dark, combed to a peak in the center of his head, and his face was flushed. He stopped walking, his voice getting louder and louder as his face got darker.

I could smell his blood. I could almost hear his beating heart.

I could see the pulsing vein in his neck, beckoning me forward.

The sun was setting, and the lights around Jackson Square were starting to come on. The tarot card readers were folding up their tables, ready to disappear into the night. The band playing in front of the cathedral was putting their instruments away. The artists who hung their work on the iron fence around the park were long gone, as were the living statues. The square, so teeming with life just a short hour earlier, was emptying of people, and the setting sun was taking the warmth with it as it slowly disappeared in the west. The cold breeze coming from the river ruffled my hair a bit as I watched the young man with the bicycle. He started wheeling the bicycle forward again, still talking on the phone. He reached the concrete ramp leading up to Chartres Street. He stopped just as he reached the street, and I focused my hearing as he became more agitated. What do you want me to say? You’re just being a bitch, and anything I say you’re just going to turn around on me.

I felt the burning inside.

Desire was turning into need.

I knew it was best to satisfy the desire before it became need. I could feel the knots of pain from deprivation forming behind each of my temples and knew it was almost too late. I shouldn’t have let it go this long, but I wanted to test my limits, see how long I could put off the hunger. I’d been taught to feed daily, which would keep the hunger under control and keep me out of danger.

Need was dangerous. Need led a vampire to take risks he wouldn’t take ordinarily. And risks could lead to exposure, to a painful death.

The first lesson I’d learned was to always satiate the hunger while it was still desire, to never ever let it become need.

I had waited too long.

“Bloodletting” is an unusual story for me in that it’s actually a short story that bridges the gap between my novella “Blood on the Moon” and the novel Need; I eventually used it as the book’s first chapter. I have always wanted to give vampire fiction a try; I created an entire world that I first wrote about in the novella “The Nightwatchers,” which I always intended to develop into a series. I still would like to develop that series, and when the opportunity came to write “Blood on the Moon” I realized I could simply still use the world I’d created for “The Nightwatchers” and move on to different characters. The second book in the series, the one that was to follow Need, Desire, was going to tie the two story-lines together but Need didn’t sell as well as the publisher would have liked and so Desire died in the water. I may still go back and write it, of course, but I have no publisher for it and I am not particularly interested in self-publishing that much. But…I never say never. I wrote “Bloodletting” for Blood Sacraments, and only had to change the original concept a little bit; in the original idea Cord, my vampire, was actually sitting on the roof of St. Louis Cathedral watching the crowd for his next victim. I still love that image, and may use it sometime, but I did eventually change it to how it reads now.

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