Summer Project: Murder Book

Writing a set of linked novellas set in a college/prison town. This is the jacket description I came up with for a true crime book written by my main character in the 80s:

Misadventure: The Swea’Pea Murders of the Bristol-Collum Asylum, by Elizabeth Mugatroyd

In 1843 the Bristol-Collum Charitable Society sent two dozen London born infants to a countryside orphanage known as Darkers Farm, formerly a refuge for deranged girls deemed too unstable for the workhouse. Those girls became women in their sorority of madness, forced to care for the orphan babes until one by one each child fell prey to fatal accidents, illnesses, and mysterious circumstances that defied explanation. 

Using Scrivener for the first time. It lets you goof off like this.


A Picture of A Man With A Top Hat makes the Wigleaf Top 50

I should have posted this last week, so sorry for the “old” news, but I’m really happy to have clawed my way back into the Wigleaf Top 50 this year. Even though I only put out two eligible stories this year, the odds were with me. I couldn’t ask for a friendlier editorial board, and with Erin Fitzgerald running the show and Ben Loory starring as the marquee talent, it’s no surprise that the final lists–both the 50 and the longlist– tilt weird. Weird is good for me.


Unintended Results: Bad Teacher Edition

So yesterday was the last day of the semester for my junior level fiction workshop, and we were scheduled to discuss a story (a really good one) by a student whose name I have been mispronouncing all semester. It’s not a difficult name, either, just a matter of a short vs long vowel in one of three syllables, but I could never remember which, and each time I’ve chosen wrong, prompting a chorus of corrections from everyone sitting in her row. After a while I just stopped trying, using avoidance tactics (made easier because the student is fairly shy in class).

But when her work is up for discussion, there are no avoidance tactics. So I devised an elaborate plan. I would give out prizes (lit journals)  based on class ballots for best writer, best  feedback, etc, and to refresh everyone’s memory, I made every one say their name and remind everyone what stories they had shared in workshop.

That worked for me–it was a long A–but the larger revelation was that the students really struggled with describing their work, so much so that many of them stammered or were dismissive. It struck me as strange because they were otherwise a talented, confident group (so confident they had me scared of a name).

I know I work for weeks trying to craft a coherent 150 word summary for a novel query, and most of that comes from anxiety that makes me blank out about my work–it’s like a white fog. I wonder if they weren’t experiencing a little of that, and I wonder further if there isn’t some value in teaching “about” skills. That is, as much as some writers bristle at the question “What is your book about,” readers want to know. I’m going to try to include some practice in the “about” zone for next semester.


Smokelong Quarterly Anthology Book Launch Party!

To celebrate the recent publication of Smokelong’s The Best of the First 10 Years print anthology, I’ll be one of the readers tomorrow night at the always delightful One More Page Books.


(My SLQ story is not in the Anthology. Le sigh). There will be cake and wine.

When: 6 p.m., Saturday, April 26
Where: One More Page Books, Arlington, VA

The line-up–

Grant Bailie
Jeff Landon
Laura Ellen Scott
Art Taylor
Virgie Townsend
Brandon Wicks


Last Saturday, April 5, was the day of Conversations and Connections in DC. C & C is a one day writers’ conference with a minimum level of bullshit–no one there trying to pitch the one size fits all platform, etc. I directed a panel on the how and why of the Flash Novella, with guests Erin Fitzgerald and Tara Laskowski, and it was very well attended. I got a little overexcited, and when I handed out a prompt list (15 sections in 15 weeks), I promised everyone in the room that if they tried the FN and sent me their draft in August, I would read it or find someone else who would. Wonder if anyone will take me up on that . . .

I attended the crime writing panel–low turn out for that one because it was up against a “what editors want” session–and I’m really glad I did. Nick Korpon, Art Taylor, Steve Weddle, and Tara Laskowski had a great conversation about the state of crime fiction, confirming some of my own experiences. I’m finding writing with the knowledge that I am operating firmly within the genre is delightful. And natural, dammit.  Hot tip from the panel: agents troll crime mags to find new clients. That there is news you can use.


I was just in a department meeting where a consulting firm was trying to impress upon us the importance of consolidating our communication efforts. They had specific recommendations that ranged from free to v. expensive, but during the sad, inevitable portion about twitter, instagram, etc, and student participation in such, one of our members (someone younger than me) said, “But how do we know social media works?”

I’ll leave that there.

I haven’t blogged much lately, mostly because I dedicated myself to finishing the novel draft. It’s out to my first line readers. My main worry is the ending and how it doesn’t directly answer the question of the novel.