Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Who Writes Short Shorts?

by Holly West

Over the weekend, I received my panel assignments for Left Coast Crime 2016. I'm pleased because neither of them focus on historical fiction. Not that I don't love me some historical fiction--I write it, after all. But sometimes I'd like to talk about other subjects.

I'm particularly pleased because one of the panels is about writing short fiction. The assignment took me by surprise because there are those in the crime fiction community who are known for their short fiction and I don't count myself among them. I'm not sure anyone else does, either.

Odd, perhaps, because I love my short stories. Writing them is difficult but the pain is short lived because they require less time to write. Unlike my novels, I don't outline short stories. I get an idea and begin to write before the story is fully-formed in my mind. After days or weeks of struggling, there is a moment when I realize "Aha! That's what this story is about." That moment is golden and oh, so satisfying. It's a wonder I don't write more short stories just so I can have it more often.

When I think back on all of the characters I've created, it kind of tickles me. In trying to identify a common thread about them, I'd say that none are cheerful people. Only one can be considered a hero in any sense of the word. Most of them are women who've made a series of bad decisions, often involving men. Perhaps it's my way of exercising the demons of my past, since a few ex-boyfriends might recognize versions of themselves within these pages. Spoiler alert: it doesn't end well for them.

It happens that I have a few short stories coming out this year, so maybe my panel assignment isn't as surprising as I first thought:

In 2015, editor Thomas Pluck included "Don't Fear the Ripper" in the PROTECTOR'S 2: HEROES anthology. Set in late Victorian London, it features a Whitechapel midwife determined to stop Jack the Ripper's killing spree. The same story will be re-printed in THE BIG BOOK OF JACK THE RIPPER (Vintage Books), edited by Otto Penzler, in Fall 2016.

Awhile back, Eric Beetner approached me about writing something for a crime fiction anthology in which none of the crimes involved guns. The story I wrote, "Peep Show," is about a developmentally disabled man who doesn't know the strength of his own fury, leading to tragedy. It will appear in UNLOADED (Down & Out Press), available on April 16, 2016.

A third story will be published this year in FORTY-FOUR CALIBER FUNK, edited by Gary Phillips and Robert J. Randisi. This one, entitled "Queen of the Dogs," is set in 1970s Los Angeles and features a pretty young Guatemalan woman who snags what seems like her dream job working as a live-in maid for the producer of blockbuster films--as long as she doesn't mind dealing with her employer's advances and his wife's drug and alcohol habit. She gets her thrills at the disco, but when she hooks up with a foxy stranger on the dance floor, she doesn't guess where it might lead until it's too late.

So yeah. I guess I am a short story writer, and proud of it. I'm looking forward to discussing the subject with fellow panelists, Sarah M. Chen, Rob Pierce, and Dharma Kelleher, with moderator Susan Cummins Miller.

I'm also moderating a second panel called "An Unusual Job for a Sleuth" with panelists Susan C. Shea, Mark Stevens, Ray Daniels and Eloise Hill. Again, no historical fiction! This one should be fun since each of these authors have protagonists with--you guessed it--unusual jobs. Moderating is more work than simply being on a panel, but, control freak that I am, I like to be in charge.

I hope to see many of you at Left Coast crime this year.


  1. Have a good time, Holly. Wish I was going.

  2. I thought you were, actually. One of these days, Patti, we'll meet in person.