A Holiday Stories Submission Opportunity

by Paula Gail Benson

The Bethlehem Writers Group (BWG)—originally begun by writers based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, known as “Christmas City , USA,” and now having members across the country—is no stranger to holiday stories. Its 2009 anthology, A Christmas Sampler: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Holiday Tales, featured stories about a mall Santa who has forgotten a child’s name (Paul Weifknecht), a woman who believes despite contrary evidence that she is pregnant (Courtney Annicchiarico), a bachelor’s Christmas traditions (Headley Hauser), a small town lawyer resolving a mystery after Santa falls from her roof three weeks before Christmas (Carol L. Wright), a deceased man who refuses to leave his beloved alone for the holiday (Ralph Hieb), and a relationship where partners differ about being ready for marriage (Emily P.W. Murphy) [story descriptions paraphrased from Amazon Kindle listing and authors of the stories indicated in parentheses]. The anthology won the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Best Short Fiction and Best Anthology.

Each year, the Bethlehem Writers Group has a short story contest. Here are the details about submitting for the 2024 contest:

“We are seeking never-published (including online or blog posts) short stories of 2,000 words or fewer on the theme: Holiday Tales. We define holiday stories as those that involve any holiday from US Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, or stories that reference those holidays. (There are many such holidays, so let your imagination fly.) While our theme is broadly interpreted, the holiday must be an important element in the story, not just referred to in passing. (DIE HARD would not be accepted!)”

This year’s celebrity judge is Marlo Berliner, the multi-award-winning, bestselling author of The Ghost Chronicles series.

Why not enjoy the 2009 BWG anthology while working on stories to submit for this year’s BWG’s contest?

Recognizing a Character’s Name in a Mystery Story

by Paula Gail Benson

Barb Goffman, writer and editor extraordinaire

Barb Goffman, whose stories have been finalists for exactly forty national crime awards, will be celebrating two nominations at San Diego’s Bouchercon. Her story “Beauty and the Beyotch,” already the winner of the Agatha Award at Malice Domestic, is among those nominated for the Anthony and Macavity.

Originally written for a themed anthology about theatre, Barb liked the final version of the story so well that she decided to submit it to major publications where it might be seen by a larger readership. Published in Issue 29 of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Barb describes the story as “a tale about three high school girls told from two perspectives about . . . the struggle to make their deepest desires come true. What happens when those dreams collide?”

The first time I read the story, I immediately recognized one of the character’s names: Elaine Naiman, who lives in Canada and is a friend I’ve met at Malice Domestic. When I approached Elaine about an interview, she mentioned that Barb had included another name in the story, that of Joni Jackson Langevoort.

Joni explained: “Both Elaine and I learned of this opportunity for a character name in one of Barb’s stories at the Malice Domestic live charity auction; Barb asked me for a donation to my favorite local animal charity (she knew my four rescue cats and one rescue pup!), and she would use my name in a story. I did that happily, to the rescue agency where I found my beloved pup Arthur. I said she was welcome to use my full name, but because so many in the mystery community know it, she might want to use my maiden name of Jackson. I didn’t ask for any input, I felt whatever Barb wrote would be fabulous! She is an amazing short story writer, truly. And I loved the story, was so excited when it won the Agatha and have voted for it for the Macavity and Anthony awards!”

Elaine also was delighted with the outcome. She said: “Barb had a ‘Name a Character’ in an auction at Malice. I bid, but didn’t win. When I spoke to her, she told me if I made a donation to an animal charity, she’d put my name in a story. I didn’t say not to use my last name, so she used both. I didn’t have any input about the character, but I loved the story and was glad to be the ‘Beyotch.’ Usually, I’m a good person when I’m in a book.”

Joni Jackson Langevoort

I had the opportunity to ask Barb some additional questions about her story. Here are her answers:

  • Did the story idea come first or did knowing the names of the characters help inspire it?

The story idea came first. When I name a character after someone who wins naming rights at an auction (or, in this case, when two people I’m friends with bid for naming rights at an auction but lost, and I offered to name characters after them if they’d make a charitable donation), I try to use the name for an important character in the story. If the character is going to be a bad guy or a victim, I make sure to ask first if the person would mind that. Some people shudder at the idea. Others relish it.

That said, sometimes the real life person influences the character. In this case, Joni the character and Joni the person both have blond hair. I could have sworn I remembered Joni the person once having a cute pixie cut, so I gave Joni the character that hairdo. The real Joni subsequently told me I’d never seen her with that haircut. It’s a good thing I write fiction.

Elaine Naiman with a figure of Chris Pine at Rock of Ages Quarry where a Star Trek movie was shot. Elaine has photos with everyone!

  • How difficult was it to balance multiple points of view in the story?

“Beauty and the Beyotch” is told from only two points of view: Joni, a shy introvert, and Meryl, her new and more outgoing friend who is best friends with Elaine. Elaine views Joni as a strong rival for the starring role in the school play, which Elaine thinks is her due.

At first I’d thought about writing the story from the points of view of all three main characters (switching POV when scenes change), but I realized it wouldn’t work for the story I wanted to tell. When writing a crime story, you want to keep some things secret from the reader for part of the story—motives or thoughts or actions. Sometimes you can achieve that by having something happen between scenes or by having a character think something in a scene in which she’s not the POV character so the reader doesn’t see those thoughts. In the end, with this story, I thought it best to keep Elaine more removed from the reader. What we know of her comes only from what we see her do and say and what other characters think about her. We don’t see her thoughts.

Getting back to balance, it was a little difficult. Although I went back and forth, scene by scene, for most of the story (the story opens with a Joni scene; it’s followed with a Meryl scene, then a Joni scene, etc.), when I neared the end, storytelling needs dictated that the last three scenes be from Meryl’s perspective. The part of me that likes consistency remains bothered I didn’t have a Joni scene between Meryl’s final two, but I’m probably the only person who noticed or cared. Thankfully, I don’t think the story feels too weighted toward Meryl. If it did, that would have been a problem.

Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue 29

  • In my previous interview with you for The Stiletto Gang, you mentioned that a key scene from the story is based on a real-life experience. Could you tell us more about that?

When I was in high school, a group of girls—whom I thought were my friends—snubbed me publicly, telling me that I couldn’t sit with them at lunch anymore. It was mean and humiliating. I like to build my stories from emotions that readers can tap into. That helps make the characters—their thoughts and actions—more real and relatable. So when I decided to write a story involving high school girls, this is the memory that popped into my head, and that’s why there’s a scene in “Beauty and the Beyotch” based on that incident. When I was plotting the story, I thought about why that incident could have come about—not why the real-life girls did what they did but why my characters might act as those girls did that day and how I could build a crime story (and a coming-of-age story) around that memory. And I did.

  • Are you pleased with the reception the story has received?

Wow, yes. How could I not be? Three major award nominations for this story with one win (so far at least—fingers crossed!). I’ve heard from a bunch of readers who said they really enjoyed the story. One reader even named it his story of the week. That’s everything. I write to be read, and I write to entertain and make an impact. With “Beauty and the Beyotch,” I’ve achieved all three things. And I’ve been given the chance to reach even more readers with interviews like this, so thank you, Paula, for inviting me to do this.

Barb, Elaine, and Joni, many thanks to you all for recounting your experiences with “Beauty and the Beyotch.” For readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet, here’s a link for the story. I know you will truly enjoy it!

Macavity, Shamus, and Silver Falchion Short Story (and Other) Award Nominations

by Paula Gail Benson

The nominations for Macavity Awards, Shamus Awards, and Silver Falchion Awards have been announced for best short story or best short story collection or anthology.

The Macavity Award is named for the “mystery cat” of T.S. Eliot (Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats). Each year the members of Mystery Readers International nominate and vote for their favorite mysteries in five categories: Best Mystery Novel, Best First Mystery, Best Mystery Short Story, Best Non-Fiction/Critical, and the Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Mystery. Here are the nominees for best short story:

Best Mystery Short Story:

  • Brendan DuBois: “The Landscaper’s Wife” (Mystery Tribune, Aug/Sep 2022)
  • Barb Goffman: “Beauty and the Beyotch” (Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Jan 2022)
  • Donna Moore: “First You Dream, Then You Die” (Black is the Night, Titan Books)
  • Anna Scotti: “Schrödinger, Cat” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Mar/Apr 2022)
  • Catherine Steadman: “Stockholm” (Amazon Original Stories)
  • Jess Walter: “The Angel of Rome” (in The Angel of Rome and Other Stories, Harper)
  • Melissa Yi: “My Two-Legs” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Sep/Oct 2022)

Previously, Brendan DuBois’ short stories have won three Shamus awards.

Barb Goffman’s “Beauty and the Beyotch” has been nominated for the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity. It won the Agatha.

Donna Moore’s “First You Dream, Then You Die” was nominated for an Edgar.

Anna Scotti is a former journalist whose stories regularly appear in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. “Schrödinger, Cat” received a third place Ellery Queen Readers’ Choice Award.

Catherine Steadman’s “Stockholm” won the Thriller for best short story.

Jess Walter’s “The Angel of Rome” comes from his collection of stories by that title.

Melissa Yi is an emergency room doctor who writes a medical crime series as well as romance and YA.

The Private Eye Writers of America, an association of fans, writers, and publishing professionals, is devoted to elevating the private eye story from a sub-genre of mystery to a genre of its own. It categorizes private eyes as private citizens paid to investigate crimes. Private eyes may include investigators, company employees, and reporters. Each year the Private Eye Writers of America presents Shamus awards in four categories: Best PI Hardcover, Best Original PI Paperback, Best First PI Novel, and Best PI Short Story. Here are the nominees for best short story:

Best PI Short Story:

  • Lori Armstrong: “No Place for a Dame” (Edgar & Shamus Go Golden, Down and Out Books)
  • Libby Cudmore: “Charlie’s Medicine” (Lawyers, Guns, and Money: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Warren Zevon, Down and Out Books)
  • O’Neil DeNoux: “A Jelly of Intrigue” (Edgar & Shamus Go Golden, Down and Out Books)
  • Carolina Garcia-Aguilera: “The Pearl of the Antilles” (Edgar & Shamus Go Golden, Down and Out Books)
  • Elliot Sweeney: “Bad Actor” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Nov/Dec 2022)

Lori Armstrong has won two Shamus awards for her novels.

Libby Cudmore writes the Martin Wade PI series for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

O’Neil DeNoux won the 2020 Shamus award for his short story “Sac-a-lait Man” in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s Sep/Oct 2019 issue.

Born in Cuba and based in Miami, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera has been a private investigator for twenty-five years. She is known for her Lupe Solano mystery series.

Elliot Sweeney, born in London, had his debut novel The Next to Die published in February 2023.

The Silver Falchion Awards are presented annually at Killer Nashville, which takes place August 17 through 20. (Note: there is still time to register to attend the conference. Also, online voting for the Readers Choice Awards continues until midnight Tuesday, July 25.)

Here are the nominees for best short story collection or anthology:

Best Short Story Collection or Anthology:

  • Chris Chan: Of Course He Pushed Him & Other Sherlock Holmes Stories: the Complete Collection (MX Publishing; 1st edition; September 2, 2022)
  • Marianne Donley, ed.: An Element of Mystery: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales of Intrigue (Bethlehem Writers Group; September 27, 2022)
  • Marissa Doyle: Countess of Shadows: The Ladies of Almack’s Omnibus No. 1 (978-1-63632-094-6; November 1, 2022)
  • Catherine Jordan, ed.: That Darkened Doorstep (Hellbender Books; September 21, 2022)
  • Lindy Ryan: Into the Forest: Tales of the Baba Yaga (Black Spot Books; November 8, 2022)
  • J.B. Stevens: A Therapeutic Death: Violent Short Stories (Shotgun Honey Books; February 16, 2022)
  • J.D. Webb: Incredible Witness (Wings ePress, Inc.; June 27, 2022)

I’m very proud to be a member of the Bethlehem Writers Group and to have a story in An Element of Mystery. Debra H. Goldstein has a story in it also. Two of our other members, Dianna Sinovic and Diane Sismour, have stories in An Element of Mystery as well as in That Darkened Doorstep.

While I’m mentioning Silver Falchion nominees, let me brag on several of my Stiletto Gang blogging partners whose books placed in other categories: Debra H. Goldstein’s Five Belles Too Many was nominated for Best Cozy and Saralyn Richard’s Crystal Blue Murder and Joyce Woollcott’s A Nice Place to Die were nominated for Best Investigator.

Many great stories, collections, anthologies, and novels for your reading pleasure. Please enjoy!

A Gathering in Charleston, South Carolina

by Paula Gail Benson

82 Queen

This year, I had been regretting my inability to attend any writing conferences. Being among writers and readers always helps to inspire and bring new ideas into focus. Not to mention, adding to my “to be read” list.

A few months ago, I heard from a dear friend to so many of us, Dru Ann Love, that she would be coming to Charleston, South Carolina, to tour the city with friends. Could some of us who lived nearby join them for lunch one day?

My work schedule kept changing, so I wasn’t certain until the last minute that I could join the group. I asked my friend Sue Husman, a retired librarian and voracious reader, if she would ride with me from Columbia to Charleston.

For lunch, we had a reservation at 82 Queen, described on its website as “a uniquely ‘Charleston’ dining experience” in “three buildings and a garden courtyard nestled in the Historic French Quarter.” I had not been there in decades, but I knew it would be delightful and memorable.

As we left the Municipal Garage, we ran into Jackie Layton, who writes “cozy mysteries with Spunky Southern Sleuths,” including the Low Country Dog Walker and the new Texas Flower Farmer Cozy Mysteries, which will debut in July. I was impressed to learn that Jackie combines writing with being a part-time pharmacist. She lives in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, and her website is http://jackielaytoncozyauthor.com. Sue, Jackie, and I took a few minutes to peruse Buxton Books on King Street before heading to 82 Queen.

We dined upstairs in a room wallpapered with images of green parrots. Dru Ann was our most gracious host, introducing us to her friends, Yifat Cestare from New York and Marla Husovsky from California. Since meeting, they had traveled to join each other at several destinations for exploration, food, and fun. Yifat explained the number one requirement was laughing a lot. We were glad to comply.

My lunch: tomato pie and salad. YUM.

Dru Ann made sure we knew about each of the authors. Tina Whittle and Nora McFarland had traveled from Savannah, Georgia.

In addition to short fiction, Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph/Trey Seaver mysteries that feature gunshop owner Tai and corporate security agent Trey. She reads tarot and enjoys boxing, sushi, and mini pilgrimages. Her website is http://www.tinawhittle.com.

Nora McFarland has an MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and has worked in national (CNN) and local news. Her protagonist is Lily Hawkins, a TV News photographer who lives and sleuths in Bakersfield, California. Nora’s website is http://www.noramcfarland.com.

Pralines and Cream Ice Cream for Dessert!

Dorothy McFalls and I always joke that we only meet when traveling to writing conventions. We have both been members of the Lowcountry Romance Writers (chapter of RWA), based in Charleston. Dorothy’s a Charleston resident who writes romance and mysteries. She has two websites: http://dorothymcfalls.com and http://dorothystjames.com. Her mysteries include the White House Gardener, the Southern Chocolate Shop, and the Beloved Bookroom series.

Everyone was very supportive of my short stories, including “Crossfire in the Crosshairs” available in eBook A Death in the Night to be released in August by Dragon Soul Press. You can pre-order here.

Dru Ann had her own happy news that was announced at Malice Domestic. She and Kristopher Zgorski have collaborated to write a short story for a Beatles related anthology that will be edited by Josh Pachter. We are all very excited to read their work. Meanwhile, we’ll be following Dru Ann’s reading adventures at https://drusbookmusing.com/.

The group with something above!

We had a fabulous time, enjoying great food and conversation. One of the topics was about staying in haunted places. I noticed in the photo our server took that a shiny figure seems to float above us. Some might call it a reflection from the light fixture, but I wonder!

Many thanks to everyone involved in this wonderful day. Dru Ann, Yifat, and Marla, don’t you think you could make Charleston an annual destination?

Anthony Nominations for Best Short Story and Best Anthology

by Paula Gail Benson

Bouchercon Poster

This year’s Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, will be held in San Diego, California, from August 30 through September 3. The Anthony awards, named for Anthony Boucher, a founder of the Mystery Writers of America, will be announced during the convention.

Categories for Best Short Story and Best Anthology are included among the nominations.

Earlier this year, Barb Goffman’s story, “Beauty and the Beyotch” was nominated for and won the Agatha award at Malice Domestic. In addition, Barb’s stories appear in two of the nominated anthologies: Low Down Dirty Vote Volume 3: The Color of My Vote and Land of 10,000 Thrills: Bouchercon Anthology 2022.

Greg Herren is multiply nominated for Anthony’s with his A Streetcar Named Murder (credited to T. G. Herren) for Best Humorous Novel, his #shedeservedit for Best Children’s/YA Novel (previously nominated for an Agatha), and his editing of Land of 10,000 Thrills: Bouchercon Anthology 2022 in the Best Anthology category.

All the authors nominated in these categories have had distinguished writing careers. Their work is definitely to be included on your “to be read” lists.

Here are this year’s Best Short Story and Best Anthology Anthony Nominees:


Anthony Nominees for Best Short Story

“Still Crazy After All These Years” by E.A. Aymar in Paranoia Blues: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Paul Simon

“The Impediment” by Bruce Robert Coffin in Deadly Nightshade: Best New England Crime Stories 2022

“Beauty and the Beyotch” by Barb Goffman in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Feb. 2022

“The Estate Sale” by Curtis Ippolito in Vautrin Magazine, Summer 2022

“C.O.D.” by Gabriel Valjan in Low Down Dirty Vote Volume 3: The Color of My Vote


Anthony Nominees for Best Anthology

Low Down Dirty Vote Volume 3: The Color of My Vote edited by Mysti Berry

Lawyers, Guns, and Money: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Warren Zevon edited by Libby Cudmore and Art Taylor

Land of 10,000 Thrills: Bouchercon Anthology 2022 edited by Greg Herren

Paranoia Blues: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Paul Simon edited by Josh Pachter

Crime Hits Home: A Collection of Stories from Crime Fiction’s Top Authors edited by S.J. Rozan

And the Short Story Nominees Are . . .

by Paula Gail Benson

It’s awards season and short stories are having a great year! The Leftys (from Left Coast Crime) do not have a short story category, but the nominees for the Edgars (Mystery Writers of America), Agathas (Malice Domestic), and Thrillers (International Thriller Writers) have been announced. In April, we should hear the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Derringer nominations, then later will come the Anthonys (Bouchercon), Macavities (Mystery Readers International), and Silver Falchions (Killer Nashville).

Meanwhile, here are the current lists. It’s interesting that the Edgars had three nominees from Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine while the Thrillers had three from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Barb Goffman, a terrific short story author whose work is always award-worthy, has two different stories nominated. Particularly of note is that Catherine Steadman’s Original Amazon Story was tapped in the Thriller short story category.

Happy reading, everyone!


Edgar Nominees:

Best Short Story

“Red Flag,” by Gregory Falls (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine)

“Backstory,” by Charles John Harper (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine)

“Locked-In,” by William Burton McCormick (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine)

“The Amnesty Box,” by Tim McLoughlin, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (Akashic Books)

“First You Dream, Then You Die,” by Donna Moore, Black is the Night (Titan Books)


Agatha Nominees:

Best Short Story

“Beauty and the Beyotch,” by Barb Goffman (Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine)

“There Comes a Time,” by Cynthia Kuhn, Malice Domestic Murder Most Diabolical (Wildside Press)

“Fly Me to the Morgue,” by Lisa Q Mathews, Malice Domestic Mystery Most Diabolical (Wildside Press)

“The Minnesota Twins Meet Bigfoot,” by Richie Narvaez, Land of 10,000 Thrills: Bouchercon Anthology (Down & Out Books)

“The Invisible Band,” by Art Taylor, Edgar & Shamus Go Golden (Down & Out Books)


Thriller Nominees:

Best Short Story

“Russian for Beginners,” Dominique Bibeau (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

“The Gift,” Barb Goffman, Land of 10,000 Thrills: Bouchercon Anthology (Down & Out Books)

“Publish or Perish,” Smita Harish Jain (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

“33 Clues into the Disappearance of My Sister,” Joyce Carol Oates (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

“Schrödinger, Cat,” Anna Scotti (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

“Stockholm,” Catherine Steadman (Amazon Original Stories)

Sisters in Crime’s Guppy Chapter Releases its Seventh Anthology

by Paula Gail Benson

The anthologies organized and published by the online Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime have had an enduring influence in nurturing both new and established authors and in encouraging more readers and writers of short stories. The recently released Hook, Line, and Sinker (organized by Debra H. Goldstein and Carol L. Wright) is the seventh in the series and features twenty-three stories. Emily P.W. Murphy is the anthology editor and cover designer.

An invaluable part of appearing in a Guppy anthology is working with the organizers and other authors on promotions. Following are the descriptions provided by the contributors for their stories in Hook, Line, and Sinker.

Now available in Kindle and Paperback, why not add Hook, Line, and Sinker to your “to be read” list?

Sandra Benson – “Manual for Success”

Pharoahs were not the only ones buried by pyramid schemes. Krystal Markham plans to make money – or at least replace the money she took—by selling coffin franchises for EverRest. Using the manual for success EverRest provided, will she be able to? Or will her desperation lead her to bury something – or someone – else?

C.N. Buchholz – “Truth Be Told”

There are almost 100,000 psychics working in the US. How many of them would you trust? How many should you trust? This tale of sleight of hand, deception, and death will have you on the edge of your seat.

Lida Bushloper – “Senior Discount”

A remote spot in a parking lot. A vulnerable senior citizen (don’t call her that to her face!) with a broken-down car. A stranger approaches….if you think you know the rest, “Senior Discount” will give you a secret surprise.

Judith Carlough – “Man Up in the Air”

We’ve all heard about – or lived – a midlife crisis. We may think we know what will happen when Macon’s body meets Ashleigh, a beautiful flight attendant. Can he resist the temptation? A story that appears as sweet as carrot cake can have a very spicey bite!

Kait Carson – “Gutted, Filleted, and Fried”

Do you trust your spouse? Should you? Or, across the breakfast table do you think, there are plenty more fish in the sea? This tale of betrayal and surprise is cold enough to store fresh produce at Costco.

Susan Daly – “The Americanization of Jack MacKenzie”

A famous director said, “Film is a battleground.” In “The Americanization of Jack Mackenzie,” the battleground would appear to be Julie’s hometown of November Falls, Ontario, Canada. Yet, in this brilliant, twisting tale, the fight for preserving the town’s Canadian sweetness is mapped with devious strategy.

M.R. Dimond – “Playing It Again”

Detective Marie-Louise “Lou” Delacroix turns her investigative talents to a blackmail case involving a scandal, an inheritance, and some of New Orleans best beignets. Lou is smart, observant, and accustomed to navigating the ins and outs of New Orleans criminal underworld, but will she give up this important case to follow her lover to California? Or will the life and death stakes of the case keep her in the Big Easy?

Mary Dutta – “The Grift of the Magi”

Does the saying “lesser artists borrow, good artists steal” apply to the art of a good fraud? “The Grift of the Magi” takes the reader through a brilliantly twisting con where the reader is never sure who is the true owner of an Old Masters painting of the Adoration of the Magi and who is the master con artist crafting a beautiful portrait of a swindle.

Kate Fellowes – “The Buddy System”

Bennett is always the new kid in school. He tried to fit in, but it all felt pretty fake. He and the school bully Max are thrown together because neither have any friends. Will Bennett fit in with Max and his family? Or will it be another counterfeit experience?

Wrona Gall – “Capone’s Chair”

Nona Ponticelli is looking forward to moving into Labella Active Living but first, she needs to empty her apartment of 50 years of Mikasa dishes and her antique furniture. But Chicago is full of gangsters who might take advantage of her. This story shows us that gray hair does not mean a feeble brain and, as Nona eats her chocolate creams, she’s got a plan in the works worthy of Capone himself.

Vinnie Hansen – “Perfect Partner”

Over 300 million people use dating apps like Perfect Partner. Who could resist new love that is literally in the palm of your hand? That’s what Maya thinks when she starts texting with Adam – a man as handsome as original sin. But is the dating app a clearinghouse where lonely hearts and sweetheart swindlers meet? In “Perfect Partner,” we are not sure – whose heart – or wallet – will be stolen.

Ann Michelle Harris – “Changeling”

Who can resist a needy child? That’s what Shane is counting on when she takes another woman’s toddler out to test the limits of that question. This uncompromising tale of grifting will have the reader spellbound.

Kim Keeline – “Occupied With Death”

Nilda Santos does not like to be called the Death Doula, but that’s what she is. With poise and practice, she helps people prepare to die. But when a missing heir shows up at Eduardo Calvera’s funeral, possibly disinheriting his nephew, Nilda feels compelled to ask questions. As she investigates, Nilda finds secrets hidden in Eduardo’s retirement home that surprise even the Death Doula.

Jane Limprecht – “Net Profit and Loss”

Vacationing retirees Maggie and Ben Springfield encounter two internet entrepreneurs in a beachside Florida bar on a sunny afternoon: one runs an online loan modification company, the other operates an internet publishing business. Later, over tacos on their timeshare balcony, the vacationers contemplate whether their new acquaintances are dodgy scammers bent on fraud. Read this lighthearted tale to discover what Maggie and Ben do next.

Sally Milliken – “Trailblazer”

Brie’s life seems to be a series of Mondays, focused on work and trying to climb the corporate ladder. A friend encourages her to try online dating after Brie realizes that if she feels she’s peaked she needs to find a new mountain. When she meets Flynn, an experienced hiker, she’s ready to track him along a surprising new trail of deceit.

M.A. Monnin – “Just Another Shot in the Dark”

Raymond knows the success of any scam hinges on the savviness of the mark. He learned that from his father. Now Dad wants a brand new walker, which he can get with Seth’s new con, which promises to be more than just a shot in the dark.

A.W. Powers – “Restitution”

Is it nonsense or a sixth sense? That’s what parapsychologist John Thompson is trying to find out when he visits Madame Varna. Can Madame Varna truly channel the spirit of John’s sister? Or will a different ghost from the past make an unexpected appearance at the séance? This story will leave you breathless!

Merrilee Robson – “The Ass-In”

Did you ever just have one of those days? Wally sure is having one. Money goes missing. Police show up. There’s a fall from the second story. Maybe there’s someone smoking something they should not. But everything might have been all right for Wally, if not for the damn dog!

KM Rockwood – “Dear Lathea”

Sweetheart swindling can be a lucrative business, just ask Roderick, dear Lathea Markowitz’s long-time partner. Even though Ginger, Lathea’s cat, does not care for him, Roderick lives in Lathea’s home, and remains lovingly available to take the dear lady to fentanyl-laced doctor’s appointments and will-altering lawyer’s office visits. Is all doomed for Lathea? Will Ginger end up at the pound after Lathea dies? Or, is it “pawsible” that Roderick might have a more “furmidible” enemy than he could ever imagine?

Lisa Anne Rothstein – “Catch and Release”

Amanda Wallingford has cheated death once. Her time in the tropical paradise of St. Hilaire was supposed to restore her spirits before death patiently called again. However, Amanda finds that, for all the island’s beauty, St. Hilaire hides many secrets. Could one of them be that death has followed her? This taut thriller will make you suspicious of your next plate of sushi!

Steve Shrott – “Crime and Convenience”

It’s an ordinary convenience store with some extraordinary characters. “Crime and Convenience” disturbs the surface of your daily coffee run in a way that you will never forget.

Frances Stratford – “Wise Enough to Play the Fool”

July 28, 1540 was a busy day at Henry VIII’s court. That morning he married his fifth wife. Before his midday meal, Henry VIII sent the architect of his fourth marriage, Chancellor Thomas Cromwell, to death in the Tower of London. Yet many voices in the Tudor court worked to save Cromwell from the headsman’s axe, reminding the king that Cromwell was the king’s most faithful servant. So who was the cloaked figure who stole into the palace under cover of darkness and convinced Henry VIII to execute his most capable minister?

Shannon Taft – “Research”

Becca is a psychic and fraud from East Nowheresville. She and her dog Nostradamus have an established rapport that, along with Becca’s ability to research people’s deepest secrets, puts clients at ease. But when Becca unexpectedly finds one of her marks dead, she becomes a murder suspect. Will her skills as a researcher help expose who was the real fraud?

New Year’s Resolution: Read a Short Story a Day

by Paula Gail Benson

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope it has been healthy, comfortable, and prosperous for all.

Barb Goffman

If you are still considering resolutions and have any interest in short story craft, may I suggest a recommendation by well-known, award winning writer and editor Barb Goffman? Why not read a short story a day? Debra H. Goldstein has already made an excellent suggestion to get started: the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s latest anthology, Hook, Line, and Sinker. In addition, there are plenty of online and periodic publications to choose from, all featuring outstanding authors. Many of the Sisters in Crime Chapters have organized and released anthologies to showcase their members and give newer authors a chance not only for a writing credit, but also to learn how to promote their work.

Even if you are not interested in writing the short form, seeing how it is put together can help you strengthen skills for longer efforts. With a short story, characters, setting, and mood must be established quickly, in only a few carefully chosen words. It has to be wrapped up concisely, without leaving loose ends or unsatisfied questions. Those elements are important for novellas and novels, too. Figuring out how to develop a story and keep a reader engaged is a primary focus for shorts.

If you are interested in writing short stories, please consider the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable’s Annual Short Story Contest. This year, submissions must include a holiday element, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. They must be 2000 words or less and submitted as provided in the description of rules. An entry fee of $15 is required for each submission. The top awards are: First Place, $200 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group’s anthology Season’s Readings; Second Place, $100 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group’s online quarterly, the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable; and Third Place, $50 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable.

Maybe the best news about the contest is that this year’s celebrity judge is Barb Goffman. Here’s a link with an interview where Barb talks about the most appealing aspect of writing short stories, how her careers as a journalist and lawyer have influenced her writing, what some of the most frequent mistakes she sees writers make, and what’s her best advice for submitting to an anthology or contest.

Start you New Year right: reading and writing shorts!

Reeled in by the Hook, Line, and Sinker short story anthology

Reeled in by the Hook, Line, and Sinker short story anthology by Debra H. Goldstein

I’m a sucker for a good whodunit. Whether serious or humorous, I find figuring out mysteries challenging and fun. Best of all, I relax and forget anything worrying me while I lose myself in the author’s storyline. Timewise, it works best for me when it is a collection of short stories because I can grab short bites of downtime when my schedule allows. That’s why I found Hook, Line, and Sinker: the Seventh Guppy Anthology to be delightful.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Guppies, that is short for the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. With over 1000 members, the chapter is an online presence offering a list serv, subgroups, classes, critique groups, craft discussions, and the opportunity to be part of a bi-annual anthology process. For the anthology, a theme is established and then there is an open submission period. Non-Guppy judges evaluate and rank the stories. In this case, the top twenty-three stories dealing with grifters, con artists, and their marks were compiled into Hook, Line, and Sinker, an anthology edited by Emily P.W. Murphy and published by Wolf’s Echo Press.

Although every story shows that devious plots and plans don’t always go as planned, each story is different. As one turns the pages, one finds characters who range from senior citizens to movie producers to séance attendees. The diversity of the characters, voices, and plots make for an enjoyable read. Contributing authors are Sandra Benson, C.N. Buchholz, Lida Bushloper, Judith Carlough, Kait Carson, Susan Daly, M.R. Dimond, Mary Dutta, Kate Fellowes, Wrona Gail, Vinnie Hansen, Ann Michelle Harris, Kim Keeline, Jane Limprecht, Sally Milliken, M.A. Monnin, A.W. Powers, Merrilee Robson, KM Rockwood, Lisa Anne Rothstein, Steve Shrott, Frances Stratford, and Shannon Taft. The interesting thing is that some, like KM Rockwood, are well-established short story writers, but for others, like Sandra Benson, it is their first publication.

For a fun and relaxing read, I highly recommend picking up a print or e-book version of Hook, Line, and Sinker: the Seventh Guppy Anthology. One disclaimer though, Carol L. Wright and I, on behalf of the Guppies, were the co-coordinators of the project. That said, we handled technical issues, but the stories themselves were blindly picked for their quality. Even without participating behind the scenes, I can honestly say the book reeled me in.





Advent Ghosts or Who Can Write the Most Frightening Drabble?

by Paula Gail Benson

For thirteen years, Loren Eaton has hosted an event called Advent Ghosts to celebrate the tradition made famous by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which is to entertain readers and listeners with holiday stories featuring the paranormal. Scary, spooky, or simply speculative fiction is welcome — with one required element — each story must be a “drabble,” or exactly one hundred words.

I joined the fun in 2016 with “Ever Here,” about a spouse lost in a flood who is commemorated by the remaining spouse at Christmas. During 2019, I experimented with a number of fairy tale drabbles. In 2020, I contributed “Tribute,” where an undecorated tombstone is pitied by the living and adorned by the dead. For 2021, I relied upon Icelandic legend with “The Yule Cat’s Fury.” This year, I dealt with family loss and a neglected Advent calendar in “Traditions.”

Moriah Richard’s Writer’s Digest article, “What is a Drabble in Writing?” explains: “The term itself is said to come from Monty Python’s 1971 Big Red Book, which describes a game called Drabble where players compete to write a novel. In the 1980s, the Birmingham University SF society is credited for setting the story’s length at 100 words.”

Richard goes on to note that other short forms have developed from drabble, including the dribble (55 words), the double drabble (200 words), the trabble (300 words), and the pentadrabble (500 words). She also directs readers to 100wordstory.org to read excellent examples of drabbles.

Meanwhile, I recommend that you go straight to Loren Eaton’s ISawLightningFall.blogspot.com to read a series of delightfully sinister holiday drabbles. Contributors may publish their drabbles on their own blogs and Loren will provide connecting links, or they may send their stories for Loren to post.

Reading these terrific shorts is a great way to spend an evening curled up with some hot chocolate and cookies. You can even gift the authors by providing some immediate feedback in the comments!

Better yet why not join the fun by offering your own drabble next year!

Happy holidays!