Showing posts with label Rich and the Dead. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rich and the Dead. Show all posts

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Itinerary

"The Itinerary" by Roberta Isleib, in Mystery Writers of America Presents The Rich and the Dead, edited by Nelson DeMille.

So, what does the beginning of a short story need to do?

One thing only, really. It has to convince the reader to keep reading, not to abandon the story in favor of the next one in the book, or a trip to the supermarket, or the latest installment of Real Crap of the Cable Networks.

The opening can and probably should do a lot of other things, but keep- 'em-on-the-ranch is the one necessity. Let's see how much Roberta Isleib manages to accomplish in her first paragraph.

Detective Jack Meigs knew he'd hate Key West the moment he was greeted off the plane by a taxi driver with a parrot on his shoulder. He hadn't wanted to take a vacation at all, and he certainly hadn't wanted to come to Florida, which he associated with elderly people pretending they weren't declining. But his boss insisted, and then his sister surprised him with a nonrefundable ticket; he was screwed. A psychologist had once told him that it took a year for grief to lift and that making major changes during this time only complicated the process, which was why he'd gone to work directly from the funeral and every day in the three months since. There was no vacation from the facts: his wife Alice was dead and she wasn't coming back.

In 130 words we have learned a lot about the protagonist (an older cop mourning his dead wife), the setting (the bizarre end of Florida), the mood of the story (I absolutely love "he was screwed"), and the possible plot (a busman's holiday story).

And that's exactly what it is. Meigs, a thousand miles from home and off duty, witnesses an argument and the next day recognizes that one of the quarrelers is the missing person in the newspaper story. He spends his vacation solving the case - which goes in a direction I would have never guessed.

Did the paragraph do its main job? Every reader has to decide that for themselves, but it certainly kept me reading.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Sadowsky Manifesto

"The Sadowsky Manifesto," by Karen Catalona, in Mystery Writers of America Presents The Rich and the Dead, edited by Nelson DeMille.

I bought an iPad a few months ago. Mostly I have been using it to check my RSS feeds (see the right column of this screen) for which it seems to work better than my desktop. But it's called an eBook reader, so I had to get around to buying a book, and I have done so. (I hasten to add that I bought it through the website of my local bookstore, thereby contributing to the people who sponsor authors' readings in my town. That's how you buy eBooks, right?)

The MWA anthologies are always themed. The editor invites certain authors to submit; the rest of the slots are available for any MWA member to shoot for. I think I have submitted three times and made it in once.

This year the editor is Nelson DeMille and the theme is the very rich. So far, my favorite story barely qualifies on the theme. But that's okay. It's good anyway.

Max Bergen runs a not-too-successful literary agency. One day a pot of gold rolls in over the transom. More literally it is a manuscript from the serial-killer-du-jour, who had just killed himself. The FBI and publishers are clamoring for the book and Bergen stands to make a fortune on commissions.

Of course, there has to be a problem, right? Sadowsky's book is not an angry political rant. It's a science fiction novel, and it's so bad that after fifty pages readers will be rooting for the giant robots to kill the hero. The book is a disaster and there is no ethical way for an agent to make money off it.

But, hey, Bergen is a literary agent. Who said anything about ethics?
I have never heard of Karen Catalona before, but I hope to run into her again.