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  • Writer's pictureWendy Harrison

In the 1980s, after thinking of myself as a writer since childhood, without having actually written anything since college, I decided to add to the balancing act of wife, mother, and lawyer by writing a novel. Since my favorite books were mysteries, I started there.

It never occurred to me to try my hand at short stories first, which would’ve made more sense for someone with a tightly packed schedule. For one thing, I rarely read short stories, preferring the meatier plots and characters of a full-length book. If I were to follow the adage, write what you know, mystery novels should be my sweet spot. Also, I feared I wasn’t capable of coming up with more than one story idea a year, as I would have to if I started on the trail of short stories. Even just one idea was going to be a challenge.

I read a few writing craft books, but was otherwise on my own. This was the 1980s, pre ubiquitous computers and the World Wide Web. Manuscripts were sent out to publishers and agents via typed hard copy with an SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope for you youngsters out there).

I started with a detailed outline and couldn’t imagine writing any other way. Sometime later, I realized that besides plotters there were pantsers, those who wrote by the seat of their pants with little or no idea where they were heading as they wrote. I still can’t wrap my brain around that.

My first book was a mystery involving the discovery of a naked woman with amnesia hiding in a bush on the Boston Common by a lawyer out walking her dog. I then wrote a second one featuring the same lawyer and then a third. At some point along the way, I found a New York agent who shopped book 1 around. That led to a collection of flattering rejections, praising my writing but feeling that my lawyer wasn’t different enough from other similar books. I guess I should’ve given her purple hair or a limp. Then life got in the way, and I gave up writing.

Jumping ahead to 2020. I had retired as a prosecutor and now was trapped at home. Faced with the depressing times of quarantines, handwashing, and supply chain issues, I decided to try writing again. Now I had the benefit of the internet and discovered that publishers of anthologies posted Calls for Submissions online for anyone to respond. But short stories? Did I dare?

After a short mystery fiction reading binge, I felt ready. When one of the anthologies called for stories inspired by songs from the ‘60s (Peace, Love, and Crime), I was off and running. “Nights in White Satin” was my first published story. Since that time, I’ve had 21 more stories accepted for publication in various anthologies and online magazines.

I can’t pretend that coming up with ideas has been easy. I know writers who erupt with story ideas as often as the Yellowstone geysers spout. Not me. The development of every one of those stories has been tortuous.

But here’s the real reason I’m going to stick with the short form. Recently, I discovered a 40,000 word romance manuscript I wrote in 1999, hiding in the back of an old filing cabinet. I decided to see if I could make it into something I’d be comfortable sending to a publisher. For the last few weeks, I’ve been wrestling it into submission and still have a ways to go. Since my short stories usually range between 3000 and 5000 words, this experience has been somewhat overwhelming. Most full-length mystery novels are between 85,000 and 100,000 words. Not going to happen again for me, but I’ll be forever grateful for finding that Call for Submissions that started me on the short story road.

 

 

 

 

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I'm excited to announce that my latest story, "It's Nothing Personal," appears in the new anthology, CRIMEUCOPIA: TOTALLY PSYCHO LOGICAL.


When Dani DeLuca returns home after serving in the Army in the war in Afghanistan, she doesn't expect a secret from her time there to come back to threaten the new life she has built.



Now available in paperback at amazon with the ebook to follow. Check out the "Short Stories" tab for a link.

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Updated: Mar 1


There are many reasons a fiction writer might choose to use a pseudonym. Perhaps her fiction is too close to real people and events. Would her third-grade teacher realize how deeply she traumatized her shy, insecure student when she forced her to stand in front of a roomful of mean girls and read her essay on how she spent her summer vacation helping her mother clean the houses of some of them? Would the mean girls see themselves as the bullies they had been? The odds were slim that any of them would read her murder mystery and even slimmer that they would recognize themselves as the monsters they were. But even as an adult, she still might fear their capacity for retribution. The solution: a pseudonym and well-disguised author photo.

Also, someone who is a successful cozy mystery writer might want to use a pseudonym for her noir mysteries to avoid confusing her fans. When they pick up a book with her real name on it, they know what they’re getting, a predictable but ultimately sweet story of true love overcoming all obstacles. How shocked they would be if, in the opening scene, a heavy-drinking down-on-his-luck private eye is graphically seduced in his office by a well-endowed blonde who is trying to persuade him to kill her rich husband.

The best example of the successful use of pseudonyms is Nora Roberts who was wildly successful as a prolific romance writer. Her alter ego, J.D. Robb, became equally successful writing science fiction police procedurals. Her fans know what to expect from her books by the name she uses for each genre.

As a short mystery story writer, it never occurred to me I might have a reason to use a pseudonym. I’ve rarely used characters who might be recognizable to people from my real life, although there are times when in my heart I knew who inspired them as I dispatched them off this mortal earth.

  Then came Sex & Violins.

I was invited to submit a story for a new anthology. The submission requirements included at least one sex scene and a central role in the plot for an orchestral instrument. Hmmm. I enjoyed coming up with the mystery part, but joining the world of erotica turned out to be much more difficult than I expected. However, I managed to put together a short scene that met the requirements and was essential to the plot so I could tell myself that there was nothing gratuitous about it.

There was a long delay in the publishing date because of behind-the-scenes issues at the publisher. I confess I was relieved. But the anthology has moved to a new house and will be released very soon.

And now we come to my dilemma. To pseudonym or not to pseudonym.

Which do you think I chose?  

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