Thursday, February 18, 2016


During the summer months at Xanadu, my mornings begin in my spectacular Writing Room and quickly transition to the sofa on our sun porch, where I spend my days writing. On one balmy late May morning, with iced coffee and blueberry seltzer sweating within reach, lap desk on lap, and pen racing across the page, I happened to look up and noticed something out of place in the view beyond the windows. That part of our home faces the bend in the road, and the brooding gray house that has sat empty for over a decade. A black Mercedes Benz was parked at the curb in front of the house. My pen skidded to a stop. I sipped from my iced coffee, got up, grabbed another notepad from my Writing Room, settled back on the sofa between our two rescue cats, and wrote these words: Stare out the same window long enough and you're destined to see something.

In one of those Eureka! moments, an entire new story was born. I put pen to the fresh notepad and began writing "Exhuming Secrets on a Hot August Day", a tale about a reporter obsessed with a crime that took place at his best friend and confident's house a decade earlier. Like me that same month, the reporter had lost his estranged father, and was, in fact, writing the obituary when he noticed a car parked in front of the house, scene of the unsolved crime. That first longhand draft of "Exhuming" dashed itself off over the next two days and was accepted into Murder Ink, an anthology of mystery and crime fiction set in New England newsrooms edited by Dan Szczesny. This weekend, Murder Ink will be given a spectacular launch at The New England Newspaper and Press Association Conference held in Boston at the Park Plaza Hotel, complete with luncheon and author reading. I'll be sharing the opening to "Exhuming" (and long last holding my beautiful contributor copies, which feature stunning cover art by Donna Catanzaro), and there's confirmation that a Murder Ink 2 is in the works. In fact, I've been invited to feature my character from the first round in a sequel for this next installment.

Many of my fellow authors in Murder Ink's stellar Table of Contents shared the back-stories behind their stories.

Judi Calhoun on "Murder at the Monitor": "I was observing city workers out the window as they were cutting down trees -- not just any trees, but the birch, New Hampshire’s state tree. Having traveled across the USA many times, I pondered the idea that in some places in US cities, certain official trees are protected. But the birch, not so much in our state, perhaps because they are so plentiful. I was thinking about the nature of my character, detective Rick Knightly. As I was looking at those tall white trees, I saw him interrupt the workers and irreverently unzip his fly.  The moment I pictured this, Rick Knightly began to unfold in my head. I wanted to know more about him. So, I began to do a voice journal and I interviewed my character. I discovered he really was an exceptionally brilliant detective who could easily solve crimes, but he wasn’t happy because he couldn’t make his wife happy, and this was a very big puzzle to Rick. I thought maybe his wife Wanda was a sort of a demanding woman who really wanted to have some birch trees planted in the yard. Rick told me that after their breakup, he sort of fell apart and began to drink a little heavier, pissing Wanda off even more and without even realizing it he was sabotaging their relationship. Other than his wife, his other love was his job. That’s what kept Rick going: the love of the game…detective work, interrogating suspects, and quickly solving crimes. And at the end of his interview he told me he realized the one thing he wanted most of all is his wife back, but he really doesn’t know how to be that man."

Tom Sheehan on "Grave Robber Extraordinary": "The basis of the story, theft of cemented coins, is true. We were kids loving the Saturday movies which, at that time, included an A picture, a B picture, the news, the coming attractions, a comic or cartoon session in a series, such as The Three Stooges or Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Bluto. Oftentimes there was no promise of a few pennies for the theater. That's when we struck on the idea of doing a little hammer and chisel work. But all those players are gone now, my theater pals, the coin man who decorated his steps, and the theater itself, twisted apart thirty years ago. I am the lone survivor of our group and, as I have captured many other childhood incidents, I thought it best to bring this one to paper. That's how this story started ... and my often going past Mr. Zinias's house on the side of the hill, as close as a house can be to Route 1 heading north, our busiest road. I pass it often. I look up at it often. I remember my pals often, and brought them close once again in this story."

Dan Rothman on "Nothing Nasty on Page One": "In search of a setting for a Murder in a Newsroom, I thought first of Manchester, New Hampshire – thirty-five square miles of mean streets and dark alleys. There’s probably a murder there every fifteen minutes. And a famous (or infamous?) statewide newspaper once had its newsroom just a couple of blocks off Elm Street. However, I’m not a city boy. I live fifteen miles west of the Queen City, in a small town whose hills are patterned with stonewalls and fields and forests. This is a different world. I’ve had moose in my backyard, and the pileated woodpeckers which hammer on my beech trees remind me of prehistoric pterodactyls.  It’s quiet here, except for the woodpeckers; my town recently appeared on a list of New Hampshire’s ten safest. Even so… I’ve got a file of Untimely Deaths in my town’s history that goes back 250 years. Under the cotton-puff clouds which float lazily in the blue sky over my village, who knows what unspeakable deeds might be happening at this very minute? What if I wrote a story of a murder -- or murders -- in a small town? A small town with its own newspaper? Let me hasten to add that my short story ‘Nothing Nasty on Page One’ is not necessarily based on my town nor the local newspaper which appears in my mailbox the first week of every month."

Roxanne Dent and Karen Dent on "The Death of Honeysuckle Rose": "When editor Dan Szczesny and Plaidswede Books put out the call for Murder Ink, a collection of crime fiction based in New England, three words, Noir, Mystery and Newsroom Crime immediately inspired us to write a story. The images they conveyed pulled us back to the 1940s and ‘50s, when the gritty, dark and cynical world of Film Noir and the popularity of newspapers were all the rage. We thought of films like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity and tough detectives like Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, but decided to turn the genre on its head and focus on an equally tough and cynical female reporter. When we started looking for a New England setting, we were blown away by what we discovered about Portsmouth’s involvement in World War II and a little known story by today’s generation."

O. Lucio D'Arc on "One Way Dead End": "I had been working for several months on a novelette loosely titled, "Pine Street Blues," and was up to about 22,000 words when this anthology opportunity came along. Was there any way I could reduce my work to the 8,000-word limit required for the book? Sure, I told myself. I've been editing for four decades in the newspaper business in one way or the other. So I did. It's probably a better tale now. I tell everybody I whittled it down by deleting all the sex scenes, which is only partially true. When I first started writing I just had in my mind a scene in a ratty bar, where the finished story, ‘One Way Dead End,’ begins, and I had no idea where it was going, how many murders there would be along the way or who-dun-it. It all came out of my head. I've never had so much fun."

Mark Arsenault on "Murder by the Letter": "A reporting colleague of mine came across the call for stories for the Murder Ink anthology a few days before the last call for submissions, and referred it to me. So ‘Murder by the Letter’, a crime story about newspaper reporters, is itself a piece of deadline writing. I’m normally pretty slow with fiction, but in this case I managed to get it done because I was so painfully familiar with the larger setting of the story, which formed the atmosphere and guided the tone of the writing. It is a crime story set within the slow-motion murder of the newspaper industry, which I have watched for twenty years. Most people understand how and why the industry has suffered. Publishers, facing falling revenue, cut back on their newsrooms and weaken their product. Readers aren’t fooled; they understand when they’re getting less, and some won’t stand for it. So revenues drop some more, and the cycle repeats like a mindless snake eating its own tail. So when I dropped a smart-mouthed protagonist into this setting, the writing went unusually fast. I got the tone I wanted on the first try. With a little sleepless, hysterical, forget-to-eat effort, I made deadline."

Victor D. Infante on the “The Death of a Copy Editor: “I have a confession to make. I began writing the first draft of this short story at 6 a.m. the day it was due, and I finished it by noon. What can I say? I’m a journalist. I thrive on deadlines. But I had wanted for a while to capture that frustration of that vanishing aspect of journalism, the despair and anger that came when a job that’s already implicitly invisible disappears even more.” 

Amy Ray on "A Nose For News": "As any New Englander will remember, we were slammed with snow last winter (Boston hit a record 108.6 inches!) While digging out my walk, hoisting the shovel high enough to clear the snow bank that towered over my head, a crime started to form in my imagination. What if a murder occurred just before one of these killer snowstorms hit, covering the victim under an icy mound until the spring thaw? Drawing on my prior freelance experience, my protagonist was naturally a female reporter for a small weekly newspaper. I wanted to make my story different from what I imagined the other submissions would be like -- gritty, hard-boiled, noir -- so I wrote a cozy mystery, complete with animal sidekick. The canine hero, named Poe after the newspaper owner’s favorite author, was inspired by my friend’s adorable pug, Peter. I enjoyed writing in the cozy genre so much that I’ve since e-published the first of my Antiques Alley Short Mysteries. Even though I grumbled my way through last winter’s succession of storms, the endless shoveling let my mind wander and unearth ideas as fresh as the snow falling around me."

Donna Catanzaro on creating Murder Ink's killer cover: "When George Geers, the publisher, asked me to create a collage for the cover of a pulp fiction newsroom collection I immediately imagined the scene. It would be a smoky, dirty room, cluttered with files and old crime photos, placed in the past, back in the heyday of pulp fiction. I hadn’t read any of the stories that would be included in the book -- in fact I don’t think the stories had been chosen at that point. But as George informed me, pulp fiction covers rarely ever related to the contents of the books. As I worked on the piece a story developed. I placed a man’s body under the desk with an empty bottle of alcohol. Is he dead or passed out? A beautiful but tough newswoman, smoking a cigarette, is holding an old Graflex camera. She’s worked extra hard to get this position, so of course, she has arrived earlier than her male co-worker. Or maybe she’s been there all night. Has she photographed a crime? Or did she photograph the man under the desk for blackmail? The newsman clutches the phone. He just walked in. But who is he going to call: the police, the man’s wife, or his boss? He hesitates. Around the office are possible weapons: a gun and a letter opener -- but have they been used? Like most of my work, I imagine it to be a scene from a movie, or in this case, a short story. I invite a writer to finish this story if they find it inspiring, for the next Murder Ink!"