During my teenage years I went through a long period when I immersed myself in the short stories of great writers such as Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin and John Steinbeck. I read their full-length books as well, devoured novels like The Haunting of Hill House, Another Country and The Grapes of Wrath. But their short work provided an opportunity to analyze how to craft a complete, satisfying story in, say, five thousand carefully chosen words.
The lessons I took from my youthful short-story obsession? Each sentence has to do a lot of work in a short story, each scene needs to be tight. The story arc must be sharp, but not precipitous. Above all, from word one, the writer needs to know her destination.
Like many would-be novelists I started my career as a journalist, but after working as a newspaper reporter for the better part of a decade, I became a lawyer. Since circling my way back to fiction I’ve focused almost all of my creative writing energy on novels. I have three to my credit, yet until now I’ve never published a short story.
Happily, my tale of a criminal defense attorney contending with a very high-maintenance client is included in this year’s anthology Bloodroot: Best New England Crime Stories 2021. Called Means, Motive and Opportunity, it introduces Portland criminal defense lawyer Neva Pierce, who, coincidentally enough, turns out to be a friend and colleague of Joe Gale, the protagonist in my first series.
Bloodroot is the nineteenth annual collection of stories by New England writers, Crime Spell Books having taken the baton this year from longtime publisher Level Best Books. Editors Susan Oleksiw, Ang Pompano and Leslie Wheeler, all fine writers themselves, have selected twenty-four stories to feature this year and one-quarter(!) of us have Maine connections.
In addition to my story, the anthology includes short works by Bruce Robert Coffin (Murphy’s Law), Kate Flora (Best Served Cold), Judith Green (Virtue Is Its Own Reward), Vaughn Hardacker (Just Like Jesse James) and Sarah Smith (Jane Austen’s House).
We’ll be signing copies at New England Crime Bake in Dedham, Massachusetts, November 12-14. Not going to the “Bake? Here’s a link to order as many copies as you like: https://www.amazon.com/Bloodroot-Best-England-Crime-Stories/dp/0997352051/
As my friend Dick Cass so often points out, books make wonderful gifts. Bloodroot fits that bill, offering stories in every genre under the crime fiction umbrella.
Get ahead of the predicted holiday supply chain woes and order your copies today!
Brenda Buchanan is a lawyer and the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. Three books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available everywhere e-books are sold. Her story MEANS, MOTIVE AND OPPORTUNITY is included in Bloodroot: Best New England Crime Stories 2021.