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Today our guest author is Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs. Many of his short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies. He has also served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. His novel MEMORY OF A MURDER earned thirteen Five Star reviews online at Amazon and B&N. His column “Write Tight” appears in the online magazine Apollo’s Lyre. He is also a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery. He hosts workshops for the Muse Online Writers Conference and the Catholic Writers Conference Online and is a frequent speaker at conferences and writers groups.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
By Earl Staggs
I find it interesting to know how authors came to write a particular novel or short story. Where did the idea come from? How did they develop the characters? How did they come up with the plot?
With that in mind, this is the story about a short story of mine which eventually led me to write my first mystery novel with the same characters.
When my wife and I left the cold winters of Maryland behind and moved south, I made two decisions. One, I would retire from full time employment and, two, I’d do something I’d always wanted to do: become a mystery writer. The first step was to sign up for a writing class at the community college.
“By the end of this class, each one of you will have written a short mystery story.”
The instructor made that announcement the first night.
When I signed up for a class called “Writing Mystery,” I thought someone was going to teach me how, not make me do it right away. Okay, I reasoned, she’s a professor of literature at the college, so if she says we can do it, I suppose we can.
Then she said, “You have to come up with your own plot and your own characters.”
I had no idea where to start, but not knowing how had never stopped me from doing anything before.
I thought about characters first. My protagonist, I decided, would be a former FBI agent who is now a private investigator. That would give him the training and expertise to pursue the bad guys. But I wanted him to offer something different from all the other PI’s already out there. It happened there was a Psychic Fair in town that week. That reminded me of a fascination I’d always had with psychic phenomena. I went to the Fair and talked with several psychics. These were not the storefront psychics who wear flowing robes and put on a bizarre show. They were also not the kind who will tell you everything you want to know over the telephone for three dollars a minute. They were ordinary people who lived ordinary lives when not using their gift. When they did use their gift, it was to assist law enforcement agencies solve crimes. Yes! That’s what I wanted for my guy.
I named him Benjamin Masterson and gave him some psychic abilities. He wouldn’t see or talk with ghosts or dead people. A medium does that, not a psychic. When he visited a crime scene or touched an object related to a crime, however, fleeting images would flash in his mind. Sometimes, those images would steer him in the right direction. Other times, they would only leave him confused because he didn’t understand what they meant. That’s the way it is with real-life psychics. It’s not an exact science. For the most part, Benjamin would rely on his FBI experience and old-fashioned police work.
I made Benjamin a widower because I felt a single PI has more freedom to travel, stay out all night if necessary, and be receptive should one of those beautiful and mysterious women -- a blonde, of course -- enter his life. I also added some close friends, some people who were not friends and, naturally, someone intent on killing people.
The next hurdle was to come up with a plot. I started with Benjamin receiving a phone call asking him to consult on a case that had local police stumped. A sniper had taken shots at a popular politician, but missed him and killed another man instead.
With a lot of help from the instructor and feedback from others in the class, I finished the story. I called it “The Missing Sniper.” I was quite proud of it and thought I’d done a great job even though Benjamin was not approached by a beautiful, seductive blonde. The story was so good, I decided to send it out to a few magazines, then wait to see which one offered me the best deal. Instead of deals, they all offered rejection letters. I was crushed. So crushed, I stuffed that story in a drawer and wiped it out of my mind.
I didn’t stop writing short mystery stories, however, and within a couple years, was fortunate enough to have several of them published. One day, I remembered that first story and dug it out. When I looked it over, I saw many reasons why it had been rejected. I suspect I’d learned a lot about writing by then. I decided to rewrite it.
The first thing I did was change the main character’s name. Benjamin Masterson seemed too stiff and formal for him. After much thought, his name became Adam Kingston. Next, I cut out about 4,000 words. The story shrunk from 13,000 words to 9,000. Apparently, I had also learned something about editing and tightening since that first attempt. I could have filled a large trash can with unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, and anything that didn’t move the story forward.
When I sent the story out this time, two magazines wanted it. One was a print magazine and one was an ezine. What to do? Incredibly, they both agreed to publish it simultaneously. I’d never heard of that, and I was thrilled.
When “The Missing Sniper” appeared, response to the character and the premise was so enthusiastic and encouraging, I decided to put the same guy into a full novel. I did, and a couple years later, MEMORY OF A MURDER featuring Adam Kingston was published and is still selling quite well.
Now, to everyone who read all the way to here, you’re invited to drop by my Blog/Website at: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com and visit with my special guest for the day, an author I know you’ll find interesting.
While you're there, you can read Chapter One of MEMORY OF A MURDER, my first mystery novel, which earned thirteen Five Star reviews.
Memory of a murder
You can also read “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer,” which some say is the funniest story I’ve ever written. There’s another one there called “White Hats and Happy Trails,” about the day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers.
Don’t forget to leave a comment on my site. Everyone who does will be entered in a drawing on December 9. The first name drawn will receive a signed print copy of MEMORY OF A MURDER. The second name drawn will have a choice of an ebook or print copy of SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, a collection of sixteen of my best short stories.
Short Stories of Earl Staggs
Thank you, Jackie, for allowing me to visit here and tell the story behind the story.
Earl, the pleasure has been mine, I assure you. I love your humor and your books, and I'm sure my readers will, too.
Here's Earl's contact information:
Thanks to everyone for stopping by, and remember, if you leave a comment that gives you a chance at winning a free books.