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Old 02-17-2012, 05:43 PM   #1
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March 2012 Western Prompt

MARCH 2012 WESTERN PROMPT FOR SYW – A MYSTERY

The idea of the March prompt is to help anyone interested in learning more about writing mysteries and to point everyone in the direction of one of the better annual contests with a decent prize and definitely okay for putting in writing credentials – The Hillerman Short Fiction Contest. Even better, the location for the story should be primarily in New Mexico – so western – but it doesn’t have to be historical western. The entry deadline for the Hillerman contest is in August and there is a $20 entry fee.

ABOUT THE HILLERMAN SHORT FICTION CONTEST

“What we are looking for: Your best mystery short story, set primarily in New Mexico. We’re seeking compelling, original, well-written stories that have not been previously published.

Submission details - Submit mystery short stories that are 2,500 words or less, written in English, set primarily in New Mexico. The story must be previously unpublished. Submissions must be typed, single-sided, double-spaced. Please use page numbers and your title ONLY on each page. Submissions must include a separate cover sheet with title, word count, writer’s name, address, phone number and email address.

Fee – Each entry must be accompanied by a check or money order for $20 payable to WORDHARVEST. Multiple entries by the same writer are allowed. Want a critique from the contest judge? Please add $100 per story.

Deadline - All entries must be postmarked no later than August 15.

The Prize - The winning story will be published in an issue of New Mexico Magazine, probably the February issue which is devoted to books and reading.The winner will receive two tickets to the awards ceremony at the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference and other prizes to be announced shortly.”

They are also offering a novel length (no less than 60,000 words) mystery contest for a mystery set in the southwest - $10,000 prize and publication – deadline June 1. Details are available on their webpage http://www.wordharvest.com/contest.php (link is also in the Western Markets thread that’s stickied)

MYSTERY WRITING GUIDELINES
Gotten somewhere in 2008 - possibly from Squido

Definition: Mystery is a genre of fiction in which a detective, either an amateur or a professional, solves a crime or a series of crimes. Because detective stories rely on logic, supernatural elements rarely come into play. The detective may be a private investigator, a policeman, an elderly widow, or a young girl, but he or she generally has nothing material to gain from solving the crime.

Mystery writing, more than writing in other genres, tends to follow standard rules because readers of mysteries seek a particular experience: they want the intellectual challenge of solving the crime before the detective does, and the pleasure of knowing that everything will come together in the end.

1. In mystery writing, plot is everything.
Because readers are playing a kind of game when they read a detective novel, plot has to come first, above everything else. Make sure each plot point is plausible, and keep the action moving. Don't get bogged down in back story or go off on tangents.

2. Introduce both the detective and the culprit early on.

As the main character, your detective must obviously appear early in the book. As for the culprit, your reader will feel cheated if the antagonist, or villain, enters too late in the book to be a viable suspect in their minds.

3. Introduce the crime within the first three chapters of your mystery novel.

The crime and the ensuing questions are what hook your reader. As with any fiction, you want to do that as soon as possible.

4. The crime should be sufficiently violent -- preferably a murder.

For many readers, only murder really justifies the effort of reading a 300-page book while suitably testing your detective's powers. However, also note that some types of violence are still taboo including rape, child molestation, and cruelty to animals.

5. The crime should be believable.

While the details of the murder -- how, where, and why it's done, as well as how the crime is discovered -- are your main opportunities to introduce variety, make sure the crime is plausible. Your reader will feel cheated if the crime is not something that could really happen.

6. The detective should solve the case using only rational and scientific methods.

Consider this part of the oath written by G.K. Chesterton for the British Detection Club: "Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow on them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?"

7. The culprit must be capable of committing the crime.

Your reader must believe your villain's motivation and the villain must be capable of the crime, both physically and emotionally.

8. In mystery writing, don't try to fool your reader.

Again, it takes the fun out. Don't use improbable disguises, twins, accidental solutions, or supernatural solutions. The detective should not commit the crime. All clues should be revealed to the reader as the detective finds them.

9. Do your research.

"Readers have to feel you know what you're talking about," says author Margaret Murphy. She has a good relationship with the police in her area, and has spent time with the police forensic team. Get all essential details right. Mystery readers will have read a lot of books like yours; regard them as a pretty savvy bunch.

10. Wait as long as possible to reveal the culprit.

They're reading to find out, or figure out, whodunit. If you answer this too early in the book, the reader will have no reason to continue reading.

Other Websites to look at:
http://www.squidoo.com/writing_whodunit_mystery - My 12 Golden Rules in Writing a Mystery Novel

http://www.writer-on-line.com/content/view/44/66/~Articles/Mystery/How-to-Write-a-Mystery.html

http://www.masterjules.net/mysteries.htm – Interesting perspectives

PUMA NOTES
I entered the contest in 2008 (didn’t win) and am posting my submission “Red on Black” in Western SYW so you can see what a non-winning entry was like. And, everyone is welcome to pick it apart and tell what’s wrong with it as far as mysteries go so we all have a chance to learn. ETA: in 2008 one of the requirements was that the story had to contain Native Americans.
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Old 02-18-2012, 02:42 AM   #2
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Excellent work, Puma.

I have been lucky enough to pick up a Hillerman novel - A Thief of Time - at a local thrift shop and plan to read it before I start writing my entry to get a feel for style. Saying that, I did want to ask you if you knew from experience or general knowledge whether the contest is looking for looking for something in Hillerman's own style or whether one can, as long as they stick to the guidelines, go for any style they want?

Good job on getting the info up, I'm looking forward to giving it a whirl and hope some of the mystery folks, the new westerners and anyone passing by will give it go too.
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Old 02-18-2012, 06:18 AM   #3
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I don't know if they want Hillerman's style, Harry. My best suggestion would be to see if a library near you (yeah, I know) has the February issues of New Mexico magazine for the past couple years. Seems that's when and where the winning stories are published. You might be able to get an idea by looking at winners for the past couple years and whether they have other things published that might give some clues. Sorry I can't help more. Puma
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Old 02-19-2012, 05:42 PM   #4
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By the way - for the March prompt in western, stories do not have to be 2500 words. They should be about that if you hope to enter the Hillerman contest with your story, but if you just want to write a western mystery for fun the story can be any length - 1000, whatever. But if you go over 2500 you may not get quite as many readers. Puma
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Old 02-20-2012, 04:34 AM   #5
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Cheers for the answers, Puma.
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Old 02-20-2012, 06:14 AM   #6
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I've got my murder - now all I have to figure out is how the poor detective is going to figure it out. And it ain't gonna be easy. Puma
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Old 02-20-2012, 06:20 AM   #7
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I been a thinking about reworking a start to a novel skit I did in a whimsy and prompts exercise. But, then again, working on a nice new murder is tempting, too. I think they'll be a good response when people get their gruesome teeth and detective hats on.
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Old 02-20-2012, 06:50 AM   #8
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One of the other problems is finding a city in New Mexico large enough to have a detective bureau. I don't think using a fictitious city would be a good idea for this contest. Sort of odd going from my local metropolitan area with a population of about a million to a state where the capital only has a population of about 70,000, and is the fourth largest city in the state. Puma
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Old 02-20-2012, 07:08 AM   #9
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Ah, I've got a built in workaround that might work if I re-jig my novel start as I have the federales called in. Might could work for you too. Certainly works on the old local police/people vs out of state FBI tension. But then again, do you think the Hillerman people are more about the local -- after all, they do want New Mexico specificly, so do they want the crime solved by locals, too?

Might could be a case for a retired sheriff or drunken lawyer or friend of the deceased. Plenty of ideas for people to riff on.
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Old 02-20-2012, 07:29 AM   #10
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I think they want locals rather than federales. And, as I mentioned, in 2008 the requirements specified there had to be Native Americans - even though they don't specify that this year, I don't think it would be a bad idea to include one or two. Puma
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Old 02-25-2012, 01:56 AM   #11
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I'm getting a little excited about this now.

Saying that, I shouldn't think i'll have my piece done till late March. I'm planning to read the Hillerman novel I found at the end of this month, get a feel for style, and then see where things go in the writing. One things for sure, though -- the mystery element is making me all kinds of moist.

Anybody else revving up for the March prompt? Whether you're going to give it a go with eyes on the Hillerman prize, or you're wanting to mix western and mystery for fun and the challenge -- why not drop a message in this thread.
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Old 02-25-2012, 02:28 AM   #12
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Glad you're getting excited, Harry. Mystery is a popular genre. Mix it with western and well ... But, beyond this, two of the other possible decent short story markets are Ellery Queen and Hitchcock. Need I say more.

As far as when responses to this prompt are posted - March is great, but if someone is working toward entering the contest and can't get something up until June - I don't see that as a problem. The whole idea is to encourage people to write and let them know there are some markets out there. This one is quite a bit more lucrative than some of the others.

For March - I'm working on a story and have it pretty well sketched out, but not completely written, and even after it's written I'm going to need to do some more research on location. But, at the moment I'm at a standstill because of other things going on in my life that are requiring all my writing time. But, I'll get back to it as soon as I can. So, yes, count me in on having a story up sometime in March for the mystery prompt. Puma
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Old 02-26-2012, 02:53 AM   #13
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I love Tony Hillerman! But I don't know if I could write in that style, it that's what they're looking for.

Actually, I didn't think I could write a mystery at all, but then last night I was researching for a different project, when the mystery muse hit me. So perhaps I will write something for this contest after all.
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Old 02-26-2012, 05:20 AM   #14
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Sounds good, LP. It's fun actually - figuring it all out. I enjoy playing detective. Puma
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Old 02-26-2012, 05:56 AM   #15
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I actually prefer Hillerman's short stories to his novels. It's hard to pick a favorite but, if pressed, I'd choose "Chee's Witch". That story really showcases Chee's attitude toward the feebs through his relationship with Agent Jake Wells. Hilarious.

For the novel, I really like Larry McMurtry. I'm currently re-reading ANYTHING FOR BILLY.
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Old 02-29-2012, 02:47 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
I actually prefer Hillerman's short stories to his novels. It's hard to pick a favorite but, if pressed, I'd choose "Chee's Witch". That story really showcases Chee's attitude toward the feebs through his relationship with Agent Jake Wells. Hilarious.
I'm halfway into Hillerman's A Thief of Time, and have been introduced to both Jim Chee and his [sort of] opposite number Joe Leaphorn. I like 'em both.

The story is interesting and the writing good and it's helpful in giving an overview of what the March Prompt and Hillerman contest is looking for. Though, I imagine they don't want carbon copies of the Hillerman style.

It's interesting that A Thief of Time has a lot of mythic/spiritual/preternatural stuff in it and hints (though at the same time denies) that this maybe the cause of the disappearance of the central character -- however, I am sure it won't end up this way and the real cause of events will be more prosaic. I think the book is (so far as I've read) dealing with loss and how one veiws the world and its past/myths. I look forward to finishing the book tomorrow and starting work on my march prompt/entry soon after.

In the meantime, I am wondering about any hints and tricks for writing a mystery in 2500 words. I've a feeling this might be tricky as my intuitive feeling is you need more words to flesh out all the clues/suspects/events etc.

Anyone else struggling with this, or anyone with experience in writing Mystery who wants to give some advice on how to write a mystery well in a short piece?
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Old 02-29-2012, 05:33 AM   #17
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I think our best help on how to write a mystery in 2500 words may come from the folks who frequent mystery. I put a post up there with a link to this thread (but I haven't gone back since the day after I put the post up). You might want to ask your question up in that thread, Harry. (And then report back ) Puma

ETA: I put a post in mystery asking for suggestions there or down here.
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Old 02-29-2012, 07:41 AM   #18
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I asked someone this very question recently. The advice I received was to start late in the story. I was told you don't have the time (word count) to lay out clues or detail evidence; so, the best way to handle that is to 'shorthand' that information.

I'm still trying to work out how to do that last part by reading mystery FF online.
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Old 02-29-2012, 07:34 PM   #19
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Either start late in the story or have one heck of a detective who catches all the clues. Puma
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Old 03-01-2012, 03:01 AM   #20
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Finished A Thief of Time today.

Very good read -- excellent characters, great writing with a lot of depth. The only thing that pulled me up was the heavy motive explanation at the end. Which, with regard to the March Prompt and Hillerman contest and Mystery in general makes me ask these questions ...

Should a Mystery piece answer its questions at the end, or should the reader be able to put it all together by the end without explicit motive/happening reveals?

What kind of Mystery do people here on AW write - Whodunit? Whydunit? Another kind? What are the benefits of each?

Is the kind of mystery you write dependent on word count? Is one type easier than another when writing in the short form?

How is everyone getting on with their March prompt and what problems or breakthroughs have they been having?

I agree with Ari that looking online for Mystery in the short form is going to be super helpful when tackling the March prompt/Hillerman entry. I'd also love it for a passing Mystery writer to come give us some direction and help.

Finally, anyone fancy throwing their Stetson or Panama into the ring and joining up with us who are trying to give the Mystery Western a go? Come say hello if you're a thinking about it and let us persuade you why its a great idea.
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Old 03-01-2012, 04:30 AM   #21
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In answer to your question, Harry

"Should a Mystery piece answer its questions at the end, or should the reader be able to put it all together by the end without explicit motive/happening reveals?"

I think better mysteries let readers put it together as they go. If the author has to have too much reveal at the end, I think they've missed accomplishing what they should have done. The reader should have the same knowledges the detective or whomever is solving the mystery has - including an understanding of motive.

As far as the March prompt, it's been sitting for a while because I needed to do other writing (community newsletter - how fun!) But I will get something up during March, even if it's a case of asking critters for help in finishing it. I think I've got a helluva idea for a murder - but how it gets solved is a little hairy (no pun intended). Puma
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Old 03-02-2012, 06:29 AM   #22
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I'm still trying to figure out where New Mexico is...

I take my mysteries one at a time...
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Old 03-03-2012, 07:10 PM   #23
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Hello - I'm starting on this project today. As the Hillerman Short Fiction Contest is independent of AW - can we post our submissions here for crit?

Would that cause possible publishing disqualification?
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Old 03-03-2012, 07:36 PM   #24
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I posted the one that's up now in SYW for people interested in the contest to look at for crits before I submitted it a couple years ago. Since SYW is password protected, posts there can't be found by Google and should be secure. Posting here is not considered first publication rights. However, some AWers do take their posts down (edit out the text in the original post) when they're getting ready to submit. You should be safe posting in SYW when you're ready, Toffee. I plan to after I get my baby finished. Puma
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Old 03-03-2012, 09:35 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Toffeehead View Post
I'm still trying to figure out where New Mexico is...

I take my mysteries one at a time...
Texas's neighbor to the west. (Yes, I know you were joking.) Reminds me of a true story, though: This happened . . . oh, about 3 months ago . . . when I made one of my twice-weekly trips to the library. A lady was there to get her passport because she was visiting family in New Mexico. It was one of those moments when you don't know whether to pipe-up or not. The librarian didn't say anything, so I said, "Oh, how fun. Will you be crossing the border into Mexico while you're there?" She said, "I don't know." I saw the light dawn, and she said, "New Mexico's a state, isn't it? I'm not usually this much of an idiot. Honest. I'm just so excited."
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