Friday, June 14, 2013

Title: Scratch that
By Author:  B.K. Stevens

Appearing in issue #25 June 23, 2013
For sale date:  June 13, 2013

Tag line:  A clever friend and a protective kitty helped Evelyn discover exactly who had stolen her money …

Police characters:  None. 

The gist:  Evelyn always kept cash in a candy tin in her bedroom.  She knew how much she had in there.  When she went to get some cash for church, she found she was missing $350.  She was so upset she didn’t go to church. Evelyn had two nephews, Carl and Tom, who were at her house working by the pool and swimming. The one working by the pool, Tom, had on a long-sleeved sweatshirt in the heat.  The boys knew about her tin of money, as she had given them money from it in the past.  Both boys also knew where she kept her spare key.  She suspected one of the boys took the money.  Her friend, Liza, stopped by when she didn’t see Evelyn in church.  Evelyn’s cat lunged at Liza, hissing at her, when she came to the door.  Evelyn scooped up the cat and said “She won’t scratch you.  Fluffy is a fierce guard kitty and very protective of me but she’s an excellent judge of character.”  

Evelyn didn’t want to accuse the wrong nephew.  She had a plan.  She invited both boys into the house for a cool drink.  She told them that to thank them for their hard work she was going to go upstairs and get them each $100 .  Both boys declined the money but Tom urged Carl to hurry up and finish his drink so they could get going.  Evelyn knew he was the thief, as he didn’t want her going up and looking into the can and seeing there was money missing. 

Liza tried to get Tom to take a swim before they left, stating that he looked hot from working.  He declined and both boys left.  Evelyn wondered why Liza wanted Tom to take a swim.  Liza said to get extra proof. 

Crime scene:  Evelyn’s house. 

Clues:  Tom had a long sleeved shirt on.  Tom tried to hurry out of the house when Evelyn said she was going to get money from her bedroom for them.  The cat. 

Suspects:  Tom and Carl, the nephews. 

Red herrings:  None. 

Solution:  Despite the heat, Tom’s wearing a long-sleeved sweatshirt.  He wouldn’t take it off to go swimming because it’s hiding scratches Fluffy dug into his arms when he stole Evelyn’s money.

My two cents:   Really?  That’s the solution?  The cat?

This story was actually solved when we saw Tom get nervous and rush his brother out of the house.  Up to this point I had no problems with this story -- until they had to go and involve the cat.  Both boys had been in her house before many times.  The cat was familiar with them.  The cat didn’t lunge at them when they came into the house, and as a matter of fact, didn’t attack them when they came in for lemonade this time.  Why on earth would the cat attack and scratch Tom when he went into the money tin?  Are we supposed to believe the cat knew he was stealing?   I’m speechless.


Herschel Cozine said...

I find your criticisms of the minis both amusing and annoying. This isn’t literature, or is it serious writing. In the space allotted to us, 700 words, we don’t have the luxury of developing characters, motivation and the like. We have to take shortcuts. There is no time for worrying about nitpicking accuracy. We are matching wits with the reader in what we hope is an interesting and entertaining way. We are not writing police procedurals or instruction manuals.
Your aversion to “suspending disbelief” is annoying as well. Don’t you suspend disbelief every time you watch a TV show? Would a real life Columbo carry critical evidence around in a paper bag in his raincoat? Murder She Wrote, Matlock, Perry Mason, Charlie’s Angels. Need I go on?
I would be interested to see how you would write these stories. You do write, don’t you? Have you ever been published in Woman’s World?

Jody E. Lebel said...

You aren't, by any chance, related to the author of this little cat story, are you? That's the only thing I can think of that would make you react in such a nasty tone.
I'm sure you've read movie critics' reviews where one loved it and another hated it. Not every movie is a smashing hit. Not every book or short story is either. Critics are very subjective.
Yes, we are asked to suspend disbelief a lot in TV shows and movies and in novels, and if I had a blog about those shows/movies/books I would speak up every time I observed some silly or inconsistent thing. But I'm not blogging about every show in the world, I'm blogging about the solve-it-yourself stories in WW. Maybe you should start a blog about how wonderful these stories are. I, for one, wouldn't find that annoying.
Opposing views make the world go round.
I understand the shortcuts needed to write short stories but I don't consider writing accurate nitpicking. I also don't understand what 700 words has to do with it. You can either write interesting, clear, entertaining stories in 700 words, or you can write crap. Both have the same word count. When you write something that is obviously wrong or silly, it takes the reader out of the story. Those kinds of stories are not entertaining to me.
I don't think you're really interested at all in how I would write these stories, but just to play along, I would rewrite the parts that are not accurate or that are way beyond belief.
As far as what I've written, as I state in this very blog, I've sold two stories to WW; one last December and one this February. As for my writing, also in this blog you will find the cover of my latest book, which I did not self publish.
Anything else you want to know?

Jody E. Lebel said...

PS you can't match wits with the reader when your solution doesn't make sense.

Herschel Cozine said...

Peace! The comment was not meant to be mean spirited. And valid criticism is never a bad thing. But I feel these light bits of work are being taken much too seriously. These stories are not "wonderful", but neither are they crap. Take them for what they are--fun (hopefully) reads that are meant to entertain. Of course thereare incisistencies. This isn't classic literature.

Jody E. Lebel said...

This blog was started as a counter-point to the WW romance blog. I started it for those of us who are trying to write/sell a mystery to WW. It's a summary of what works and what doesn't. I happen to have a law/legal background so that's how I approach the stories. It doesn't really matter how silly I think it is though, Johnene bought it and the author's check cashed just fine. These stories are never crap...perhaps poor wording on my part. But my point is to write the best, most accurate, fun, entertaining short you can and I offer weekly writing tips based on the current story.
I see you wrote The Stranger. I didn't read the whole story and I'm making assumptions here that it IS a Western, but assuming it is what if you had the guy ride into town and hitch up his horse and turn his cell phone off before he went into the saloon? Readers would be saying huh? And that kind of thing spoils the story. Ah'm jus sayin'.
"I would be interested to see how you would write these stories. You do write, don’t you? Have you ever been published in Woman’s World?" -- didn't seem too friendly to me. But I will shake your outstretched hand. Maybe I can slice and dice one of your WW stories someday. LOL.

Herschel Cozine said...

Jody, you already have sliced and diced a story of mine. I have been in WW 8 times.

Your example of a nineteenth century character using a cell phone is ludicrous. Anyone who would make that mistake would not get published--or shouldn't. All I am trying to point out is in these little efforts where space does not allow for long lead ins shortcuts have to be taken. For example I use a protagonist that discusses the case with the detective. This strains your credibility, but it is a convenient vehicle to get information to the reader and is in my opinion acceptable. Out and out inaccuracies are fair game for criticism.

Are we on the same page here?

And yes, you are right. My comment was a little caustic. My apologies.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Ahhh, now I understand. Your name was a bit familiar but I thought you were perhaps in one of my LI groups. I was making the ludicrous error in the Western story as an example. Sometimes the errors are blatant and right in your face, and sometimes they are subtle but both IMO take the reader out of the story. We just have different writing styles. Neither is wrong. I don't strain credibility to get information across. I don't believe a shortcut is needed as I find a way to do it that is seamless. I do realize Johnene 'messes' with these stories and those edits change things, not always the way the author intended.

" -- it is a convenient vehicle to get information to the reader and is in my opinion acceptable. Out and out inaccuracies are fair game for criticism. Are we on the same page?"

Yessss, but you see, this is MY blog. I make the rules here.

Everything above said with a smile on my face.

Herschel Cozine said...

this is MY blog. I make the rules here.

Your prerogative. But you welcome comments and I accepted the invitation.
Over and out.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Any time, Herschel. I love a good discussion.

Chris said...

Loving your exchange, lady and gent. As someone who has yet to have either a romance or a mini-mystery published in WW's hard to get into pages, I think anyone who gets a yes from Johnene deserves a huge pat on the back. I love reading both Kate's and your blogs, Jody, but this was a particularly enjoyable spat - and for you too, I suspect. Pistols at dawn anyone? :-)

For what it's worth, here's my five cents on the subject... It's always going to grate when you have specialist knowledge in something to see what you feel are errors in a piece of work, but with the mini-mysteries, as long as the major elements don't scream 'this would never happen', I'm not sure they have to be 100% accurate in every tiny detail. They are hard enough to write without using precious words explaining the minutiae of police procedure. I class them in the cosy, go with the flow, category of fiction, like Murder She Wrote or Rosemary and Thyme, rather than the gritty realism of a John Grisham novel. We all know they are far-fetched but that's half the fun.

BTW, Jody, your new photo is great. Just a quick query. Are the response times for the mini-mysteries the same as for the romances? The two whodunnits I've sent have only been with them a few weeks but I know they see far fewer mysteries, so I wondered if they got back to you any quicker.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Chris, you don't have to explain the minutia of police procedures, just don't have them doing something odd or something that can't be done. Like having an officer take a fingerprint, looking at it in the light, and saying, yep, that's John Smith's print. See, that screams to me "this would never happen" and I have to point it out.

Cozies mainly deal with amateur sleuths who can get away with a lot that the police can't. Amateur sleuths can (not legally, but believably for the story) sneak into people's houses and find clues. I wouldn't have a problem with that. The stories are still selling and most of the reading public doesn't know any better anyway. But I just can't say this is a fabulous little story when someone says their cat knew the guy was stealing. And who wants to read a blog where I say every story is wonderful?

Maybe I'm missing the point. Maybe they're supposed to be whacky to the point of absurd. Lord knows Johnene hasn't bought one of my mysteries yet - lol.

To answer your question about timing, so far my mystery stories have made it to Seattle and the rejection time is 3-4 months.

Betsi said...

Chris, I just had a mystery rejected in 3 months, so you'll probably have to wait a bit longer! And hopefully yours will be a sale.

I enjoyed this discussion as well.

Jody, I don't think your blog is comparable to Kate's, because yours seems more "critique" than "analysis." I want to know HOW to sell my mysteries. Not what works for YOU, but what works for WW. If Johnene will pay for an implausible plot involving cat scratches, that's what I'll write! She doesn't seem as concerned with accuracy or plausibility as you are, and she's the one we need to please.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Betsi, very true that we have to please Johnene. But we don't KNOW what works for WW. She rejects some great stories of ours, both romance and mystery. How many times do you see a story that is close to something you wrote and you feel yours was better? I hear it all the time in the group. Sometimes the stories she buys are accurate and entertaining, and sometimes they're silly. So where does that leave us?

If one of you out there wants to write that the squirrel on the porch solved the mystery by placing a peanut on the killer's chair...go for it. Maybe Johnene has a soft spot for squirrels.

What good would it do to have a blog and write every week that all the stories are fabulous? Even though they were published, I'm trying to point out how they could be better; how you could write a tighter story. Sometimes that would be through the police procedure and sometimes it's just common sense. Like the time the detective was standing over a dead body of a woman who was killed by a blunt force hit to the back of the head and the author had the detective say, "I think she was murdered." Duh. Did she think she hit herself with the hammer? I can't let that go. I have to point it out. By the way, when a story doesn't work for Kate, she says so and she says why, and no one gives her a hard time.

You can still learn from my break-down of these stories even if you don't agree with my comments on believability.
If you look at the entries on this blog you can see how many stories use police vs amateur, what kinds of crimes get published most often, how many clues is popular, how many suspects, and what kinds of red herrings worked for Johnene. You can also get a feel for the flow and tone of stories that she likes. For example she seems to favor female detectives and little old lady amateurs.

I AM telling you HOW to write a mystery by breaking down the stories. What you do with that info is up to you.

Betsi said...

If people think your blog is helpful it will succeed. I'm not one of those people and rarely look at it now that I've satisfied my initial curiosity. But I "heard" about this discussion and had to take a peek, since I mostly agree with Herschel's points. I've sold one mystery and had a few rejected, and my conclusion is that it's mostly trial and error - and that accuracy of police procedures has nothing to do with making a sale.

Kate rarely says she dislikes a romance -- it seems like you dislike most of the mysteries!

Chris said...

I take your point, Jody. I haven't seen this story so can't comment on it specifically, but I'm sure I'd be irritated too if a mystery relied on something I felt was totally bonkers to resolve it. And a blog that says every story is wonderful would soon have no readers. Agree or disagree with your assessment, this website is always worth visiting.

Thanks for the info re response times. I'll keep my fingers crossed a bit longer then.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Betsi, Okay, to each their own. Kate says 'meh" all the time. My tone is a bit snarkier than hers, I don't mince words, and that means I'm not everyone's cup of tea.

Even if a story gets sold to WW, when it contains errors and silly things, it reflects on the author. As authors we get enough criticism without doing it to ourselves. I think one should strive to always put out your best, and that means accurate, believable stories that entertain. But understanding that that is MY credo, you can understand how it reflects in MY blog.

This blog is 6 months old and I get 100-plus hits a week. At least one hundred people find it either amusing, interesting, or educational. I'm sorry you're not one of them but I can't please everybody.

As an aside, I have never gone on someone else's site and told them they are doing their blog wrong. If I comment at all, I do it gently and with an inquiring, respectful attitude.

Herschel Cozine said...

I thought I was through, but have one more question to ask and then will fade into the night (perhaps).

If, as you say, your intent is to help us to write acceptable minis, why would you use "successful" minis as an example of how NOT to do it?

Jody Lebel said...

Herschel, you are welcome in my house anytime.
I never said these stories are not successful. I said I find little problems in them that if fixed would make them perfect.
My intentions when I first started doing this blog was to dissect these stories and see how they worked. Find the pattern to them. But when I started doing it, I kept finding all these little problems. If you’re going to analyze something, do it all the way. So I said: This story works for me …but. And when I found a story that didn’t work for me? I had to say it. But I tell why. And yes, I find a lot of little police procedures that don’t ring true. Should I just ignore that? The authors should have done their homework. Try sending a recipe to a cooking magazine that’s got a missing or wrong ingredient. The cake is not going to rise… and these police stories are not going to ring true. Maybe that’s not important to everyone. Maybe I’m sensitive to it because it’s my career. If you (the royal you – not you-you) don’t care enough to write an accurate story, then don’t. But someone is going to spot your boo-boo and put in in their blog.
Everyone thinks that because WW published the story that it’s a gem. What happens when WW starts getting lots of letters saying, Those mysteries are getting dumber and dumber…or…gosh, those romances are hokey. WW will pull those spaces. How about we authors send in the best stories we can, not just anything that fits in 700 words?
I was okay with the last story until they said the cat was a good judge of character and could tell the nephew’s intentions. Come on, folks.

Mary Jo said...

WooHoo! Wait until you read the current mini-mystery. Someone nailed the author right into the ground with the first sentence. I have to doubt it was self-inflicted. Now there is a mystery for you.

As to this one, Jody, I am with you about the darned cat. When I read that the kitty guarded the money can, I really had to say "Whaaaattt?"

I think it takes a certain mind set to write mystery in the first place. Wish I could do it.

Though we all can have differing opinions, I do not appreciate comments that rag on a blogger. The worst is when commentors get into it with each other. Usually the commentor is simply out to show how clever and superior he/she is. It does not add anything to the conversation.

Jody Lebel said...

Mary Jo,

Thanks for stopping by. I don't get my WW until Friday... I can't wait to see the story now!

Herschel Cozine said...

OK, Jody, I'm with you on some of that. But if you are going to pick a story apart, make sure your criticisms can withstand scrutiny. A few weeks ago you ripped into a story of mine.
Fine. It's there, so it's fair game. But your criticisms, to my way of thinking were not valid.

First of all, you had to suspend disbelief. That's your personal bias and not sacrosanct. The suspension of disbelief has been around forever and is so much a part of literature, movies and TV that it is an accepted tool. Sometimes, in the case of Columbo, it makes the character more endearing. But I;'ll give you that one.

You criticized the fact that the office supply store had only three clerks and commented that these stores always have more help. Office Deport, Staples, Best Buy certainly do. But there are independent stores in smaller towns that have a small staff. I have been in them. Not a valid criticism.

You criticized the fact that the thief walked out of the store with a laptop. You stated that they were bolted down and one could not walk away with one. That only pertains to the display model. Many stores keep the ones for sale underneath on a shelf in boxes. They are not bolted down and should have an anti theft device. Again, not a valid criticism.

Maybe you should do more research before you speak.

I have had a lot of stories critiqued in the past and have not had a problem. God knows my writing is not perfect. But I get upset when the criticisms have no basis.

Pam said...

I personally loved this story. I have a cat that will greet you in my home, but if you step into my bedroom, no matter who you are, she will protect her territory. She chased my 6 ft. , 250 lb. son from the doorway when he peek in to see her. I think this story appealed to any reader who owns or loves cats. I’d be very surprised if that wasn’t the reason Johnene and Stephanie published it.

As far as police procedures go, there’s real cop land and WW land. Anyone who’s read the magazine for a while knows that. These stories are cozies published to entertain and fit a tiny word count.

Sometimes editors and publishers do things to a story we writers don’t like or agree with, but they paid for the story. Do I like it all the time? No. But that’s part of the writing life.

Herschel, I commend you for defending BK’s story. As I said, I knew the who and the how from the minute the perp had long sleeves on but I loved the story anyway. It was adorable and fit the market. That’s what sold this story.

Mary Jo said...

I suppose anyone doing a critique must be careful not to insist that a story fit into one's own personal experience. There is a whole wide world out there. If you think this is a nation of laws, that proves more of a fallacy with each passing day. It is more a question of expediency. Maybe that is why we see it in these stories.

Jody Lebel said...

@ Pam
I too have a cat, and our family has always had cats. I don't have much experience with cats that hiss, lunge and scratch though. I agree that Johnene probably likes animals. My comment was that this particular cat could deduce when a man walked into the home for good purposes and when a man was about to become a thief. I give the author credit for the foreshadow re the cat but I didn't buy it.

Just because something is bought and paid for doesn't make it a hit. Movies bomb all the time.

I keep hearing the excuse that the word count is so small and that's the reason these stories are lacking. That's just crap. If you had to write one sentence does that mean you can't write one fabulous sentence? It's all in the word choices, not the amount of words. Writing short does take some talent. Not everyone can do it.

Yes, editing is part of writing and we don't like it. So are poor reviews. As authors we have to expect we will get both.

I spoke to John Floyd when I did one of his stories,and he joked with me about how he'd try to do better. He didn't whine about it. He didn't send me a half dozen clarifying emails. He understands the game. He gets it that some stories are better than others.

Those are good tips for online sites re police procedures. Anyone who has read the magazine awhile knows that, huh? I don't see how but I'll take your word for it. Not every mystery story in this mag is a cozy. If they were you wouldn't even need those sites.

Thanks for the interesting to and fro. I always learn something from these discussions.

Jody Lebel said...

@ Herschel, You are one sensitive male. I applaud you for defending your a point. You're lucky that in a venue like this you can do that. In the big world once you send your work out to the reviewers, you're stuck with whatever number of stars they give you and whatever less than fab reviews they post. You have no option for rebuttal. You just have to swallow it and hopefully learn that you can't please everyone.

Regarding your comment about stores keeping expensive electronics under the counter handy for theft? Even WalMart locks them behind glass. What sort of research do you suggest I do? I use my common sense and my own experiences working in retail and shopping in modern America.

I reviewed my comments on your story and I stand by them. Don't get upset. Let it roll off your back. That's what I do.

You run hot and cold. Am I going to be treated to another round?

Jody Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo

"I suppose anyone doing a critique must be careful not to insist that a story fit into one's own personal experience."

I see what you're saying and you have a point there. Some experiences are universal and some are not. As a reviewer I only have my life experiences to draw from. Well, that and I've never been whale watching, so if I read a piece about it, I really don't have much to say about the truth of it or the accuracy. But crime? Now, that I know. That's why I don't blog about whale stories. :)

Herschel Cozine said...

If you stand by your comments in the face of evidence to the contrary, then I surrender. I have seen stores where the merchandise is open to the public, but if you say it is not, then I must bow to your wisdom.

I am not "upset". Just a little puzzled. I it possible that you could be wrong? Don't bother to answer.

Jody Lebel said...


Of course I could be wrong. This is just my perspective from my little life. I don't know everything. But I've got to pick something and put it in the blog, so I pick what stands out to ME. You and I look at the ocean and we each see a different color. Neither of us is wrong, but I'm the one writing about it so it's going to come out the color I see it.

Herschel Cozine said...

We aren't talking about perception here. We are talking about facts--no perspective involved.

But I will let it go, let's part friends. Have a nice life.

C said...

OMG - I'm exhausted.

Chris said...

... So exhausted I couldn't even type my full name. CHRIS

PAM said...

Jody, you are under the impression that Herschel wrote this story. He did not. BK Stevens wrote this story.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Pam, Herschel started out waaaay up top of this comment section telling me how annoying I was because I didn't approve of the cat solving the crime and basically demanding my credentials.(You do write, don’t you? Have you ever been published in Woman’s World?)

From there our discussions evolved (or devolved maybe) into his dislike and utter disbelief that I could possibly find anything negative to say about his last story, maintaining that my comments were not valid criticisms. Of course they are not valid to him, he wrote the story. And while I admire someone who stands up for their work, I also admire someone who can take a step back and listen to another's opinion when it doesn't match theirs. You don't have to agree with it, but respect that we all have a different sense of what's going to work and what isn't.

Herschel Cozine said...

I feel compelled to set the record straight concerning the back and forth of missives.
I have been called “sensitive” and “a whiner” because I spoke out in defense of my story and WW stories in general. I am neither. I have been writing and publishing for over forty years. I have been criticized as much as the next writer. The difference being that the criticisms for the most part were valid and well grounded. That is not the case here.
The criticisms of my story on WW were invalid because they were based on false premises. Contrary to the criticism, there are office supply stores that employ three or four clerks. Also, contrary to the criticism, many stores keep the merchandise available to the public. I recently visited Walmart, went to the electronic section and picked up a DVD Recorder that was sitting on the shelf. It was not as high priced as a laptop. But it was there for the taking. The local Staples also had Computer monitors sitting on the shelf. So again, the criticism was invalid. When I took Jody to task for this she “stands by her comments” meaning that in spite of the evidence she persists in her criticism. This, to me, makes all of her criticisms suspect.
She calls it “perspective”. These are facts, not speculation. It is right and wrong, not seeing the ocean as blue or green.
If one is to set oneself’s up as a critic they should be well grounded in their critiques.
It seems presumptuous to tell the editors at WW that their choice of stories is misguided or not up to standard. They are offering entertainment that the public seems to want. If it isn’t classic literature, so be it. It is light, concise and usually fun. And the fact that liberties are taken with writing techniques adds—not detracts from the fun. We aren’t writing police reports.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Me thinks you doth protest too much.

Jody E. Lebel said...

"It seems presumptuous to tell the editors at WW that their choice of stories is misguided or not up to standard."

Is it presumptuous to tell a major motion picture house, that just spent millions on a film, that their latest movie sucked? Critics say it all the time.

WW doesn't expect to please every reader every time. They print what they feel will entertain the masses. When I'm entertained, I say so. When I'm not, I say so. It's no skin off their corporate noses that I don't agree with one of the stories they chose. Any publicity is good publicity for their magazine.

Herschel Cozine said...

It is of no consequence to me if you love my story or hate it. That is your right. All I'm asking is that your criticisms be fair and based on fact. In this case I felt (and still feel) that because you never experienced something that it couldn't possibly happen.

I am confident that I will have more minis in WW. If and when I do I expect you will tear them apart. Fine. Go ahead. But please base them on a firmer foundation than you did with this one.

Jody E. Lebel said...

Herschel, there's a good possibility that I will just love your next story. And I am also confident that you will sell more WW stories. (Probably before I do.) I'm not a mean person. In my eyes I didn't rip your story apart but I can see how you might think that and I can see that your feelings are hurt. I apologize for that. I have walked in your shoes.

Jody E. Lebel said...

"In this case I felt (and still feel) that because you never experienced something that it couldn't possibly happen."

My comments reflect that it 'probably' didn't happen. Nothing is impossible.

Don't you grow weary of this discussion?

Herschel Cozine said...

Don't you grow weary of this discussion?

Yes, I do. And I planned to end it some time ago. This time I will. Promise.