Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Appearing in issue #45, November 11, 2013

Title: Testing, testing
By Author:  Percy Spurlark Parker
Tag line:  Professor Marsh had to figure out who had cheated or else get a failing grade for her detective skills!

Police characters:  None.

The gist:  There were three students left in the classroom taking a mid-term test.  The professor called them “the usual trio of slackers”.  Ashley finished her test, placed it on the desk and left.   Ten minutes later both Karen and Tammy finished and left.  The professor left her classroom to attend to another matter and returned 20 minutes later.  She noticed that the drawer on her desk was protruding slightly.   She was certain she had locked it as it contained the answers to the test along with a stack of blank test booklets.  Nothing appeared disturbed but just to be sure the professor counted her blank test booklets.   There were only 49 and there should have been 50.  Someone had sneaked into the room and using the answer sheet retook the test.   She checked the completed pile of tests.  Tammy’s, Ashley’s and Karen’s booklets were on the top (in that order).   She graded the three papers.  Tammy scored 88; Ashley scored 79, and Karen scored 76.  The professor was sure one of those girls had cheated.  She thought about making them take the test again, but decided they could pass or all fail the second time around and that wouldn’t prove anything.  She decided to question the students and went looking for them.  She spotted them in the cafeteria.  When she approached Tammy and Karen were drawing circles in their catsup with what fries they had left.  Ashley was just taking the first bite of her sandwich.  When questioned, all three girls told the professor that they had left the classroom and came straight to the cafeteria for lunch.   The professor knew who had cheated. 

Crime scene:  Classroom.

Clues:   The girls’ lunches and the order of the tests on the desk.

Suspects:   The three girls.

Red herrings:  None.

Solution:  Ashley is the cheater.  She left the classroom before the others yet she was just starting her lunch.  Why?  Because she went back, broke into the desk drawer, and retook her exam.  Also in her haste Ashley didn’t put her test booklet back in the same order it had been. 

My two cents:  The only real clue here is the order of the test booklets.  The fact that Ashley was just beginning to eat her sandwich proves nothing.  She could have made a phone call first.  She could have eaten her dessert first.  She could have eaten a salad or fries or just about anything else in the world first.  The story didn’t say what was on the lunch trays.  Or she could have stopped and talked to someone before settling down to eat. Or sent a few hundred text messages.  You know teenage girls.

There was a lot of talk (that I left out of my ‘gist’ above) about the professor working with an architect and about her being designated the coordinator for the new wing, something she grudgingly accepted, and the secretary's call that he’s ready for her, etc, etc.  All just filler.  All that could have been cut.  It’s just a waste of our precious 700 words.  Perhaps the story was so simple that that extra padding was needed?  

I didn’t think “the usual trio of slackers” was a very nice thing for the professor to say. 

I’m not so sure the professor would have gotten away with ‘making’ the three girls retake the test.  I know as a parent I would have raised a stink.

All in all not a bad idea for a mystery story.  It was a little dull.  I think it could have been written in a more interesting way. 


Chris said...

I feel that this story was spoiled by the emphasis put on the 'food clue'. The girl was eating a sandwich, so not a hot meal that needed to be got down asap. The fact that she'd only taken one bite was no indicator that she was lying about the time she'd arrived in the cafeteria. Girls chat, go to the bathroom, text, check their make-up, there could be any number of reasons why she'd only just started to eat.

The second clue, about the order of the test sheets, wasn't watertight either, since the slippy papers could have slid off the pile and been replaced in a different order by someone.

It was the slightly open drawer and the missing copy-book that was the clincher that someone had cheated, but it hardly got a mention. Maybe there could have been a chip of nail varnish in the drawer, or a distinctive coloured hair, to indicate who'd been in there. The idea was okay, but the clues the writer opted for didn't work for me.

Cranston said...

I'm not sure where to leave this question, but perhaps someone can give me their insight to my situation. I have sent out about ten mysteries. 4 standard rejection and one with a comment...clever, but not quite right for us. Yesterday I got back a rejection letter covered, I mean covered!!!!, in comments from Johnene. She spoke about a few inconsistences, some structure issues etc. She also marked up my actual story that she sent back. How should I take this? Constructive Criticism? Venting on her part? Why not just send me a straight rejection? Anyway, it felt good and bad at the same time, if that makes sense. Any ideas from you about this out there? Thanks

Chris said...

I've yet to get any comments on any of my rejected stories from Johnene, Cranston, whereas Jimmy Meiss used to give me lots of feedback, so I'd see this as a positive, definitely. If Johnene has devoted this much time out of her busy day to giving you advice about how you could improve your story, it's got to be because she felt you had something. Sounds like it was a near-miss, so better luck next time.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Cranston. Okay, this is what I would do. Congrats, by the way for getting such great feedback from Johnene. It's rare. I would take her comments to heart. Fix the story where she wants it fixed. Really polish it. Then send it back to her with a cover letter thanking her for her 'valuable input' and presenting her the edited story saying something like "I sincerely appreciate your time and hope this revised story will meet the high standards of WW and appeal to your readers."
Then send her a box of chocolates. Just kidding. No chocolates. Just cross your fingers. You obviously have a talent for writing stories that Johnene likes, so start on another one keeping the same tone and style of your recent 'near miss'. Wishing you best of luck. I'd LOVE to slice and dice your pubbed mystery on my blog!

Mary Jo said...

Jody, it is my understanding that the editors at WW do not want to see a revised story unless they specifically ask for one. Patricia did ask me for one revision, but in the end, it was rejected. Some years ago, I took the editor's comments to heart and submitted a revised story. It came back (practically by return mail!) from Johnene with a note something to the effect of "I have seen this story before. Why was it sent to me again?" In other words, "Don't waste my time." Well, anyway, that was my experience.

Jody E. Lebel said...

It's so hard to know what to do. Why would Johnene take the time to give so many directions on how the story should go, and not want to see the rewrite? I wish she'd be more clear when she does that.

Cranston said...

Just to clarify, She didn't specify that she wanted it rewritten, just gave me direction what worked and what didn't. But she used an entire half page of the rejection letter to write to me, which surprised me greatly, and...she made notes in the story itself. I still have four others out there, so time will tell.

Tamara said...

I was told by Jimmy Meiss that Johnene does not want rewrites unless she specifically asks for them.I rewrote two romances, but their storylines were pretty different in perspectives the second time. One made it, and one didn't. I wonder why Johnene did so much work on your story (alas, she usually does that on the ones she accepts). What did you think of her changes?

Chris said...

I would not take what Johnene said as a sign that she wants it rewritten and resubmitted (she would have said so if that was the case), but I do still feel that any editor who goes to the trouble of making notes for the writer does so because they are trying to be encouraging. That's the thing to take away from this. Your next story should be written with all those hints and tips in mind to hopefully take it one step closer to acceptance.

Cranston said...

I believe that was her intention. If not, a simple basic rejection letter would have been sent instead. I also believe that without her specifically asking for a rewrite, she doesn't want one. I will move forward with new stories, and look forward to see what she does with my other four stories still floating out there, not under the influence of her corrective help that she gave me on this one.

Tamara said...

I would take it as a sign that she saw value in the story, as she devoted a lot of time to it, which she does infrequently.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Cranston. Well, nobody liked my idea of resubbing your story. Scaredy-cats. :)

PS Johnene's picture is on her FB page. She looks like a nice, normal woman. Who knew she had wicked editor scissors, bloody from all the cuts she's made, and a sharp red pencil perfect for poking the wind out our our sales (sic).

Mary Jo said...

Maybe all those notes on the rejection form were written by Johnene to herself. It would appear from the way you say she marked up the story itself (did she send the whole thing back?) she might have been trying to work it into her idea of an acceptable WW story. Too bad it didn't work for her. I say, try again now, using her comments as a guideline. And see what happens.

Very good point, Jody..."poking the wind out of our SALES." Ha Ha.