Saturday, June 13, 2015

Appearing in issue #23, June 8, 2015

Title:  Color me scared

By Author:  Robin Kristine Ireland and Tracie Rae Griffith


Tag line:    When the sergeant stopped at the salon for a manicure, she got the kind of break she wasn’t expecting!

Police characters:   Sgt. Kelly Winslow

The gist:    The bank has been robbed two days ago.  Sgt. Winslow and the rest of the force had been working nonstop on the case, but Winslow had today off.  It was a Sunday.  Their prime suspect was Lee Simon, a former convict.  His old van had been spotted at the scene and found hours later at the edge of town, the engine blown. Speculation had him still in the area, perhaps walking back through the woods to his ex-wife or to try to get another car from his buddies.  Winslow was at the salon getting her nails done.  She shook her head, trying to forget the case on her day off.  The usually chatty salon owner, Marie, was quiet, and her associate was absent.  When Winslow asked about the partner, she was told Janice was picking her kids up from school.  Marie tried to get Sgt. Winslow to use a color today instead of the normal clear polish she always got.  Winslow declined.  Marie persisted saying she had some new colors.  She suggested Sunset, and placed the bottle in front of Winslow on the table.   When Winslow again said no thank you, Marie suggested the color Onward, and placed that next to the first bottle.  Later on the manicurist picked up a bottle of color and said she highly recommended it, calling it Summertime. 

Winslow’s studied Maries’ eyes and Marie gave a little nod.  Winslow put a finger to her lips to indicate that Marie should remain quiet.  She pulled her gun from her purse and headed to the storeroom at the back of the store where Simon was hiding crouched behind a stack of boxes.  She apprehended him and let Janice, who was bound and gagged, out of the closet.

How did she figure out where he was?

Crime scene:    Bank robbery.

Clues:    The nail polish names.  The day of the week.  

Suspects:   Only one, Lee Simon.  The mystery to solve was his location.

Red herrings:    None.

Solution:   The nail polish colors Sunset, Onward and Summertime spelled out SOS.  Also as it was Sunday, Janice couldn’t have been picking her kids up from school.   Sgt. Winslow knew something was up.

My two cents:    I think this story was overdone and had some believability problems.  My nail salon is closed on Sunday.  I would have placed the story on a Saturday just to avoid any conflict in any reader’s mind.  The authors were trying to think outside the box and present us with a fresh story, but I think they got caught up in trying to produce a clever clue.

Clue:  If the bad guy is hiding in the back room crouched under some boxes, couldn’t Marie have just written out a quick note to the sergeant while she kept up her friendly chatter?  “Help.”  “He’s in the back.”  All the color nonsense was a bit over the top and iffy at best.   That Janice was picking her kids up from school was a good hint. 

Motive:  We don’t need to know the bank robber’s motive.  This isn’t that kind of story.   I don’t penalize a story by holding back a star for motive when one isn’t necessary.

Police Work:   A couple of problems.  First of all when you have a major crime, all days off and leaves are cancelled.  Sgt. Winslow would never have gotten a day off only two days after a bank robbery in her city.  Maybe… MAYBE … a lowly officer, but never a sergeant.  Bank robberies are federal crimes.  The FBI is called in.  “Where’s your sergeant, we’d like to speak to her and see her files.”  “Oh, she's off today getting her nails done.”  WTF?

 Next, she’s trying to relax and get the case off her mind.  That would never happen.  The police are so pumped up, they live, eat, and dream about the case. 

Off duty cops often do carry their ‘weapons’.  They don’t refer to them as guns.

Writing:    I liked the fact that his old car broke down, but there was no mention of having interviewed the ex-wife or that they checked on the buddies.  Why didn’t the bad guy just put the two women in the closet and ride off in one of their cars?  It’s been two days and he’s still in town?  The story mentioned he was holding a knife when he was apprehended.  Where is his gun?  Did he rob the bank with a knife?  I'm assuming he got some loot from the hold-up.  He couldn't pay one of his buddies to drive him out of town?  He's holed up in the back of one of the town's businesses?

Characters:   The sergeant was not believable in her actions.  The manicurist was not believable in the way she chose to tip off the cops.  All she had to do was dial 911 and hang up.  The cops respond to those kinds of calls.  She didn’t think of that, she didn’t think to mouth ‘help’ to the sergeant, she didn’t think to write a note on the sergeant’s bill… but she figured out SOS with the names of nail polish colors?  Sorry, Tracie, it all left me shaking my head.  This story wasn’t up to your usual good standards. 


Tamara said...

I hate to criticize, because I just submitted a really questionable one myself, but I do I agree, Jody, especially about writing a help-there's-a-crook-hiding-in-the-back note.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Tamara

I know. I have to call them as I see them. I like Tracie Rae and I wanted to give her a great review... but I couldn't. I did keep the snark factor down though.

And next week Betsi has a mini-mystery. Betsi and I don't get along at all. And I wanted to very much not like her story... but it was a good one.

I have to leave the personal 'stuff' out of it, and that's difficult sometimes.

The purpose of this blog was to break down and analyze what WW buys to give us a chance to make some sales. But that's impossible because they buy 'all over the place'. Makes me question the value of this blog.

bettye griffin said...

I think your blog is very valuable, gives many pointers on what a good police procedure should be...even if this doesn't seem to matter to the WW editors! Aren't plausible storylines every writer's goal? I know they're mine...

Jody E. Lebel said...

Thanks, Bettye. I'm considering expanding the blog to include other magazines that pay for fiction. Perhaps highlight one each week and talk about their submission guidelines. Seems like I can't get a good handle on what WW wants because they are all over the map... so I think I'm going to veer off on another path. I'll do Betsi's story next week and then I think I'll change the format of this blog. That's the plan, anyway.

Chris said...

Interesting to hear you're branching out into other mags, Jody. Which ones do you have in mind to cover? Other whodunnit types, or more general fiction? As for how helpful covering the WW mysteries is, for me it's very useful. I learn heaps and enjoy the banter too. You're like a Judge Judy for writers (Judge Jody... that has a certain ring to it, don't you think?). True, I do wince occasionally, especially when your comment is personal (which is, I'm sure, why you triggered that stronger than usual response from Betsi that time), but mostly your critiques are based on a sound knowledge of police procedure and the desire to see it done right. That said, I don't mind at all that WW are all over the place in their selections; it means everyone has a chance of sending something they might like. If every one of their m-ms was correct to the nth degree I wouldn't even bother submitting mine because I wouldn't feel confident that my knowledge would stand up against the rest. Seeing the occasional trip-up just makes me think I'm still in with a chance.

As far as this story goes, I enjoyed it. Okay, so I got the clue about the colour of the varnish spelling out SOS the moment it was mentioned but I still liked the idea. Yes, of course she could have written a flipping note but where's the fun in that! It moved along nicely, introduced the back story in a smooth way, and as for the store being open on a Sunday, many small businesses do that now, to earn some extra money. I did wonder about the cop being off duty at a time when a major investigation was underway but I let it slide. Maybe she'd just done six weeks on the trot!

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. I would have had the bad guy listening and watching what the mail tech was doing so she couldn't have written a help plea or said anything. That way the SOS would actually be a clever way to convey her situation.

Yes, I guess everyone does have a chance. But some great stories don't make it past the first reader. What is it that she's looking for? What makes it an instant reject, yet silly or sloppy stories get in print? Are they looking for clever or unusual clues? Hmmmm...maybe that's it.

As far as the other magazines... I'll just go with a wide variety from the Trues to the New Yorker. That idea is not set in stone. Just thinking about it. I might be able to widen my reach if I offer more than just WW. I don't plan on critiquing their stories... just giving info on submitting.

Mary Jo said...

Jody, I enjoyed this story, and I guess I just took it for granted that the manicurist was being observed by the bad guy. Waiting for his ride, he had probably been interrupted in his get away.

These stories are so short, I think the reader has to go with the flow. Actually, I like to see something that is unique and not the same old two cops doing the same old job and nailing someone with the same old clue.

Your change in direction for your blog sounds helpful to me. I don't know much about the market that is available to writers today.

Anonymous said...

The problem is, WW doesn't WANT clever or unique clues. They want the same old, same old. A suspect knows too much. The light / car / window / glass / door was on / hot / open / empty / shut when it shouldn't have been. Or, heaven help us, the victim had a broken left wrist in a cast and had something tucked in his left rear pocket. I've had three of four rejections where Johnene indicated she liked the story. but the clue was simply too "out there". (And when they are accepted, they tend to be edited so heavily that whatever may have caught Johnene's eye doesn't make it to print). I personally believe that after Johnene turns them in, some very busy editor at head office goes through and gives them a disastrous final polish. Sorry everybody, rant over.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo. "The guy was waiting for his ride." That was the getaway plan? haha. He deserves to be caught. I had a real case in Florida where the guy's getaway plan was the bus. They caught him on the next block, bank bag in hand, waiting at the bus stop. Stupid is as stupid does. So I guess I shouldn't be so critical of these stories... real life is even dumber.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Anony

Rant away. It's our only outlet. We have no real idea of what goes on with these stories. I think experienced editors are a great value and asset to any publishing house. BUT a magazine has to keep up with not only the times, but their readers. Maybe it's time to get some fresh blood up near the top of the chain somewhere. We like to blame Johnene because she's near the top, but she has to follow someone else's orders herself. I've heard of letters from her with her handwriting at the bottom saying she liked the story but the EIC said no.

Mary Jo said...

Hey, Jody, I was one of those. My story was a romance and still one of my favorites. Johnene said she liked it but the EIC said, "It could never happen." Ironic, considering the content of some of these little mystery stories.

Elizabeth said...

Anyway, who would go to a manicurist just to get their nails done with clear nail polish?

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Elizabeth.

Right? At least go for a French manicure. Geez...

Jody E. Lebel said...

Hi Jodi,

I hope you're not serious about discontinuing your critiques. I'm sure I speak for countless others who find your analysis of story structure enlightening. Some of the readers' comments were interesting. I've had the same experience of receiving a nice note from Johnene saying she enjoyed my story but the EIC didn't. Silly me-- I thought I was home free when she approved the story. Seems curious that busy lady would take the time to let the writer know she didn't agree with the final decision.

My story," Murder in the Mansion", appears this week. It was written in January and approved in April without much editing. However, I was surprised how meticulously the solution was spelled out and the motives revisited. My solution was much shorter and to the point. If the puzzle on the same page--who, what am I--is any indication of the editors' profile of the average reader, it's important to make that reader feel smart.

I hope you review my story. What I lack in writing skills, I make up in thick skin. Be as snarky as you like!!!



Jody E. Lebel said...

from Joan via my personal email ---

After reading your blog last night, it occurred to me that I wasn't clear enough in asking the question. I meant the name of a character clearly identified in a WW story This would apply to characters introduced after "All Rights" went into effect. I realize this is a question for an attorney, but wondered if your readers had any experience in this situation.

On one hand, it seems a shame not to be able to build upon readers' anticipation of a familiar and likable character's new adventure in a cozy, for example.. On the other hand, it could be a very sticky wicket.


When I answered I was thinking about the old rights and the new rights. I still don't believe WW owns the rights to the character's names...but like I said, I'm not a lawyer. If I EVER get another contract, I'll read it carefully and see if it mentions that WW now owns the characters too.