Tag Archives: Chris Muessig

The Making of “The Making of Velveteen Dream” by Chris Muessig

Author, editor, and instructor Chris Muessig’s fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories; he is also a contributor to AHMM and EQMM. Here he talks about the background to his unique and compelling story from the July/August 2017 issue, “The Making of Velveteen Dream.”

Both my sons, Travis and Jeff, pitched their way up from Little League diamonds to college baseball scholarships.  Jeff had the added good fortune of being picked in the 20th round of the 2001 Major League draft but “retired” from pro baseball in 2008 after two decades of involvement in the sport—a time span associated with career servicemen and police officers, not a 26-year-old.

High-level competition put a lot of wear and tear on those bodies—in Jeff’s case necessitating Tommy John surgery and several knee and shoulder operations.  Along with the physical damage came extreme frustration as each setback seemed to occur when he was about to break through to the next level. Recovering from these repeated injuries required a work ethic, mental toughness, and level of patience that he did not inherit from me. Although my wife and I shared plenty of excitement with him, we were also privy to the long stretches of painful rehab. Those are among the closely personal makings of the story.

Meanwhile, there is a funny amateur indie out there that was put together a dozen years ago by a trio of Jeff’s Stockton teammates.  Dream Revolver, the creation of Ben Winslow, Eddie Cornejo, and Jed Morris (they lend their names to some of the fictional teams in the imaginary Pacific Valley League), began as a day-in-the-life video spoof. Hours of footage later, the project had snowballed (not the most apt metaphor for the San Joaquin Valley) into a surrealistic feature in which every member of the team got to appear on screen and which may very well have been key in reversing what began as a lackluster season.

I recall briefly contemplating a novelization of the film, but found myself too busy trying to sell shorter fiction to well-known mystery magazines.  The makings, however, kept simmering on the back burner, until three years ago when I resolved to revive the “dream” in the guise of a crime story and pitched it (no pun intended) to Jeff to get his help in developing background and motivation.

As we went back and forth, I aimed for exposition-lite while slipping in as much detail about minor league life as the story’s confines allowed.  I think most of it was relevant, the rest revelatory. And since I was fashioning a crime story, I had to juxtapose the exhilaration of playing and contending at that level with other less positive issues that open the door to corruption and violence.

Firstly, there are so many empty hours to fill “at home” and during the long and uncomfortable “away” trips on cramped buses and in distant motels—the proverbial idle hands. Players have to contend with a guaranteed half-year’s separation from family and friends, not to mention the pressures, demands, uncertainties, and illusive lucre of a sport in which only a small fraction make it to the Show, and not all of them under innocent circumstances. For many players, only the supporting fabric of their communal living keeps their careers above water, no matter what their talent. So what happens if they don’t fit in?

On the brighter side, the Stockton Ports roster for 2005 lists the names of more than a dozen players who eventually stepped onto major league ball fields.  Perhaps the movie magic had something to do with that high success rate. Eddie and Jed remain active in baseball as successful college coaches, Benny is still making action-filled films of men in uniform (Navy and Marine Corps), and Jeff has become part of another special team, albeit law enforcement—which just goes to show how persistent some dreams can be.

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Reasons to Cheer: November 2015 issue

November is our Bouchercon issue. As we prepare to travel to Raleigh, North Carolina, for the conference, the AHMM staff is in a celebratory mood. For one thing, this issue introduces a brand new series from Elaine Viets: death investigator Angela Richman makes her debut in “Gotta Go.” We also celebrate the return to these pages of some reader favorites: John F. Dobbyn with “The Golden Skull”; William Burton McCormick with “Hagiophobia”; Russel D. McLean with “The Water’s Edge”; Chris Muessig with “A Boy’s Will”; Janice Law with “The Dressmaker”; and Joseph D’Agnese with “The Truth of What You’ve Become.” And in the spirit of Bouchercon, we celebrate the genre with an essay by Ken Wishnia on the shifting boundaries of Noir.

Contributing to the celebratory mood, we note the publication of books with AHMM roots. We are proud to publish Loren D. Estleman’s Four Horseman stories set in WWII–era Detroit; he has now collected them in Detroit Is Our Beat (Tyrus Books). John C. Boland has a new collection of stories featuring his “unromantic” spy Charles Marley in The Spy Who Knew Nothing (Perfect Crime Books), all but one of which first appeared here. And B. K. Stevens’s American Sign Language interpreter Jane Ciardi, who first appeared in these pages, is now featured in a new novel, Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books).

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Derringer Award Nominations Announced

The nominees for Derringer Awards have been listed, and we are delighted to see three AHMM stories among those short listed. Chris Muessig’s story “The Sunny South” (March 2012) is nominated for Best Novelette and David Hagerty’s story “The Pot Hunters” (June 2012) is nominated for Best Long Story. And one of our Mystery Photograph contest winners was nominated under the category of Best Flash Story: Randy DeWitt for his winning entry “The Cable Job,” which appeared as The Story That Won in our September 2012 issue.

The Derringers are presented by The Short Mystery Fiction Society, a group that works to promote the appreciation of short crime fiction. Only SMFS members can vote for the Derringer-nominated stories, but if you are a member, you can read the stories at the SFMS site.

Congratulations to all the nominees!!

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