Tag Archives: suspense

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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Holiday Double Issue (January/February 2017)

P.I.’s and fixers, burglars and soldiers all join together in our HOLIDAY DOUBLE ISSUE to send you the best wishes of the season! We visit winter locales past and present, chilly and tropical. Michael Nethercott takes readers back to the Fifties with a new tale featuring his Connecticut sleuths Lee Plunket and Mr. O’Nelligan, while S. J. Rozan sets her new series in Manhattan’s Chinatown with matriarch Yong-Yun. Brendan DuBois revisits a facet of rural New England life—kvetching at the town dump. Jay Carey’s Police Chief Eureka Kilburn deals with crime in a time of post global warming Sarasota, and Terence Faherty has an amusing take on Philo Vance that is set in Hawaii. In addition with we have a Mystery Classic treat: a suspenseful puzzler by Hugh Pentecost featuring hotel manager Pierre Chambrun—and you won’t want to miss Marvin Lachman’s insightful introduction for modern-day readers. Happy holidays from AHMM!

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“Writing Iron Chef” by Eve Fisher

Eve Fisher is a novelist, playwright, and short-story writer living in South Dakota. She volunteers with The Alternatives to Violence Project and blogs at SleuthSayers. Her stories in AHMM include many set in Laskin, SD, and here she talks about her story “Iron Chef” from the current November 2016 issue.

“Iron Chef” began as a rant. I’ve worked in the judicial system in Tennessee and South Dakota; been a college history professor; and for the last few years I’ve been doing volunteer work in the prison with the Alternatives to Violence Project. Along the line I’ve gotten to know many, many, many teenage addicts, who come and go through the judicial system because of course they know they have no problems whatsoever.

Finally, one day, I started ranting:

There’s nothing more gullible than a teenage addict. He thinks he’s smart because he can read. He thinks he’s street-smart because someone showed him how to make a Band-Aid from toilet paper and masking tape. He thinks bragging proves whatever he’s bragging about, from being tough to being a player. He thinks he’s a lady’s man because he wants to get laid.

When he’s trying to get some stuff, he believes everything the dealer says. When he’s high, he believes anything that will get him more stuff. If someone tells him he can make two, three, four, five thousand a week, he believes it. If someone tells him he won’t get caught, he believes that, too.

He believes that his dealer will help keep him out of trouble and get him out of jail. He believes that his dealer, his girlfriend, his baby mamma, and the woman currently giving him a lap dance all think he’s wonderful. He believes that the judge, the sheriff, and the state’s attorney all have it in for him personally. He believes that he is unjustly accused, tried, and convicted. He believes that with the right attorney he could have gotten off.

He believes that he doesn’t have to play the game in prison, whatever the game is. He usually gets beaten out of that. After that, he believes every rumor he hears, every tale he is told. He believes that when he gets out, he will never come back. He believes, often against all evidence, that he has a home to go to. He believes that he deserves a wonderful first day home, complete with alcohol, sex, drugs, and long drives. He believes that his old friends will still be his old friends whether he does drugs or not. He believes that there is a thing as social meth.

And at that point, I stopped ranting, because I was crying. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than a teenage addict, because you know how much he’s going to have to go through before (if!) he gets a clue, grows up, gets a life. And so many don’t . . .

And that’s when I started writing “Iron Chef.”

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Susan Oleksiw on “Variable Winds”

Susan Oleksiw is an author, photographer, and publisher. Here she writes about her story “Variable Winds,” AHMM‘s October cover story. She also writes about sailing in Come About for Murder: A Mellingham Mystery (2016). Her most recent book is When Krishna Calls: An Anita Ray Mystery (Five Star/Gale, Cengage, 2016).

I’m used to strangers asking me where I get my ideas, and most of the time I have no clue where they come from. But not so for “Variable Winds,” in the October issue of AHMM.

A few years ago I came across a book about the Vendee Globe. Since I live on the ocean and grew up sailing with my family, I was curious about an event I’d never heard of. I had full sympathy for the person who came up with the title, Godforsaken Sea, and looked forward to an exciting read. Derek Lundy, the author, recreates the passage of the boats in the Vendee Globe, 1996-97, an international endurance sailing race.

I learned to sail in a Penguin, a class of boat less used in teaching kids today than the Turnabout, a more stable boat for learning to maneuver on the water. I found them both dangerously prone to threatening to keel over, but perhaps that was more my skill as a skipper than a design flaw. I met the original designer of the Turnabout, Mr. Turner, when he owned a summer resort hotel in our area, and he was determined to improve on everything that floated. I went on to sail in other small boats, and then mostly as crew in the family 210, a twenty-nine-foot boat meant mostly for racing. This class has also fallen out of favor on the East Coast, but I have fond memories of sailing along and seeing a whale surface to starboard or dropping anchor in a cove to enjoy a swim or eat lunch. But I also remember a tug pulling a garbage scow that seemed to think we were merely a bit of flotsam to be run over. I remember the challenges of sailing before instant weather reports, but all my experiences paled in comparison to those faced by the skippers in the Vendee Globe.

In this race, sailors set out from northwest France, sail to the South Atlantic Ocean, and circle the Antarctic in single-person sailboats. Yes, they are sailing solo. Sixteen vessels set out in the given year (not all returned), to sail through the worst oceans and weather on the planet. They are tracked, thanks to modern technology, but are truly on their own. The stories of seamanship and survival and personal courage are more than stunning; they are jaw-droppingly unbelievable at times.

As I read I recalled, now with some embarrassment, the times we went sailing and were caught in squalls and prayed lightning didn’t find us, got separated from other boats on a daylong sail, watched a wind burst tear a sail or split a mast. My moments of fleeting terror were less than nothing compared to the stories in Lindy’s book. But as I finished his tale I could see a young woman, an accomplished and confident sailor, setting out for a day on the water, only to discover two sorts of danger, one that nature throws at us, and another that comes from the treachery of human beings. Everything that happens to the Lady Mistral in my story happened to us in our 210, but, thankfully, not all at once.

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