Category

Interviews

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B.K. Stevens’ Iphigenia Woodhouse

AHMM April 2000Ex-cop turned private detective, Iphigenia Woodhouse, premiered in the Mid-Dec 1991 edition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, in a story called “Night Vision.” Her assistant, Harriet Russo, appears on the cover of AHMM April 2000, painted by Tomek Olbinski, for the sixth mystery, “A Wild Justice.”

Author B.K. Stevens shared the series origins in her interview in The Digest Enthusiast book six, excerpted below:

Iphigenia Woodhouse began, in part, as a response to some of the fictional female private detectives who became popular in the 1980s and 1990s. I enjoyed many of the novels and stories about those detectives, but their lives seemed very different from the lives of most of the women I knew. Usually, these detectives had no family obligations: Their parents were dead, their husbands (if any) divorced, their children nonexistent. If they liked, they could choose mentors they found compatible, have sex with men they found attractive, offer guidance to young people they found interesting. All their relationships were voluntary and temporary: They didn’t owe anybody anything and could move on whenever they chose. If they decided to fly to another city to pursue a lead, they didn’t have to coordinate schedules with anyone or arrange for childcare. In those respects, they had more in common with traditional male fictional private detectives than with most women today. That’s fine—it’s probably healthy to fantasize about complete independence from time to time. But I thought it might be interesting to write about a female private detective whose life is both enriched and limited by deep, lasting ties and obligations.

AHMM Mid-Dec. 1991 Woodhouse/Russo #1 “Night Vision” reprinted in Women of Mystery, ed. Cynthia Manson (Carroll & Graf, 1992)
AHMM Dec. 1993 Woodhouse/Russo #2 “Sideshow” reprinted in Women of Mystery II, ed. Cynthia Manson (Carroll & Graf, 1994); reprinted as “Une simple diversion” in Histoires d’homicides a domicile (Livre de Poche, 1995)
AHMM Dec. 1994 Woodhouse/Russo #3 “Death in Small Doses” reprinted in Women of Mystery III, ed. Kathleen Halligan (Carroll & Graf, 1998); reprinted in translation in a collection published by Livre de Poche
AHMM May 1996 Woodhouse/Russo #4 “Butlers in Love”
AHMM Jun. 1998 Woodhouse/Russo #5 “The Devil Hath Power”
AHMM April 2000 Woodhouse/Russo #6 “A Wild Justice”
AHMM May 2003 Woodhouse/Russo #7 “More Deadly to Give”
AHMM May 2008 Woodhouse/Russo #8 “Table for None”
AHMM Jul/Aug 2013 Woodhouse/Russo #9 “Murder Will Speak”

Edd Vick on digests

Galaxy Oct. 1968Below are Edd Vick’s comments on digest magazines, from the interview conducted by D. Blake Werts, for The Digest Enthusiast book six:

When I was in high school I read all the digests I could lay my hands on, preferring one that’s no longer around named Galaxy. Where Analog tended to have more tech-oriented stories, and Fantasy & Science Fiction was usually more literary, Galaxy hit a sweet spot of SF focusing on characters and the soft sciences. I have a complete collection still, barring a couple of later magazine-sized issues from when it was being passed from one publisher to another.

The magazine nowadays that’s inherited that mantle is Asimov’s, where I’m very happy to have sold several stories. They’re a little more adventure-oriented, but that’s not an issue where I’m concerned.

B.K. Stevens on process

AHMM July 1991
AHMM July 1991 with B.K. Stevens’ “Final Jeopardy” Cover by Val Lakey Lindahn

An excerpt from B.K. Stevens’ interview from The Digest Enthusiast book six. Here she discusses her process, working out a plot, and weaving a list of suspects together.

It probably won’t come as a big surprise when I say my writing process varies significantly from story to story. Once in a while—and I wish it happened more often—I’ll get an idea for a story, devote only a little time to planning, plunge into the story, and write it straight through. Usually, the process isn’t nearly that simple and delightful. Usually, when I get an idea for a story—and it’s sometimes only a title, sometimes a murder method or a character or a plot twist—I write it down in a computer file titled “Notebook.” Ideas often languish there for years or decades—dozens still languish and will doubtlessly never go further. But sometimes I eventually think of a way to make the idea work, or I look through the notebook for inspiration, run across an idea I’d forgotten about, and see new potential in it.

When I decide I definitely want to try to turn an idea into a story, I sit down at the computer and start taking notes about it, using a method I called “focused freewriting” when I taught English: I stay focused on the story but write down virtually anything that comes to mind about it, from plot possibilities to bits of description to thoughts about theme. Sometimes, I’ll put together a list of major incidents in the plot; occasionally, I’ve used a variation on the “beat sheet” Blake Snyder recommends in Save the Cat; often, I don’t come up with anything that formal or orderly. For one recent story, I took a page and a half of notes; for another, I took forty- seven pages of single-spaced notes before finding the key to making the story work. (The second story was a whodunit—I have to take far more notes for whodunits than for other sorts of mysteries.) When I feel I have a clear idea of the story’s direction, I start writing the first scene.

Edd Vick on critique

Story Title
Asimov’s Sep. 2003 page 89

Below are Edd Vick’s comments on critique, from the interview conducted by D. Blake Werts, for The Digest Enthusiast book six:

“First, the more I critique other people’s work, the better I’m going to get at revising my own work. There are three levels of looking at a story. At the highest is to see it as a whole: is the idea interesting? Are the characters well chosen? Does the plot make sense? Is there a compelling theme? The middle level considers each scene: does some character change in some vital way from the beginning to the end of the scene? What is the emotional turn? How is tension ratcheted up or released? At the root level there are the individual paragraphs: is the language suited to the story? If alliteration or other clever manipulations of words are used, are they well-used? Sentence fragments? If so, appropriately used? A masterpiece is going to excel at all three levels. When I’m critiquing, I have to pay some attention to all three levels of storytelling, just as I have to when I’m writing.

“Second, critiquing is a give-and-take economy. If I don’t care enough to do a good job reviewing someone else’s story, why would they put themselves out to critique mine? Plus, I just don’t want to half-ass it; the world needs more good fiction.

“And last, giving critiques is a way of paying it forward. Writers like Joe Lansdale and Ardath Mayhar corresponded with me when I was a beginning writer, giving me useful advice. I’ve been going to science fiction conventions for decades where I can talk to great authors or attend informative panel discussions. When I critique at a con or when I appear on panels, it’s to help the next generation of writers.”

Edd Vick and Manny Frishberg

Analog Jul/Aug 2015Excerpt from the Edd Vick interview, conducted by D. Blake Werts, for The Digest Enthusiast book six:

“He [Manny Frishberg] and I are in the same writing group, Sound on Paper. We meet once a month to critique stories each of us has written in the meantime, be they novels or flash, or whatever—even nonfiction occasionally. A few years ago Manny and I started getting together once a week to write stories. In three years we wrote sixteen stories, and sold half of them. That includes two sales to Analog, the biggest magazine in the field.”

“Tenéré” by Manny Frishberg and Edd Vick, Analog May/Jun 2017, cover design by Victoria Green

“Ashfall” by Manny Frishberg and Edd Vick, Analog Jul/Aug 2015, cover by Tomislav Tikulin

B.K. Stevens’ Johnson & Bolt

AHMM June 1988
AHMM June 1988 (Johnson/Bolt #1) “True Detective” Cover by J. Rafal and Tom Olbinski

Excerpt from B.K. Stevens’ interview from The Digest Enthusiast book six:

TDE: How did the Lt. Johnson and Sgt. Bolt series develop, and why did you choose to tell the stories as letters?

BKS: Believe it or not, the premise for the Walt Johnson and Gordon Bolt series came to me in a dream. I’d been writing mysteries for two or three years, without coming up with anything publishable, when I woke up one morning with a vivid impression of a scene. Two police detectives are walking across the grounds of a large estate, talking. The first detective says, “It was a clever murder, wasn’t it?” The second replies, “Not so very clever—unless you mean
the part about the horse.” The first detective is utterly confused—it had never occurred to him that a horse might be involved. “What horse?” he demands. The second detective misinterprets his question and says, “Does it matter what horse? One from the stables, I suppose.”

That sliver of conversation defined the characters of Walt and Bolt, established the relationship between them, and set the pattern for every story in the series. Walt Johnson is a highly respected police lieutenant. Everyone, especially his adoring subordinate, Sergeant Gordon Bolt, sees him as a brilliant detective. But Walt is in fact a dim bulb, earnest and well-meaning but always in a fog. He blunders through his cases, missing every clue, blurting out clichés and irrelevant observations that reveal just how lost he is. Bolt, much smarter than Walt but far too humble, thinks Walt is a genius and seizes on everything he says, misinterpreting all his muddle-headed remarks as dazzling deductions. Bolt’s the true detective. He’s always the one who figures everything out, and Walt’s always the one who gets the credit. Walt feels guilty about it but lacks the courage to admit the truth to anyone, including Bolt. That’s the basic plot for all twelve Bolt and Walt stories.

As for the letter-writing form of the stories, I read several epistolary novels in graduate school, including Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa—I didn’t love the novels, but I was intrigued by the form. (And I relished Henry Fielding’s epistolary parody of Richardson, Shamela.) I also read Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, an early mystery and a variation on epistolary form, and I was struck by Jane Austen’s use of long letters in novels such as Pride and Prejudice. When I gobbled up Dorothy Sayers’ works, I liked her use of epistolary form in “The Documents in the Case,” a long short story she wrote with Robert Eustace. So when I cast about for a way to tell Walt’s story, epistolary form occurred to me as a possibility. Walt is plagued by guilt because he’s become a success by taking credit for Bolt’s accomplishments. He needs to confess, and to whom should he confess if not to his mother? In the third story in the series, “True Romance,” Walt’s widowed mother emerges from the letters when she pays Walt a long visit and wins the heart of Sergeant Bolt. That story is told in the form of a long letter from Walt to his ever-patient wife, Ellen. Of course, Walt has no idea that his mother and Bolt have fallen in love, just as he has no idea of what’s going on in the case he and Bolt are investigating; readers have all the evidence they need to realize the truest romance in “True Romance” is the blossoming one between Bolt and Mrs. Johnson, but Walt never suspects. All the other stories, as I recall, are written as letters from Walt to his mother—except that by the eleventh story, “True Test,” Walt has switched to e-mail, and breaks off suddenly when Ellen goes into labor with their second child. The final story, “True Enough,” is a letter Walt writes to his mother while she and Bolt are on their honeymoon.

B.K. Stevens bibliography

Edd Vick’s First Principles

Asimov’s Sep 2003
Asimov’s Sep 2003 with Edd Vick’s “First Principles” Cover by Michael Carroll

Excerpt from the Edd Vick interview, conducted by D. Blake Werts, from The Digest Enthusiast book six. This segment covers part of Edd’s path to going pro:

My first step was to dust off a couple of my old stories and submit them with an application to the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop, which I attended in 2002.

Clarion is a six-week course, with a new instructor every week. To get in, prospective students send in two stories and an application fee. The workshop’s coordinators read the stories, looking for students with potential, but also will rule out anybody whose stories are so good they probably wouldn’t get
as much out of Clarion. Accepted students pay their tuition, put their affairs in order, and escape the real world for a month and a half.

At the time, there was Clarion, and then there was Clarion West, which is in my home town of Seattle. My wife, who graduated Clarion West in 1984, said I should choose Clarion, because if I stayed in town I’d be too tempted to deal with mundane life, including helping parent our daughter, who was three at the time. So, I applied, I was accepted, and I went to the University of Michigan for six weeks.

Our instructors were Patricia Wrede, Terry Bisson, Leslie What, Geoff Ryman, the editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Tim Powers, and Karen Joy Fowler. That adds up to seven, and I said one instructor per week. Patrick was an extra added attraction for week five, and Tim and Karen shared the last two weeks. The first teacher or two cover the basics, and each succeeding one adds to the writer’s set of skills.

The day before I went to Clarion, I sent a story to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. I got a response accepting it from Gardner Dozois while I was there. That was for a fairly short story called “First Principles”.

AHMM or EQMM?

AHMM May/Jun 2018 coverIn May 2017, I asked author B.K. Stevens about the differences between Alfred Hitchcock’s and Ellery Queen’s mystery magazines. Here is her response from her interview that appears in The Digest Enthusiast book six:

“I don’t see sharp differences between the two digests—they’re both excellent mystery magazines, and I enjoy them both and have friends who write for each. Some people say AHMM is more open to stories with paranormal elements; I’ve never done a careful comparison, but that rings true. It hasn’t really been a consideration for me, though, since I didn’t write my first story with a paranormal element until recently. (It’s called “One-Day Pass,” and I’m happy to say AHMM accepted it a couple of months ago. But it’s an old-fashioned ghost story, rather than a story featuring trendier creatures such as zombies or shape-shifters—I think either magazine would be open to that sort of story.) It may also be that AHMM is more open to over-the-top humor, which I love. Again, though, I’ve never made a real comparison.”

Stevens’ “One-Day Pass” appears in the May/June 2018 edition of AHMM.

Edd Vick’s Defender

Magic: The Gathering Distant PlanesExcerpt from the Edd Vick interview, conducted by D. Blake Werts, from The Digest Enthusiast book six:

“I co-edited and published Comics Fandom Examiner for a few years with Jeff Wood, Hal Hargit, and Wade Busby, all primarily small press creators. Through Comics F/X I met a lot of really great cartoonists, and published alternative comics from 1990 through 2005. Brad Foster convinced me I had to use the same name for the company as my first fanzine, so it became Miscellania Unlimited Press, more commonly known as MU Press. The sales plummeted in the last five years of MU’s existence, and I got re-interested in writing again. My wife, the SF author Amy Thomson, was invited into an anthology of stories set in the Magic: the Gathering universe, and I sort of invited myself along for the ride, writing a short story called “Defender” that the editor thought good enough
 to include. That anthology was published in 1996.”

Bibliographies

BK Stevens interview

B.K. Stevens published over 50 short stories, primarily in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Eleven are included in her collection, Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime. She’s the author of Interpretation of Murder, a traditional mystery offering insights into Deaf culture and sign language interpreting, and of Fighting Chance, a martial arts mystery for young adults. Nominated for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards, and a Derringer award-winner, Stevens taught English for over 30 years and wrote full time until her death in 2017.

At the time of her interview for The Digest Enthusiast book six, she sent a copy of her bibliography which is now available on this website. I’ll continue to update Bonnie and Joe’s biblios in the days ahead.