Thursday, July 13, 2023

I Would Prefer Not To, But I Did

 Wendall -- every other Thursday

I’ve always loved short fiction. There’s something about a concentrated nugget of narrative—in any genre—that I find so satisfying. I’ve written before about my admiration for Henry James, and Flannery O'Connor, both considered masters of the form, and their examples have always delighted, astounded, and intimidated me. 



I was mad for Ann Beattie stories in college—I loved the way they just stopped, rather than ended. I devoured all the Hemingway stories I could get my hands on, for the economy of prose, and the Faulkner stories for the exact opposite. I’ve mentioned my mentor Doris Betts before, and her collection, Beasts of the Southern Wild, was also a favorite. “Bartleby, the Scrivener” was always in there, somewhere. And, like him, when it came to writing short fiction, my internal critic always chimed in to say, “I would prefer not to.”



So, until 2015, I’d never even considered trying to write a story myself. But when Sisters in Crime LA sent out a call for blind submissions for their LAdies Night anthology, I wondered if I should at least give it a try. I figured I had nothing to lose.


I’d been carrying around a line for ten years that I’d wanted to use but had never found the right home for. I heard it one morning in the 90s, when I was writing in a local cafe. Three twenty-something, visibly unemployed actors were talking loudly about their future careers. At one point, one of them said “Yeah. When we’re the Sean Penns of our generation, then we can probably keep, like, one loser friend.”


After a less than subtle spit take with my cappuccino, I committed the line to memory. And felt a bit of a twinge, since in that period, I was aware that I was probably the requisite “loser friend” for a few of the “rising star” actors, writers, and musicians in my life. 


90s Loser Friend to the stars...

So I sat down to try to write “Loser Friend.” I set it in Los Angeles in the 90s, drawing on my experience as an entertainment reporter and house sitter for the rich and famous during that time. By some miracle it was accepted and was the first thing I ever had published. I was privileged to have Naomi Hirahara as my editor. She made the story appreciably better and going to the launch party was one of the best nights my husband James and I have had in LA.


Me and James on our way to the LAdies Night launch party

Book cake!

My second published story, also set in LA in the 90s, began with another line I’d been carrying around in my head—something I often said to my husband about our very loud and erratic next door neighbor—“Tweedledum is off his meds again.” Since the story was set in that nether world inhabited by so many part-time screenwriters—the restaurant job—I called the story “Eggs Over Dead.” I was lucky enough to have Matt Coyle as my editor and, like Naomi, he pushed me to improve the story.


Me and Matt promoting Last Resort at the LA Times Festival of Books

When I was lucky enough to be commissioned by editor Holly West to write a story inspired by the song “Forget That Day” for the Murder-a-Go-Gos anthology, I was starting from a line again. This one was a bit tougher, since it wasn’t something I’d been chewing on for ages. I flailed around for a bit, and then decided it might help if I returned to my “sweet spot” of 90s Los Angeles and another of my former part-time gigs, as a casting assistant on Young Guns. I got the story in just in time, and of course, Holly made it better.


Working with the Young Guns cast back in the day.

I’m thinking about all this, because last week I was lucky enough to have my fourth story published in the new San Diego Partners in Crime anthology, Crime Under the Sun, and it also started with a line that wouldn’t leave me alone, one I’d heard from my kitchen, voiced in the kind of hysterical gleefulness of late night TV ads. It was for a Los Angeles bail bonds company which proclaimed “Your 10th Bond is Freeeeeeeee!” I couldn’t stop laughing.


I knew I wanted to write a story with this title and started, and abandoned, five or six different storylines over several months. Should it be about someone trying to commit their tenth crime? Should it be about a bail bondsman who knocks off his clients before they hit ten? I couldn’t quite crack any of those ideas. Then, when another blind submission call came, complete with deadline, the story came to me.


Of course, “Your 10th Bond is Free!” it’s set in late 80s/early 90s Hollywood. Of course, like the others, it is significantly more cynical than my Cyd Redondo books. By a lovely twist of fate, the anthology was edited by Naomi Hirahara, Matt Coyle, and Tammy Kaehler, who was also very instrumental in helping my career early on. 


ME and Naomi at Book Carnival

I had Naomi as my editor for the second time and her support has helped me feel that maybe there is a small lane for me in this part of the mystery world, which intimidated me for so long.


--- Wendall


  1. Congratulations! Haven't read it yet but looking forward to it!

  2. Thank you so much, Ovidia, as ever.