After spending last week enjoying the cuisine, quaint streets, swamps and plantations of New Orleans, researching for a new urban fantasy, I'm back and ready for strong caffeine and another author talk. Please join me in welcoming Paula Benson!
Paula, what may I get you to drink?
PAULA: I love a bold coffee brew in a mug with half as much cream.
Ally: An easy request for my magic pot. :) In the meantime, please introduce yourself to our readers and include something not normally in your bio.
A legislative attorney and former law librarian, Paula Gail Benson’s short stories have been published in Kings River Life (http://kingsriverlife.com/), the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable (http://bwgwritersroundtable.com/), Mystery Times Ten 2013 (Buddhapuss Ink), and A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder (Dark Oak Press and Media, released January 20, 2014).
She regularly blogs with others about writing mysteries at http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com. Her personal blog is Little Sources of Joy, at http://littlesourcesofjoy.blogspot.com, and her website is http://paulagailbenson.com.
Something not in my bio: I performed in two productions of Noel Coward's Blythe Spirit in two theaters, one time playing the medium Madame Arcati (where I threw a sandwich over my shoulder and the night the reviewer saw the production it landed in the onstage trash can like a slam dunk) and other time playing the Maid (when I had to take on a deep demonic voice during the seance scene—also I broke the tray I threw in rehearsal).
PAULA: When I joined the online Guppy (“Great Unpublished”) Chapter of Sisters in Crime in June 2012, I began receiving emails about story calls for anthologies. For a long time, I had told people I was a writer, so I decided I needed to prove it by making submissions. In 2013, I was fortunate to have eight stories accepted and published. This year, I’ve had one story published and another accepted for publication. Two of my stories are scheduled to be in anthologies released in 2015.
Ally: Describe the differences you have to consider in writing a short story as opposed to a longer manuscript. Which do you think is easier to write - novels or shorts?
PAULA: In a short story, you have fewer words to establish character and setting. Descriptions must be tailored to the bare minimum, particularly if you’re limited by word count. Also, many short story calls are for themed anthologies, so you must write to meet the requirements instead of what you might prefer.
Novels allow you more room to explore characters or situations, but also require a more detailed structure to maintain conflict and suspense and keep a tight rein on a longer plot arc.
So far, I’ve had greater success writing and finishing short stories; however, I’m still trying my hand at novels. What I’ve learned by writing short stories has helped me to hone my skills for creating longer works. Each story I write seems to grow in word count.
One thing that makes writing short stories easier is that you may learn more quickly if your submission has been accepted or rejected. Writing for a deadline, then getting feedback quickly can be encouraging and help you keep striving to improve your writing.
Whether long or short, actual writing takes discipline and dedication. And, that can be hard work whatever the length of the story.
Ally: How do you find a publisher and audience for short stories? How do you market them?
PAULA: Again, I must give a lot of credit to the Guppies, who are a great source for possible markets. Also, Sandra Seamans has a wonderful blog that publicizes short story and other writing opportunities. (http://sandraseamans.blogspot.com/). In addition, the Short Mystery Fiction Society (http://shortmystery.blogspot.com/) provides lots of support and publicity for its members. There is no cost to join the SMFS and its list serv always offers useful information.
Marketing short stories follows the same path as marketing novels. Once you have a few short stories published, you need to help readers find you, through a website, blogging, and social media networks. The wonderful thing is that short stories appeal to people who have a limited time span for reading. Maybe that’s why drabble (100 word stories) and flash fiction (usually 1000 words or less) are getting so much attention and being acquired by so many new markets.
Going to conferences and meetings (for writers as well as social, religious, and community events) where you can tell people about your work, sell books, and hand out bookmarks is important. Keep connecting with other short story writers as well as readers. Word of mouth and networking are crucial. I find listing your online credits on a bookmark to be very beneficial. People may be willing to give your writing a chance if they can read some of it free of charge. Also, most folks can use a bookmark!
Ally: What kind of paranormal did you incorporate in two of your stories?
PAULA: In “Ghost of a Chance,” Heck, the pirate hero, discovers that his vessel is being followed by a ghost pirate ship. As he tries to outrun it, he finds himself haunted by the face of a woman who jumped over board to avoid being ravished by the crew.
“Long in the Tooth,” the Featured Story in the online Bethlehem Writers Roundtable June 2013 issue and 3rd Place Winner of the Rountable’s 2013 Short Story Award, is about an elderly, dying patient, irritably tolerating hospital routines and longing to leave life behind. As she feels herself fading away, she encounters an angel who makes her wait at Heaven’s gate, then gives her a reason to linger on earth when she answers his question.
Ally: I love quick answer questions, so here are a few for you:
- Favorite way to eat chocolate: in almost any combination with ice cream
- Last place you went shopping: online
- If you could take anyone with you on your next shopping trip, who would it be? my friend Charlotte
- What book or short story would you like to have written? B.K. Stevens’ short story “Thea’s First Husband” published in the June 2012 issue of AHMM and nominated for an Agatha and Macavity
- An item on your bucket list: travel to Europe and beyond!
Ally: Thanks so much for being on the Coffee Chat today. I enjoyed hearing about a writing category that I find much harder than novels. Good luck with your future stories!
PAULA: This is my first online interview! Thank you so much for this opportunity.
A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder (Dark Oak Press and Media, January 2014)–anthology available from Dark Oak Press
“Ghost of a Chance” by Paula Gail Benson
Heck, a pirate first mate with a treacherous captain, spies a ghost ship following their vessel. Will the ghost ship prove to be Heck’s ultimate damnation or possible redemption?
Mystery Times Ten 2013 (Buddhapuss Ink)–anthology available on Amazon
“Confidence in the Family” by Paula Gail Benson
In a contest between two con-artists, who will triumph in demonstrating their true family feelings?