Today my guest is writer-editor Barb Goffman.
Barb and I met online and I was thrilled to be able to meet her in person this past summer, although the visit was not long enough.
Barb is a multi-award winning mystery writer. She writes short stories and has been published in top publications, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, (where I have not had success… so far!).
Her works have also been featured in book anthologies, and she posts every third Tuesday on the SleuthSayers blog. Much of her work is done in editing.
So let’s all learn more about this multi-talented lady.
Thanks so much for having me here, Tonette. It’s a pleasure.
Crime and mysteries are all around us. I don’t know of any comedies or romance novels that don’t have an element of mystery within their stories, but you make crime and detection your full work. Are you a frustrated criminal or detective? (I hope you know that I am having fun with you here!)
I’m an introvert with secret designs to be more adventurous. I would love to be a detective and track down bad guys, if only I could do that while I’m home sitting on the couch. And I don’t know about being a criminal, exactly, but I do love the idea of making sure people get what’s coming to them, and sometimes what’s coming is being pushed down the stairs or being shot or strangled or poisoned or … ooh, there are so many options. Writing fiction lets me do all of these things without the risk of prison, which is good because I love being home, sitting on the couch (or in front of the computer).
Why short stories? It takes more work to get ideas and characters across and surely crimes with clues solved in fewer words. You do have a real knack for them.
Thank you. I’m a trained newspaper reporter. I have daily deadlines in my blood. Writing for a daily, you get a story idea, do research (typically phone or in-person interviews), write your article, and you’re done before you head home. The next day, you start something new. Writing short stories involves a similar method. I don’t write a new story every day—indeed I can’t write a story in a day (usually)—but I can go from idea to research to writing to The End in a week or two. That’s satisfying. Writing a novel would take much longer. Months. I should add that I don’t love writing short stories only because I get to proceed from Start to The End quickly. It’s also because I get to come up with so many characters and so many plots. I like the variety. It keeps life interesting.
I’m usually wordy myself, but when it comes to writing, I often have trouble trying to stretch stories out to book-length. Are you ever tempted to write novel-length?
I started my foray into fiction with a novel. Twelve chapters in it fizzled out. Then I wrote another one, which I finished. It’s in a drawer. It’s one revision away from being done. One day, when I have enough time, I’ll finish polishing it and send it out into the world to see if anyone wants to publish it. I enjoyed writing it, but it took sixteen months. (I was working as an attorney while I wrote it.) And then came the editing and letting it sit, and more editing and letting it sit, and … well, you get the idea. I have toyed with the idea of writing another novel at some point, but between working full time as an editor now and writing short stories (which I adore doing), I don’t see how I could fit writing another novel into my schedule anytime soon.
Although your work is all crime-fiction, you employ quite a bit of humor in many of your writings. I have to ask the obvious: How do the stories and characters formulate in your mind?
That’s kind of like asking how God created the universe. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes characters or dialogue will come to me in a dream. I wrote a story about a snarky elf once (titled “Christmas Surprise”), and the whole thing came to me in a dream. I woke and wrote it as quickly as I could, filling in details as I went. Other times I’m inspired by anthology themes. The first time the publisher Untreed Reads put out a call for a Thanksgiving anthology, they said they wanted crime stories involving typical Thanksgiving foods. Suddenly I began thinking about gravy, how something small could be hidden in it. My thoughts evolved from there, resulting in my story “Biscuits, Carats, and Gravy,” which was published in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry. I’ll sometimes mine my past for experiences I can use in a story. Other times ideas just show up seemingly out of nowhere. I can’t explain it, but I’m grateful for it.
Do your characters ever exert their independence from your plans for them?
I’ve heard other authors talk about this, and until a few years ago I thought it was a ridiculous notion because we are the writers. We create the worlds and the plots, and we choose what happens. The thought that a character could become pushy didn’t make sense to me from an analytical perspective. And then it happened to me. I’d been plotting a story that ultimately became “Suffer the Little Children.” I’d been thinking the story through for a few days, and—this may sound a bit odd—I heard the main character talking to me, saying, “Don’t make me do that. I don’t want to do that.” I think it was a way for my subconscious to tell me that what I had planned wasn’t going to work, but the character technically did try to stop my plans for him. And it worked. That corrupt male sheriff became an honorable female sheriff. (She’ll be making a second appearance next year in the story “Till Murder Do We Part,” which will be published in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies.)
I tailor my interviews to my guests, but this is the second in a row that I have to ask about anthologies. Do you enjoy collaborating? Are you concerned with the quality of the other writers? Do you choose your fellow contributors?
I enjoy being published in anthologies in part because it’s fun to see different takes on the same theme. Anthologies also provide a good way for authors to gain more readers—fans of each author have the opportunity to enjoy stories from the rest of the authors in the book, and those readers then can seek out more work from some or all of those other authors.
Am I concerned about the quality of the other stories with which my work appears? I think everyone wants to be associated with good work. The key is to make sure you feel comfortable with the book’s or magazine’s editor. If the editor knows what he/she is doing, then I have confidence the whole book will be good. Usually, that works out.
That said, you should bear in mind that the editor of an anthology doesn’t necessary choose the stories in that book. I’ve never chosen any of my fellow contributors. Even with the anthologies I’ve co-edited (in the Chesapeake Crimes series and in the 2016 anthology Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional), the stories were chosen by committees of authors who didn’t know who wrote each submission, even those submissions by the editors.
How did you get started editing? Can I assume that you look not only for typos but also for inconsistencies within the stories? Anything else? Do you check the writers’ research?
I was managing editor of my high school newspaper, and while editing other students’ articles, I learned then that it’s easier to spot mistakes in other people’s work than your own. Once you’re cognizant of certain types of mistakes, you can more easily keep yourself from making those mistakes in the future. I had that mindset when I joined my first fiction writers’ critique group in 2001. We all traded chapters or scenes each week, and the following week would talk about them—things we liked and why, as well as issues we spotted and ways to improve. Feedback like that can be invaluable.
I had that background (as well as a master’s degree in journalism, several years’ experience as a newspaper reporter, and experience working as a newspaper proofreader and copy editor) when I began working on the editorial side of the Chesapeake Crimes anthologies in 2007 or so. Then in 2013—after I decided I didn’t want to practice law anymore—I started letting people know I’m available as an editor. And the work started coming in.
I do developmental editing (big picture issues dealing with plot, character, dialogue, setting, and writing), as well as line editing (getting into the nitty gritty of each sentence—word choice, clarity, point of view, inconsistencies, and more), copy editing (addressing issues with grammar, spelling, punctuation, and conformity with the Chicago Manual of Style), and proofreading (looking for typos, extra words, missing words, and weirdness). Sometimes I’ll check a writer’s research. Just yesterday I looked up Massachusetts law before advising a client that she needed to tweak something in her manuscript. (My legal background comes in handy.) At other times, I’ll know enough to spot a potential issue, and let my client know my concern and advise him to confirm that the details in his story are correct.
You only edit crime-fiction, isn’t that right?
My work mostly consists of crime fiction, but I’ve also edited women’s fiction. For the purposes of developmental editing, those are my two areas of focus. Things are different when we turn to line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. I can perform those tasks for books and stories in any genre. I’ve had the chance to work on two science-fiction novels (once as a copy editor and once as a proofreader), and it was a nice change of pace.
Do you ever start editing someone else’s work and think, “Gee, I wish I had thought of that?”
Sure. Authors come up with such interesting characters and set-ups. It can be hard at times not to have what my friend Donna Andrews calls plot envy.
Give our readers a run-down of the awards you have won and the others for which you were honored by nominations…brag away!
So this is like the brag wall where you hang your diplomas and pictures of you with famous people? (I have several diplomas, but no shots with celebrities, sigh.)
I’ve been fortunate to be honored many times by the crime-fiction community. I won the Macavity Award in 2013 for best crime short story of 2012 for my story “The Lord is my Shamus.” I won the Silver Falchion Award in 2014 for best single-author crime collection of 2013 for my collection Don’t Get Mad, Get Even. And last April I won the Agatha Award for best mystery short story of 2015 for my story “A Year Without Santa Claus,” which appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
As for nominations, I’ve been named a finalist 19 times for national crime-writing short-story awards—ten times for the Agatha (a record), four times for the Macavity, three times for the Anthony, and once each for the Derringer and the Silver Falchion. I’m up for the Agatha Award right now. The winner will be announced during the Malice Domestic convention at the end of April.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
I have a new story coming out in March. “Whose Wine Is It Anyway?” will appear in the anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, which is scheduled to be published by Koehler Books on March 20th. And I had two short stories published this past year that people can read on my website for a limited time: “Stepmonster” and “The Best-Laid Plans.” I hope anyone who likes those stories will order the books they’re in (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning and Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional, respectively), because those books have a bunch of great stories by great authors.
Anyone who’s a big mystery reader, especially of traditional mysteries and cozies, should check out Malice Domestic. It’s a convention for fans and authors of traditional mysteries. It meets at the end of April every year in suburban Maryland, right outside Washington, D.C. To learn more, go to the Malice website,www.MaliceDomestic.org.
How can people find out more about your writing and editing?
Folks can head over to my website, http://www.barbgoffman DOT com, to learn more about my writing. I love to hear from readers. My email address is barb@barbgoffmanDOTcom. Anyone interested in my editorial services can reach me at http://www.goffmanediting@gmailDOTcom. I’m also active on Facebook. If you like my stories and want to friend me, please send me a Facebook message and let me know.
Thank you for your time, Barb!
You are welcome. Thank you for inviting me here today, Tonette. It’s been fun. And I’m open to any questions your readers might have.
What a great interview! Questions? Comments for Barb?