August 18, 2017

Fear, Passion and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

By Debra H. Goldstein

Imagine my mother “accidentally” leaving a copy of the May/June 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine on the table, as if she had been reading it, when she set up for her weekly card game.  By strategically placing it, she guaranteed her friends saw her daughter’s name on the magazine’s cover. When they pointed to it, she waved a hand and said, “Oh, that.  Debra’s had several short stories, plus a book, published this year. It’s difficult to get published in Alfred Hitchcock, but they took her on her first try.” 

What she failed to share with them is that AHMM including The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place almost didn’t happen because of my own fears.

Although I enjoyed the challenges of being a litigator, judge, community volunteer, wife, and parent, fear kept me from following my passion of writing. I often talked about my desire to tell stories, but I wrote nothing except boring briefs, opinions, and legal articles until a friend challenged me to use her condo for a weekend to find my writing voice.  The unsaid part of the offer was if you don’t find a way to express yourself on paper, don’t talk about it anymore. 

During that weekend, I wrote eighty-five pages and realized I had the beginning, middle and end of a book in my head. Fear gave way to confidence. 2012 IPPY award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, contains five of the eighty-five pages. Since then, I wrote another book, Should Have Played Poker (Five Star 2016) and had twenty-four short stories published in periodicals and anthologies, but the one in Alfred Hitchcock almost didn’t come to be.

I was afraid I couldn’t write anything good enough to meet its standards.  Thanks to reading craft books, dissecting the stories of great writers, and taking classes, I knew my technical skills were improving, but AHMM stories have heart and fire. My early tries lacked the sparks necessary to engage a reader. They had too much tell rather than show. Slowly, I learned to trust the reader to go on an imaginary journey with me instead of supplying every detail. 

Once I did that, my characters and settings became more realistic and enjoyable.  I started submitting to markets ranging from online periodicals to literary magazines to open anthology cattle calls.  Acceptances became more frequent.  If something was rejected, I edited and submitted it elsewhere. For some stories the process had to be repeated several times before it found a home (and being honest, a few will forever reside in my computer).

Even though writers I respected encouraged me to send a story to Alfred Hitchcock or Ellery Queen, I didn’t. I couldn’t.  I read both magazines and analyzed the different styles and voices each published, but fear paralyzed me from taking a chance. My rationalization was my stories were too simple, too comical, too one-dimensional, too crappy, but then I wrote a story with different layers and concepts entwined within it.  It was special. I knew someone would publish it, but who? There was only one way to know if AHMM or EQMM would take it. Submit it. The voice seemed more suited to AHMM, so I sent the story off aware turnaround time for acceptance or rejection might be nine months. I steeled myself to receive bad news, so you can imagine my surprise when I received an acceptance e-mail.

In retrospect, what is the worst that could have happened? A rejection. That wouldn’t have stopped me from improving the story and submitting it elsewhere. My writing has a long way to go, but I’ve learned that overcoming the obstacle of fear is perhaps the greatest gift I can give myself --- and it gave my mother something to brag about.
Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery (Five Star - 2016) and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. She also writes short stories and non-fiction. Debra serves on numerous boards, including Sisters in Crime (national) and the Guppy Chapter, and is an MWA member. Her Social Media links:           @DebraHGoldstein

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