Thursday, July 12, 2018

Writers on Their Toes

~ Editor/Author/Publisher Mysti Berry is our guest at the Blood-Red Pencil today. ~

I’d like to share with you the most marvelous discoveries of my first adventure as a publisher. Editing a charity anthology LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE was my first time editing a collection. The process was a series of delightful discoveries punctuated by occasional fits of swearing at the software. I’ll spare you the swearing but share what I learned about crime writers during this madcap adventure.


 Discovery #1: Crime Writers are Generous 

Exhausted by my own pointless rage-tweeting and desperate to do something useful, I decided to publish an anthology of crime short stories to raise money to help fight voter suppression. I invited writer friends and writers who are barely more than acquaintances to contribute.

Nearly all of them said yes.

This astonished me, because most of the writers in the anthology are well published—he or she has something to lose if a story shows up in a low-quality book. It was my first attempt at publication, and yet these wonderful writers trusted me! And they were all keen to support the effort to make sure everyone who is entitled to vote is able to vote.

Some writers' schedules were too packed to contribute, but they helped in other ways by providing “blurbs” recommending the book or sharing freely their own experiences with publishing. All of these generous acts enabled me to put together a wonderful anthology with the best possible print-on-demand distribution. The book would not have happened without their many generous acts.

Discovery #2: Crime Writers are Professional 

Writers didn't turn stories in late. No one insisted that they were more important than anyone else. Each writer was cheerful and supportive as I stumbled along. Contributors recommended new writers who would be great additions to the book. I’ll always be grateful that the writers gently nudged me when I made silly mistakes (I’ll never misspell “Foreword” again!). They each pitched in to help with publicity. They set about hand-selling the book, even though it is a small charity anthology and I am a first-time publisher. Working with people who know how to behave professionally is a true joy.

Discovery #3: If You Give Them Freedom, Crime Writers Will Rise Up On Their Toes

 Does this one sound odd? Let me explain. You see, Tom Hanks once said that doing voice-over work for animation wasn’t easier than acting in person, it was harder because you had to do all the acting that your body and face does, but with just your voice. He said it was like acting on your toes (like a ballerina).

I gave the writers a theme, “fighting voter suppression,” no word limit, and no other rules about sub-genre or tone. Each writer, completely independent of the others, produced a truly original work, often far outside his or her comfort zone. Whether the stories experimented with point of view, time period, form, or subject matter, each writer’s unique voice rings true and each writer’s vision is unlike any other.

These stories range from a humorous private eye tale to deadly serious suspense, and everything in between. Because crime readers are omnivores, consuming good stories in a variety of sub-genres, they will enjoy the variety and revel in the excitement, honesty, and charm that these writers delivered in LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE.

There’s on last realization more than discovery that makes me want to praise these writers. The accepted wisdom for many years has been that writers of crime fiction should avoid politics. If we don’t, we’ve been told, we’ll risk alienating one set of readers or another. However, there is a difference between writing thinly veiled defenses of one or another policy positions (politics), and doing what these writers have done, which is defend basic human rights with all their storytelling power, infusing their work with timeless meaning and resonance. Crime fiction readers, like crime fiction writers, aren’t afraid to explore the gap between who we say we are, and who we really are. This fact makes me so glad that I’ve chosen to write crime fiction. You couldn’t belong to a better club!


In addition to being editor/publisher of LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE, Mysti Berry is a technical writer, a screenwriter, and a short story writer. In her own words: "From Comic-Con to the Caribbean, my short stories show the gap between who we pretend to be and who we really are." Learn more about Mysti at MystiBerry.com.

12 comments :

  1. This anthology sounds great, Mysti. It also sounds like a very job. Even so, working with crime writers must be awesome and worth the time you spent.

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    1. My favorite part was working with these writers—talented, funny, and passionate to the core!

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  2. Mysti, you did an incredible job of pulling it all
    Together in a tight timeframe. Kudos to you!!

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    1. You guys made it fun! Thank you for your wonderful story!

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  3. Excellent and worthy cause. Congratulations on a job well done.

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    1. Thanks Polly! Everybody does what they can. It was a pleasure to put these stories out to the world!

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  4. As a fellow crime writer who has worked with others on two anthologies for charitable benefit, I second every good thing you have said about us as a group. I am proud of my fellow writers who have stepped forward to support causes and people in a truly unselfish way.

    Congratulations on your anthology, and I will be heading over to get a copy as soon as I finish this.

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    1. Wow! There are a lot of great anthologies out there, just glad I could contribute! Congrats on your work, too—I look forward to reading yours!!

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    2. I read a couple of stories and will read more during lunch today. Good stuff!

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  5. Love this blog--thank you all for the great advice!!!!!

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  6. As a fellow writer/editor/publisher, I send you kudos for taking on this massive project. Good job! :-)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.