Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Summer Short Story Spectacular, Season 1, Episode 17 - JA MENZIES

It must have been the early 90s when I first met J.A. Menzies, (Or N.J.) I was enroute to Toronto for a writer's conference and she was the designated driver who picked me up. I think, also, we did a short skit for that conference. We've kept in touch ever since following each others' careers and life. 

J. A. writes contemporary mysteries in the Golden Age style. Her novels include the Manziuk and Ryan Mysteries (Shaded Light and Glitter of Diamonds which many reviewers have compared to the best of Agatha Christie. Library Journal called J. A. a “master of plotting.” Her third mystery, Shadow of a Butterfly, will be out soon. J. A. is a member of a number of organizations for writers, including Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, and The Writers Union of Canada. J. A. Menzies is the alter ego of award-winning author and speaker N. J. Lindquist.

Okay, JA, you know the drill. Here are the questions. 
What is your all-time favorite short story and why?

It’s not really my favourite—I don’t think I even like it—but the short story that has stuck in my brain and is always the first one I think of when I hear the words “short story” is “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. I think I was in elementary school when we read it for English, and it was probably my intro to horror writing. The build-up and pacing is just perfect. I hated it and loved it at the same time. 

As for my favourite, that might be “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Anderson. I was given both Andersons and Grimm’s fairy tales when I was very young, so they kind of molded my tastes. I later loved the stories of O’Henry. I just love twist endings, although I prefer them to be happy ones. ☺

What is the most difficult part of writing short fiction for you? 

Narrowing the story down to fit the word-count. My Manziuk and Ryan mysteries are 130,000 words or longer, with multiple point of view characters and complex sub plots. For a short story, everything has to be smaller. You’re baking a cupcake, not creating a six-layer wedding cake. So you need a limited number of characters, either a single plot-line or a main one with one very small sub-plot, and only a few scenes—sometimes only one scene. I usually struggle to find an idea small enough, and to believe that what I have is enough to make an interesting story.

What piece of advice would you give to a prospective short story writer?

Read a variety of stories from different genres and addressed to different audiences, and determine what you like or don’t like about them. At the same time, write at least 10 or 20 short stories of your own before you start worrying about getting published. Think of it as you would if you were learning to play the piano by playing a variety of short pieces. You’re practising your craft. Honing your skills. Discovering what you do well. Identifying what you need to work on. I also highly recommend The Elements of Fiction books on developing characters, setting, plots, etc. 

Which of your short stories should we read first and why?

Probably “The Case of the Sneezing Accountant.” 
It will introduce you to my series’ characters, detectives Paul Manziuk and Jacquie Ryan. If you want to know who they are, Publisher’s Weekly said "Ontario police detectives Paul Manziuk and his new partner, Jacqueline Ryan, make an odd team—he's white, an abrupt, patronizing veteran, while she's a recently promoted, vivacious black woman—but in [Menzies'] debut mystery the two rub elbows and tempers to captivating effect.”

This short story will be free on Amazon from September 17-19. 

Where can readers find you?

Amazon author page