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2017 Derringer Finalist Catherine Dilts

I'm a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, an informal association of writers, publishers, and fans that has kept mystery & crime short stories in the public eye since 1996. On April 1, the Society announced the finalists for its 2017 Derringer Awards, and I had the idea to promote the finalists with interviews.

Finalist for Best Novelette (8,001–20,000 words) with her May 2016 Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine story, "The Chemistry of Heroes", Catherine Dilts is also the author of the Rock Shop Mystery novel series. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, her stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains, fishing, and running.

Describe your story in up to 20 words.

When a body is discovered under a newly poured factory floor, an African American chemist becomes entangled in a murder case.

What were the most difficult and most enjoyable parts of writing the story?

The tough part is getting the science right. I am not a chemist, but my day job cubicle sits next to the company laboratory. I work in the midst of scientists, and pester them with my questions. They are happy to help, even if they worry a little about the purpose of my research.

This story was inspired by a renovation of the breakroom where I work. As we watched large chunks of floor being torn out and hauled away, a coworker and I speculated on what-if scenarios. It seemed entirely plausible that a body could be disposed of under the fresh concrete. We even had thoughts about a few employees we wouldn’t mind seeing interred.

“Write what you know” is common advice given to new writers. I thought my experience working in a factory was dull, until I realized how few people have spent time in this environment. I enjoy introducing readers to the factory setting. I also enjoy working with my characters, Dr. Charles Jerome Harrison, and his nerdy assistant Tony. My daughter admits she might be a little bit in love with Dr, Harrison.

How does it feel to be a Derringer finalist?

I was a Derringer first round judge last year, so I know the amount of work that goes into paring down dozens of quality stories to the final five. When I learned my story is a 2017 finalist, I’ll admit I squealed with delight. To be selected by my peers from so many wonderful stories is a great honor.

On a side note, being a judge is a remarkably educational experience. Reading the cream of the short story crop gives you a taste of the experience of a magazine or anthology editor sifting through a submission slush pile.