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2017 Derringer Finalist Joseph D'Agnese

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.

A 2015 Derringer winner, Joseph D'Agnese's 2017 Best Short Story contender, the Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine piece "The Woman in the Briefcase", marks his third overall trip to the finals.

Describe your story in up to 20 words.

It’s a crazy caveman mystery, with a touch of modern forensic anthropology thrown in.

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

The hardest was also the most fun. The main subplot takes place 30,000 years ago. I didn’t live back then. So I had to figure out how to bring those characters to life. Luckily, we have some interesting examples of prehistoric cultures from different regions of the world. We know what they ate, how they lived, what tools they used. I went with that, and played the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey as background music while I worked. Cue bone-wielding hominids, please.

Do you have a (juicy) story about how your story came to be published?

In another life, I was a science reporter. I once drove 700 miles—the length of Italy—in one day with an anthropologist. We were on our way to camp at a former dig site. That drive encompassed the longest, most exhausting interview I’ve ever conducted. We did nothing but talk. Years later, the idea for this story just hit me. It clearly grew out of that experience. I don’t know why the idea didn’t occur to me sooner. Maybe I had to wait enough years to forget enough of the science to make it seem plausible. I wrote a five-sentence outline and started writing.

How does it feel to be a Derringer finalist?

Groovy. I like the philosophy behind the awards, and admire the community. Remind me to tell you about the time I had to explain what the Derringer Awards are to a longtime mystery editor. Clearly, we have our work cut out for us.

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