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2018 Derringer Finalist Alison McMahan

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 15, the Society announced the finalists for its 2018 Derringer Awards. A vote of eligible members will determine the winners, to be announced May 15.

In the meantime, as I did last year, I'm inviting the finalists for interviews. If you'd like to participate, email me your answers to the same following questions.

Alison McMahan
Screenwriter, filmmaker, and author Alison McMahan is a finalist in two categories: Best Short Story (1,001–4,000 words) with "The New Score" from the March 2017 Sisters in Crime Guppy anthology Fish Out of Water, and Best Long Story (4,001–8,000 words) with "The Drive-by" from Level Best Books' police-themed anthology Busted.

Describe your stories in up to 20 words each.

"The New Score": A composer stalks his enemy on the red carpet at the Oscars.

"The Drive-by": Rookie Cambodian-American police officer searches for the drive-by shooters in a Long Beach ripped apart by Cambodian-Mexican gang wars.

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

The hardest part, but also the most fun, is figuring out exactly how the crime will work. It requires several kinds of careful research.

In "The Drive-by", the heroine uses a Krav Maga move on a reluctant informer. I started learning Krav Maga (a martial art that incorporates street fighting and boxing moves) just a few months before I wrote the story. It took me a while to pick the right move. It's difficult because the heroine is not very tall.

"The New Score" is in first person. I usually write close third, as I did in "The Drive-by". I found the first person to be a real challenge: how do you keep up the suspense when the reader knows everything the character is thinking?

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

I'm a filmmaker, so of course, I always watched the Oscars, starting with the red carpet previews. "The New Score" was written in response to the invitation to submit from the SinC Guppy Anthology. They had a "Fish Out of Water" theme. I couldn't think of someone more out of place than a man with a badly damaged face on an Academy Awards red carpet. To my joy, the editors agreed and published the story.

At the time I wrote these stories, my main format was novels. After publishing my first novel, a YA historical mystery, in 2014, I decided to switch genres, to hardboiled and more contemporary. I'd just finished a documentary about a village of landmine survivors in Cambodia, and in the process of editing it I'd met many Cambodian-Americans, some who lived in Long Beach. Thavary Keo, the Cambodian-American rookie police officer, is the heroine of my new hardboiled series-in-progress, is inspired by the brave survivors I met while working on the film. Her series is set primarily in Long Beach in the 1990s, a time when the city was ripped apart by Khmer and Mexican gang wars. One thing I really love about her is that she is a Buddhist as well as a cop. I thought I should test the new concept by writing short stories set in that world and see how readers responded. I'm really happy that the response has been so positive!

How does it feel to be a Derringer finalist?

I've been a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society since December of 2016. I read all the nominees that year and voted. I was very, very impressed with the quality of the writing, and awed when I met many of the authors at the gathering organized by Art Taylor at Malice Domestic in 2017. It is absolutely thrilling to be counted among them!

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