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2018 Derringer Finalist Paul D. Marks

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. Members are voting to determine the winners, to be announced May 15.

In the meantime, as I did last year, I'm inviting the finalists for interviews.

Paul D. Marks
Paul D. Marks is a finalist with "Windward" in the Best Novelette category, from Down & Out Books anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, for which he also had an editorial role. "Windward" has also been included in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018 anthology.

How did you come to edit the two Coast to Coast anthologies? Tell us a bit about the editing process:

Andy and I are on opposite coasts, Boston and L.A., respectively. The interesting thing about the editing process is that, though we’ve known each other for years, we’ve never met in person. Mostly, we’ve communicated through emails, though once or twice we talked on the phone. But our working relationship functioned surprisingly well. Of course, technology gave us a huge edge in being able to work “together” from three thousand miles apart.

Private Eyes is the second in the Coast to Coast mystery anthology series. Andy and I each picked about half the authors we wanted, then contacted them to see if they were interested. But the way it all came about is with the first volume, Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea. Andy wanted to do an anthology of mystery stories and brought me aboard. And we were thrilled when Down & Out Books agreed to publish it.

For both volumes, once we got the stories, we gave them the once-over twice or thrice or more. Then the editing process began in earnest, assisted by my wife Amy, who is a pretty damn good editor. As a writer, I know I don’t like it when editors change my words or voice or other things in too big a way. Or when they get captious on me. So I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for authors and their words. And I hate to change those words ’cause I know how much I hate to be changed. I want to keep the authors’ voices and visions intact. I think that’s important. I will suggest changes if I see problems. I just don’t want to stomp on the voice of the author. And Down & Out was great in respecting our request to be able to do that.

Describe "Windward" in up to 20 words.

Venice Beach P.I. Jack Lassen lives in a leftover 1950s bomb shelter under his office, and is investigating a Hollywood trophy wife’s disappearance.

What were the most difficult and most enjoyable parts of writing "Windward"?

The most difficult part of writing “Windward” was doing it from my home office when I was longing to actually be down in Venice working on the beach. But I didn’t think sand blowing in my laptop was a good idea. Besides I think I’d get too distracted by the passing parade to be able to focus on the writing. I do, however, have a decent view from my office, so that compensated—somewhat—for not having the ocean breezes at my back.

As with every story, there’s that point where you look at the mess of notes, cross outs and yellow highlighted text on the screen and think, “How the hell am I ever going to turn this mess into a story?” As a “pantster” that can be a daunting task, especially when you’re writing early drafts that are sort of stream of consciousness and can—and do—go anywhere. But eventually you whittle and hone and polish and something readable turns out that others will enjoy—hopefully.

One of the best things was heading down to Venice and spending an afternoon and evening there. Not writing, but walking around like a tourist, soaking in the sights, the rays and the other “delicacies”… (Don’t tell my wife, oh wait, she was there with me.)

Also difficult but enjoyable at the same time was writing a story about a guy whose glory days were, in some sense, in the past. Days when he surfed and was carefree. Days before he joined the service and the cops and went out on his own to become a private eye with responsibilities to his clients and to pay bills and tough choices to make about what’s right and wrong. Days when he’d rather be surfing, but for one reason or another doesn’t get around to it. And, even though I’ve never been a P.I. or a cop, maybe I can relate to some of that and also find myself longing for those more innocent and free days.

How does it feel to be a Derringer finalist not only with "Windward", but also having produced an anthology that yielded three more finalists from its contributors?

In a word, Wow! It’s mind blowing! I’m totally thrilled. And I want to thank all the authors in the anthology and all the Derringer judges and voters.

The performance, if that’s the right word, of Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea is overwhelming to say the least. Not only are four of the stories nominated for Derringers (Matt Coyle’s “The #2 Pencil” for Best Short Story, “King’s Quarter,” by Andrew McAleer, “Kill My Wife, Please,” by Robert Randisi, and my story “Windward,” all in the Best Novelette category), but Art Taylor’s “A Necessary Ingredient” was nominated for an Agatha and is also nominated for an Anthony Award. In fact, the whole volume is nominated for a Best Anthology Anthony. And two of the stories, John Floyd’s “Gun Work” and “Windward” have been chosen by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler for inclusion in the best American Mysteries of 2018. Awesome on all counts! Not bad for an anthology by a small, indie publisher. I sort of feel like we’re the Little Engine That Could—The Little Anthology That Could.

This is my first Derringer nomination and to say that I’m ecstatic would be an understatement. And I’m not only ecstatic for myself, Andy, and all the other nominees but for all the authors in the book. You never know when you’re working on something how it’s going to be received. You hope for the best. But it’s still beyond gratifying to see all the hard work you do pay off in big ways. It’s great to get recognition for your work but also being able to bring other writers recognition for their work is (to quote a commercial) “priceless”. And I’m very grateful to the Short Mystery Fiction Society for their recognition.

Thank you for having me, Gerald.

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