Saturday, February 23, 2013

"The Assassin's List" in new Ellery Queen anthology

The first short story I ever sold was uncharacteristic in a number of ways.  It wasn't speculative fiction, it was an unusual choice for the magazine I sent it to, it took me two years to write (I wasn't a very consistent writer back then), and I sold it on the first attempt.  When Ellery Queen did in fact buy it, I was absolutely floored, to say the least.  I was even more astonished when it was short-listed for Best American Mystery Stories 2002.  Of course, everyone insisted that I should "write more mysteries."  Thing is, "The Assassin's List" wasn't a mystery in any normal sense -- and I hadn't a clue as to how to write a standard mystery yarn at the time.  Instead, it was an attempt to write a kind of Existentialist/Kafka-esque/Magical Realist fable about the misinterpretation of symbols.  It's a story about someone with a solemn task and an overwhelming sense of doubt.  I wasn't reading mysteries when I wrote it -- I was reading Albert Camus and Umberto Eco.

All of which sounds vaguely snobbish, I'm sure.  In fact, my goal at the time was to write "literary pulp" or something along those lines.  I had a very clear sense of how such stories should feel, but it was in fact a difficult thing to attempt, especially since there are very few markets for it.  I should also mention that, at age 26 (when I completed the story) I was filled with self-doubt about what I could actually accomplish as a writer, and lacked the self-discipline to temper my huge ambitions to keep them within my skill set as it existed at the time.  I was also struggling with ADHD and a host of other issues.

I am very proud of this story, and seeing it back in circulation reminds me how different my approach to writing is now.  I outline, for one thing.  I know the ending by the time I finish the beginning.  I write scenes out of order.  I work quickly.  I do not, as I did here, build the thing like a house of cards, struggling over every paragraph, meticulously constructing every wisp of smoke and crack in the wall.  

Sometimes, however, I wish I did.  "The Assassin's List" has an oddball, immersive quality you don't get too often.  

At any rate, the story has been given a fresh life in the Ellery Queen anthology The Crooked Road Volume 2: Ellery Queen Presents Stories of Grifters, Gangsters, Hit Men, and Other Career Crooks. The fact that my story sits next to the works of some of the greatest names in field is something I can't quite get my head around.  Lawrence Block.  Peter Lovesey.  Edward D. Hoch.  Ed effing McBain!

I suppose I did something right.  

Anyway, to summarize -- buy it now.  Make your Kindle happy.