Writing Mysteries Decoded: Interview with Julie Hyzy, Mystery Author

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This is one of the promotional photos I’m allowed to use. I hope I don’t run out of these…

I recently had the pleasure of contacting Julie Hyzy and arranging an interview. To prepare for the conversation, I read some of her books, two of which she graciously donated to me. Those books (Grace Cries Uncle, Foreign Eclairs, and Playing With Matches) were the perfect escape I needed during finals that spring. After finishing the books, I sent Julie the following questions, and she emailed back the responses featured below…

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My Growing Story

I suppose I could wrap up this announcement in a clever metaphor or build up to it in some way, but I’m just too excited. So here’s the news: I’ve been accepted as a content creator at mytrendingstories.com! Right now I basically feel like Cinderella but with a worse figure and only two rodent friends instead of many.

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Their names are Sans and Papyrus! They are also not my rats.

My Trending Stories is a web content creator that features fresh and original articles from handpicked bloggers like myself. There’s daily news, business advice, an entertainment section (where I’ll likely be writing)… there’s content on sports, lifestyles, religion, tech, science, and holy cow, this website really is a one-stop info fix. I can easily imagine someone getting lost there for hours.

Also good news: the team at My Trending Stories seems quite friendly so far. They’re interested in mentoring their small pool of writers so their contributors can grow as authors. I might even have access to an editor! If you like my content already, then you can expect it to become even better in the coming months.

You can check out my new profile at https://mytrendingstories.com/profile/nick-edinger/. There are no articles up there yet, but there will be one soon… and it’ll give you a whole new perspective into who I am.

Glimmer Train Fall 2014: “Speak to Me,” by Sean Padraic McCarthy

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I enjoy writing criticism of art because I enjoy reading and watching criticism of art. Doesn’t matter if it’s an essay on the homoerotic nature of Dracula or a “this movie sucks!” review from the Channel Awesome and Chez Apocalypse crowd. I love being a part of a discussion, with informed people, about mediums I love. This applies even if I’m not commenting or contributing to it much.

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the Channel Awesome bad movie reviews and vlogs. The phrases “If it had done (blank) this movie would’ve been fine” or “usually in this type of movie you have (blank) happen instead” encapsulate this trend. It’s a trend of critique that could prove damaging to the entire discourse of reviews. When reviewers say something like the phrases above, they usually suggest making an aspect of the movie or book more conventional, more of what they expect. And why would we want such a thing? I don’t want average literature or conventional literature; I want good and great literature. And that involves taking risks. I believe that bad works of art are closer to greatness than good works of art, simply because both great and bad works try something new and take risks (I’m not counting, of course, works that are bad because they’re boring, cliché, or trite— that an entirely different level of hell). Criticism should explore what art can be, not what it can’t be.

That said.

It’s not like I’m a child, dropping all critical faculties when a novelty appears. I’m drawn to the weird and flavorful, but I’m not out there dipping chocolate-covered grapes in ketchup and horseradish just because. Bad works are closer to greatness than good works, but they’re still bad works. And “Speak to Me” is a misfire on several levels, without having the decency to be even an enjoyable misfire.

Our tale, told in a confusing order for the first half of the story, centers around Jack. Jack’s brother Christopher is dying of cancer, and hopes to live long enough to spend Labor Day with the family in his current residence, the family’s rented lake house. He doesn’t make it. Jack’s immediate family decides to stay in his diseased brother’s lake house for the summer anyway, not wanting it to go to waste. Only the family starts noticing strange things over the summer, signs that perhaps Christopher is speaking to them from the grave…

Ghost stories are not new to Glimmer Train. Neither are stories with more explicit sexual content. But the types of sex-informed scenes in “Speak to Me” don’t make you grip the book tighter or understand the world more, they just make you scratch your head before you go back to struggling with more badly written sentences. Jack “playing the voyeur” to a young couple having sex next door to where his kids are playing? Doesn’t factor into anything! Jack’s wife Clarissa freaking out and shouting at her kids when they interrupt their parents having sex? Her motivations are never explained! The sexual aspects of this story are not important, meaningful, symbolic, or even sexy. All of this builds up a climate of frustration (and I guess sexual repression?) for Jack, a character that’s mostly reactionary. Maybe that’s the point, maybe he’s the vehicle that the audience uses to enter the story themselves. But you meet so many family members and spend so much time with Jack over the course of this story that none of the characters here make an impact. “Speak to Me” reads like a partway novelization of an adventure game— where the protagonist bumbles around, picking up objects and saying a few words before moving over to witness another puzzle piece for a mystery. This story would work much better as an adventure game, at least.

All of this frustrates me because I think the makings of a good ghost story are in here. When Christopher is passing away, the family gathered at his bedside is shouting their goodbyes and their “I love you”s while Chris dies. “A family usually quiet, reserved, now a chorus of grief” (McCarthy, 94), says the narrator. This is a chilling moment— it builds in intensity during a traumatic event. The ending is also scary, though I won’t spoil it here. But the ghost isn’t really the focus— the story spends most of the time on Jack and his uninteresting family. Maybe at novel length, with time to explain character motivation and have scenes come back to haunt characters later, this could have worked. I criticized the sexual aspects of this narrative possibly more than was needed, but that’s because they’re the only reason I’ll ever remember this story. I don’t want to flatten the edges of this tale by removing those points, I want those points to build up to something worthwhile. This tale could’ve been great. But that doesn’t stop it from being bad, even at its strangest points.

Sean Padraic McCarthy is actually a pretty accomplished writer, with his work appearing in The Ledge Fiction and Poetry Magazine and the Fifth Wednesday Journal among other places. Maybe his longer fiction is worth reading, but “Speak to Me” most definitely is not.

Interested in this story? Buy it and many others here!

The Canterbury Tales BATTLE ROYALE (Round 1)

Find out what this is all about here!

The Fight

I rolled a 20-sided dice for each pilgrim to see which one goes first. The following table represents the initiative rolls, modified by the dexterity bonuses of the pilgrims:

PILGRIM ROLL RESULT
Haberdasher/Carpenter/Dyer/Weaver/Carpet Maker (for first round only) Natural 20 (which results in an extra turn at the beginning of the first combat round)
Cook (for first round only) Natural 20 (which results in an extra turn at the beginning of the first combat round)
Squire 19
Doctor 18 (tiebreaker roll: 20)
Franklin 18 (tiebreaker roll: 17)
Oxford Cleric 17 (tiebreaker roll: 14)
Summoner 17 (tiebreaker roll: 8)
Friar 15
Chaucer 14
Yeoman 12 (tiebreaker roll: 24 [due to bonuses])
Parson 12 (tiebreaker roll: 19)
Plowman 12 (tiebreaker roll: 6)
Haberdasher/Carpenter/Dyer/Weaver/Carpet Maker (normal placement) 11
Manciple 11 (but didn’t roll a 20 beforehand, therefore placed after the Haberdasher and company)
Shipman 10
Monk 7 (tiebreaker roll: 9)
Nun 7 (tiebreaker roll: 5)
Sergeant of Law 6
Wife of Bath 5
Cook (normal placement) 4
Pardoner 4 (but didn’t roll a 20 beforehand, therefore placed after the Cook)
Reeve 3 (tiebreaker roll: 16)
Miller 3 (tiebreaker roll: 14)
Knight 2 (tiebreaker roll: 18)
Merchant 2 (tiebreaker roll: 11)
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Everyone’s placement!

ROUND 1

The Tradesmen (the Haberdasher, the Carpenter, the Dyer, the Weaver, and the Carpet Maker) are all a part of the same parish guild. Therefore, they all see the benefit of sticking together and surviving in a pack, at least for now. The Haberdasher, the Carpenter, and the Dyer were placed in one corner of the room; they shout to the Weaver and Carpet Maker to come join them. As the Weaver and Carpet Make move northwest across the room, the three other tradesmen take a total defense position. This means that they can’t do anything else this round, but their AC increases by four. Essentially, they’re readying themselves for if anyone else attacks them.

The Cook wants to live, and sees no qualms with attacking the man closes to him (the Shipman). He moves five feet north and uses one of his cooking pans to attack. Since the cook is an expert at what he does, he is familiar with the weight and applications of his pans, resulting in no penalties for using a non-traditional weapon. He rolls a 5, however, and misses the Shipman with his swing.

The Squire is not a wise boy, if his all-nighters are anything to go by. And if his story reflects his character, then the Squire is a boy who dreams of adventure and proving himself. He wants to impress his father and take down the biggest, nastiest pilgrim he can find. He runs northeast in the Miller’s direction.

The Doctor’s medical knowledge can be useful in a fight, but only if he has a weapon. His miserly ways have resulted in an underprepared Doctor. But the silver knifes of the Tradesmen appeal to him, so he walks westward to the Weaver and the Carpet Maker and offers to join them and heal them if they get hurt. The Doctor’s bluff (10) beats the Weaver’s Sense Motive Check (2), but not the Carpet Maker’s (12). Though the Weaver believes the Doctor, the Carpet Maker knows that something is up. Still, his services can be useful, so both the Tradesmen agree to let the Doctor join them. Unlike the Weaver, the Carpet Maker plans to keep a close eye on their new “ally.”

The Franklin’s greatest asset is his money, and he’s willing to spend as much of it as he can to get out of here. But whom should he bribe? The Knight seems like a strong man; perhaps he can be bought (the Franklin does not consider that the Knight might be opposed to his services being bought, but the hedonistic ways of the Franklin imply that his character is not that wise). The Franklin moves southeast in order to reach the Knight and talk to him.

The Oxford Cleric’s morality keeps him from seeking out an opponent. He instead engages in Total Defense and plans to talk whomever may be a threat into defending him instead.

The Summoner’s a man who deals in information. Not only is he a man who can be easily bribed, but also he is a man who knows others know he can be easily bribed. He moves southwest across the room to catch up with the Franklin, hoping to strike an alliance.

The Friar wants money, and he also needs a weapon. The Franklin can supply both of these things. The Friar runs up to between the Franklin and the Summoner. He asks the Franklin if he’ll give him his riches if the Friar defends him. He also implies that the Summoner is approaching the Franklin to attack him, in an attempt to discredit the man he argued with during the pilgrimage. The Friar’s Bluff skill was exercised in the many years of begging for money and preying on helpless girls: his roll of 24 easily beats the unwise Franklin’s Sense Motive roll of 5. The Franklin does not suspect that the Friar will stab him in the back given the chance. The Friar asks for the Franklin’s knife to help defend him, and the Franklin obliges.

Chaucer engages in Total Defense, willing to watch from the sidelines like he did during the group’s travels.

The Yeoman is loyal to the Knight and Squire, but he’s also concerned about appearance. He moves northeast to join the Squire, looking to defend him.

The Parson is a true man of God, and looks to end this conflict and pray his way out of this mess. He travels south to the fight between the Shipman and the Cook, and attempts to persuade the two to stop fighting. As if bless by the hand of God( translation: I’m not making this up), the Parson rolls a natural 20, followed by a 5, in his attempt to stop the two. Both the Shipman and the Cook (their will saves rolling a 4 and a 16 respectively) are turned soft by their parson’s divinely inspired plea for peace. Though the Shipman is not the type of man to stop fighting, even he takes a pause for the moment.

The Plowman is very much like the Parson, in terms of living an honest and God-loving life. He goes to his knees and prays, hoping to find a faith-based solution to this nightmare. This leaves him flat-footed in case anyone attacks, but also means that any attackers must make a Will Save in order to stomach attacking a man in prayer.

The Haberdasher, the Carpenter, and the Dyer continue their Total Defense on their regular turn. The Carpet Maker and the Weaver continue to move up North to join them.

The Manciple’s wisdom comes from organizing large groups. And the largest group right now is the Tradesmen. He crosses west, reaching halfway across the room, in order to lend his services to the Tradesmen.

As I mentioned before, the Shipman’s decision to stop fighting the Cook was uncharacteristic of such a “take no prisoners” type of character. But what is characteristic of his character is dishonesty. He tells the Parson that he will stop fighting, and his bluff check (22) easily beats the Parson’s Sense Motive (10). This means that the Parson is flat-footed when the Shipman rolls a 19 to stab him with his dagger. The Parson takes 4 damage, and is now bleeding from the stomach.

To the Monk, this whole event is a hunt, and he has his dogs with him on the pilgrimage since he loves hunting so much. And the Monk won’t taste another Roasted Swan if he dies here. He has three dogs, and he sends all of them east, towards the Parson, and hopes for an easy kill. The Monk follows his dogs, his hunting crossbow ready for whomever may escape the dogs’ path.

The Nun’s overdramatic and courtly ways serve her well in her next goal. She travels south to the Knight and begs him to protect her. Unlike the Doctor, the Nun is earnest in her plea, and the Knight’s chivalric code means that he does not refuse her.

The Sergeant of Law is a bright man, but not particularly wise. He also has no idea of his own, so he travels south towards the Nun in order to do the same thing she did.

The Wife of Bath also imitates the Nun, hoping her charisma will convince the Knight that she needs protecting too. She moves west instead of south as to avoid the Monk’s oncoming dogs.

The Cook just witnessed the Shipman stab the Parson. He pushes the Parson out of the way so he can shield his inspirational friend from further harm. This triggers an Attack of Opportunity for the Shipman, who rolls a 16. This means that the Cook bravely used himself as a human shield to protect the Parson. The Cook takes 2 damage from the knife, resulting in a gash across his arm. The Parson took 1 damage from the fall, as displayed by a bruise on his head.

The Pardoner takes advantage of the poor in fortune. Right now, there’s no one poorer in fortune then the Parson, so the Pardoner moves South and a little West in order to take out a damaged Parson.

The Reeve’s old age and rusty dagger won’t stop him from seeking vengeance on the man who made fun of his profession. The Reeve walks up to the Miller and slashes at him with his knife. But the Reeve’s old and feeble, and the Miller easily dodges his roll of 3 made with the knife.

The Miller, in contrast with the Reeve, is both incredibly strong and big enough to overpower him in a fight. But even he’s susceptible to bad rolls of the dice: in this case, a 1 followed by an 11. The Miller’s so worked up in anger that his first punch misses the Reeve, and he almost trips himself in the process. But since a more respectable 11 counterbalanced his Critical Failure of a 1, The Miller merely misses instead of taking a disastrous action.

The Knight moves northeast to follow his son, but does not move so far as to leave the Nun undefended. The Knight shouts out a command to The Squire to come back and help defend the Nun. The Squire rolls a perfect 20 in hearing his father over the din of battle, and succeeds the Will Save (he rolled a 13 to the DC 10 the Pathfinder website suggests) needed to heed his father’s words. On his next turn, the Squire will retreat from his plan of glory.

The Merchant, like the Cleric, is intelligent without being wise at all. He sees the Monk’s greyhounds and decides that this is a good man to partner up with. He runs up to the Monk and offers him an alliance in exchange for his entire business. The Merchant rolls an 11 in Diplomacy, enough to convince a neutral Monk to forge an Alliance with him. The Merchant’s experience in bargaining and his respected position resulted in a new ally.

To be continued

 

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Where everyone ended up.