Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What are Agatha-eligible works? (& book signing!)

This is the time of year to get excited about Agatha awards. They're given out at the Malice Domestic conference every year. Everyone who signs up for the conference before the end of the year receives a form in January. On that form they can nominate mysteries, non-fiction mystery related books, and short stories for Agatha awards. These are prestigious in the mystery community. Even to say you've been nominated is an honor. I think so, at least, since I was nominated in the Short Story category in 2010. That was one of the most exciting events of my life!

If you've signed up for the conference, or if you're thinking of going, I'll offer the stories I've had published this year that are eligible, just in case you want to--you know--nominate one of them.

Here's the first part of "The Truck Contest" which was published in FISH TALES: The Guppy Anthology, by Wildside Press. The whole anthology, where you can read the rest of this story and the other Agatha-eligible stories in it, can be purchased at Amazon as a paperback or an e-book.

[But before you get started on this, I want to let you know I'll be signing at Hill Country Bookstore in Georgetown on December 23rd. If you need a last minute holiday gift, come on by!]

first 1215 words

The first time I saw it I assumed it was an accident. Assumed some poor schmuck had
left a truck out on the ice just a little too late. Every morning on the way to work I drove
the winding road around Lake Minnetonka and followed the progress of the yellow
pickup, sinking lower and lower as the early spring sun picked up strength.

That first winter in Minnesota, I had noticed, right away, how Lake Minnetonka becomes
a huge playground in the cold weather. The natives use it for snowmobiling, ice skating,
and ice fishing. They cavort outside in frigid weather as if it were summertime. I was
most fascinated by the ice fishing, though. My Dad had never taken me fishing when I
was a boy. Hell, he’d never taken me anywhere, except to the track.

I had done a lot of hard outdoor work in a hot climate recently and had no desire to repeat
that sweaty experience. The cold weather did take some getting used to, but I had the
example of the Minnesotans to follow. I would follow their lead and they would show me
how to enjoy it. And anything was better than being locked up. I bought a lot of new
clothes. That helped me keep warm.

At the beginning of that first winter, I observed people driving their pickups onto the
frozen lake. They unloaded dozens of one-room wooden fishing shacks, mostly
homemade, and created a temporary village between Excelsior and Big Island. At work
they told me it was called Ice Town. Some of the guys in shipping were avid ice fishers.

The little shacks really did look like a town out there on the frozen lake, with narrow
streets laid out where guys drove back and forth to their houses. Some of them even spent
the nights there. They hauled in carpeting, huge coolers full of beer, and satellite dishes to
give them some of the comforts of home. It was mostly a guy thing—I never saw more
than a couple of women. It looked like fun and I thought about giving it a go the next

When spring approached, the natives hauled off their fish houses and drove their trucks
home. One lone pickup remained, however, that yellow one, parked in a widening puddle
on the thinning ice. It was obviously too dangerous to go out and get it. I shook my head
every time I saw it and felt sorry for the slob who had left his truck to sink into the lake.

One morning, I arrived a couple minutes late, not unusual for me. So why did Karen, my
chubby little boss, give me the evil eye?

Get used to it, I thought. Some people don’t live for this sorry job. Who would want to? I
inhabited a cubicle, an invention of the devil himself, I’m sure, and processed orders for
imported junk. Little plastic bracelets and gifts bags, shit they sold at the Dollar Store. I
was as far from my previous address as I could get, and the company didn’t do
background checks. That’s why I worked there. Karen as my boss lady I could handle. I
even flirted with her some when I started there. The one that got to me, though, was

That day, in the break room, Clark mentioned the Truck Contest.

“What’s that?” I asked, waiting for him to quit fiddling with the sugar packets so I could
get some for my coffee.

Clark cleared his throat wetly, one of his least obnoxious mannerisms, raised his superior
eyebrows almost up to his wig, a toupee that might have been a squirrel in its former life,
and informed me that bets were placed on when the truck would sink.

“So that yellow pickup doesn’t belong to some poor sap who just procrastinated too

“Hell no. What a stupid thing to think.” He picked his nose, stirred a small mountain of
sugar in his styrofoam coffee cup, and strolled off to his cube, the one next to mine.

Clark was not a desirable cubicle neighbor. Most mornings his radio blared stock market
reports, and in the afternoon he listened to, as far as I could tell, the worst music ever
recorded, big band and polkas. Where did he find those stations? My protests would
prompt him to lower the volume for half a day, then he would twist the dial back up and
dare me to say something. I decided I had to start raising my issues with Karen.

It really didn’t bother me, working for a woman. I know a lot of guys couldn’t do it. But I
was just lucky to have a job, and, if I had to work for a broad, I could handle it. This
broad, however, wasn’t the one I’d pick. I think the feeling was mutual. She’d flirted
back when I started, but was always too busy to meet me anywhere after work. I dropped
the act eventually. I wasn’t going to get any from her.

I rapped on the door to her office—she had an actual office, with a door—and entered
when she told me to come in, after the second knock.

I walked up to her desk, remained standing. “You know Clark, in the cube next to me?”

She looked up from her paperwork and frowned. Those little plucked eyebrows were
cute. “Jesus, Roy, how would I not know Clark? I’m his boss, or hadn’t you noticed?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“You have a problem with Clark?” She drew out his name, those fleshy lips caressed it.
Not good.

“Well, not with Clark. With his radio. It’s hard to work with it turned up so high, you

“No, I don’t know.”

“Can you say something to him?”

“I’ll see.” She bent her head to the papers on her desk and I left, not hopeful.

I tried a few more times, but Karen barely listened to my complaints. She only mentioned
the radio to Clark once and, when she began picking up the phone and dialing it as soon
as I walked through her door, I gave up. Her office nauseated me anyway, the way it
reeked of Obsession.

One day I grabbed my dictionary off the metal shelf above my monitor to check the
spelling of a word for the report I was writing. The page was missing. I looked up and
Clark stood in his cubicle, leering at me over the short wall that divided us.

“What are you so happy about?” I asked. He didn’t answer, just kept smirking.

“Do you know anything about this page that’s torn out of my book?” I asked him, trying
to be as civil as possible.

“Oh that. Yeah.” He scratched his armpit. “They were out of toilet paper in the john.”

I stared. “You used my dictionary for toilet paper?”

“Worked pretty good.” He turned away and plopped down into his chair.

I felt my sanity straining against its mooring, threatening to float off, out of my Cubicle
From Hell. There was no way I was going to go through the job hunting process again. It
had taken months to find this indoor position. Most other people checked references more
thoroughly than these people did.

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