Thursday, May 23, 2024

All I ask is a Theme and a Deadline. Guest post by Susan Daly

What moves short story writers to get creative? To get us past staring out the window for inspiration?

After years of writing short crime fiction and finding my way into a surprising—to me—number of anthologies, I like to think I’ve nailed down what gets me kickstarted.

A theme and a deadline.

Fortunately, writer and publisher Judy Penz Sheluk of Superior Shores Press has been feeding this habit now through four anthologies. 

Judy’s good at themes. Moonlight & Misadventure, Heartbreaks & Half Truths, Best Laid Plans... You get the idea. 

Last fall, she tossed out her latest challenge—Larceny & Last Chances—along with a deadline, mid-February. Tons of time, as viewed from the halcyon days of November.

Larceny? Piece of cake. Someone steals something. Add a few lost and found chances. The writer’s mind kicks in.

Tick tick tick...

Late January. I’m still staring out the window at bare branches. Not a story in sight. Lots of crumpled ideas lying around. 

What happened to “all I need is a theme and a deadline”?

I’m sorry Judy but—

No. Don’t give up yet. This is about last chances, right? Well, that’s what I need. A Hail Mary pass. A last moment shot on goal.

Time to dip into my stash of old half-done tales. This one? No. This one? Not hardly. 

Okay, what about this one? A story conceived for a really off-beat submission call. Erotic mystery tales involving classical orchestra instruments. Yes, really. 

I may know nothing about classical instruments, but I have other talents from my past. Writing talents, I mean. In the long run, however, I never finished it. Just as well, as it turned out, because the project was eventually cancelled.

The abandoned story, in the face of February’s looming deadline, has it all: fully plotted outline, engaging opening scenes, characters just begging to be resurrected.  Larceny involving a valuable viola. A last chance to recover it. Sex. A beguiling tattoo.

Wait....back up there. Judy had made it clear. No overt sex. (Also, no werewolves.)

With barely a week left to submit, my storyteller’s mind finally shifts into gear. The characters come back to life, the opening scenes flow into the rest of the story, the sex scenes remain unwritten. My Hail Mary pass has worked.

I sit back in astonishment at how months of not writing has eventually turned into a week of pure production.

Perhaps, after all, I need more than the Theme and the Deadline. I need a cache of old stories to dig out, dust off and clean up. And not just a deadline, but a looming deadline staring me down. 

Judy accepted my story, ‘Hail Mary Blues,’ for the anthology. 

I’m pleased with it too. No werewolves. No sex.  

But I left in the beguiling tattoo. 

About the book: Larceny & Last Chances: Sometimes it’s about doing the right thing. Sometimes it’s about getting even. Sometimes it’s about taking what you think you deserve. And sometimes, it’s your last, best, hope. Edited by Judy Penz Sheluk and featuring stories by Christina Boufis, John Bukowski, Brenda Chapman, Susan Daly, Wil A. Emerson, Tracy Falenwolfe, Kate Fellowes, Molly Wills Fraser, Gina X. Grant, Karen Grose, Wendy Harrison, Julie Hastrup, Larry M. Keeton, Charlie Kondek, Edward Lodi, Bethany Maines, Gregory Meece, Cate Moyle, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Kevin R. Tipple, and Robert Weibezahl.
About Susan Daly: Susan Daly writes short crime fiction as her way of crusading for social justice. Her stories have appeared in a surprising number of mystery anthologies, and ‘A Death at the Parsonage’ won the Arthur Ellis Award for best short story from Crime Writers of Canada.  She lives in Toronto and hangs out with Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, and other known criminal types. Find Susan at
About the editor: Judy Penz Sheluk is a former journalist and magazine editor and the bestselling author of two mystery series, several short stories, and two books on publishing. She is also the publisher and editor of four Superior Shores Anthologies. Find out more at

1 comment:

Judy Penz Sheluk said...

Thanks for hosting Susan and Larceny!