By Susan McBride
We've all picked up short story anthologies for the pleasure of reading lots of interesting tales all packed in one book. But did you ever wonder how this type of work comes together? I did. So I spoke with Jennifer Kirchman recently. Jennifer's from the Omaha Public Library which sponsors Mayhem in the Midlands, a wonderful small-sized mystery convention that takes place annually at May's end in Omaha. The library came up with a very intriguing idea: to ask authors who'd attended the first Mayhem three years ago to submit stories for an anthology to be titled (what else?), MAYHEM IN THE MIDLANDS. Many did, including respected mystery and suspense writers like Barbara & Max Allan Collins, Rhys Bowen, Gayle Lynds, Lee Killough, Annette and Marty Meyers, Denise Swanson, Gretchen Sprague and more (including yours truly!). Edited by Robert Randisi and Christine Matthews-whose stories are among those presented-the collection of shorts will satisfy the appetite of mystery fans everywhere.
Susan McBride: Tell me about the MAYHEM IN THE MIDLANDS anthology. Where did the idea for the book originate?
Jennifer Kirchman: Bob Randisi and Christine Matthews came up with the idea at the first Mayhem. They offered to edit it for us.
SM: What authors were invited to contribute? And how did you choose what stories you'd use?
JK: All of the authors who attended the first Mayhem (at least that was the idea when Bob presented it) were invited to donate a new short story or give reprint permission to an older one to the anthology. As far as I know, all the stories and/or permissions that were submitted made it to the final anthology.
SM: What types of mysteries are represented? Do they run the gamut from cozy to hard-boiled?
JK: They pretty much run the gamut. There's one by Lee Killough that incorporates some other-worldly features and one by Marty and Annette Meyers that is definitely noir. All of them are very good and we're very lucky to have them in our first anthology.
SM: Any stories that surprised you?
JK: The endings on a couple of them surprised me. Laurel B. Schunk's, "The Mulberry Ride," has a very unusual ending. The story has a kind of ethereal mood to it, but the ending really brings you down to earth. Rhys Bowen and Lance Zarimba both use humor to a good effect.
SM: How did you select a printer to actually put the product together? What was it like working with them to make the anthology as good as it could be?
JK: We had started the project with the idea of using iUniverse as the publisher since they were out of Lincoln, NE, but had a problem trying to get them use a corporate author. So, I started emailing other e-publishers to see what they would and wouldn't do. I finally happened upon bookpublisher.com and was assured by Summer Mullins that a corporate author was infinitely doable. There was a delay in publishing which upset some people, but it was not unavoidable. Since the Library had never published anything before, there was much back and forthing between publisher and the City lawyer to get the contract to abide with the City ordinances. Some items of the contract had to be negotiated so that the laws of the City of Omaha were not compromised. Some time was also spent in trying to find someone to convert the printed pages into an electronic format for the publisher. I also proofed the electronic format before it was sent to the publisher and have proofed the anthology from the publisher twice to try and make sure that everything is as the writers had it. I have nightmares about missing something, but did the best I could. It was a joy to work with Summer Mullins at Bookpublisher.com. She was very responsive to all of our requests and was very patient with me and all of my questions. She was very receptive to having one of our staff submit a cover for the anthology too.
SM: How can readers purchase a copy of the anthology? How will the library benefit from the proceeds?
JK: Once it is ready, the book will be available from Ingram (for libraries), Amazon.com and bn.com. We will have all of the information available also at this year's Mayhem in the Midlands convention (see www.omaha.lib.ne.us/mayhem/mayhem.html for convention information). All proceeds from the sale of the anthology will go to the Mayhem in the Midlands account so that we can keep bringing you the convention each year. So, buy many and buy often! The anthology will make a great birthday present, anniversary present, Christmas present, etc.
SM: What did you learn from this experience?
JK: Patience! Although now that we have the contract in place with bookpublisher.com, any other anthologies/books that we will do will have a shorter time in the production. As I said before, the ironing out of the contract to work with the City ordinances took the longest time.
SM: Any final words?
JK: Just to thank all of the authors who donated the great stories for the anthology and those who support us by attending Mayhem in the Midlands. It has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations and we hope to continue bringing it to people for a long time.
SM: Amen to that!
The Mayhem in the Midlands convention is one that I always look forward to attending. It takes place annually in Omaha, Nebraska, in late May and is a small, well-organized event that allows readers and authors to share their love of mystery fiction. At the first Mayhem three years ago, writers Robert Randisi and Christine Matthews came up with an idea: to have attending authors donate stories to be placed in an anthology. The proceeds would go to the Omaha Public Library to help underwrite the costs of their sponsorship of Mayhem in the Midlands.
Finally, the product is available to readers and what a wonderful, worthwhile anthology it is (and I'm not just saying that because I've got a story in there called "Stormy Weather"!). There is literally something to suit the taste of every mystery fan, from the witty and ironic "Do Have A Cup of Tea" by Rhys Bowen to "Flyover Country" by Barbara and Max Allan Collins which will have readers fondly recalling Shirley Jackon's classic, "The Lottery." Every story has a delicious twist at the end that's sometimes sad and sometimes sublime. Gayle Lynd's creepy offering, "Satan's Tears," gives another meaning to having family skeletons in the closet. The rest of the collection is equally worthy, including pieces familiar names like Michael Collins, Lee Killough, Annette and Martin Meyers, Denise Swanson, Gretchen Sprague and Mary Welk.
Mystery fans, this one's for you! And your purchase of the book will allow the fabulous Mayhem in the Midlands convention to be enjoyed by many for years and years to come.