A new book! Just in time for Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, New Year, Saturnalia, Jolabokaflod, or whatever other reason you might choose!
A Murder of Crows, Publisher: Darkhouse Books (October 9, 2019)
“What do you call a group of writers tasked with penning tales of crime that must include animals and their collective names?
21 short stories that each have a crime with a surprising animal-related twist—tingle of tarantulas, a cling of koalas, a tickle of goldfish, a clowder of cats, a pack of dogs, a waddle of penguins, a murder of crows, and more. No animals are harmed—the humans don’t fare so well.
Authors include: Jack Bates, Michael Bracken, Jeanne DuBois, Kaye George, EJ McFall, Kari Wainwright, John M. Floyd, Heidi Hunter, Jacqueline Seewald, Kathryn Gerwig, Earl Staggs, Marianne Wilski Strong, Damien Mckeating, C.A. Fehmel, Linda Kay Hardie, Helen O’Neill, Shielia J. Rizer, Maddi Davidson, Denise Johnson, Sandra Murphy, J.B. Toner”
As both an animal and a mystery lover, A Murder of Crows(Stories by various authors; Darkhorse Books) is an anthology that I’m very much looking forward to reading. Here is my interview the editor, author, and fellow member of the Cat Writers Association, Sandra Murphy.
Thanks so much Sandra for talking with us today. Your title, A Murder of Crows, is perfect! But is there actually a story that involves crows?
Sandra: The last story is about crows and is titled The Kindly Dark by J. B. Toner. It’s a fitting end to the book, not just because of the last line but because it is so beautifully written. His descriptions are so visual, you feel like you’re standing next to the characters.
The stories had to incorporate the collective names of groups of animals. We have dodos, canaries, blackbirds, bats, bees, bears, wolves, koalas, goldfish, jellyfish, tarantulas, spiders, goats, dogs, cats, toads, alpaca, martens, monkeys, beagles who sniff out contraband at the airport, and crows. The authors chose their animal and I was very pleased at the variety.
Are all the stories mysteries?
Sandra: All the stories involve a crime, from smuggling to theft to murder. Although some of the people didn’t end so well, the main rule was, no animals could be maimed or killed. That extended to fur trim on a coat or a BLT for lunch. We changed one character’s job from dog catcher to soda jerk (the story is set in the 40s) because it implied an unhappy ending.
This would make a great present! Who do you think would enjoy it the most?
Sandra: Mystery readers who enjoy something a little different, time-challenged readers who like to read a story while waiting for an appointment or kid to get out of school, someone who likes a lot of variety— one story is in the 40s as I said, one in the 30s, settings include a library, a lab, the airport, an island, an animal sanctuary, dog park, a church, and more.
Sandy, you are the editor of the anthology. Tell us a little about yourself and what it’s like to put together an anthology?
Sandra: This is the first anthology I’ve edited. I started out writing magazine articles about cats and dogs, moved on to include all animals and then eco-friendly topics. My next two articles are about horses. I’ve edited the SPAWNews (small publisher, artists, writers network monthly online newsletter) for thirteen years. My collection of short stories, From Hay to Eternity: Ten Tales of Crime and Deception is available from Untreed Reads or the usual outlets.
For Crows we received 72 submissions, totaling 275,000 words. I read them all. Some were rejected at the first reading because they didn’t follow the guidelines— an animal was killed, it wasn’t a mystery, the collective name was a passing remark instead of part of the story. If the problem could be fixed, I gave the author a chance to do so. Some worked out, some not. Once the first rejections went out, it got harder. A lot of the stories were really good but just didn’t fit with the others chosen.
I chose stories of varying lengths so some would be quicker reads, some with more action, others more character-driven. There are first time authors and well-established writers. It’s a nice mix overall. I don’t know how many times I read each of the final stories during edits.
It wasn’t just choosing the stories and fixing typos, I cut parts that didn’t work or asked for more details, made suggestions for cover art, wrote the blurb for Amazon, the back cover, and chose the order of appearance. I learned a lot and had a great time doing it.
How did you come up with this idea?
Sandra: Kaye George is a prolific author (she has a new series beginning in March, Revenge is Sweet, available for pre-order). She said on Facebook, “I’m a mystery writer and I have a murder of crows in my back yard.” I suggested an anthology of collective names, but she didn’t have time. Andrew MacRae of Darkhouse Books saw our conversation and suggested I do the anthology. Since I’ve reviewed a couple of his books, he knows my writing.
Are you planning to do any more anthologies?
Sandra: The second anthology is underway. Submissions just closed. Rebellion, Revolution and Rock ‘n Roll—The Sixties in Music is the tentative title, featuring songs released in the 60s, with a crime of course. I thought I’d get a lot of protest songs or British invasion tunes but the choices have surprised and delighted me. It’s going to be hard to choose.
Hopefully, Rebellion will publish late spring/early summer 2020, and we’ll do another decade of music—the Roaring Twenties, the Big Band era, the Fifties, probably the 70s since much of the music I swore came out in the sixties, didn’t. We could go on to country, jazz, and show tunes.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about A Murder of Crows?
Sandra: In general, books run 80,000 words, giving the author plenty of room to tell backstory, motive, offer a list of suspects, build the setting, and let the reader get to know the characters, their friends, enemies, and family. With a short story, the author has 6,000 words maximum, 2,500 minimum. It’s fascinating to see how a big story can be packed into a small space. What a wonderful job I have!
Thanks so much, Sandy. Let us know when the next book is out! 60’s music and crime sounds like great fun!
You can buy A Murder of Crows here: https://tinyurl.com/u3sxqp6
Contact Sandra at firstname.lastname@example.org