Today, Hartford Books Examiner extends virtual greetings to Connecticut’s own Ang Pompano.
Pompano is a contributor to “Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Red Dawn” (Level Best Books), which was published last week. He writes short mystery fiction and has previously had stories included in the Level Best anthologies “Still Waters,” “Deadfall,” and “Stone Cold.” In addition, he has published academic pieces on teaching detective fiction and holds a CAS from Wesleyan University, where he had a concentration in writing. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, Pompano serves as the New England Crime Bake AV Guru and the treasurer of Sisters in Crime New England.
“Red Dawn,” which was edited by Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, and Leslie Wheeler, and also features Connecticut authors Roberta Isleib, Chris Knopf, Alan McWhirter, and Vy Kava; the collection has been well received by critics. Bill Crider of Mystery Scene Magazine called the collection “hard to beat.” Further, Brenda Scott, Manchester Examiner, enthused, “the most cleverly written, thought-provoking crime stories ever assembled in one collection” while Christine Zibas of Reviewing the Evidence praised, “guaranteed to make readers smile by its sheer cleverness alone.”
From the publisher:
Red Sky at morning– Sailors take warning.
Red Dawn brings new meaning to the old sailors’ adage with thirty-three brand new stories from some of New England’s most acclaimed mystery writers, along with several exciting new voices.
Some spine-tingling, some rib tickling, from cons and capers to conundrums and classic whodunnits, Level Best Books thirteenth annual anthology presents a boatload of the best in original regional crime writing.
Batten down the hatches!
Now, Ang Pompano invites readers to venture below the surface …
John Valeri: “Red Dawn” marks the final Level Best anthology. What has been your involvement in these books through the years – and how do you see this collection as representing an evolution?
Ang Pompano: John, there was some big news at Crime Bake last weekend. This will NOT be the last Level Best anthology! The retiring editors Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, and Leslie Wheeler announced that there will be a new collection in 2016. Kimberly Gray, Verena Rose, Harriette Sackler, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, all well-known members of the mystery community will be at the helm. This is important news for writers because there are so few markets for short stories today. Especially with presses which are recognized by MWA. This is also good news for readers because Level Best has traditionally been very selective about picking stories for the anthology. Just look at the list of award winning authors in this year’s edition, “Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Red Dawn.” I really feel honored to be in such good company.
My involvement with Level Best goes way back to the original editors Kate Flora, Ruth McCarty, and Susan Oleksiw when my story “The Copycat Didn’t Have Nine Lives” appeared in “Still Waters.” Then “Promises to Keep” was included in their collection “Deadfall.” Back then my stories were more on the humorous side with amateur detective Quincy Lazzaro. I didn’t always make the cut. Then the current editors, Mark, Kat, Barb, and Leslie, liked my detective character Mike St. Martin and “Sand Bar” was included in “Stone Cold.” It has a little more of a noir feel to it. Now “The Bucket List” with one woman private eye agency Nike DeNardo is in “Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Red Dawn.” As Nike puts it, she was named after the missile not the goddess. That tells you a little bit about her. I’m excited about the character and have another story in which she is featured out there. We will see what happens with that.
To get back to the next generation of Level Best editors, I’d like to say that they are following two amazing teams of editors and I wish them luck on putting their own mark on Level Best.
JV: Tell us about the inspiration for your story, “The Bucket List.” Where did the story come from – and what do you find to be the key(s) to plotting twists that are creative without coming off as contrived?
AP: The inspiration for “The Bucket List” goes back some time. My wife, Annette, and I used to go to a restaurant on the shoreline that had a live jazz band on Wednesday nights. Every week we would see this couple that must have remembered when the songs we were hearing were new. They would get up and dance every number as if they were still bobby soxers. We’d say, “That’s how I want to grow old” and I’d wonder what their story was. I tried writing a story about them but it didn’t work because I wasn’t getting to what was the driving force behind them. Then I thought up this young detective, Nike DeNardo. When I meshed her story with theirs it all came together.
As far as plot twists, to keep a story interesting you have to change it up at the point where you hope the reader thinks they know everything there is to know. At that point the reader might even think it is a good story. What you are hoping for is that after you throw in the plot twist they will think it is a great story. And you are right about not have the twist come off as contrived. I had a little trouble with the final plot twist in “The Bucket List.” How could one character pull it off without the other character suspecting something was up? That’s where my writing group, Christine Falcone and Roberta Isleib, came to my rescue with suggestions on how it could be done. With their help and a few ideas on polishing from Annette I finally had a story that I felt comfortable with submitting to Level Best.
JV: What are the unique challenges and joys of writing short stories? How have you found this discipline to compare to that of writing longer works?
AP: Gayle Lynds, David Handler, Chris Knopf, and Chris Holm, talked about that on a panel I moderated at Crime Bake. These are award winning writers, four of the best around today, and to a person they agreed that writing a short story is not easy. In a longer work you have time to play with minor characters and subplots. You also have many scenes, each of which has its own story arc, to develop the plot. Not so with a short story. I remember once the editors asked me to cut down a story of more than 5,000 words to less than 4,000. I was throwing out things that I loved but in the end I had a much better story.
JV: These anthologies feature regional crime writing. In what ways does setting influence story – and what do you find particularly alluring about New England?
AP: Sometimes setting is so important that it almost becomes a character in itself. You mentioned New England. It’s not really a short story, but can you imagine Ethan Frome taking place in the Caribbean? The themes in a story may be universal, but the way the characters think, act, live, love, and die all originate in the setting. As for what’s alluring about New England, it has four seasons which means four different moods. Plus it has centuries of history to draw from.
JV: What anthologies (other than “Red Dawn”) and/or short stories would you recommend as exemplifying the craft?
AP: Some of the best anthologies out there, besides those produced by Level Best Books, come from Mystery Writers of America, various chapters of Sisters in Crime, and conventions such as Malice Domestic. I like them because they contain stories from up and coming writers as well as some of the more established writers.
JV: Leave us with a teaser: what are you working on now?
AP: I recently started working with an excellent agent, the amazing Paula Munier. She has been giving me suggestions on how to get a manuscript in shape. If I succeed who knows what will happen after that?
With thanks to Ang Pompano for his generosity of time and thought.