Saturday, August 6, 2016


John M. Daniel’s Blog
August 6, 2016

Those of us who are hardcore readers and hard-working writers of mystery fiction are obsessed with death. We look to murder, usually premeditated, violent murder, for our entertainment and for our art and sometimes for a bit of financial reward. We live by the sword.
I find this a bit strange. As a publisher of mystery fiction, and as a networker with other mystery writers, I’ve come to know dozens of mystery writers, and I must say they are, as a group, kind, considerate, gentle, peaceful people. So where do they get this urge to kill people on paper?
I might as well look close to home for the answer. True confessions: I’m a pacifist. I haven’t hit anybody in anger or even in self-defense since before I survived puberty. I feel guilty when I lethally trap rats in Susan’s greenhouse. Furthermore, I’ve never witnessed a fistfight, I abhor professional boxing, and get this: I’ve seen only one dead body in all my seventy-four years, and he wasn’t a murder victim, just somebody glad to be done with illness.
And yet, I’ve done my share of ruthless killing on paper. I drowned one fellow in a hot tub (Play Melancholy Baby). I poisoned one lovely woman with roofies in champagne (The Poet’s Funeral). I roasted a guy well-done in a burning warehouse (Vanity Fire), and I left one poor man propped up against a Dumpster with a kitchen knife stuck in his throat (Behind the Redwood Door).
Whence all this mayhem?
Perhaps it’s because all us mystery readers and writers honor death. Like members of all species animal and vegetable, we have in our nature, and have reinforced in our nurturing, an aversion to death: we fear it, avoid it, deny it, and try to escape it. But those of us who read and write about death know that Death is the fairest of adversaries. It comes to us all, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak. It’s patient. It’s sometimes kind. Yes, it’s a bit scary, but it will give us peace at last.
On that warm and chilly note, allow me to entertain you with seven stories about death and dying, each only 55 words long.

Death is for the Living
“Martha, after you die I’m going to marry Alice.”
“My hospice nurse?”
“We want your blessing, Martha. Life’s for the living, y’know.”
Martha’s tears dropped from her cheeks to the pillow.
After Ralph left the house, Martha rose and spent the rest of her life swallowing Ralph’s medications and refilling his bottles with her own.

My Name’s Larry, and I...
I used to be an alcoholic. Booze was all I lived for.
Then one fateful day, my marriage broke up, I lost my job, and I got in a horrible automobile accident.
I haven’t had a drink since that day. That day changed me forever.
I don’t miss the alcohol. I just miss being alive.

Injury to Insult
“You’re foolish to insult a witch,” I scolded.
“You’re no witch.”
“You think not?”
“Prove it,” he sneered.
So I unlaced my bodice.
His jaw dropped.
His eyes fell.
His heart sank.
I kicked his heart, his eyes, and his jaw under the bed, then said to the rest of him, “I rest my case.”

The Second Course...
The unfaithful slave was ordered to choose between two doors. Behind one, the girl he loved; behind the other, a ravenous tiger.
Hearing growls behind the left-hand door, he opened the right. Entered.
Slam. Click.
The room was empty.
There was no partition between the two chambers.
Next door, a tiger was finishing his appetizer.

Catch and Release
He wobbled into school, still flinching.
“I was caught,” he said. “Thrown on a pile of dead bodies. It was all dry. All hard. I couldn’t breathe. Monsters squeezed me and ripped my mouth apart and threw me away. Brrrghhh!”
“They’d caught their limit,” I said. “You were lucky.”
He shuddered. “The others were luckier.”

Independence Day
I watched the little kid stamping up and down the sidewalk all morning. Finally I asked, “What are you doing?”
“Getting free of my mother,” he answered.
“You’re running away?”
“I can’t,” he whined. “My dumb mom won’t let me cross the street.”
“So how—”
He grinned and resumed his march. “I’m stepping on cracks.”

…And Have  Nice Day
Folks, this is your captain speaking. We’re experiencing some difficulty with three of our engines, and we’re going to have to lose some weight.
So I have volunteered to take the parachute and jump. Automatic pilot should keep you flying for a while, and eventually you’ Sort of.
Enjoy the rest of your flight.


Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for September’s 99-word story submissions is September 1. The stories will appear on my blog post for September 10, and will stay posted for a week.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to:

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a story inspired by the following sentence: The Princess looked again into the mirror and said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”


Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week.

Photo by Clark Lohr, taken at
Left Coast Crime convention


  1. Another great post, John. I know so many mystery writers by now but don't think I can or want to try writing in that genre. Thanks for the September prompt; I'll spread the word. XXX