“Minnesota Not So Nice” writers reveal some of the mysteries behind mystery writing during a panel at the New Ulm Library.
NEW ULM — The New Ulm Public Library hosted a group of writers Thursday who were doing their best to kill the idea of Minnesota Nice.
A group of Minnesota mystery and thriller writers recently published an anthology called “Minnesota Not So Nice.” The book contains 18 short stories. Four of the authors featured in the anthology participated in a panel at the library. The panel included authors Michael Mallory, Douglas Dorow, Barbara Deese and Brian Lutterman.
The panel opened with each of the writers discussing their contribution to the book as well as the process of writing.
Mallory’s story “Random Harvest” is a garden theme thriller. Dorow’s story “The First Day” deals with a police chief’s first day at a new job that involves an ice bar and wedding gone wrong on a frozen lake. Deese’s “Cougar Crossing” is about a con artist who takes advantage of older women, but finds out he crossed the wrong women. Lutterman’s “The A to Z Solution” is a murder mystery that involves ice fishing.
Lutterman said he knew the title of the anthology would be “Minnesota Not So Nice” when he wrote his short story and he used ice fishing as a way to give the story a Minnesota flavor. However, in writing the story he realized that he was killing the idea of Minnesota Nice.
“The victim is basically Minnesota Nice,” he said. Lutterman explained the victim was the stereotype of the concept. He was kind only on a surface level and had become extremely irritating to others.
This led to a brief discussion amongst the panel on the nature of Minnesota Nice. Deese said that in her experience people found Minnesota Nice to be a form of passive-aggressiveness.
She said if Edgar Allen Poe was from Minnesota, the Raven would have said “Never Mind!”
The first question posed to the panel was whether it was harder to write a short story or a novel.
The panel agreed the short story was harder because of the limitations. Dorow said in a short story there is no room for a secondary plot. Usually, after completing the first draft of a short story, it needs to be cut down to fit the format.
He said in a short story, “all words matter.”
Deese compared writing to painting with the short story being an abstract painting. It is a minimalist work of art made from the shortest strokes.
“Every word in a short story is working toward the ending,” Mallory said. This is especially difficult in the mystery genre when the solution of the mystery comes at the end.
This led into the next panel question, the writers were asked if they plan out their stories.
Lutterman said he needed to know where the story was going before he wrote. This sometimes meant researching writing but he said he enjoyed the process.
Deese said she usually writes by the seat of her pants, saying, “Sometimes the ending surprises me.”
She remembers needing to re-write a book because the villain’s backstory was too compelling. She couldn’t let a character this good go to prison and that required significant changes to the story.
Dorow wished he could plot his stories in advance, but said his attempts to plan failed. Typically he has the beginning planned out but finds the ending in the process.
This led Deese to ask the panel if they developed the story through the characters or plot.
Deese, Lutterman and Dorow said they all wrote for the character. They believed the characters moved the plot more than anything.
Mallory described his writing as slow and fussy. He said the art of writing is re-writing. He typically completes multiple drafts of his stories but said he needs to know the ending before he can start creating.
The topic of research came up multiple times with the panel. Mallory asked if any of the panel had ever discovered a piece of information in research that was so perfect it needed to be in the book.
Mallory said his research into ravens was used in a mystery. He was surprised to learn ravens were the only birds that flew toward gunshots because they have learned it usually means a hunter has killed an animal and they might be able to feed on what is left over.
Dorow warned against putting too much research into a story or it could become a documentary and that’s not what the readers want.
Deese said she had used information from newspaper articles or historic events to inspire characters and plot details.
Lutterman said he needed to research computer hacking and cell phone tracing for different stories. He said it was a little frightening to learn what could be done with technology.
The panel was asked when they know to show a draft of a story to someone for review.
Deese said she used critique groups early on to help her complete stories. She has found that it is best to have a group with a balance of men and women to make sure the story reads true for both genders.
Dorow said he began with critique groups but is starting to use beta readers.
Mallory said the first draft is usually bad. He usually waits to show others a story until it is as complete as possible.
The panel was sponsored by The Twin Cities Chapter of Sisters in Crime in partnership with the New Ulm Public Library.
The book “Minnesota Not So Nice” is now available for purchase in paperback and for an e-reader.
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