Agatha Best Short Story Nominees

We asked the Agatha Award nominees in the Best Short Story Category the following question: what can you tell us about your title?

Art Taylor: “Better Days,” which appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, is the sequel to another story, “A Drowning at Snow’s Cut,” published in EQMM in 2011 and inspired by a boat trip that my dad and I had taken along the North Carolina coast. The father and son in these two stories are not my dad and me, I should stress, and “Better Days” wasn’t inspired by anything as specific as that boat trip. The title, however, is direct from my dad—a nod to something that he often said during tough times, about his confidence that there would indeed be better days ahead. “A Drowning at Snow’s Cut” was my dad’s favorite of my stories, but I never found out what he thought of “Better Days.” While I know he read the story, he died last June before we had a chance to discuss it—adding a sudden, unexpected poignancy to the title and the hope behind that phrase.

Barb Goffman: “Alex’s Choice” was originally called “A Bicycle Built for Woo-Woo.” I had been so proud of that title because the story involves a time-traveling bicycle so the pun worked perfectly. But, as was later pointed out to me, the title might make the story sound light, and this story is far more serious than that. So I eventually settled on “Alex’s Choice.” The story is about a twelve-year-old whose parents died in a terrible accident a decade before. That child now has the chance to go back in time to try to save them but is unexpectedly forced to make a choice that no one–let alone a child–should have to make. I expect the title will bring to mind the novel/movie Sophie’s Choice, which also involved a choice no one should have to make.

Cynthia Kuhn: One of the things I always love to discuss with students in classes is how their understanding of titles changed during their reading of a particular text. It’s fascinating to consider shifting perceptions of what at first seemed to be cut-and-dried. And that happens in the writing process, too. “The Blue Ribbon” occurred to me about halfway through the first draft and I put it in as a placeholder, thinking I’d replace it at the end of the process. However, as sometimes inexplicably happens, it began to shape the rest of the story on multiple levels, almost as though it were putting down roots.

Kaye George: The anthology was about those weird group names for animals. I had wanted to commit a crime with bees for a long time and found out that a group of bees is called a “grist” of bees. You’d think it would be a hive, right? Grist brought to mind grinding things up, and that helped with my story. This one was written for a set theme, which I like to do. I called it “A Grist of Bees” at first, but wanted to hold some of it back, figuring that most people don’t know that group name. So it became “Grist for the Mill.” I still tend to think of the other title first, but then I correct myself.

Shawn Reilly Simmons: I like titles that can have more than one meaning, and “The Last Word” fit perfectly for this story–which I came up with when I first sat down to write it. The setting is an upscale restaurant in New York where two old friends are sharing an elegant meal. The first is the chef-owner of the restaurant and the other his old friend from culinary school who is now a restaurant critic who has written a scathing review of his old friend’s establishment. I liked that the phrase “the last word” can mean the epitome of luxury or having the final say in a matter, and both definitions directly relate to my story.

You can read all of the nominated stories here! >


Dear Readers, what are some of your favorite titles–of short stories or novels? What is it that you like about them? OR Do you have any questions for the nominees?



37 thoughts on “Agatha Best Short Story Nominees

  1. Great insights. Thank you all for contributing to this post.

    I love any title with a pun but agree with Barb that it gives a certain expectation of lighthearted humor that a wouldn’t work for a darker story.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I love that moment in a story/book when you finally realize why the title is what it is. I’ve read a couple of your stories (the ones that were in Mystery Most Edible), and I can say the titles chosen are perfect. Good luck to all of you!

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Thanks for doing this, Cynthia. I see I mistyped my title! It’s “Grist for the Mill,” not of the mill. Love hearing the other title stories.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I’ve read these fab nominated short stories, as well as other work by each of you — and I’m in awe of your talent! Thanks so much for visiting with us today!

    Liked by 6 people

  5. This was so much fun! I loved learning where the titles to your fab stories come from.

    I’ve always loved the title of my fave book, Wuthering Heights. The word wuthering isn’t used anymore but it’s so descriptive even with being extinct. I want to bring it back!

    Liked by 6 people

  6. Thanks to all of you for visiting the Chicks today and explaining the titles to your amazing stories. Such a lot of talent in this years Agatha category!

    My favorite book title is Finnegans Wake. No, there’s no apostrophe, so Joyce could be telling us that the Finnegans are waking up, or ordering the Finnegans to awaken. But it’s a reference to the folk song “Finnegan’s Wake” (with an apostrophe) as well.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Being Irish, I went right to the “other” wake. I didn’t learn of the (real) song until so much later (Irish Rovers rendition?). But there’s another one called Finnegan’s Ball, I think. Boy, is that one you can’t get the tune out of your mind.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. So happy to be here, Leslie! I THINK I read that in high school, but don’t remember a thing about it. Maybe I’ll have to look it up, as soon as I have spare time. (8-10 years, I think.)

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I love discovering the origin of titles, and these are all so wonderful! They hook me immediately, providing delicious story questions that make me want to know more. Brilliant!

    I’m also a fan of surprising titles and those that give a glimpse of what’s to come. A Confederacy of Dunces comes to mind, as does Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (different though they are!!).

    Congratulations to all you amazing nominees!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I love titles–and you all have such great ones! Congrats to this fabulous group of esteemed nominees. My absolute fave short story title (not counting yours, of course :-)) is Eudora Welty’s “Why I live at the P.O.” My Frosh English 102 professor was an avid supporter of the yes-there-can-be-humor-in-literature camp. I made him a professor-suspect in one of my books (but his character had no sense of humor whatsoever in his 5,000-page high-romance novel).

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Frederic Dannay, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and the Art of the Detective Short Story by Laird R. Blackwell (McFarland) Blonde Rattlesnake: Burmah Adams, Tom White, and the 1933 Crime Spree that Terrified Los Angeles by Julia Bricklin (Lyons Press) Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep (Knopf) The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women by Mo Moulton (Basic Books) The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt)


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