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Mystery Writing, by the numbers

The 2019 “Six-Word Mystery” contest sponsored by the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Mystery Writers of America drew more than 200 entries from ten states and three countries. The results of this year’s competition were decided in December, and the winner is… me! By the slimmest of margins, my numerical noir finished on top. Sex, violence and justice combined to pique the imagination of the judges and voters:

36D, .44 magnum, 20 to life.

I thought that toxic tales might be fare better than this by-the-numbers nano-novel. However, the judges were not captivated by poisoned plots this year. Nonetheless, I was rather fond of:

Lilly’s dead? Roundup®, the usual suspect.


Jiminy missing, vial of DDT found.

Perhaps my religious themes were just a bit too sacrilegious, although it’s fun to push boundaries of both humor and propriety:

First whodunit: God, “Where’s Abel?”


Altar boy: WWJD? Killed priest painlessly.

I wouldn’t question the literary acumen of my mystery-writing peeps in their choices, but the following micro-mysteries tickled my sense of dark humor and morbid imagination:

Cindy’s boyfriends sure don’t last long (by John Stith)

— a coldly objective and almost innocent observation filled with dry wit and grim foreboding

One of her husbands is missing (by Kristin Horton)

— a wonderfully “wait a minute—what?!”-story with polygamously manslaughtering potential

I can walk home from here (by Kristin Horton)

— a rainy night, a desolate roadside, a desperate soon-to-be-victim in six, chilling words

A spot of tea, sickly sweet (by Nana Herron)

— understated evil in this ever-so-proper moment captures the essence of a “cozy” mystery

Call came from inside the precinct (by Cynthia Kuhn)

— love the goosebump-raising realization that the killer is hiding behind the ‘thin blue line’

Brown eyes stay lovely in formaldehyde (by Margaret Mizushima)

— the grisly quality combined with the twisted sense of romance evokes is deeply disturbing

I relish these tiny tales because they are imaginative co-creations of writers and readers, as the latter builds a whole world around the moment captured in a half-dozen words. In an era filled with a superabundance of verbiage, the constraint of six words reminds us of the power of what is not said—the literary equivalent of white space in the visual arts or silence in music. Rather than spoon-feeding the reader, a writer of ultra-short stories must trust the reader’s intelligence and creativity.

So next year, join the fun!

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