Thursday, November 10, 2016

In Love With Two Men … Dabbling in Crime

It’s my great pleasure to welcome friend, fellow blogger, and author Shelly Reuben to Thoughts in Progress today to talk about the two men she loved growing up and how they influenced her writing.

I’ll give you a clue as to who the two men were, their connect to short stories led to Shelly’s latest release, DABBLING IN CRIME: Death of the Violinist and Other Stories. You may remember I review this fascinating book back on Oct. 31. If you missed the review (or just want to read it again), you can find it HERE. Any guesses as to who the men were? Well, read on to find out their names.

DABBLING IN CRIME: Death of the Violinist and Other Stories by Shelly Reuben
◊ Paperback: 230 pages
◊ Publisher: BookBaby (November 1, 2016)
◊ Language: English
◊ ISBN-10: 0988418142
◊ ISBN-13: 978-0988418141


          During the period when Shelly Reuben was investigating arson as a private detective, she came across individuals and events that tantalized her mind and touched her heart. Add to that a vivid imagination and an indelible belief that, even if virtue does not always triumph, it will eventually manage to hobble, stumble or stride across the finish line—and you have these eleven stories.
          Originally published in The Forensic Examiner and The Evening Sun. Within the pages of Dabbling in Crime, meet: • Dante No-Last-Name-No-Middle-Initial, a throwaway kid hiding under a music school staircase, with a damaged heart and the talent of a virtuoso violinist. • Wealthy, beloved Jimmy Lillyjohn, burned to death on the top floor of his mansion after a lighted cigarette falls from his fingers onto his lonely mattress. • Mountainous, mean-spirited Hilda Pomfrey, who bullies everyone in her sphere, including her tree-loving, milquetoast husband Herb. • Honorable Police Chief Joseph Steinbeck, who reluctantly participates in a library event, and is almost murdered when he is checked out as a “Human Book.” • Prosecutor Edward Nygh, who hides evidence of arson to convict the wrong man • Nygh's reluctant assistant who travels through time to revisit her past.

◊E-BOOK - $2.99 – Available from:
NOOKiTunes, and Kindle.       
◊Trade Paperback - $14.00 – Available from

Now please join me in giving a warm welcome to Shelly as she reveals who her two loves were (are). Welcome, Shelly.

I was in love with two men when I was growing up. One wrote stories. The other was a fictional hero. The writer was O. Henry. The hero was Cyrano de Bergerac, from the play by Edmund Rostand.

When I was very young and still reading books with a flashlight under my blanket after my mother told me to “turn out the lights and go to sleep,” I decided that Cyrano de Bergerac would become my spiritual lover and that O. Henry would be my spiritual father.  

A million years later, I still feel exactly the same.

Cyrano was a soldier, a swordsman, a fighter, and a poet. Above all else, though, he was proud of his independence and he was faithful to his soul. 

After having successfully fought a duel (while composing and reciting a ballad as he thrust his blade), Cyrano confided his philosophy to his best friend—in words so combatively exquisite that I copied them onto a card and put it on my desk. That card has been staring at me for pretty much my entire adult life. Some people have religions. I don’t. I have a writer’s manifesto, and I got it from my hero. 

Cyrano de Bergerac’s goal was:
To sing, to laugh, to dream
To walk in my own way and be alone,
Free, with a voice that means manhood – to cock my hat
Where I choose – At a word, a Yes, a No, 
To fight – or write.  To travel any road
Under the sun, under the stars, nor doubt
If fame or fortune lie beyond the bourne –
Never to make a line I have not heard
In my own heart; yet, with all modesty
To say: "My soul, be satisfied with flowers,
With fruit, with weeds even; but gather them
In the one garden you may call your own."

Following in Cyrano’s footsteps has given me the courage to write and to fail. To write more, and to fail more. Or, as Winston Churchill advised his countrymen during the darkest moments of World War II:

“Never give in – never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

Both of the passages I just quoted are fighting words. And big dreams—if you want to achieve them—are always fighting dreams. There is a scene in Cyrano de Bergerac where our hero, overjoyed by the belief that the woman he loves, loves him back, sings out:

“I am going to be a storm – a flame.  I need to fight whole armies all alone; I have ten hearts.  I have a hundred arms; I feel too strong to war with mortals – BRING ME GIANTS!”

When I was seventeen years old, in love with Cyrano and inspired by O. Henry, I, too, was willing to take on giants. Hero worship and inspiration can do that to a person. 

O. Henry did not write the Great American Novel, and his works are not included in the Harvard Classics or the Great Books of the Western World. He wrote stories. Short stories. Ah, but what incredible stories they were! His characters are brave, tender, imaginative, cunning, funny, romantic (always romantic!). And they are dreamers. His situations are sweet, sad, brave, tragic, noble, sometimes ridiculous, and often ironic.

Remember The Gift of the Magi—where the adoring wife sells her beautiful long hair to buy a gold watch chain for her husband—who has sold his gold watch to buy expensive combs for her beautiful long hair?

Or The Last Leaf—about a fragile young artist who believes she will live only until the last leaf has fallen off the tree outside her window, and the old artist who sneaks outside on that icy, rainy night to paint a leaf—his masterpiece—on the wall behind the tree. Tricked into believing that the last leaf has not fallen, the young artist holds on until morning. Day dawns, hope returns, and she recovers. What happens to the devoted old artist, though? He catches pneumonia and dies!

O. Henry had it all and he put it all into his stories. Poignancy. Tenderness. Compassion. And brilliant, brilliant structure. Beginnings. Middles. Ends. No unresolved conflicts. No loose ends. 

He was my teacher and my master. I loved what he did and how he did it. Because of him, short stories became my first love. 

Over a period of twelve years, I wrote over 150 of them. Only one was published (I got $50 for it). All the rest were rejected. 


Because my timing was off. Most of the magazines that had launched so many brilliant careers—Saturday Evening Post; Collier’s; Woman’s Home Companion, Scribner’s—had gone belly up. Television killed them.   

Given those depressing realities, you would think I’d have had the sense to move on to something else. But that isn’t what happened. I was 27 years old, and like many young people, I thought that I was immortal. I extended that line of reasoning to my adorable family, and I believed that they would live forever, too.

Then my brother died in a boating accident. It broke all of our hearts, and it preyed on all of our minds.  At night, I did not want to think about him dying, so I assigned myself a project. The assignment was to plot a LONG BOOK. One with clues, red herrings, suspects, and an elaborate plot. It would have to be a mystery, because crime novels require logic, and logic would keep me from thinking sad thoughts. 

So that is what I did.  It was my very first mystery, the title was Murder at the Procrastinator Club, and it was a truly terrible book.  But it set me on the path to writing longer and better fiction.  In time, more books followed, I got published, and I became a novelist. I am still a novelist. But…

What is that I peeking out at me from the shelves of my neighborhood bookstore? What was it that was recently reviewed in Mason Canyon’s wonderful blog?

The title is Dabbling in Crime. It appears to be a collection of short stories. 

And…well, what do you know? It’s by me!

Over the years, I have learned with exquisite clarity that to get into an exclusive party to which one has not been invited, it is often necessary to sneak in through the back door.  And that is exactly what I did five years ago, when out of the blue, I was seized by an overwhelming impulse to write short fiction again. 

But by then, I was an established author, a certified fire investigator, and a private detective. I was living an exciting life, I wrote articles for technical magazines, I had credentials, and I had confidence. Yes. Short stories were still looked upon as literature’s neglected kid brother, but neglect didn’t bother me. Like my childhood hero, I had ten hearts. I had a hundred arms. I whipped out my psychic sword, grabbed for a telephone, punched in some numbers, and convinced my editor at The Forensic Examiner to publish one short story in each issue of their magazine. Then I did the same with the editor of my column in The Evening Sun.

Eleven stories later, I put them together in a collection called Dabbling in Crime.

Over the course of my writing life, Cyrano de Bergerac has always been my inspiration. He still is. But it was O. Henry who stole my heart and taught me how to achieve my dreams. 

His “How To” list is sweet, simple, and effective.

O. Henry wrote: “I'll give you the whole secret to short story writing. Here it is. Rule 1: Write stories that please yourself. There is no Rule 2.”

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2016

Shelly, thanks for joining us today and sharing this insight into your writing. I completely understand how both of these men could have an impact on how and what you write. They do inspire dreams.

Now for those who aren’t familiar with Shelly, here’s a bit of background on her.

Author Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben’s first novel, Julian Solo, was nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for an Edgar Award and by the Libertarian Futurist Society for a Prometheus Award.  Her crime novel, Origin and Cause, was nominated by the Maltese Falcon Society of Japan for a Falcon award, and her adult fable, The Man With the Glass Heart, was recently made a Freedom Book Club selection.
Shelly writes two newspaper columns and regularly contributes short stories to The Evening Sun and HuntingtonNews.Net.  Her fiction has been published by Scribner, Harper, Harcourt, Dodd, Mead & Company, Blackstone Audio Books, and more.  

Although her subject matter is highly fictionalized, Shelly is a licensed private detective in “real life,” and her past experiences as a certified fire investigator often inspire her work.

For more on Shelly and her writing, visit her website and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Thanks so much for stopping by today during Shelly’s visit. Was there someone (real or fictional) you loved growing up that inspired you and/or continues to inspire you?


  1. What a fascinating insight into Shelly's motivation. And inspiration.
    I was brought up with O Henry's short stories. Beautiful, powerful things.
    And I love that Cyrano de Bergerac quote - which I didn't know.
    Thank you so much.

  2. Very sorry you lost your brother that way.
    Fictional characters can be just as powerful an influence as a real person. If they motivate us in a positive way, that's all that matters though.

  3. Nice to see Dabbling in Crime here! It's a fine collection of stories. ANd I really enjoyed learning more about your background, Shelly. I'm sorry, too, at the loss of your brother. Thank you, both.

  4. Shelly, thanks again for visiting with us today and sharing this insight. So sorry for the loss of your brother but I would say your writing is a loving tribute to his memory. Wishing you much success.

    Hi, all! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I have to laugh. When I was a kid, I did the same thing - reading with a flashlight in bed, when I was supposed to be sleeping.

    Wishing you the best of luck with your book!

  6. I remember The Gift of The Magi very well. Made me cry and laugh and believe that everyone had a soulmate that would propel you to great feats of love. Okay, maybe not exactly that, but to be loved that much... it was a beautiful thing.

  7. When the right fictional character strikes a cord within us they can have just as big an influence on us as any real person indeed.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.