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Chandler In The Classroom
About the Author: Susan Oleksiw is the author of three mystery series. Her short stories have appeared in AHMM, Level Best Books anthologies, and numerous other magazines and anthologies. Her nonfiction can be found in Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing and other publications.

Alicia dropped the last story manuscript onto Floyd’s desk. He always sat in the front row, so he was sure to be noticed when he had a critique of any of her instructions, which was often. It was a wonder she ever got through a class without losing it. Floyd lifted the cover sheet and glanced at the first page of text, where she wrote the grade. His upper lip curled in his usual disdain. The other students did the same and then spent a good three minutes paging through their creative work.

“Today we’ll talk about pace and how to use certain techniques to maintain it.” She waited while the students opened notebooks and pulled out pens, or flipped open iPads or laptops. A few books slid to the floor, a chair scraped on the linoleum.

It still surprised her how much noise a class of only six students could make. This adjunct gig was going to kill her. The pay was terrible, the students hostile, and the scheduling worse. Maybe she really should consider her brother-in-law’s offer to work in his lumber yard—the pay was good, the hours steady, and the office had AC. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Floyd just waiting to pounce.

“Get the dirty deed on the page as early as possible,” she said. “That’s standard advice.” Just then the classroom door banged into the wall. She hadn’t closed it, to keep the air circulating in the room, and now wondered if she should have. A young man in a hoodie and jeans slid in.

“This is English 203. Creative Writing.”

He scowled at her and slammed the door.

“Your name? The registration period is closed and I’ve already given the office the final class list.”

He glared at the students, who’d turned around to get a look at him. They weren’t very interested, but anything was better than being bored. He pulled out a gun.

“Raymond Chandler!” Floyd said. “That’s such a cliche.”

“It’s too small,” Randall said. Most of the students ignored Floyd—there was one in every class and he was the one in this one. But Randall enjoyed taking him on. “What you need is a Glock. You should have brought a Glock, man.” He turned to the front of the class. “But your point is well taken, Alicia.”

“Thank you,” Alicia said, but she had her eye on Floyd. He was up to something; she knew it. Maybe she could switch to teaching Romance fiction.

“There’s a problem with this technique,” Alicia said. “Anyone?”

Carol raised her hand and immediately launched into her favorite topic—cliches. In her view they were the same as vermin—bedbugs, fleas, rats, pythons, all of them.

“Shut up, Lady.” The young man waved his gun at her. Undeterred she reached around and pointed at him. “There’s no story if the only thing happening is someone acting like a jerk.”

“You can’t be rude in this class, young man,” Alicia said.

“Conflict has to be genuine to make a story work.” Carol turned back to the front of the room. “This is such a cliche. Floyd is right.”

“You’re agreeing with Floyd!” Toby threw his arms out and pretended to be aghast.

The classroom door banged open and one of the security guards took a few steps into the room looking quickly around. The new arrival slid into a chair next to Lenny in the last row, his gun positioned to face him but out of sight of the guard.

Alicia rested her hands on her hips. “If we have one more interruption tonight I may just call the class early and go home.”

“Sorry,” the guard said, his glance jumping from one student to the other. “Someone got in past security downstairs.”

“Well, go find him and leave us alone. Go on!” Alicia waved him out of the room. He left, closing the door behind him.

“All right. You were saying, Carol.”

“The plot has to emerge from the characters,” Carol said. “The reader doesn’t want to feel manipulated.”

“I dunno,” Lenny said. “I like the idea of a guy with a gun. But not this one.” He reached over and pulled the weapon out of the other man’s hand. “Now this is so—” He didn’t get to say what it was because the other man lunged at him, Lenny’s chair tipped over, the two men fell to the floor, and the gun slid to the front of the room. Floyd picked it up.

“I’ll take that, Floyd.”

This story appears in our DEC 2020 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Witty AND true!
By Susan Rickard

Such a clever story! So amusing and I wasn’t quite sure how it would end. I really enjoyed reading that.
By Teffy Wrightson

I enjoyed it. Right from the start you’re drawn in and feel like an unnoticed observer. Her final comment is perfect!
By Mickey Cherry

A fun read. and author pulled it off.
By Frances Dunn

I loved the meta-ness of the story, and how Alicia just took everything in stride.
By Erik Deckers

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