Stacy Woodson is a multi-award-winning crime fiction writer and a US Army veteran. Memories of her time in the military are often a source of inspiration for her stories. She made her crime fiction debut in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine's Department of First Stories and won the 2018 Readers Award. It was the second time in the award's 34-year history that a debut story took first place.
I loved reading when I was a kid. I used to ride my bike to the library. My father attached two collapsible baskets to my ten-speed so I could carry books home. I dabbled in creative writing, simple stories. Nothing remarkable.
In elementary school, my parents gave me a typewriter for Christmas. It was red and only printed capital letters. My stories often had offset words and characters who looked like they were yelling. But I didn’t care. I loved that typewriter.
In junior high, I competed in an academic Olympics and won a silver medal for creative writing. I can’t remember the title of the story or the plot. Just the creepy attic with some sinister meaning.
And that’s where I left my writing, packed away in the attic (so to speak), for nearly thirty years.
I returned to stories when I was on maternity leave with my son. I didn’t have a specific reason (at least I didn’t think I did at the time). But looking back now, I know why.
I had graduated college, earned a master’s degree, served in the military, jumped out of airplanes, deployed to countries around the globe (including Iraq in support of the Global War on Terrorism). I knew what it was like to lead a company of soldiers, to be a businesswoman, a wife, a mother. I’d experienced joy, fear, loss and met people from different countries and backgrounds and life experiences. All moments that shaped me. And now I had something to write about.
I took craft classes, attended conferences, joined writing groups, finished a novel that won an award and secured an agent—a novel that didn’t sell. An experience that made me take a hard look at my craft, and I knew I could be better.
So, I went back to work and took a deep dive into crime fiction, studying different subgenres hoping to gain a clearer understanding of structure, nuance, and reader expectations. I took screenwriting classes to improve pacing, plot, emotional wounds, and character arcs. Then, I applied these lessons to short stories—a form I fell in love with.
In 2018, I submitted “Duty, Honor, Hammett” to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s Department of First Stories. To my surprise and delight, it was accepted and later won the readers award that year. It was the second time in the award's 34-year history that a debut story took first place. This opened doors and created opportunities for me. I will always be grateful to Janet Hutchings for taking a chance on my story.
I write short crime fiction stories that range from cozy you-solve-it mysteries to hardboiled noir and psychological horror. Currently, I’m co-editing two crime fiction anthologies, writing a fantasy thriller, a TV pilot, and several short stories. Although I read widely, I generally like to write twisty, suspenseful stories that have a quick pace.
I write short stories, novels, and screenplays.
I find inspiration for characters and story ideas from seemingly ordinary moments—a conversation with a store clerk, a sign I see walking the dog, a person who sits near me on the train. Inspirational moments are all around us and often happen for me when I’m away from my desk and engaged with the world.
I’m a character driven writer and struggle at the beginning of a project until the protagonist’s goal, motivation, conflict, and stakes are clear. Then, I try to create universal moments that hopefully resonate with readers, so they keep turning the pages. I gravitate toward themes like redemption, right versus just, sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, forgiveness, familial relationships, and underdogs.
I love exploring characters and what drives choices people make. In my short fiction, I often write from the antagonist’s point of view. I enjoy finding universal moments that create empathy for darker characters.
Read widely. Write always. Be open to inspiration and collaboration. Join a community of writers. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my tribe. Don’t quit.
How do you overcome writer's block? Can you share personal strategies and experiences?
I wrote a guest post on Sleuthsayers about this topic for Michael Bracken (a fellow Storiaverse contributor):
I want to create compelling stories with memorable characters. Storiaverse’s innovative approach to storytelling and collaborative environment appealed to me. I’m excited to be part of it.
“Blood Moon Curse” is a psychological horror story about an urban legend, three college roommates, and fortune cookies with deadly predictions that come true. It takes place in the 1980s on a college campus on Halloween with nostalgic nods to that decade. I had fun building a story around fortune cookies with seemingly innocent predictions, reminding us that things aren’t always the way they appear. I saw the trailer today and was blown away by Simon’s animation. It’s incredible.
The partnership between short fiction and animation offers a multi-layered experience for readers. I love collaborating with creatives and telling a story that each of us couldn’t do on our own.
Diversity and representation in writing are extremely important. Recently, I applied for a screenwriting fellowship and was asked to name a film or TV show that inspired me, and I touched on this topic in my response.
My answer was GI Jane.
That’s right—GI Jane.
I cried when I watched the movie. Which seemed bizarre to my boyfriend at the time. And I didn’t really understand it either until twenty years later when I was watching Wonder Woman with my six-year-old daughter. I cried during that movie, too. (It was during the scene when the Amazonian women fought an epic battle. They were brave and powerful and elegant.) Maybe it took twenty years of maturity or having a daughter. But I finally understood why I was moved by both films.
It was the symbolism of it.
When I was growing up, I didn’t see female characters in films or books who had the kind of agency these women did. And for the first time, I truly understood the importance of representation in the entertainment industry.
As a result, I’m more thoughtful about this topic when I write, and I hope it’s reflected in my work.