An Interview with Holly West, editor of KILLIN’ TIME IN SAN DIEGO

I am beyond thrilled to have a story included in Killin’ Time in San Diego, an upcoming anthology edited by Holly West, and featuring twenty of today’s best crime and mystery writers.

With contributions from #1 New York Times bestseller C.J. Box and the Edgar-award-winning author Naomi Hirahara, plus a new story from Ann Cleeves OBE, published for the first time in the U.S., Killin’ Time in San Diego showcases an impressive lineup of writers, including Mary Keenan, C.W. Blackwell, J.R. Sanders, John M. Floyd, Kathy A. Norris, Kathleen L. Asay, L.H. Dillman, Richie Narvaez, Wesley Brown, Désirée Zamorano, James Thorpe, Kim Keeline, Victoria Weisfeld, Anne-Marie Campbell, Jennifer Berg, Tim P. Walker, and me!

Published in conjunction with Bouchercon 2023, this new anthology peels back the postcard-perfect image of San Diego to expose its darker side.

Killin’ Time in San Diego can be preordered from Down and Out Books and Amazon.

And if you haven’t already, you can register for Bouchercon 2023 here.

I’m always curious about what goes into assembling an anthology, and I couldn’t be happier to welcome Killin’ Time in San Diego‘s editor, Holly West to answer some of these questions.

Holly West

Holly West (she/her) is the acclaimed author of the Mistress of Fortune series, set in late 17th century London and featuring amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. The first in the series, Mistress of Fortune, was nominated for the Left Coast Crime Rosebud Award for Best First Novel.

Holly’s short stories appear online and in numerous anthologies, including The Big Book of Jack the RipperFlorida Happens, and, most recently, The Eviction of Hope. Her short fiction has been honored with Anthony Award nominations three times, and her novella, The Money Block, about a pair of grifters who set up a cryptocurrency con, is out now from Down & Out Books.

Holly’s also the editor of Murder-A-Go-Go’s, an Anthony Award-nominated crime fiction anthology inspired by the music of The Go-Go’s.

How an Anthology is Made

How did you come to edit Killin’ Time in San Diego?

In 2019, I edited Murder-a-Go-Go’s: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Go’s, which was nominated for an Anthony Award in 2020. When it came time to choose an editor for the 2023 anthology, the convention organizers thought of me—a California-based writer with experience editing anthologies—and I was thrilled to be asked. I couldn’t say yes fast enough!

Did you see any common themes in the stories the authors submitted? Was there a topic that seemed to repeat in the stories?

The anthology’s theme was the dark side of San Diego, and, more broadly, Southern California. And that’s mostly what I got. There were several stories set in the 1940s and 50s and in the entertainment world, a few stories referencing the haunted Hotel Coronado, many featuring the military presence in San Diego, and, of course, more than a few set around the beach and harbor. Still, the writers each had their own take, even when the subjects or “micro setting” was similar. It was fun reading how authors interpreted the given task.

Crime fiction often deals with violence (after all, it’s crime!). Have you ever rejected a story because it was too violent or just too dang dark and depressing?

No, although for this anthology, I did have to keep in mind the range of readers that Bouchercon represents. Extreme darkness wasn’t a deal breaker, but I avoided offensive stories—those with racial slurs, misogyny, violence against children and/or animals, problematic themes, etc. These elements can—and often do—appear in well-written stories, but they must be presented thoughtfully, examined, and questioned.

In general, I was blown away by the talent I found in these submissions. Saying “there’s something for everyone in this anthology” is a bit cliché, but I was looking for a good mix of stories, and I got it. Narrowing the selections to seventeen was not easy. 

Have you ever accepted a story with a great concept, but weak execution and worked with an author to tighten it?

I have for past anthologies, but for this one, the pool of talent I had to choose from was so great that nearly every story that made it into the anthology needed very little editing. With almost two hundred submissions, my biggest problem was keeping the number of stories I chose to a reasonable number. 

What would you say are some issues that may disqualify a story from acceptance?

I addressed offensive content above, but beyond that, the biggest problem I encountered was stories that started out strong and then kind of petered out by the end. It was an eye-opener and I’m definitely guilty of it myself in my own writing. Every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. It was surprising how many people seemed to forget that.

What suggestions would you have for authors who are writing short stories with a goal of publication?

I keep saying it: Bring your A-game, because if you don’t, someone else will. With limited slots available, give your story the best possible shot. Stick to the theme but think beyond the usual tropes and obvious plots. Develop your characters the same way you’d do it for a novel—they need to want something, and something (or someone) should be in their way. You know, conflict. Cut away as much filler as possible. It’s okay if you don’t hit the maximum word count, in fact, it’s often better if you don’t. And finally, read and follow the submission guidelines. Don’t give anybody a reason to reject your work before it even gets out of the gate.

About Holly

You write historical fiction set in late 17th century London. What drew you to this time and place?

When I was a teenager, I read a book published in the 1940s called Forever Amber. It was such a vivid portrayal of Restoration London (to my teenage mind, at least) that I vowed to set my story there if I ever wrote a book. Before I started writing in earnest, I always assumed it would be a romance, but in my 30s (I was a late-bloomer), I discovered Sue Grafton and Lawrence Block—among others—and I switched my focus to crime fiction. 

If you came across a space/time machine, with an ironclad guarantee that you would make it back home unhurt and modern reality would not be affected, would you take it to London in the reign of Charles II, or would you choose another experience?

Oh my gosh, this is a good question. I think I would have to go back to Restoration London. It’s been in my imagination for decades—how could I not take that opportunity? But I no longer have the same passion/interest for it that I once had, so when my illusions about it are inevitably shattered, I won’t be too devastated. And who knows, maybe I’d even get some ideas for a third Mistress of Fortune novel. 

Tell us a little about what’s next for you in the writing world!

I’m currently working on a novel set in contemporary Venice Beach, California, which I used to call home. I miss it desperately, so writing this mystery is my way of living there in my mind, even if I’m no longer physically there.

Thank you Holly for visiting us and sharing a little of your experience!

Emilya Naymark

Emilya Naymark is the author of the novels Hide in Place and Behind the Lie.
Her short stories appear in the Bouchercon 2023 Anthology, A Stranger Comes to Town: edited by Michael Koryta, Secrets in the Water, After Midnight: Tales from the Graveyard Shift, River River Journal, Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories 2017, and 1+30: THE BEST OF MYSTORY.

When not writing, Emilya works as a visual artist and reads massive quantities of psychological thrillers, suspense, and crime fiction. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family.


  1. I don’t write historical fiction because it seems like soooo much work. Your premise sounds fascinating. How much of your time is spent on research?

    1. I spent years researching those books, but I was so interested in the topic it didn’t feel like work. It’s hard to say how much time I spent researching specifically for the novels because I did it in conjunction with the writing.

  2. Welcome, Holly. And thanks for sharing your thoughts on short stories.

    I have fond memories of Forever Amber. When I was about eleven looking for something to read in our small neighborhood library I stumbled on the ‘hot shelf’ with the scandalous adult books. It looked interesting and I took it out. When my mother saw what I was reading she dragged to the library and confronted the twenty something librarian. She convinced my mom to let me read it and any book that interested me. Needless to say, I did not get the ‘hot’ parts.

  3. Holly, thanks for stopping by and giving us your round up. While I write traditional mysteries, I’ve done a few short stories for anthologies to stretch me as a writer and find they are much more difficult for me to write. I don’t have the latitude to expound the way I can in a novel, so it forces me to adopt what Barb Goffmann once told me: Short Stories are about JUST ONE THING.” That was great advice I cling to when trying to write one.

    The new anthology sounds grand; what an interesting mix of authors. I’ll be reading!

  4. Thank you so much for this info, Holly. I was tempted to submit to this anthology, but I don’t know anything at all about San Diego. But it’s nice to go behind-the-scenes.

    1. Susan, I’ve been to San Diego several times, but still didn’t think I knew enough. I went on very thorough Google street view ‘drives’ and researched real estate and local publications. It felt amazing. Like living somewhere else for a bit.

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