05 December 2017

Ripples

by Michael Bracken

A single event in a writer’s life can create career-long ripples much like a pebble tossed in a pond causes ripples upon the water.
Michael Bracken teaching "Getting Your Short Stories Published,"
SIU-Edwardsville, April 4, 1985.
Photo by Kevin S. Kantola

Five years into my writing career I had a single professional fiction sale, one attributable to an act of literary crime (see “Smooth Criminal”). I was placing other writing in professional, paying markets—poetry in Intimate Romances, Intimate Secrets, and True Secrets; humor in Catholic Digest, Genesis, Hustler, Orben’s Current Comedy, The Saturday Evening Post, and other publications; and I even wrote a few gag lines for a pair of men’s magazine cartoonists. I had a handful of stories published in Shadows Of..., a science fiction/fantasy semi-prozine, but my professional fiction writing career seemed to have peaked with the publication of that single story in Young World.

A PEBBLE STRIKES THE WATER...

Having no luck with traditional SF/F publications, I expanded my submission list to include men’s magazines that published fiction.

During early 1976—less than a year after high school graduation—I wrote a pair of science fiction stories: “On the Blink” received 12 rejections and “Nothing is Ever Easy” received eight before I stopped submitting them in 1981, convinced that neither would ever sell. In 1982 I used pieces of both stories to write “Going Down,” a 4,000-word erotic science fiction story, and on May 11, 1982, submitted it to Gentleman’s Companion.

The manuscript returned two months later, but this rejection was unlike any other I had ever received. Ted Newsom, managing editor of Gentleman’s Companion, had retitled, rewritten, and retyped the entire manuscript. His rejection letter dated July 26, 1982, read:
Enclosed please find the return of your manuscript, GOING DOWN. The ms. was well liked by our editorial staff but after a title change and necessary reworks, it was denied by our Publisher. We feel that the reworks should help it find a home with another publication and we sincerely wish you the best of luck. 
We would like to see other submissions from you and thanks for your interest in GC.
Though I had received several personal rejections prior to this, many with useful suggestions about how to improve my work, no editor had ever torn one of my stories apart and put it back together the way Ted had. I studied each of his changes, determined to understand why he made them and to utilize what I learned when writing my next story.

When telling the story of why I wrote my first mystery, I’ve often said that “The Dregs” (the retitle of “Going Down”) was rejected because the publisher of Gentleman’s Companion didn’t want science fiction. As evidenced by the rejection letter quoted above, this may not true.

Regardless, at the time I received Ted’s revision of “The Dregs,” there was, sitting on the corner of my desk, the first scene of a story I had abandoned because it was neither science fiction nor fantasy. Utilizing everything I learned from reading Ted’s revision of “The Dregs,” I wrote and submitted “City Desk,” a 4,400-word erotic mystery about newspaper reporter Dan Fox.

Ted accepted “City Desk,” paid $300 (the most I had ever received for a single piece of writing to that point), and published the story in the January 1983 issue of Gentleman’s Companion.

...THE RIPPLES BEGAN...

Ted Newsom’s rejection and revision of “The Dregs” led to a decades-long career with ripples expanding in multiple directions.

Mike Shayne
Mystery Magazine

October 1983
I became a mystery writer. Gentleman’s Companion published “Adam’s Rib,” my second mystery, in March 1983, and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine published my third, “Vengeance To Show In The Third,” in October 1983. I’ve since published mysteries in several anthologies and traditional mystery publications such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Crime Square (Vantage Point), Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Espionage Magazine, and Flesh & Blood: Guilty as Sin (Mysterious Press).

I became a science fiction writer when Gentleman’s Companion—with a new publisher and new editor—published “The Dregs” in March 1985 and Oui published “Microchick” in April 1985.

I became a horror writer when Charles L. Grant included “Of Memories Dying” in Midnight (Tor Books), released in February 1985.

I became a men’s magazine writer, placing crime fiction, horror, and science fiction in publications such as Fling, Gent, Hustler Fantasies, Juggs, Max, Penthouse Letters, Score, Voluptuous, and other publications.

I became an erotica writer, with stories in several anthologies and periodicals such as Chic Letters, Playgirl, and Screw.

I became a novelist when Books in Motion released Deadly Campaign in 1994, a mystery featuring Dan Fox, the protagonist of “City Desk.”

I became a series writer, using Dan Fox for two additional short stories, and then writing several stories about St. Louis-based P.I. Nathaniel Rose—collected in Tequila Sunrise (Wildside Press)—and several more about Waco-based P.I. Morris Ronald “Moe Ron” Boyette.

I became a confession writer, with stories published in Black Confessions, True Confessions, True Experience, True Love, True Story, and many other women’s magazines.

In short, I became a writer.

...AND THEY NEVER END

A single story. A single editor. A single rejection.

The ripples from that event continue to impact my writing career, a career I might not have were it not for Ted Newsom’s revision of a single rejected story.

After all, writing about it is just one more ripple.
About a year before his passing, Ed Gorman selected “City Desk” for inclusion in Bad Business, a collection of stories that first appeared in men’s magazines when they published stories with a bit of sex rather than sex with a bit of story. Co-edited by Peter Crowther, the anthology will be released by PS Publishing.

10 comments:

Richard Krauss said...

Excellent post, Michael!

joshpac said...

Always a pleasure to read your reminiscences, Michael!

Art Taylor said...

Loving this career recap—and the range of your publications! Remind me to tell you a story sometime....

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Isn't it amazing how positive feedback changes our entire life and career?
Great post!
Good luck and God's blessings
PamT

Vicki Batman, sassy writer of sexy and funny fiction, blogger at Handbags, Books...Whatever said...

You're pretty awesome, Michael. I am amazed at how you adapt to different genres. I mostly stay with romantic comedy; however, I am dabbling in some paranormal things now.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Michael,

I can only hope some editors are reading your blog and realize that taking the time to help writers improve their work whether accepted or rejected is something they should be doing. Obviously, that editor recognized your talent.

Eve Fisher said...

Wow! Great post.

Anonymous said...

I have three novels by Michael Bracken. They zip, they surprise, they sadden, they make you laugh. They make you want more when you reach the last page.

I am so proud of him.



-- Ted Newsom

Michael Bracken said...

Thanks for all the wonderful comments. I have a few more interesting stories from my career to share in coming posts, and then I'll probably just turn grumpy and grouse about the current state of publishing. Until then, though...

And speaking of ripples: Thanks for chiming in, Ted!

Jeff Baker said...

Wonderful story! Wonderful perseverance! Thank you for sharing!