06 February 2018

Stiffed

by Michael Bracken

When I began writing crime fiction in the early 1980s, many magazines published mysteries, but there were only three mystery magazines—the digest-sized Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. (Two more digests were soon to join them, the short-lived Espionage Magazine, which published fourteen issues beginning in December 1984 and ending in September 1987, and the even shorter-lived The Saint Magazine, which published three monthly issues—June, July, and August—in 1984.) I was deep into my career before I cracked EQMM and even deeper before I cracked AHMM, but four of my first seven published mysteries appeared in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

My first two mysteries appeared in Gentleman’s Companion (“City Desk,” January 1983; “Adam’s Rib,” March 1983) and my third appeared in Mike Shayne that same year. “Vengeance to Show in the Third” (October 1983)—the story of an ex-jockey, a girlfriend who isn’t who she appears to be, and race fixing—was clearly influenced by reading Dick Francis. Just like my initial sale to Espionage, I targeted the men’s magazines first and, after rejections from Hustler, Gallery, Stag, and Cavalier, I stripped out 500 words of graphic sex and submitted the story to Mike Shayne on March 8, 1983. A postcard from editor Charles E. Fritch dated July 10 notified me of my first Mike Shayne acceptance.

I described the genesis of “With Extreme Prejudice” (August 1984), my second appearance in the magazine, in “You Only Live Twice,” when I explored by brief foray into writing spy fiction.

The story of an insurance investigator who steals from the company’s clients, “A Matter of Policy,” my third appearance in Mike Shayne (February 1985), was also first submitted to several men’s magazine. After rejections from Hustler, Playboy, Gem, Buf, Cavalier, Gallery, and Swank, I stripped out 600 words of graphic sex and saw the new version rejected by The Saint Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine before acceptance by Mike Shayne on November 11, 1984. Unlike the postcards I received for the first two acceptances, this one came typed at the bottom of a rejection for another story. (The rejected story, “All My Yesterdays,” finally saw publication in Suddenly V [Stone River Press, 2003] and, in 2004, earned a Derringer Award for Best Flash.)

My final appearance in Mike Shayne—“The Great Little Train Robbery” (June 1985), the story of a gang preparing for a train robbery—is the first story the magazine published that did not start life intended for a men’s magazine. AHMM, Spiderweb, and EQMM all passed on the story before Mike Shayne accepted it February 13, 1985, and “The Great Little Train Robbery” has become one of my most-often reprinted short stories: Detective Mystery Stories, September 2002; Sniplits, April 2008; and Kings River Life (as “The Great Train Robbery”), August 19, 2017.

Just like when Espionage bit the dust with an accepted story in its files, Mike Shayne also had an accepted story in its files when it ceased publication in August 1985, and that story—“Fresh Kill”—finally appeared in the April/May 2001 Blue Murder.

(Though The Saint Magazine never published my work, it also accepted one of my stories prior to its demise, and “Sharing” did not see publication until the July 2001 Judas_ezine. That means each of the three mystery magazines that died in the mid-1980s died clinging to one of my stories. Maybe it’s a good thing for us all that neither AHMM nor EQMM began accepting my work until well into the twenty-first century.)

“Unfortunately,” notes James Reasoner, frequent contributor and ghostwriter of many of the magazine’s Mike Shayne stories, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazinehad a habit of not paying their writers unless they were badgered and threatened into it.

Apparently, I never mastered the art of badgering and threatening because Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine stiffed me. I was never paid for the four stories they published.

Unfortunately, they aren’t the last publication to go belly up owing me money.
Of more recent vintage: “Texas Hot Flash” appears in Tough and “Skirts” appears in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #2“Smoked, which first appeared in Noir at the Salad Bar, has been selected for inclusion in this year’s The Best American Mystery Stories.

10 comments:

O'Neil De Noux said...

Interesting article. I published a number of stories in men's magazines. Never stiffed by a men's magazine. They always paid well and paid quickly.

Michael Bracken said...

I'm with you on that point, O'Neil. The men's magazines often paid well—better than the genre magazines, in many cases—and usually paid promptly.

janice law said...

Congratulations on having a story in Best American Mystery Stories. And they do pay!

Eve Fisher said...

Congratulations on a long, incredibly successful career. I'm in awe. And I'm sorry you got stiffed by Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

Art Taylor said...

Great stories here—and congrats again on the new pubs and on the BAMS honor too. Hooray!

John Floyd said...

Congrats on all those sales, past and present! Wish some of those old mystery mags were still around.

Melodie Campbell said...

I've been there. One glossy womens mag bought a short story for $750, and went belly up before they paid me. Not much I could do. Even the rights were in limbo for a while. (Eventually I got them back and Star Magazine ran the story.)
Congrats on the BAMS! That's huge.

Laurie Gienapp said...

I have to say... when we (Smoking Pen Press) recently accepted one of your stories for an upcoming anthology (A Wink and a Smile)... we had no idea how prolific you were!!
We look forward to working with you, and I promise... we pay our authors!!! It may not be much, but we always pay what we promise.

Michael Bracken said...

Melodie, losing $750 hurts, but I'll top that. Last year a publisher bit the dust owing me more than $2,000. Now, I'll carry some of the weight on that because I continued to write for them even as their payments took longer and longer to arrive. I knew the risk because I had taken the same gamble a few years earlier and they ultimately caught up and began paying regularly. So, when payments slowed down again I gambled again. This time it didn't work out.

Laurie, that revised ending is coming to you real soon now!

John, I'm enjoying going through my files and writing about my experiences with long-dead publications. There's more to come.

Everyone else, thanks for your kind words.

Jeff Baker said...

Legend has it sci-fi editor Hugo Gernsback tried to stiff a few people. Writer L. Sprague DeCamp was doing a serial and when he didn't get paid he threatened to stop in the middle of the serial--he got paid! (Not all about Gernsback is bad; the Hugo Award is named after him!)