Showing posts with label Gentleman's Companion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gentleman's Companion. Show all posts

16 January 2018

You Only Live Twice

by Michael Bracken

Though perhaps not as famous as her husband—at least not until portrayed by Courtney Love in The People vs. Larry Flynt—Althea Flynt served, until her death at 33, as publisher or co-publisher of Hustler and other magazines the Flynts produced under various corporate names. She was, at the time I placed my first mystery in the January 1983 issue of Gentleman’s Companion, that magazine’s co-publisher. Though I never had direct contact with her, Althea was responsible for the creation of my series character Christian Gunn and my brief foray into spy fiction.

Though not as famous as their brother Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse and other magazines, twin-sisters Jackie Lewis and Jeri Winston published a string of sex letter magazines and, in December 1984, stepped outside the sex genre with the launch of Espionage Magazine, a digest-sized periodical filled with spy stories. Editor/Publisher Jackie Lewis, through Espionage, was instrumental in the continued life and ultimate death of Christian Gunn.
   
THE GUNN GETS LOADED

I had, in January 1983, effectively jump-started my professional fiction-writing career with the publication of “City Desk” in Gentleman’s Companion (see “Ripples”), and I soon placed a second story in the magazine. Though for quite some time Gentleman’s Companion headed the list of publications to which I targeted new stories, I ultimately only placed three stories within its pages.

In a letter from Gentleman’s Companion Managing Editor Ted Newsom, dated March 11, 1983, in which he rejects “A Matter of Policy” (a story that later appeared in the February 1985 Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine), he notes, “The last word I got on what Althea wants [...] is that she wanted the stories ‘lahk Jaimes Bound ounlie sexier.’” In the letter, Ted also suggests that I submit stories to Hustler, Gentleman’s Companion’s better-paying sister magazine.

I had never written a spy story, but was game to try. Coincidentally, less than two weeks after I received Ted’s letter, “The Spy Who Lay Dead in The Snow,” by Kim Rogal and Ron Moreau, appeared in the March 28, 1983, issue of Newsweek. The article began:
“On a lonely Alpine road north of Nice, the snowplow operator found a parked Peugeot 305, empty, its radio still blaring. Nearby lay a dark bundle that might have been a crumpled overcoat, except for the red stain in the snow. When the gendarmes arrived, they found a body sprawled face down in the fresh powder. Six feet away, they picked up a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum that had fired three shots. The gas tank in the car read empty. Money and keys remained in the victim’s pocket and there were no signs of a struggle. The police suspected suicide—until they found out who the dead man was: Lt. Col. Bernard Nut, 47, a senior operative in the French Secret Service.”
Once I read that article, I knew I had a hook for my first spy story, and I began writing:
“Lt. Col. Eduard Paroldi, a senior operative with the French secret service, sat in his Peugot 305, nervously tapping his fingers against the steering wheel. He had been parked on the shoulder of the lonely Alpine highway for almost three hours and his stomach was growling. Eduard dug in the pocket of his heavy overcoat for the last bite of a chocolate bar he’d been slowly nibbling at during his wait.”
Paroldi is dead by the end of the first scene, and Christian Gunn, an American operative, is sent to determine who killed him and why. Gunn mixes with British, German, and Russian agents in a wild tale of cross and double-cross.

On August 8, 1983, I completed and submitted “With Extreme Prejudice” to Hustler.

Six weeks later it came back with a form rejection.

Why I didn’t turn around and submit the story to Ted at Gentleman’s Companion I can’t determine from my records. Instead, I removed the graphic sexual content and sent “With Extreme Prejudice” to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and then to The Saint Magazine, both of which turned it around within a week of submission.

On November 19, 1983, I submitted the story to Mike Shayne, and a postcard from Editor Charles E. Fritch, dated May 6, 1984, notified me of the story’s acceptance.

“With Extreme Prejudice,” the first Christian Gunn story, appeared in the August 1984 Mike Shayne, the second of four stories I placed there. Unfortunately, the magazine was, by then, on its last legs, ending its run in August 1985.
   
THE GUNN GETS RELOADED

By 1984 I was writing for a handful of sex letter digests, including those published by Jackie Lewis and her sister. When the sisters announced they were acquiring stories for their new spy digest, I thought I had an in. I had already published a handful of mystery short stories, including one about a spy, and I had already written for their other publications.

So, I brought Christian Gunn back for “The Only Good Red”:
“Dmitri Sakharov, a low-level member of the KGB, sat on the upper deck of the McDonald’s paddle steamboat and stared out at the swollen Mississippi River. On the table before him was a half-eaten Quarterpounder and an untouched bag of fries. A small Coke was securely captured in one slender fist.”
True to form, by the end of the first scene Sakharov is dead and, once again, Christian Gunn is sent to determine who killed him and why. And, once again, Gunn is caught in a wild tale of cross and double-cross.

I submitted “The Only Good Red” to Espionage on June 21, 1984, and, in a letter from Jackie Lewis dated June 28, 1984, learned of its acceptance.

“The Only Good Red,” the second Christian Gunn story, appeared in the February 1985 Espionage, the first of two stories I placed in the magazine.
   
THE GUNN FIRES BLANKS

I aimed to feature Christian Gunn in additional short stories—I found in my files, while preparing this, notes for two stories (“Mockingbird Don’t Sing” and “Number Four with a Bullet”)—but I did not complete another before the 1987 collapse of Espionage effectively killed Gunn’s career and the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall sucked the life out of spy fiction.

Though Christian Gunn only lived twice, I did write two additional spy stories—“Only Heroes Die,” published in the November 1985 Espionage, and “Soft Focus,” accepted by Espionage in a letter dated March 14, 1985, but unpublished when the magazine ceased operation. “Soft Focus” saw publication, at long last, in the July 2002 Detective Mystery Stories.

So, was Christian Gunn “lahk Jaimes Bound ounlie sexier”?

I like to think so.

“With Extreme Prejudice,” “The Only Good Red,” and ten other stories from the early years of my career are collected in Bad Girls (Wildside Press, 2000), available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.
   
Learn more about the short life of
Espionage as told by one of its most prolific contributors: “I Spy: A Writer Remembers Espionage Magazine,” by Josh Pachter, appears in the January 2018 The Digest Enthusiast. Order a hardcopy or Kindle edition at Amazon.

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.