Showing posts with label Michael Bracken. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michael Bracken. Show all posts

14 November 2017

Smooth Criminal

by Michael Bracken

I have long participated in SleuthSayers, commenting on posts and occasionally writing guest posts, but this marks my debut as an official member of the tribe. Thanks, y’all, for inviting me to join.

I wrote my first professionally published story when I was 17, sold it when I was 18, and saw it published when I was 19. That’s the story I tell, and the story I’ll continue to tell, but it isn’t the truth. The truth is more complex and involves my committing one of the worst crimes a writer can commit short of plagiarism.

But let’s back up to the beginning.

Michael Bracken, pre-publication
My parents divorced well before I entered kindergarten, and the late ’50s and early ’60s were not filled with opportunities for single mothers. We were poor, we moved often, and we had limited entertainment choices. (We did not own a television until I was in the third grade, but we did curl up in my mother’s bed late on Saturday nights to listen to rebroadcasts of old radio dramas.) So, my mother taught me to read, and one of the first things we did each time we moved was locate the nearest library.

Through reading, I could be anyone, go anywhere, and do anything.

TRANSITIONING

Like many of us, I knew at an early age that I wanted to be a writer. Unlike most, I began seeking publication almost immediately.

When I was in the eighth grade, I wrote my first short story, “The 1812 Battle at Two Rocks.” In ninth grade, my junior high school’s literary magazine published one of my poems. (Unfortunately, many years ago a flood that destroyed much of my early, pre-publication writing also destroyed my first publication.) I contributed to my high school’s literary magazine, wrote for (and later edited) my high school newspaper, wrote for an underground newspaper while in high school, and published a science fiction fanzine while contributing to other fanzines.

Bracken's first pro rejection
I also began submitting fiction to professional publications, receiving my first rejection from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in September 1974. So, while other young men my age were tossing footballs and sinking free throws, I spent my high school years pounding the keyboard.

The rejections piled up.

GOING PRO

During the spring and summer of 1976, I wrote “The Magic Stone”—a 1,200-word fantasy about a young boy, an elderly woman, and a magic stone—and submitted it to various SF/F magazines. After the story earned several rejections, I sent it to Donn Brazier, who published “The Magic Stone” in the February 1977 issue of his fanzine Farrago. (Farrago, a limited-circulation amateur publication produced on a photocopier, was an offshoot of his more popular fanzine Title.) The response was positive, and someone suggested “The Magic Stone” was a wonderful children’s story.

Young World, November 1978
I’m not certain I knew then that what I was about to do was wrong, but I submitted the story to several children’s magazines without mentioning that it had already been published. When Young World accepted the story, I remained mum, and by the time “The Magic Stone” appeared in the November 1978 issue, I was 21 and fully committed to my crime.

TURNING LEGIT

So, the truth is that I wrote “The Magic Stone” when I was 18, it was first published when I was 19, but it didn’t achieve professional publication until I was 21.

Though my professional writing career began with a literary crime, I didn’t become a crime fiction writer until several years later. Next time, I’ll explain how and why I made the transition.

I am currently reading submissions for The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of private eye stories that Down & Out Books will release at the 2019 Bouchercon in Dallas. The deadline is November 30, and the guidelines and answers to FAQs can be found here: http://www.crimefictionwriter.com/TheEyesOfTexas.htm.

05 September 2017

Introducing Black Cat Mystery Magazine

by Barb Goffman

It's not everyday you get to blog about the premier issue of a new magazine, especially on the very day it's scheduled to launch. And it's especially exciting when the magazine is coming from a publisher that's been around for nearly thirty years, so you can feel confident that the magazine should have staying power.

Well, this is that day. Welcome to the world, Black Cat Mystery Magazine!

The brainchild of Wildside Press publisher John Betancourt and Wildside editor Carla Coupe, the magazine is expected to come out quarterly. The first issue features new stories from fellow SleuthSayers John Floyd and Art Taylor, as well as one from me. (More on that below.) The other authors with new stories in the issue are Dan Andriacco, Michael Bracken, Kaye George, Meg Opperman, Alan Orloff, and Josh Pachter.

Editor Carla Coupe was kind enough to answer some questions about this new venture.

Why did you decide to start this magazine?
To provide an outlet for great short fiction, which we love. We decided to launch Black Cat when certain other mystery magazines cut their publication schedules in half. 

How do you hope to distinguish BCMM from other mystery magazines?

We're focusing on edgier, noir-tinged, character-based short storieswhich happen to contain a crime of some sort. (A crime is essential, or it isn't mystery fiction.) We don't want fantasy, horror, science fiction, routine revenge stories, or sadism. We do want stories with characters who feel real, in situations that are possible (and plausible), and of course great writing.


 


Do you have a minimum or maximum word count? How about a sweet spot?

We’re looking for contemporary and traditional mysteries, as well as thrillers and suspense stories. We hope to feature stories by established and new authors, and will include a classic reprint or two in each issue. We aren’t looking for flash fiction, and our sweet spot is for stories between 1,000 and 8,000 words. We will look at material up to 15,000 words in length—but it better blow us away to take up that much of an issue!


 

Where will the magazine be available for sale? Bookstores?
It will be for sale at our website (http://wildsidepress.com/magazines/black-cat-mystery-magazine/), on Amazon, and hopefully some independent bookstores. US readers can buy a four-issue subscription, so they won't miss any.


You're aiming for it to come out quarterly?
Yes, but as with all our publications, we're not wedded to a strict schedule.
 

When will submission guidelines go up?
Hopefully this week.

When will you open for submissions?
We'll start accepting submissions at the beginning of October.


Do you make the acceptance decisions alone or with John?
We make the decisions together, and so far have agreed on almost every story!


What do you pay?
We pay 3 cents/word, with a maximum of $250.

Is there anything you'd like people to know about the magazine that I haven't asked?
John thinks the response times are often unreasonably long in the short fiction field. Our goal is to respond to most submissions within 2 weeks. (We're going to try for "all submissions"but in rare circumstances we may take longer.) We also will look at poetry ($5 for short poems, more for longer ones) and cartoons.

Thank you, Carla!


So, readers, here's your chance to read some great fiction in this brand new issue, which is already available for sale on the Wildside website (http://wildsidepress.com/magazines/black-cat-mystery-magazine/), and which should show up any moment now on Amazon, if it isn't there already. My story in the issue, "Crazy Cat Lady," is a tale of psychological suspense about a woman who comes home and immediately suspects there's been a break-in, even though everything looks perfectly in order. Go pick up a copy of the magazine. I hope you enjoy it!

Art, John, and all the other authors with stories in this premier issue, I hope you'll comment with information about your tales. I'm so glad to be sharing this moment with you.

28 November 2016

I Confess

by Michael Bracken

    At the 2016 Bouchercon I received the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for lifetime achievement in short mystery fiction. While I’ve done pretty well writing short crime fiction, it represents less than ten percent of the 1,200-plus short stories I’ve placed since I began my professional writing career in the late 1970s.

True Confessions, Oct 2016
    In addition to writing for several anthologies, my fiction has appeared in digest-sized fiction periodicals, supermarket checkout-line tabloids, and slick consumer magazines. I’ve written for readers of all ages, both genders, multiple sexual orientations, and a variety of ethnicities.

    Of all the genres of fiction I’ve written, though, I’ve probably had my greatest success in a sub-genre of women’s fiction known as confessions– so much so that several years ago, when I had only published 170 of them, I was dubbed “The King of Confessions” (“Diversify Your Career: Exploring Fiction-Writing Options” by Vivi Anna, Romance Writers Report, July 2010).

    Now with more than 400 confessions published, another handful under contract, and several more sitting in the editor’s inbox, and with only two confession magazines still publishing original work, I’m confident that no one will steal my crown any time soon.

The True Story

True Story, Nov 1921
    The first confession magazine ever published, and one of the two still published monthly, is True Story. Launched in 1919 by Bernarr Macfadden, True Story became one of many similar magazines produced by a variety of publishers. When I began writing for confession magazines in 1981, only a few years after my professional writing debut in Young World and long past the genre’s heyday, there were still more than a dozen confession magazines, published by at least four different companies, voraciously sucking up content.

    Though not every magazine was monthly, the confession magazines were easily publishing more than 1200 short stories each year, and many of them also published poetry, recipes, and various kinds of non-fiction. The magazines in other genres--fantasy, horror, science fiction, mystery, etc.– did not publish as much fiction in a single genre each year as the confession magazines did. For a young fiction writer seeking publication, it made sense to try every possible publication in every possible genre. So I did.

    In February 1981, my poem “A Dozen Roses” appeared in True Secrets, and five more poems appeared in confession magazines that year. I also sold my first confession in 1981, but the publisher went bankrupt, and I still don’t know if the story was ever published. I had to wait until July 1984, when my story “Your Eyes Tell Me What Your Lips Can’t Say…” appeared in Secrets, to make my confirmable debut as a confession writer. A year passed before my second confession appeared, and two more years passed before my third and fourth were published. Three years elapsed before my fifth confession appeared in print and I’ve had several confessions published every year –except 2002– since then.

Only Your Hairdresser Knows for Sure

    I probably read my first confession magazines while waiting for my mother and grandmother at the hair salon. They were scandalous publications with lurid come-on lines enticing readers to delve into the debauched lives of the female contributors who were confessing their sins. Alas, the stories were never as lurid as the titles. I once sold a story with the working title, “I Slept with My Son, Now My Husband Won’t Sleep with Me,” which sounds like the author is revealing an incestuous relationship, but is actually about a young mother who takes her newborn son into the family bed while the new father sleeps in the other room.

True Story, Nov 2016
Sin, Suffer, Repent

    Confession magazines such as Intimate Romances, Intimate Secrets, True Experience, True Love, True Romance, True Secrets, and True Story targeted a white female readership. Magazines such as Black Romance, Bronze Thrills, and Jive targeted a black female readership. They all shared, and the surviving magazines still share, the same conceit: That the stories contained within their pages are “true.”

    And readers believe it.

    Certain genre conventions make these stories believable. They are all written in first person (most often with a female narrator), in a colloquial style, about matters of interest to blue-collar, middle-class woman. Nothing in a confession can be unrealistic (for example, cancer goes into remission but is never cured).

    Once upon a time, confessions followed a similar plotline, known as “sin, suffer, repent.” A woman does something outside the bounds of polite society, she suffers for her actions, and then she repents. In a story from the 1950s, for example, an unmarried young woman becomes pregnant, is sent away to a home where she gives birth to a baby she gives up for adoption, and returns home a changed woman.

    Modern confessions rarely follow the old sin-suffer-repent plotline, and are more likely to be problem stories– woman has a problem, explores various solutions to her problem, and then solves her problem (an unmarried pregnant woman must decide whether to terminate the pregnancy, give the baby up for adoption, or raise the baby as a single mother; she chooses one and is either happy or unhappy with her choice) or romances written in first person (girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back).

    Other genres can also influence confessions. I’ve written mysteries, thrillers, and horror stories all while adhering to confession genre conventions.

Means, Motive, Opportunity

True Story, Dec 2016
    With only two confession magazines still publishing monthly– True Confessions and True Story– and with long-time confession writers such as me filling many of the 240 annual slots, the opportunity for new writers to break in is much diminished from when I started in the 1980s. Even so, it is possible.

    But is it worthwhile?

    That’s a tough call. The average response time for one of my submissions is 107 days, but I had one story accepted 542 days after submission, so response time can be slow. The magazines pay 3¢ a word for all rights, and payment arrives several months following publication.

    Also, you won’t see a byline. After all, these stories are supposed to be “true.”

    On the flip side, if you can master the style and can produce work at a steady pace, you might become a regular contributor with regular income. I once calculated that I earn $20+/hour when I write confessions, which is as good as or better than what I earn on an hourly basis writing for better paying publications in other genres.

    And the lack of a byline might be advantageous. If you are a literary wunderkind publishing in all the best non-paying literary journals, you might not want your fellow writers to know you pay the bills writing confessions, just as I don’t reveal the titles and bylines of all the pseudonymous sex letters I wrote early in my career.

How to Write Confessions

    For detailed information about how to write confessions, read “Writing and Selling Confessions” and “Sin, Suffer, Cash the Checks”. Though both articles are a little outdated– especially submission information– the nuts-and-bolts details remain the same.

    For True Confessions and True Story writer’s guidelines, and for other information about the publisher, visit True Renditions, LLC.

    Oh, and never tell your grandmother that confessions are fiction. You’ll break her heart.

05 November 2016

Tales From the Dark Side


by Michael Bracken



NOTE: I'm pleased today to welcome my friend and 2016 Golden Derringer Award recipient Michael Bracken as a guest blogger. Although Michael has written several books, he is better known as the author of more than 1200 short stories published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery MagazineCrime SquareEllery Queen's Mystery MagazineEspionage MagazineFifty Shades of Grey FedoraFlesh & Blood: Guilty as SinMike Shayne Mystery Magazine, and many other anthologies and periodicals. He has received two Derringer Awards, was nominated for a third, and has earned several awards for advertising copywriting. Stories from anthologies he edited have been short-listed for the Anthony, Derringer, Edgar, and Shamus awards. He lives, writes, and edits in Texas. Learn more at www.CrimeFictionWriter.com and CrimeFictionWriter.blogspot.com. As always, it's great to have you here, Michael! -- John Floyd





I don't discuss editing near as often as I discuss writing, but my editing career stretches back almost as far as my writing career. My first published writing was a poem in my junior high school's literary magazine when I was in the 9th grade. My editing career began two years later with a science fiction fanzine my best friend and I started when we were high school juniors. I then edited my high school newspaper as a senior, continued editing and publishing my fanzine for several years post-high school, and later edited several company and organization newsletters.

For many years now I have been editor of a weekly newsletter, managing editor of a bi-monthly consumer magazine, and an editor for a monthly tabloid newspaper. Additionally, I have edited eight crime fiction anthologies (five published and three cancelled prior to publication) and one essay collection.

Editing Knights, the fanzine Joe Walter and I started in 11th grade, brought my first contact with professional writers. I published regular columns by Grant Carrington, Charles L. Grant, and Thomas F. Monteleone, and work by Robert Bloch, Algis Budrys, David Gerrold, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and many other writers who were then, or later became, widely published science fiction, fastasy, and horror authors. These are the writers--especially Grant, Charlie, and Tom--who taught me by example what it meant to be a professional writer.

I have tried, as a writer, to live up to the standards of professionalism these writers exemplified. As an editor, I wish other writers did the same.

Though I don't have any sordid tales of debauchery to share from the dark side of the editor's desk, I do find that too many writers and would-be writers stumble over fundamental aspects of professionalism. Following are a few examples of how:

Plagiarism. In a word: Don't. Several years ago, a regular contributor to one of the publications I edit submitted an article that included a quotation from a famous play. As part of my editing responsibilities, I searched for the proper attribution (author, play, act, scene, line) and discovered instead that the quote was but a small part of a significant portion of the article that had been lifted verbatim from another source. When confronted about this apparent plagiarism, the writer provided many excuses for the grievous failing. Though I sometimes see that writer's byline in other publications, that writer no longer contributes to the publication I edit, nor will that writer ever contribute to any other publication I may edit in the future.

Failing to withdraw work accepted elsewhere. Within the past year, I prepared an article for publication, all the way from initial editing through page layout. While in the process of determining how best to illustrate the article, I learned it had been published in a non-paying online publication a few days earlier. The article was removed from my publication's production schedule and replaced with another. Not only did this writer lose income, but it is unlikely the publication for which I edit will ever again consider this writer's work.

Failing to incude contact information. Writers frequently fail to provide complete contact information (name, address, phone number, and email address) on their manuscripts. During the production process, email attachments often get separated from submission emails, so that, even if this information is provided in the body of the original email, I have a difficult time tracking it down several months after submission when the work is slated for publication.

Worse, though, is what happened recently. An article made it all the way through to publication. When it came time to pay the writer, we discovered that the only contact information we had on hand--after searching through a year's worth of emails--was the writer's email address, and the writer has not responded to any emails we've sent requesting a mailing address. For this failing, the writer might never be paid.

Submitting sloppy manuscripts. Though I rail against sloppy manuscripts as often as possible, this transgression is irritating rather than career threatening.

I edit far more non-fiction than fiction, so I work with many contributors who are not writers. They are, instead, professionals for whom writing is a secondary task. I have worked with manuscripts prepared using a variety of fonts, a variety of font sizes, a variety of paragraph indents (or no indents at all), and which violate every "rule" of proper manuscript preparation (see this link.)

Part of my job as an editor is to reformat all of these mss. before they are put into the production pipeline. To avoid irritating your editors, consider following these manuscript guidelines:

1. Put your name, address, phone number, and email address on the manuscript itself.

2. Number pages using Word's Header/Footer command.

3. Be consistent. For example: However you indent your paragraphs, indent every paragraph the same way. However many spaces you put between sentences, put the same number of spaces between all sentences. However you indicate an em-dash, indicate an em-dash the same way every time. And so on.

In the end, remember that editors are striving to produce publications that attract readers, and you are striving to produce work for editors that will do just that. So, treat your editors and your work with a high level of professionalism. If you do, you should avoid ever providing the examples someone like me uses to frighten new writers.