13 February 2017

Great Short Stories Revisited

by Jan Grape

I've been reading short stories in anthologies published in 1990s and 2000s. I blushingly admit I have stories in them and it started as a project of rereading my stories. Some I had forgotten like "Whatever Had To Be Done" published in Deadly Allies by Doubleday in 1992 and Bantam paperback in 1993. This was the first collaborative anthology by the Private Eye Writers of America and Sisters In Crime. It was edited by Robert J. Randisi and Marilyn Wallace. This story was probably my second story ever published where I actually received money. I had published two or three stories for small indie magazines that were subscription only and I was paid in copies.

The very first short story I had published happened in 1981 or so and I got $100 for it. It was not a mystery but a Christmas story published in the Wichita Falls City Magazine. I don't even have a copy of it anymore because Elmer, our kids and I moved a few times I remember. I think still had copies  on the last move to Austin. When Elmer and I moved out of our house and into our RV full time we ran out of time and I have no idea where my copies of that magazine wound up.

I do remember the story pretty well. My main character was myself and it was about returning to a small town and in every store I entered, people were friendly and full of the Christmas spirit. If I made a purchase the store gift-wrapped my purchase for free. I compared that joyful attitude to major city stores in Houston where I lived at the time. I'm not sure how the story ended and I don't remember the editor's name, gosh it was  35 or 36 years ago. However, I'll never forget her phone call to me. "Jan, I'm calling to tell you we're publishing your short story." I remember gushing a bit and then she said, "Actually, the story has already been published in this month's issue and along with a check for $100 I'm sending four or five copies of the magazine."

I was beside myself as was my family. I had been trying to be published for a couple of years, had a private-eye novel almost finished and this was my big dream. Good thing I didn't quit my day job because I didn't publish anything else for FIVE years and then only a couple of small articles, which I was paid real money for but nothing over the hundred I had first received.

The first, second and third stories I sold happened all about the same time. In Invitation to Murder published first in hardcover by Dark Harvest in 1990, paperback by Diamond in 1993, edited by Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg, featured my story, "A Bunch of Mumbo Jumbo." In  Mary Higgins Presents Malice Domestic, from Pocket Books in 1993, featured "Arsenic and Old Ideas."
I received verbal acceptance, contracts and money all around the same time although Mumbo Jumbo was actually published first.

After than I was in many theme anthologies, in about 10-12 Cat Crime, Partners In Crime, Deadly Allies 11, Lethal Ladies 1 & ll, Santa Clues, Midnight Louie Pet Detectives, Murder For Mother and White House Pet Detective. I was lucky in that I found editors, including Bob Randisi, Ed Gorman and Marty Greenberg who liked what I did and kept buying my stories.

My 1998 Anthony Award winning story, "A Front Row Seat," was in Vengeance Is Hers anthology, edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins published by Penguin/Signet in 1997, featuring all hard-boiled women writers.

Shortly after that I finally sold my first Zoe Barrow, Austin policewoman novel and have only written a few short stories since. I enjoy the short form and have been able to feature my female private-eye characters, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn in around ten stories. They were characters from my very first novel which never sold.

I am so proud that many of my fellow SleuthSayers are short story writers and are being nominated and winning awards. I think the short story will continue to thrive although at times we think the heydays are over. I do appreciate Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine & Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine who keep publishing wonderful short stories every month. Maybe one day soon I'll crack that market.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Jan. Really enjoyed your story of that first publication--though sorry you don't have it in hand still!

  2. I lost much of my earliest (unpublished) writing to a flood many, many years ago that destroyed everything in the basement. Luckily, copies of my published work (the little there was at the time) was all on the second floor.

    When I married about 15 months ago, I had the daunting task of moving six filing cabinets filled with published short stories and another two shelves filled with books and anthologies containing my short stories. I don't think I lost anything in the move, but I'm not looking forward to moving again anytime in the near future. And I'm not sure I could ever downsize!

    I still have copies of my first pro sale. (I spent more on extra copies than I earned for the story.) As a gift, my wife had the story framed. It now hangs above my desk, reminding me every day of the long journey from then until now.

  3. Great post, Jan. I miss the old days.

  4. I have copies of my first sale, too - which was a humorous short story to "South Dakota Outdoors"! Great post, brings back lots of memories.

  5. Interesting look back, Jan--thanks. It's a shame more magazines don't publish mystery stories, but it seems to me that short story anthologies are very popular these days. (Unfortunately, too many of those don't pay, or don't pay much.)

  6. I hope the short story form isn't too dead--this summer we're launching a new digest-sized magazine called DOWN & OUT: The Magazine. The first issue features a new Moe Prager story by Reed Farrel Coleman and the second a new Sheriff Dan Rhodes story by Bill Crider (I very much hope). I'm (Rick Ollerman) editing the thing and we should have a press release and a website out and up by the end of the month.

    Good news for our community, I hope....

  7. Thanks for this, Jan! I had my first "sales" (no money, just copies)around 1999. A year or two later I had a story read on the radio. Then it was almost ten years before I placed, let alone sold, anything else! Like a buddy of mine (also a writer) used to say, we "keep on plugging away!" Rick, thanks for the heads-up on the new short-story market, and thanks for bringing a new market into the world (and print besides!)


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