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.

12 comments:

O'Neil De Noux said...

No wonder you are so successful. First, you write excellent stories. Then, you market them relentlessly, reaching many markets and many readers. Interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

You set a great example for fellow writers. It's a tough business and markets for short stories come and go. Thanks for your insights.

Robert Lopresti said...

Ah, memories. Three of my first four stories appeared in Mike Shayne, somewhat before yours. Nice to see you got a notice from Fritch. First I knew my first story was accepted was when the check arrived, and then I had to run out and find the issue on the newsstands. Back whent here were newsstnds...

Richard Krauss said...

Wonderful recollection of your adventures in writing, Michael. Love seeing the covers and your acceptance letters. And thanks much for noting Josh's article in TDE!

Jeff Baker said...

Michael, thanks for the reminiscence and (unintentionally) encouragement! Hoping for a professional free-lance career of my own!(Wish I'd started a lot earlier!)

Michael Bracken said...

Thanks everyone. I'm enjoying this look back at the early days of my writing career, especially when I find information in my files that I had forgotten or had misremembered.

Leigh Lundin said...

I enjoyed the puns scattered throughout.

It is interesting how many husband/wife teams (+daughter in the case of Playboy) populate erotic literature and films. Publishers Black Velvet and Coyote Moon come to mind. Following a discussion with romance writer friends, I learned Russ Meyer handled the creative side and his wife ran the business end of their film enterprise. (And I was surprised how many women have been fans of Russ Meyer movies.)

John Floyd said...

Very interesting, Michael. I envy both you and Rob your involvement with Mike Shayne--they stopped publication about ten years before I began writing, but I've always heard great things about that magazine. Espionage, too, died before my time, but I did publish several in Detective Mystery Stories. Great post!

Eve Fisher said...

I used to read Mike Shayne Magazine whenever I could get it and sneak a copy into a school book. Love the stories.

Kevin R. Tipple said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin R. Tipple said...

Wish the Bad Girls eBook was cheaper.

Wish I had been able to read the Mike Shayne stuff back in the day, but in the places we shopped at, they put those and True Detective and others behind the counter.There was no way my parents were going to let me read them, let alone ask the clerk about them. I had no idea what was in them until they were gone from the marketplace.

Wish I had started writing earlier too.

Kevin
(who spotted an error after posting, had to delete, correct,re-post, and explain himself again. Story of his life that will never be filmed and made into a major motion picture)

Michael Bracken said...

Mike Shayne published early stories from many writers who began around the same time Robert and I started. The magazine seemed more open to new writers than EQMM or AHMM, and I suspect I know why.

Thanks again for all the comments.