25 June 2019

If I Should Die Before I Wake

The recent passing of Sandra Seamans, whose blog “My Little Corner” was a must-visit for every mystery short story writer seeking publication, reminds me once again of how important it is to ensure that our families are aware of our writing lives. They often know little about our on-line and off-line publishing activities, the organizations of which we are members, the editors and publishers with whom we engage, and the many friends—some of whom we have never met outside of social media, blog posts, and email—we have in the writing community.

Sandra Seamans
Obituaries are often written in haste by family members who are grieving, and the literary endeavors of the departed are often of little concern to those mourning the death of a spouse, parent, or child. If mentioned at all, these endeavors are likely glossed over.

Certainly, immediate family members, close friends, and employers get notified. Families of those who were members of churches, synagogues, and mosques likely notify the deceased’s religious leaders and their worship community. But who ensures that the writing community learns of the writer’s passing?

Some of us are lucky. We have spouses who are active participants in our writing lives. They attend conventions with us, invite fellow writers into our homes, have met some of our editors, know to which group blogs we contribute, and know of which professional organizations we are members. Not all of us are so lucky.

Especially for those whose family members are not active participants in our writing lives, but also as an aid to those who are, we should prepare a few important documents. The obvious are a medical power of attorney, a will with a named executor familiar with our literary endeavors (some writers more knowledgeable than I recommend a literary executor in addition to the regular executor), and funeral instructions.

May I also suggest a draft of one’s obituary? I just updated mine, ensuring that my writing life is documented appropriately.

Family members will likely remember to notify employers—for those of us with day jobs—but will they know to notify professional organizations such as the Mystery Writers of America and Private Eye Writers of America? May I suggest a list of organizations in which one is a member, including contact information.

Those left behind will likely not understand our record-keeping systems, so an explanation of how to determine what projects are due and will remain undelivered, what submissions are outstanding, what stories have been accepted for publication but have not yet been published, and what might still be required of accepted stories (copyedits, reviews of page proofs, writing of author bios, and so on).

And then there’s the money. We don’t just receive checks in the mail. We also have regular royalty payments deposited directly into our bank accounts, and we receive both one-time and regular royalty payments via PayPal. Can those left behind access our accounts after our demise, and do they understand the financial loss if they close accounts without ensuring that all regular royalty payments and one-time payments are rerouted to the estate’s accounts?

I’m certain there is much more our families need to know about our writing lives, so forgive me if I’ve failed to mention something important. But just looking at what I’ve already outlined lets me know that I have much to do to prepare my family—and I’m one of the lucky writers whose spouse plays an active role in my writing life.

Guns + Tacos launches next month, and y’all don’t want to miss even a single episode of this killer new serial novella anthology series, created by me and Trey R. Barker and published by Down & Out Books. First up: Gary Phillips with Tacos de Cazuela con Smith & Wesson. Then in August comes my novella Three Brisket Tacos and a Sig Sauer, followed each month thereafter by novellas by Frank Zafiro, Trey R. Barker, William Dylan Powell, and James A. Hearn.


  1. Excellent advice. Been meaning to start my obit. Maybe this will spur me to do so.

  2. Some interesting things to think about, Michael. A little morbid maybe, but interesting and worth noting.

  3. Michael, nice coverage on the topic.

    When I was updating my will last month, I happened to find a note on the internet that some digital companies cancel a person's accounts when they die, yet I see social media accounts still up for certain deceased authors. This is a new area of law and not sure how it will play out. Right now, Kindle pays royalties via EFT, while Smashwords pays via PayPal. How long will e-books and their royalties be good for? Survivors will need to keep these accounts open, else make other arrangements. And, make sure someone in your will has literary rights, hopefully someone with some knowledge of the writing business.

  4. When you are writing a will make sure you give your executor (or whoever you choose) access to your internet passwords.

    I have told my kid that when is dumping all my stuff she must hold onto the file of contracts so she knows what she has the right to resell, etc.

  5. I think the best piece of advice I ever got came from Margaret Hamilton. Yes, that Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

    In 1974, I was teaching at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, and she came to town in a production of A Little Night Music. I wasn't able to go, but one of my colleagues not only had a ticket but had managed to wangle an invitation backstage to meet the cast. "If you don't bring me Margaret Hamilton's autograph," I said, "I'll die."

    The next Monday, my colleague handed me a copy of the program. Written on the front cover over the Wicked Witch's signature was the following advice: "Dear Josh, Don't die."

  6. Great advice Michael! Reminds me of how royally Poe got screwed over in death. His literary executor did his best to defame Poe, and created many of the negative myths about Poe that still persist. As for me, Ive given my loved ones permission to raffle off my obit rights.:)Looking forward to Guns + Tacos!

  7. Great advice, Michael. My wife and I have a will and a joint safety deposit box and printouts of all our user names and passwords, but you've pointed out all the things we haven't done yet and need to get to soon.

    I too know four people who have passed away but still have active Facebook pages. Their birthdays come up on my feed every year.

    I'm tempted to add a teaser to my obit, something like "under various names, he published over XXXX stories in several genres," just to leave people guessing.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Thanks for all y'all's comments.

    I think Margaret Hamilton had the best advice, Josh, but I suspect we don't have much say in the matter.

    Robert and Steve: I've told Temple where I keep all my passwords. Unfortunately, they are quite disorganized. Maybe my next goal should be to put them all in a spreadsheet of some kind.

  9. Pat Marinelli25 June, 2019 21:32

    Wow, Michael, you and I must be on the same wave. I was just thinking about writing my obit and now you've given me even more to think about.

  10. Aww, I'll miss Sandra.

    I could go with Steve's idea. Or maybe I'll say I'm survived by my pet turtle Fernando…

  11. We will all miss Sandra.
    I've written my will, my epitaph, and a sermon for my funeral. But I'll have to add in some stuff about the writing in the will. Good advice, Michael!

  12. Well darn! Lost my husband and the best supporter a gal could have this winter to cancer, and you've just reminded me of a whole bunch of new things I better add to the list. Thanks particularly for that paypal reminder, Michael. I have some backlisted novels on there, and an income stream still coming in. My kids wouldn't have known about that at all. Thanks for this, and the entire post.


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