16 July 2019

Community Standards

This year’s Malice Domestic in North Bethesda, Maryland, provided ample opportunity to spend time with several writers I count among my friends and with many more who became friends during the convention, and I realized how different life is when a large group of like-minded writers live in close proximity.
With Josh Pachter and Art Taylor at Malice Domestic 2019.
At some point during the convention, Josh Pachter and I discussed how the mystery-writing community in and around Washington, D.C., contrasts with the mystery-writing community in and around Waco, Texas. Many of the writers attending Malice see each other several times a year—at readings, book signings, Noir at the Bar events, library presentations, and the like—and they see each other so often that they rarely have reason to email one another. The mystery-writing community in and around Waco consists of, well, me.

Several romance writers live in the area, as do a few literary writers and poets of one type or another, but the only mystery writer living near me isn’t producing much new work these days. Because I don’t comprehend poetry or poets, and because literary writers don’t tend to hang with us genre types, I feel as if I live in a writing desert.

So, I’ve little opportunity to spend time with genre writers (of any genre) other than at conventions, and only in the past few years have I had the financial resources to travel more than a few hours from home to attend Bouchercon and Malice Domestic. Prior to that I attended some regional science fiction conventions (ArmadilloCon and the now-defunct ApolloCon), Bouchercon when it came to Austin many years ago and Left Coast Crime when it came to Santa Fe several years ago.

A gaggle of wordsmiths at Malice Domestic 2019.
Yet, I always remembered what life was like when I lived in Southern Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri. I was a young, barely published writer, and several times my then-wife and I had dinner with John Lutz and/or Francis M. Nevins, Jr., and their wives. And at least twice I attended the Nevinses’ Christmas party, where I met, among others, Elaine Viets when she was still a newspaper columnist.

I wondered if such a thing were possible in Waco, in a state where writers may live hundreds of miles apart, and Temple and I had several conversations about how we might duplicate those Christmas parties. Rather than a holiday event, when everyone is juggling family and work obligations, and rather than an evening event, which would cause guests to drive home in the wee hours of the morning, we decided to try a Saturday afternoon event in the spring.

Texas writers crowd the Bracken/Walker living room
during the 2019 Spring Writer Gathering.
We hosted our first Spring Writer Gathering the Saturday after Mother’s Day 2016, and we’ve hosted it the same weekend each year since. Though the event is open to all writers and their significant others, and most genres are represented in one fashion or another, we tend to draw a significant number of mystery writers from all across Texas. A few of our guests have joined us every year, a few only once, and many have attended two or three times.

This isn’t a critique group, and there’s no agenda. It’s just writers hanging out, talking about whatever strikes their fancies. Sometimes it’s writing, but the conversation is just as likely to cover dozens of other subjects. Sometimes we sit in a large group in the living room; sometimes we break into smaller groups that drift into the kitchen or the dining room.

Some of our guests are writers I’ve known for at least two decades, while others are recent acquaintances, and some I’m meeting in person for the first time when they arrive at our doorstep.

In doing this, my writing community is growing. Though it may never reach the size of the writing community in and around Washington, D.C., and even though our gathering may never draw the number and diversity of attendees as the Nevinses’ Christmas parties, I am quite pleased with the event’s success.

So, if you’re a writer living within driving distance of Waco, Texas, or think you might be traveling through our area the Saturday after Mother’s Day, drop me a line. Temple and I would love to have you join us next year for our annual Spring Writer Gathering.

My story “Oystermen” appears in the July/August issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and “Three Brisket Tacos and a Sig Sauer,” the second story of season one of the Guns + Tacos serial novella anthology series, releases August 1. Subscribe to season one here and receive six novellas—one each month beginning with July—and receive a special bonus story at the end of the season.


  1. Congratulations on your new EQMM story and good luck with the novellas.

  2. Congratulations on all your publications, Michael.
    And if I ever head down to Texas, I'll drop you an e-mail and see who's around.

  3. Michael, I always wish you and I lived closer. Enjoy seeing your posts here always and staying in touch generally but would be fun to get together in person more often and fun to take part in your Writer Gathering--indeed!
    Look forward to seeing you at Bouchercon, though, and to crossing paths online when we can. Take care. :-)

  4. Michael, I really enjoyed your story "Oystermen" in the latest issue of EQMM. See you at Bouchercon in Dallas.

  5. Eve (and everyone else): Our hospitality is not limited to one Saturday in May. If y'all are ever traveling through our part of Texas, let us know. Temple and I always happy to strap on the feedbag in the company of writers.

    Art: I don't know if you'd want me too close, Art. I've a two-year-old grandson who gives Dash a run for his money!

    R.T. and Janice: Thanks for the kind words.

    I look forward to seeing y'all in Dallas.

  6. Michael, I agree with you about being able to hang with other writers in person more often. I attended and greatly enjoyed one of the gatherings you and Temple held but, sadly had to miss the one this year. I hope I can make the next one. I'm in the DFW area, only about a quarter tank of gas from Waco. I spent most of my life in Baltimore, which is about the same distance from Washington, but writing was only a latent dream for me then. I miss living there when I read about the writerly events convenient to that area. I have every intention of doing Bouchercon in Dallas. Heck, it's practically next door. Seeya then.

  7. Just a quick hello. Michael — as we head out the door to see our first Savannah Bananas game! — to say nice piece, good luck, and thanks for the shoutout!

  8. There's a fellow writer here in the DC area who once said, "You can't swing a dead cat around here without hitting another mystery author." I'm glad no one's hit me yet with a dead cat. It is nice to live in close proximity to so many members of my mystery tribe. Wish you lived closer!

  9. Why do I get the feeling Barb is working on a dead cat story?

    Michael, I can certainly sympathize, Michael. At one time, John D. MacDonald seem to represent 98.27% of Florida mystery writers. Carl Hiaasen lives way the hell down in south Florida and Will Ludwigsen way the hell up in Jacksonville. Susan Slater moved from New Mexico to a little south of St Augustine, but I’m not certain she’s writing mysteries anymore.

    I met one hungover author from Sarasota at a B&N signing on a Saturday morning. She soured on chitchat that early and didn’t like the idea of another crime writer in her territory.

    So I look at Albuquerque a few years ago, home of the above mentioned Susan Slater, the Hillermans and the Kellermans. I’m not sure what Albuquerue’s doing right and Orlando is doing wrong.

    Most of my acquaintances are romance writers, at times surprisingly fun. I get to explain that no straight guy will ever beg the girls to ‘dish’ about the latest beauty shop affair. And sometimes they help me round out my view of the world. That’s not a bad deal at all.

  10. We hope to see you back next year, Earl!

    I don't know what a Savannah Banana is, Josh, but I hope they won.

    I often wonder, Barb, how much being part of a thriving writing community or being in a writing desert impacts how our writing and our writing career develops. I sometimes think that if I moved somewhere where one can't swing a dead cat without hitting a mystery writer I might get too excited. I'd have too much fun being a writer and not enough time actually writing.

    Leigh, we sometimes get into silos as writers—mystery writers with mystery writers, SF writers with SF writers, etc.—and it's always beneficial when we can develop relationships with writers of other genres. I've known a couple of the local romance writers for a dozen years or more and, though our genres are different, we face many of the same issues, from crafting publishable stories to finding appropriate markets.

    Thanks for your kind comment, Sherry. It has turned out to be a good idea.

  11. I am not a writer, but I always leave your writer gatherings energized and creatively inspired. Thank you for sharing your home and pulling together such a great group of people!

  12. You live in Texas, where we measure distance in hours driven. If you don't mind a drive (I know I-35 is a pain in Waco right now), Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter has monthly meetings in Austin. Dallas has an active Sisters in Crime chapter too. And SinC welcomes male siblings in crime. You- in Waco- are stuck in the middle where you have to deal with I-35 traffic headed either north to Dallas or south to Austin, but if you wanted to join a SinC chapter, you could. That's what I do to hang out regularly with other mystery writers.
    I'm looking forward to Bouchercon. I wouldn't be attending this year if it wasn't in Texas.


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