05 March 2020

Adventures With Book Clubs

Greetings from the House of It's March And I'm Feeling So Damn Much Better!

So, this one.
As you may recall, a couple of weeks back I talked about those of us who write because we have no other choice, and gave an anecdote about someone who talked about writing a book, but was likely never going actually going to. I also mentioned that I met this guy at a party thrown by my friends Tara and Chad. And I wrapped up by mentioning that Tara invited me over to talk with her book club, who had all read the first of the two books of crime stories I collected and edited last year, both of which included stories inspired by the music of jazz-rock legends Steely Dan.

And a great time was had by all! Turns out I already knew most of the members of her book club (go figure, they're Tara's friends, and Tara has excellent taste in people!). The wine flowed, we laughed and talked, and not just about my latest published work.

At one point I fielded a question about how long it took me to get something done. I said (of course) it depends on the project and what I've got going on outside of writing.

And then there came the interesting follow-up: "How organized are you now, as opposed to when you started writing?"

Well I started writing in 1998 (I was 33. Late bloomer.). I didn't sell my first book for six years, and I wrote and wrote and wrote during that time before my stuff started selling.

So I'll tell you what I told them: I am incredibly efficient in my writing. In all the years I've been wrestling with the written word, I have a single unpublished novel (what many authors call their "mistake novel.") and a single unpublished short story.

Every single other thing I've written has gotten published and I've gotten paid for it. This is not to say that I've always sold what I've written to the venue for which I initially intended it.

In fact (as I told Tara's book club) the first short story I sold Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine was a story I originally wrote for a proposed anthology entitled City Crimes, Country Crimes, with the unifying theme of setting serving so prominently as to almost be considered a character in its own right. The publisher lined up to print this anthology folded, and the editor (now-fellow Sleuthsayer Michael Bracken) graciously released me from my contract so I could try to place it somewhere.

I sent it in to Alfred Hitchcock, and that was how I broke in with AHMM.

Speaking of selling projects, the one I just finished? The one I still can't talk about? That one I didn't start working on until I was asked to submit something. And that seems to be the way it works with me. I usually don't really sink my teeth into a project until I've got a potential publishing partner lined up for it.

Another project I've been hard at work on is expanding three previously published short stories into full-length novellas. Finished the first drafts of the first two before New Years', and the third one during the last couple of weeks of February.

So nearly done with these, which is a good thing, because I already have a publisher lined up there, too. More on both of these projects later this year, once things are finalized around them.

Oh, one last thing? That mistake novel? The one I'll never publish? It's set in a law school based on the one I attended back in the '90s, which also happens to be where I met and became friends with Tara.

And spoiler alert: Tara's literary doppleganger?

She's the killer.


See you in two weeks!


  1. Wow - you have had a very successful career. I still have a stack of unpublished (YET!) stories, plus a fairly bad sci-fi novel tucked away in a box in the basement. I never expect the latter to be published. Keep on writing!

  2. Your sales percentage floors me. Congratulations.

    I just went back and found 16 unsold short stories, most of which I know now aren't worth submitting anywhere else. I've actually cannibalized bits and pieces from a few of them. Six more are still floating around submission purgatory.

    A few weeks ago, I sold a story that I first submitted in 2009. Someone finally thought of a theme that matched the story, so I sent it out again. ;-)

    I'm not sure how many unpublished novels I have because several went through so many revisions and title changes that I can't keep track any more. They go back to the 1970s, though, and my best guess is eight or nine. I do know that I had 350 rejections before I made my first sale. If you want to borrow some of them...

  3. Only one mistake novel? Well, I have... let's not go there. Good piece.

  4. Damn, Brian. You have a pact with the devil? Nicely done!

  5. My organizational skills have needed work, but may major lack of self-discipline prevented me from being published a lot earlier; of course, I wasn't finishing my stories! I went back and pulled the salvageable manuscripts out of my first word processor, finished the ones that weren't crap, and I think one of them got published. (I'm still working on the lack of self-discipline!)


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