30 January 2021

Behold a Black Cat


I first heard about Black Cat Mystery Magazine when everyone else did, when it was announced in 2017. It started out with John Betancourt and Carla Coupe as co-editors, and quickly became a respected player in the mystery short story community. Last year Carla retired from the magazine and my fellow SleuthSayer Michael Bracken came on board as editor, and BCMM has continued to thrive. Every issue features new shorts by beginning and veteran writers alike.

I've been posting a lot about mystery markets lately (there aren't a great many of them), so today I decided to revisit the stories I've had in BCMM. Here they are, in order:

"Rooster Creek," Issue #1 -- This was a fairly long story, close to 7600 words and a dozen scenes, and was fun to write mostly because of the extra-quirky characters. It was part crime story, part love story, part Western, and one of those "framed" stories that starts in the present, goes back to the past to tell most of the tale, and ends up in the present again.

"Two in the Bush," Issue #2 -- A story more different than any other I've written for BCMM--and the shortest, at 2300 words. It had only two human characters and a parrot, and included only four scenes, two of which are set at a local zoo. Also the craziest ending of any of my Black Cat stories.

"Diversions," Issue #3 -- This story was almost entirely dialogue, around 4000 words, and even though it was one long scene with one setting--the back room of a house that served as an interim jail--it probably contained more plot twists than any of my other BCMM stories. Genrewise, it was a Western mystery, with square-jawed lawmen, tough women, and weasely bad guys, and was a LOT of fun to write. (Dialogue always is.)

"Rhonda and Clyde," Issue #5 -- "R&C" was another long story, at 7700 words, and another that had many twists and reversals, mainly because of its many back-and-forth character-POV switches throughout. This story wound up being selected by Otto Penzler and C.J. Box for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories 2020, and I used it as a topic for discussion in a behind-the-scenes-of-the-story SleuthSayers column last year.

"Mustang Sally," Issue #7 -- My first private-eye story at BCMM, written because new editor and old friend Michael Bracken announced #7 would be a Special PI Issue. The story was 3200 words and definitely lighthearted, its only crime being an off-screen jewelry-store heist. This was also my only first-person BCMM story, and was the first in a planned series featuring PI Tom Langford and his longtime girlfriend Debra Jo Wells. I just finished writing the second installment, which might or might not ever be published (you know that feeling?).

"The Big Picture," Issue #8 -- I like stories whose titles have double meanings. This was one of those, and at 7800 words it was my longest so far at BCMM. It had a complicated plot with a big cast of characters and several late-in-the-story reversals, and some of the details required a bit more research than I usually have to do.

"The Jericho Train," issue number yet to be announced -- A 4100-word story set in southeast Arizona, and my first at BCMM to involve the planned murder of a spouse. It features an oil baron, his henchman, a bomb, and several women who are always (as in real life) smarter than the men.

 What are the takeaways here, for a writer?

Well, we all know the best way to learn what a particular magazine likes to publish is to read the issues, all of them, if possible, and all the way through. (In BCMM's case that kind of homework is a pleasure, not a chore.) If there are any things to be learned from my own stories at the magazine, I've tried to include them in the following list:

1. All seven of my BCMM stories have plot twists. Some have more than one, and a couple of them have four or five.

2. The average word count is around 5200.

3. Six of the seven stories use third-person POV. Four are third-person singular, two are third-person multiple, one is first-person. (Does this matter? I have no idea.)

4. All are written in past tense.

5. Two have female protagonists, five have male.

6. Only one of the seven has a non-linear timeline.

7. Three have rural settings, four urban.

8. Two of the stories have historical settings, five are present-day.

9. None of them are reprints, per BCMM's guidelines.

10. Three include a lot of violence, the other four not so much.

11. All of the stories except one have multiple scenes. The longest has sixteen.

12. The crimes involved are robbery, burglary, jailbreak, drug trafficking, tax fraud, witness intimidation (obstruction of justice), and murder. Sometimes more than one of these per story.

13. None of the seven stories contain any otherworldly or supernatural elements.

NOTE 1: As Michael reminded me the other day, any analysis of past stories in a magazine (to identify preferences and help you decide what to put in your own stories) should include any past changes of editorship. BCMM's Issue #7 was the first to include stories Michael selected, Issue #8 was the last to include stories Carla selected, and future issues will contain stories selected by both Michael and John (John picks all the classic reprints). If you choose to submit to BCMM, be sure to study their current guidelines here.  

NOTE 2: Remember, stories in BCMM are noticed and considered for best-of anthologies (!).       


The biggest takeaway for me, about Black Cat Mystery Magazine, is that John and Carla and Michael have been extremely professional and kind to me in all our dealings. I'm proud to have been a small part of the magazine, and I thank them all once again. 

To those of you who have been published in BCMM, I welcome your thoughts, in the comments section. Also, those of you who read the magazine!

Best to everyone. Be safe, stay warm, keep writing . . .


  1. Didn't realize you had been in so many issues. Shouldn't be surprised. BLACK CAT is an excellent magazine and an excellent market. John and Carla and Michael are giving us some cool stories. I'm so behind on my reading I haven't even looked at the PI Issue we're both in but I soon will.

  2. O'Neil, I haven't read that issue yet either--I too am behind and need to catch up--but I suspect it'll be as good as issue as the others have been. (I was not surprised at all to see one of your stories in the Special PI Issue.)

    I realize there aren't a lot of mystery markets out there, but I try to send something to all of them whenever I can--BCMM, AHMM, EQMM, Strand, Mystery Weekly, Pulp Modern, Tough, Woman's World, etc.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. I enjoyed seeing the variety of your stories in BCMM. I'm not surprised you've been in so many issues, and I'm looking forward to reading this one.

    1. Hey Susan! Thanks so much. I'm looking forward to getting this current issue also, and reading the stories.

      As for variety, I think that's one of the things that keep writers going. You and I and all of us who enjoy writing shorts can create one kind of story this week, a completely different one next week, something we've never before tried the week after, etc. It never gets old.

  4. In the fifty-plus years I've been writing and submitting short crime fiction to periodicals, only two — EQMM and AHMM — were there when I started and are still publishing today. Sadly, some that were around when I began eventually fell by the wayside (most notably The Saint MM, Mike Shayne's MM), while others have come and gone (including Espionage, New Mystery, New Black Mask, A Matter of Crime).

    Here's hoping the Black Cat will continue purring for a long time to come!

    I've had stories in two issues — the first one and the recent all-PI issue — and my experience working with John and Carla and then John and Michael has been very positive. Keep up the fine work! And John, you just keep on keeping on, my friend. I wake up every morning thinking I wonder how many new Floyd stories will be published today?...

    1. Fifty-plus years!! Josh, you have been writing exactly twice as long as I have. I bow to you, o wise one. And I think that's remarkable about the longevity of EQ and AH. I never had a chance to submit anything to those other magazines, but I've read some old issues, and I loved 'em--especially Mike Shayne's MM. I too hope BC stays around a long time.

      I enjoyed your story in Issue #1, but--as I said before--I've not yet read the stories in the Special PI Issue. I'm looking forward to that. And, yes, all the BCMM staff has been wonderful. As for my publications, those streaks come and go. I've been especially fortunate lately. You take care, and keep in touch!

  5. I've had one story in BCMM, but that may be my fault, because I haven't submitted to them in a while - I missed the submission window at least once. But it is a great market, and a great magazine.

    1. That was a fine story, Eve--about the sorority house. I remember it also had a LOT of dialogue, and a good story with plenty of good dialogue is always fun. Hey, I'm pleased to have been alongside you in one of the Tables of Content.

      I too missed one of the submission windows, I think. It's hard to keep up, even with the small number of mystery markets out there.

      Thanks for the thoughts!

  6. I've only read two or three of the issues, but I've thought they were all excellent, of a more consistent quality than some of the other remaining markets. I have a story in the next issue, too, and am looking forward to their opening for submissions again.

    Thanks for your isnights, John, always helpful.

  7. Steve, congratulations on your upcoming BCMM story--looking forward to reading it. Michael said they'd be opening up again for general submissions in the not-too-distant future. As has been said by several of us earlier, I hope that magazine will be around for a long time.

    Take care, thanks for the comment, and keep up the good work!

    1. Steve, I just saw on Amazon a moment ago that you and I are together in the upcoming issue of Mystery Weekly also. (With friend Brian Silverman, too.) Buncha stories to read soon!

  8. I have been enjoying BCMM. I have also appeared in issues 6 and 7. Ben Boulden, in Mystery Scene Magazine, was kind enough to call "Worse Than Death," my story in 6 "brilliant... surprising and original." I don't get called that every day, lemme tell you.

  9. Rob, Issue #6 is one of those I have not seen, and (as I said) I've not yet read the stories in Issue 7 either, so I look forward to reading both of those stories of yours.

    What a great review of "Worse Then Death"! Yep, that kind of praise doesn't come often, for any of us--congratulations!

  10. Thanks for your kind comments about BCMM, John. I had stories in the first six issues—all accepted before I joined the editorial side with issue 5—and I'm currently editing issue 9, tentatively due out late March/early April.

    John Betancourt and I have worked during the past year to get the magazine on a steady quarterly schedule, and we've come close. Our goal is three general-interest issues each year and one special-interest issue. Our first special was the private-eye issue, the one for which we're reading submissions in March will be for cozies (read the guidelines carefully; I'm looking for a specific type of cozy!), and we've not yet decided on what our third will be.

    1. Hey Michael. Thanks for checking in--it's good to hear when Issue #9 is expected. As for a steady schedule, I'm sure that's tough anytime, but that it was especially difficult this past year.

      I love the idea of having "special" issues, and I'm pleased that you and John plan to continue to produce those in the future. Personally, I need to get to thinking about something for your upcoming "cozy" issue.

      Thanks again for the job you're doing, at the magazine!

  11. John, My stories tend to be hard to place, and I love Black Cat because they've published three stories about my favorite character: Rachel Mendoza, that nice Jewish girl who works as a personal shopper to the harem of Suleiman the Magnificent in 16th century Istanbul (BCMM #s 2,5, & 8). They've also accepted two stories with cop protagonists, not quite procedurals, wildly different from each other, for future issues. I still think the bottom line is "Write the best story you can." I'm grateful for the magazines that leave it at that, and I think the best ones do.

    1. You're right, Liz--the best ones do.

      It's a special thrill when you have the editor's interest in a series, but I think it's neat that you ALSO are placing standalone stories there, in a completely different setting, genre, etc. Goes back to what we were saying earlier, about the variety that short stories offer, both to the reader and to the writer.

      Keep writing (and selling) those stories!

  12. I've been fortunate to have two stories in BCMM (#1 & 3), and I consider the magazine to be one of the better markets out there (for whatever my opinion's worth). I always feel honored to share space with so many great writers!

  13. Me too, Alan. It's good to place a story anywhere, anytime, but when it's a top-notch magazine and you happen to be in the lineup with folks you not only admire but often know personally, that makes it even better.

    Do check those guidelines Michael mentioned, to that special upcoming "cozy" edition--I plan to do that also, and to try to come up with a story that fits.

    Take care, and stay in touch!

  14. Count me in as another fan of BCMM. I was delighted when Michael accepted my story in the current issue. It's a cozy whodunit, nearly 10,000 words, and stories that long can be hard to place. I also had a story in the first issue, and I have another one coming up later this year. I'd love to submit for the cozy issue, but I don't think I'll have time to write one. In fact, I should be working right now, not commenting here, but I really just wanted to say hi, John. So ... hi!

    1. Barb -- Hi yourself. I'm pleased that you took time out from writing/editing/real life long enough to stop in here! Congrats on all your BCMM stories.

      Yes, anything around 10K can be hard to place. I've had only a few stories of that length published in Hitchcock and in the Strand; most others longer than 10K have been in anthologies, it seems, and even those are difficult sometimes. Most of my stories these days seem to run between 4 and 8, which is a more marketable length, and I still write a lot of them between 1 and 4, which are always easier to place.

      Again, thanks for the thoughts. Get back to work.

  15. Michael, I love the idea of special issues, too. Are the guidelines for the cozy issue posted anywhere yet? I don't see them on the BCMM site, and you say above that they'll be for a "specific type" of cozy.

    1. Steve, the guidelines are here: https://wildsidepress.com/submissions/.

      You'll have to scroll down to mid-page.

  16. I've read all 7 issues of Black Cat Mystery Magazine. I love it. The stories are great reads whether long or short. I just finished issue 7 and issue 8 just arrived. Can't wait to start reading it. Thank you all for your wonderful stories and I thank the editors for all those lovely and cute black cats that pop up in each issue. Keep writing, you all.

  17. Pat, you are a true fan of the magazine! Many thanks, on behalf of the writers and (I'm sure) the staff too. Glad to hear you've enjoyed all these stories.

    And thanks as always for your comment(s) here at SS.

  18. Congrats on having so many stories published in BCMM. I've been delighted to be able to claim a published BCMM story - but you and Michael amaze me.

    1. Thanks, Debra. Remember, though, I also get a lot of rejections . . .

      As for Michael, I think he's really one of a set of quadruplets and they're all running around writing stories under the same name.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>