01 May 2021

Stagecoaches and Starships


We talk a lot at this blog about mystery/crime markets and which kinds of stores might fit which publications. I especially enjoyed Joseph D'Agnese's column the other day about using well-known figures from history in his mysteries, and I think it's cool that one of those stories of his is in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Also, I liked Barb Goffman's recent post about a story based on a favorite song of hers, for Josh Patchter's new anthology Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel. The truth is, knowing which magazines/anthologies to aim for with stories of certain content can be a task in itself.

That was one of the things that worried me a bit when I submitted a Western story, "The Donovan Gang," to AHMM eleven months ago. I'd read several Westerns published there over the years, but not many, so I remember thinking that I was taking a chance in sending them one. Be aware, this isn't a contemporary story set in the West, like Hud or No Country for Old Men or Hell or High Water. This is a story set in southeast Arizona in the spring of 1907, with bandits and saloons and stagecoaches and rattlesnakes and ambushes, much like the kind of 1870s story I published last month in the March/April 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. But (also like the Post story) I had researched it quite a bit, and it included enough real people and towns and other locations that I thought it might be able to sneak its way into the more respectable category of historical fiction, which does seem to be acceptable at most mystery markets. You say tomayto, I say tomahto.  Even so, I figured it was a long shot.

That's why I was all the more pleased to find out, a few days ago, that AHMM has accepted that story for publication. It probably won't be until 2022 that it finally sees the light of day, since I have three others queued up there also, in their accepted-but-awaiting-publication bin. Still, it's something to look forward to. 

There's another short story I have out to AHMM at the moment that I'm concerned about also, because it's a crime story with a science fiction element. Like Westerns, that kind of cross-genre story seldom shows up in AH--although one of my fantasy stories did appear there several years ago. Once again, if you rely at all on Otto Penzler's oft-quoted definition of mystery fiction, any story that has a crime central to its plot can be considered a mystery regardless of what other genres might be stirred into the mix. At least in terms of qualifying for publication in mystery markets. So I couldn't resist giving it a try.


In case anyone's interested, the following is my fairly unimpressive track record, with regard to cross-genre stories at some of the current mystery publications:

AHMM: one fantasy and one Western (upcoming)

EQMM: no cross-genre stories

Strand Magazine: no cross-genre stories

Black Cat Mystery Magazine: two Westerns

Mystery Weekly: one Western, one SF, one fantasy

Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine: no cross-genre stories

And several others--Tough, Shotgun Honey, Mysterical-E, etc.--also have not accepted any cross-genre stories. At least from me.

Four things I should note, here:

1. The above unscientific study should not be taken as an indicator of what kinds of stories these magazines will publish. It's just an indicator of what they've published that I've written.

2. I haven't considered humor or romance in this market list or in the overall cross-genre discussion, only because regular mystery/crime stories often include humor and/or romance elements anyway. You know what I mean.

3. My two mystery/Westerns at BCMM were before Michael Bracken took over as editor. I'm not saying Michael wouldn't consider one--but I am saying the Westerns I published there were before his reign.

4. If ever in doubt about this kind of thing, it never hurts to ask the editor beforehand whether he/she would be receptive to cross-genre elements in a submission.

So far I haven't mentioned anthologies, but it's probably worth saying that mystery/crime anthologies are indeed sometimes open to cross-genre submissions. One of my stories chosen for Best American Mystery Stories a few years ago was a Western, about a private investigator in the Old West (which first appeared in Paul Marks' and Andy McAleer's anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea).

What are your views on trying cross-genre stories at the usual mystery markets? Have any of you done that? Any successes? Which publications have you found to be most receptive to stories with Western/SF/fantasy/horror elements?

Okay, time to sign off. I see that Holmes has put on his cowboy boots and is strapping himself into his jetpack, so he'll need my help.

A writer's work is never done.

P.S. (or maybe BSP.S.): April was a good month, publicationwise. I had a story in Strand Magazine (Spring issue, #63), a story in Woman's World (May 3 issue, released on April 22), a story in Only the Good Die Young (Untreed Reads), a story in Jukes & Tonks (Down & Out Books), a story in Behind Closed Doors (Red Penguin Books), a story in Black Cat Mystery & SF Ebook Club (Wildside Press), two poems in the anthology Moving Images: Poetry Inspired by Film (Bowker Publishing), and six of my WW stories in the new Mini-Mysteries Digest (Bauer Media Group). All except the poems were mysteries. 


P.P.S. I've not seen the list yet, but congratulations to all the 2021 Derringer winners!


  1. I wish I'd get that lucky every month, O'Neil. Take care, and keep in touch!

  2. Enjoyed this, John, and congrats on the acceptance of your western/mystery! I was surprised to see that the introduction to my story "A Season of Night" in the current issue of EQMM referred to as a genre-crossing tale. I had thought of it as a historical, but Janet Hutchings felt it was a adventure/murder blend. I guess it really could be all the above really. In any event, you give some good advice here.

    1. Thanks, David. This cross-genre stuff seems to mean different things to different folks, probably because of our different perceptions of genre. I've always thought the five main genres of fiction were mystery, Western, SF/fantasy, horror, and romance. But if you add adventure, humor, coming-of-age, historical, literary, children's, young adult, cozy, noir, etc., etc., you can put a lot of different genres into a story without even being aware of it. I heard someone say To Kill a Mockingbird is a Southern coming-of-age mystery/suspense racial-tension legal thriller. Hey, main thing is, Janet liked your story!!

  3. I've mixed SF/Fantasy with mystery (Crow Woman tales, and a couple of others); and I shift from cozy to noir, done a spy thriller/romance/bromance, etc., etc., etc... I write where the story takes me, and I think that's what most of us do.

    1. Eve, I was thinking of your Crow Woman stories during part of what I was saying about SF/fantasy. Your success with those has been especially encouraging.

      As for mystery subgenres, I think mixing those is not only fun but effective. There are so many: cozy, noir, hardboiled, police procedural, caper, thriller, espionage, etc. And yes, I like the idea of writing where the story takes you and figuring out what genres you used later. Thanks as always!

  4. Great read as always, John. On cross-genre (if you don't consider historical another genre) and using your definitions then I've sold two horror-crime(ghost stories) to AHMM, one SF-Mystery to Mystery Weekly Magazine, one horror-crime to Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and that's it. Certainly a lot of my stories are historical and quite a few could be called adventure or thrillers, so as you say, what is truly cross-genre is up to writer, editor and ultimately reader.

    1. Hey Bill. I honestly don't consider historical a genre, but I think many folks do. If it is, I--like you--have mixed that into a lot of stories. I'm pleased to hear about your crime/ghost story sale to AHMM. I suppose what it boils down to is whether the story's good enough, and if it is I think you can be pretty adventurous in mixing in other genres.

      I do think (and correct me, anybody, if I'm wrong here) AHMM is more receptive to cross-genre stories than EQMM. And although I've never talked to the Strand editor about this, I don't think they're very fond of other genres mixed in with their mysteries, and certainly not woo-woo (SF, horror, fantasy) elements. An editor told me awhile back, and I honestly don't remember who it was, that he'll consider otherworldly elements if, by the end of the story, they've been proven to be real instead (like seeing Bigfoot in the woods and then finding out it was really crazy Uncle Howard).

      Another thing: I've always considered fantasy to be a really broad genre--not limited to wizards and dragons and witches, etc. I've often categorized my time-travel stories (the kid in me still loves time-travel stories) as fantasy, and I'm not sure a lot of folks would label them that way. I think if it's supernatural or otherworldly and it's NOT science fiction, then it's fantasy, period. Just my opinion.

      Thank you for your thoughts, here. Always appreciated!!!

  5. An impressive list. The only cross genre story I've tried so far is historical mystery, which I enjoyed and may try again. A good story is a good story regardless of the label.

    1. Susan, I've sort of solved the "where to sell cross-genre stories" problem by submitting most of them to places outside the mystery market. But I'm glad at least some of the mystery publications are open to those.

      And I agree: I enjoy reading--and writing--a lot of different kinds of stories. The label doesn't much matter if I like the story.

      Thanks for chiming in here, as always!

  6. Perhaps, John, you were thinking of Black Cat Mystery Magazine when you responded to Bill. One of our guidelines, which predate my editorship but which are still valid: "No stories that feature supernatural elements: no vampires, werewolves, ghosts, or otherworldly monsters—unless thoroughly debunked by the story’s end." I think Scooby-Doo writers were given the same guidelines...

    As for westerns at BCMM: I'm just as open to westerns with strong mystery/crime fiction elements as Carla was.

  7. Oh, and I've placed two stories with AHMM that feature—depending on how you read them—ghosts.

    1. Thanks, Michael, for clearing up a couple of things. Yes, I believe it WAS you I was thinking about, with that explanation of whether the publication will consider supernatural elements in a story. (It's fine to have them in there so long as they're "debunked by the story's end." That approach has worked well in a lot of stories and novels I can remember.)

      As for being receptive to Westerns at BCMM, I'm glad to hear your policy on that, and I believe it makes sense--Westerns truly are one kind of historical fiction. Another popular flavor of mystery/crime is (for want of a better name) Depression-era fiction, which folks like Joe Lansdale are so good at writing--and occasionally, at one time, Elmore Leonard. I've written a few of those lately, but don't know yet how well they'll fly at the mystery magazines--I'm currently awaiting some responses on those.

      Now that you mention it, I remember your AHMM "ghost" stories. Thanks for reminding me of those. Still wondering if EQMM has ever published any of those kind of stories--if they have I don't remember it.

      Again, many thanks!

  8. Congratulations on your many, many recent sales. I wrote a historical mystery & am still trying to sell the &$%# thing. Recently I sold a story I can only describe as medical noir, if such a category exists.

    Louis L'Amour used to have two desks in his office with a swivel chair in between & a typewriter on each desk. He would work on two stories at once, alternating between them whenever the spirit moved him. He was a cousin of mine & unfortunately I never met him. Your work ethic & his would actually inspire me to produce more, if only I weren't so lazy!!!

  9. Thank you, Elizabeth.

    Medical noir. Now THAT sounds interesting. I'm picturing a dark hospital room with venetian-blind shadows on the bed.

    I love reading Louis L'Amour, and especially his short stories--I have several of his Western collections. I would never compare my lame talent to his, but I do also work on several stories at a time (and thank goodness with no need for the two desks and two typewriters). Hey, the fact that he was "family" should inspire you, for sure!

    Thanks for the note!

  10. Speaking of blending genres, we were watching a marathon of the old "Father Dowling" show this weekend, which brought in a few supernatural elements in a couple of episodes.

    1. Jeff, that seems to happen more often than I would've thought, on otherwise traditional-mystery shows. Even some of the old network-TV cop shows would occasionally include a paranormal element.

      Personally, I don't mind that. If it's a good story it's a good story, and they can include all the woo-woo they want to. (Or, in the words of Hedley Lamarr, that voodoo that you do.)

      Thanks for the observation. Keep watching those Dowling mysteries!


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