10 August 2021

Pay It Forward


I owe the existence of one of my recurring characters to the kindness of a famous mystery writer.

Dennis Lynds, writing as Michael Collins, received his last Edgar Award nomination for “The Horrible, Senseless Murders of Two Elderly Women,” which I published in my first anthology, Fedora: Private Eyes and Tough Guys (Wildside Press, 2001).

Not long after the release of Fedora, in a letter dated April 17, 2002, Jeff Gelb wrote, “Dennis Lynds suggested I contact you to see if you’d like to submit a story in consideration for the erotic mystery anthology series I co-edit with Max Allan Collins, Flesh & Blood.” (I already knew of Gelb from his work on the Hot Blood horror anthology series he co-edited with Michael Garrett.) Gelb provided some general guidelines as well as the pay rate and deadline. Toward the end of the letter, Gelb notes: “I’m sorry to say I’m unfamiliar with your work, but if Dennis recommends you, that’s a pretty strong nod in your direction!”

This was, shall we say, a big break. A famous mystery writer had recommended me to the co-editor of an anthology series published by a major publishing house.

I submitted “Feel the Pain,” a private eye story featuring Morris Ronald “Moe Ron” Boyette, and, after making minor revisions at the request of Gelb and Collins, the story appeared in the third book in the Flesh & Blood series: Flesh & Blood: Guilty as Sin (Mysterious Press, 2003).

“Feel the Pain” became the first of my stories to be selected for a “best of” anthology when Maxim Jakubowski included it in The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 4 (published in the UK by Robinson, 2005, and in the US by Carroll & Graf, 2005).

I followed up with “Pumped for Information” (XL Girls, 2004), a sequel to “Feel the Pain” that put more emphasis on erotica and less on investigative work, before writing a string of Boyette stories where the erotic content was significantly reduced in favor of solid private eye work: “My Client’s Wife” (Thrilling Detective Web Site, Summer 2007), “Breaking Routine” (Hardluck Stories, Winter 2007), “News Flash” (Untreed Reads, March 2011), and “Yellow Ribbon” (Needle, 2012).

Then, nothing. I moved on to other characters and other stories...until a Boyette story I’d been toying with since 2003 caught my attention again. “Itsy Bitsy Spider” (Tough, April 2018) was named an “Other Distinguished Mystery Story” in The Best American Mystery Stories 2019, and I followed up with “Dirty Laundry” (Tough, April 2020).

I have notes written in 2003-2004 for three additional Boyette stories, but they don’t catch my attention when I reread them. So, I expected Boyette to again go quiet.

Then Michael Pool contacted me about his new publishing venture. I had previously contributed to his Crime Syndicate Magazine, and he received his first Shamus Award nomination for “Weathering the Storm,” a story in The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books, 2019). Pool has started P.I. Tales, a new book publishing venture dedicated to private eye novels and the Double Feature series of paired private eye novellas.

Pool invited me to contribute to the second volume of the Double Feature series, where my novella is paired with Hallmarks of the Job, written by Frank Zafiro, a writer who contributed to and played a key role in the launch of Guns + Tacos, the serial novella anthology series I co-edit with Trey R. Barker.

I considered creating a new private eye and then thought better of it. So, Morris Ronald “Moe Ron” Boyette returns in Aloha Boys, the longest story I’ve ever written about him.

In Aloha Boys, Boyette is still adjusting to his new digs above Millie’s Tattoos and Piercings when a homeless woman hires him to find her missing half-brother. Searching for the young man sends Boyette through the depraved underbelly of the local university, reunites him with a mob boss best left in his past, and leads him to question everything he thought he knew about families.

Hallmarks of the Job/Aloha Boys releases August 17 but can be preordered now.

Is this the end of the road for Boyette? I doubt it, but I don’t know when or where he will next appear.

RELATIONSHIPS

Though I originally intended this post to be about a series character and how I continue to write about him, while researching Boyette’s history I was reminded of something more valuable: The importance of relationships within the writing community.

Boyette exists because Dennis Lynds connected me to Jeff Gelb, and the new Boyette novella exists because Michael Pool and I have worked together on other projects. In between, I’ve worked with editors such as Rusty Barnes of Tough, who once suggested I write a novel about Boyette, and his suggestion was on my mind when Pool approached me about writing a private eye novella for Double Feature.

While I’m loath to conclude that who you know is the key to success, it certainly plays a role in the opportunities that come your way.

Most of us break in the same way: by submitting manuscripts via slush piles, submitting our work on spec, hoping that editors will select our stories from the dozens/hundreds/thousands of other submissions. But once that happens, it’s up to us to act professionally, to develop relationships, and to share opportunities with one another.

And always, always, always, pay it forward.

Morris Ronald Boyette and I are forever grateful that Dennis Lynds did.

11 comments:

  1. Congratulations again, Michael. You have an amazing career.

    I'm grateful to my SleuthSayers colleagues for helping this gregariously-challenged writer.

    Moe Ron Boyette… the name's syncopated syllabic rhythm! I keep catching myself humming 50's songs by the Ronettes and the Crystals. I'm working on a trailer theme for Boyette.

    ♫♪ I shot him on a Monday and his heart stood still.
    ♩♬ The Moe Ron Ron, the Moe Ron Ron.

    Yeah, maybe it needs work.

    Again, congratulations, Michael.

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  2. This is such a wonderful example of the way things should be: authors helping authors, and always paying it forward. I try to live my life this way. Thank you for sharing this and congrats on all you have accomplished.

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  4. In the same spirit, I would like to acknowledge Michael's contribution (as well as the contribution of author/editor Mysti Berry) in the creation of a series character of mine.

    As Michael already noted, he edited an anthology of Texas PI stories titled THE EYES OF TEXAS. At his encouragement, I started work on a story for that anthology, the first I ever wrote (or at least started) about itinerant Texas cop Gus Hachette, who drifts from job to job in the years just before WW1 to the years just after WW2. The story I proposed, "For the Honor of the Family," marginally counted as a PI story since Gus was, in this entry, employed by Cattlemen's Association as a field investigator.

    I wasn't able to complete the manuscript in time, and, in any case, the word count was far above what Michael was looking for when I did complete it.

    But because of his encouragement, I felt I had a character with potential staying power. "For the Honor of the Family" was recently published in Murderous Ink's Crimeuopia anthology, DEAD MAN'S HAND.

    In between Michael's invitation and Murderous Ink's acceptance, I wrote another story about Gus set just after WW2 titled "The Lord of LaValle," in which Gus is called out retirement to investigate a case of election fraud.

    I submitted it to Mysti Berry who was looking for stories with a "dishonest election" theme for her anthology LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE - VOL. 2. At first she turned it down, since she'd already accepted a Texas-set story. But on giving it a reread, she decided that, despite the shared setting, the two stories were significantly different enough that the similarities wouldn't stand out.

    A third story, "Bullets and Booze on the Border," set in the early days of Prohibition, depicts Gus as a federal agent in El Paso trying to stem the tide of illegal hooch crossing the Rio Grande into Texas. It's set to appear in an upcoming anthology STANDOFF - COPS AND ROBBBERS, edited by Tommy Hancock for Pro Se Press.

    And I've started work on a novel about Gus, ENVY ROTS THE BONES.

    I have Michael and Mysti to thank for sparking the creative juices that led to the conceiving of Gus Hachette.

    I'm glad his 'blog entry today gives me a chance to acknowledge their encouragement.

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    1. Congratulations, Jim, and I'm glad I played some small part in the genesis of Gun Hachette.

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  5. Networking, you never know when it will hand you an unexpected gift. Just be sure to pass it on.
    Several years ago, a good friend (on this blog) and I took a fellow board member to a certain bar in Manhattan for Russian beers. The result was that I was offered a lucrative contract for a nonfiction book, which I wrote under an alias. Goes to show you just never know what will come out of networking. Go to it.

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  6. Wow. This is cool. Leigh "gregariously-challenged writer" This writer is just plain anti-social. Too many years with criminals.

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  7. Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments.

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  8. Wonderful to hear about this, Michael!

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