23 April 2024

The Magic of Malice

When Stacy Woodson offered to write a pre-Malice guest post, this isnt what I was expecting. You’ll understand why when you read it.

— Michael Bracken

The Magic of Malice

By Stacy Woodson

My first Malice Domestic was in 2018. The day of the convention I overslept. Yep—right through the alarm (which is unusual for me). I’m an early morning writer, at the computer, fingers poised by 4 a.m.

Not that day.

Stacy Woodson surrounded by other writers
at Malice Domestic.
Flustered, I dressed quickly and rushed downstairs. The first event of the morning was author speed dating. Inspired by the formalized matchmaking process, this literary version has authors rotate between tables to meet readers and chat about their latest projects. I heard wonderful things about author speed dating and was determined to attend. But when I finally arrived at the ballroom, it was well-underway, and seats were full.

And the authors were talking.

And the organizers were organizing.

And the newbie (me) was searching, from table-to-table, hoping an empty seat would magically appear. (Experienced speed daters reading this are thinking fat chance.) But that day was different. That day a seat did magically appear.

Just not at a speed dating table.

A kind author offered me a chair at a small break table—a stop on the speed dating circuit where authors sit to catch their breath for seven minutes until the horn blows, and they rotate to a new table with readers. This kind author said I may not be able to hear pitches, but sitting here still offered an opportunity to remain in the ballroom and connect with authors. He handed me a flier and chatted about his projects. Then, the whistle blew, he wished me luck, and rotated to the next table.

This was a key moment in my literary life because that kind author who threw me a speed dating-lifeline was Michael Bracken.

That was six years ago.

Since then, I’ve appeared in over a dozen of Michael’s anthologies and magazines. Three of these stories have been nominated for major awards, and one will be included in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2024. Today, we are also collaborating on projects, co-editing two anthologies, teaching short fiction for Outliers Writing University, and organizing ShortCon (along with Verena Rose and Shawn Reilly Simmons). If that isn’t amazing enough, Michael and I also co-wrote “Dogs of War,” my first short fiction collaboration, which is nominated for a Derringer Award this year.

The kindness Michael showed me that day isn’t rare for him, and I’m not the only author he mentors. He has a mission to elevate short mystery fiction and create opportunities for short mystery fiction writers. He does this by editing a growing list of anthologies and publications, writing columns and blogs, sharing wisdom on panels, advocating for the short mystery fiction community as a board member with Mystery Writers of America, and by creating ShortCon.

Magical moments happen when creative people gather and talk about what they love. My wish for other writers is that they attend mixers at conventions, volunteer to work at the registration desk, seek out someone new and have a conversation (maybe a lost soul in the speed dating ballroom) and create space for their own Michael Bracken-moment.

Thank you, Michael, for offering a port in the speed dating storm six years ago. I know my writing journey would be remarkably different if you hadn’t.

* * *

“Dogs of War,” co-written by Michael Bracken and Stacy Woodson, appeared in Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir Volume 4. A death letter read at a military funeral unearths a secret, and an unexpected hero ensures justice is served in this Derringer Award-nominated story.

ShortCon is a one-day conference emphasizing crime fiction short stories—how to write them, how to get them published, and how to sustain a long-term career as a short-story writer. It will be held at Elaine’s Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia, on Saturday, June 22, 2024. Learn more about ShortCon at https://www.eastcoastcrime.com/#/.


  1. Couldn't agree more, Stacy. Nobody's done more than Michael to make me feel welcome in the mystery community, starting when we met at the Dallas Bouchercon back in 2019. You should know, though, that you're definitely paying it forward, because you also have been incredibly kind, gracious and generous with me. So many nice people writing about so many awful things!

    1. You're too kind, Joe! Delighted to know you! Love your writing. Grateful for all you do for the SMFS. Excited to see you in June at ShortCon.


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