Showing posts with label James A. Hearn. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James A. Hearn. Show all posts

02 April 2019

The Genesis of Guns + Tacos

by Michael Bracken
with Trey R. Barker and Frank Zafiro

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas, but no one ever asks anthology editors where they get theirs.

In my October 16, 2018, SleuthSayers post “The Obstacle Ahead is a Mirror,” I alluded to a project conceived at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida, that had me excited about writing again. Season One of that project—a novella anthology series named Guns + Tacos—premieres in July, with an episode appearing each month through December and a second season already scheduled for July–December 2020.

The story of how Trey R. Barker and I conceived of Guns + Tacos, and how it evolved from a joke to an anthology series, begins back in February 2017. That’s when I pitched The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of private eye stories set in Texas that will release in fall 2019 (near the same time as the Dallas Bouchercon) to Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books. (More about that anthology closer to the release date.)

Trey, a Texas native now living in Illinois, submitted a story, which I accepted, and in the process of working on that anthology, we swapped several emails. I don’t think we’d ever crossed paths before, but we seemed to know several of the same people. So, we—Trey and his wife Kathy, me and my wife Temple—made plans to meet for lunch at the 2018 Bouchercon in St. Petersburg.

Here, of course, is where the story gets hazy, and I suspect each of us remembers things differently. But what I remember is this: Among the many things we discussed during lunch were guns and tacos, and at some point Trey said they were his two favorite things. A little later—I think it was after lunch as we were returning to the main part of the Vinoy—the subject came up again and Temple suggested that guns and tacos sounded like a good premise for an anthology. Off and on during the next several hours, Trey and I batted the idea around.

That evening, we found ourselves on the Vinoy’s veranda, hanging out with a revolving group of editors and writers affiliated with Down & Out Books, and we pitched the idea to Eric. Several of the people present made comments and suggestions, but the most significant contribution to the conversation came from Frank Zafiro when he described what he was doing with A Grifter’s Song, a novella anthology series he created for D&O.

A novella anthology series is much like a Netflix series, with a new episode (a novella) released each month over the course of a six-month season. A Grifter’s Song was already set for a January 2019 debut, was committed to a two-season arc, and Eric was looking for a series that could run the last six months of 2019. He asked if Trey and I could turn our anthology idea into a novella anthology series.

Trey and I met several times during the balance of the convention, and we made notes and a list of writers we wanted to approach. By the time we left for home, we had a good handle on the project.

I had successfully (and unsuccessfully) pitched anthologies, so I knew the fundamentals of writing a proposal, but a novella anthology series was a new beast entirely. We asked Frank to share his proposal for A Grifter’s Song, which he did, and we later wrote a formal proposal for Guns + Tacos using Frank’s proposal as a blueprint.

And Trey and I weren’t the only people excited by the concept behind Guns + Tacos. While Temple and I were sitting at the airport awaiting our flight home, I received an email from Frank containing a scene from the story he wanted to write wherein his protagonist visits the taco truck and gets a gun.

But Trey R. Barker and Frank Zafiro may remember things differently, so I’ve asked them to join me today and share their memories of how the project came together.

TREY R. BARKER

What a load of horseshit.

Here’s what happened…as best I remember, some of it’s kinda fuzzy….

Michael Bracken, Frank Zafiro, and Trey R. Barker
at Bouchercon 2018
I was at the Titty Twister. Remember that place, yeah? In Mexico? Rodriguez made a documentary about it awhile back. Anyway, I was banging straight up bottom-shelf tequila and Kathy was dancing on a table. Hot…HAWT!

So I’m doing my thang with the tequila and part of a worm and leering at Kathy. Mostly, I’m waiting for the Federales to quit sniffing all up in my business, just chilling to get back to San Angelo (home of Los Lonely Boys, don’cha know) and thinking I’m getting hungry.

In walks Michael and his little number and they’re waffling about tacos and I’m all like, “Yeah, I dig me some tacos,” but the Twister kitchen was closed ’cause the band was about to play or some crap…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

Me and my gun sat down with them, kinda freaked them out ’cause I ain’t never met them before and they ain’t been married long so they wanted to boom boom their own thang but I was down for tacos now they’d got mentioned so it wasn’t really my fault when the bottle got smashed open and the tequila went everywhere.

Damned waste of good agava juice.

So the band—Tito and Tarantula—started playing and it’s smoking hot; greasy guitar and thumping drums and Kathy’s dancing and now this cat Michael challenges some big, hairy dude to single-bullet poker and slams a gun right down on the table…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

Kathy said, “Hey, man, vegetarian tacos and guns…that’s a good night,” while Michael licked a bullet and eye-boned the hairy guy.

Vegetarian tacos? Man, this place is a trip.

Temple is all like “What the F ever, Michael,” like she’s done this scene before and is straight up bored. Kathy’s banging back some sweet Riesling while she’s dancing and now the joint is full like a damned reunion of freak show wannabes all stank-sweaty and drinking like Sweet Baby Jesus was coming back tomorrow and bringing Prohibition with him.

The hairy guy holds his hands up, passive scared looks like to me, and leaves while Michael snorts aggressive and gives Temple some big ass Bad Daddy kiss and some new dude comes in.

Waving guns like a cheap stripper with spinning tassels. Got a gun in each hand, four or five more on his hips, strapped X across his chest with bullets like some old line Bandido, screaming he wants some damn tacos now or the Twister Armadillo gets it hard.

Scared the shit outta the armadillo. Poor damn thing running back and forth in that cage. Barkeep had to put a bowl of tequila in there to calm it down.

So Gunboy starts gassing about how he’s had tacos before, a plate of 12 or some crap, and he wants more tacos and I said “Guns and tacos…mmmmmmmm,” and Temple said something like “Guns and tacos…that’s the best you can do?” and Kathy said “Vegetarian guns and tacos,” which I took to mean vegetarian tacos, not guns, but I don’t know…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

And so that’s how Michael and me and Gunboy bought a taco truck in Sausalito.

But it’s all kinda fuzzy.

FRANK ZAFIRO

I just happened to be walking past Michael and Trey, huddled together over drinks in the lobby area, when they spotted me and called me over. They asked about a project of mine called A Grifter’s Song. Now, this was about a month away from the official announcement from Down & Out Books. Nonetheless, I swore them to secrecy, and then proceeded to lay it all out for them.

[I can keep secrets. Really.]

I explained the artistic and logistical set up for A Grifter’s Song, which features a pair of grifters who love two things: each other, and the game. The series runs twelve episodes across two six-episode seasons. I wrote the first and last episodes and ten other authors penned the rest. Each is self-contained. Subscribers to the series get a price break, automated delivery and a bonus, subscriber-only episode.

When I finished, one of them asked a little hesitantly, “Do you think we could get a copy of the treatment you sent Eric for the series?”

“Of course,” I said.

Why wouldn’t I? The dirty little not-really-a-secret was that my original plan was to write the series myself and release quarterly, but then Gary Phillips invited me to submit to a series he was working on. His format? Every episode written by a different author, and a once-a-month release schedule. It was a great idea, and I quickly realized it was the right model for A Grifter’s Song. I put together a treatment for the series and pitched it to D&O, who came up with the subscription model.

Now, while I wouldn’t call it theft, I most certainly felt a debt to Gary Phillips. So not only do I acknowledge the inspiration, I offered him a slot in season one. He graciously contributed Episode 4: The Movie Makers.

So you can see how it was my pay-it-forward duty to share a preview of this project with Michael and Trey. In this tribe, that’s how it works, at least most of the time. We take care of each other.

They seemed to dig the idea, and as you’ll surely read, things took off from there. Seeing that success is satisfying enough, but I got something else out of the deal, too—an invitation to submit.

I started my story at the airport on the way home from Bouchercon.

Fittingly, Gary Phillips is in this one, too.

THE END RESULT

Joining us on this adventure are Gary Phillips, William Dylan Powell, and James A. Hearn. Though they weren’t there at the conception, they’ve certainly helped make the first season a success, and were great to work with as Trey and I figured out how to turn Guns + Tacos into a reality.

Read the official press release announcing Guns + Tacos but note that it leaves out one important bit of news. Even before the first episode drops, Guns + Tacos has been picked up for a second season!

In other news: My story “The Maltese Terrier” appears in the latest issue of Black Mask.

29 January 2019

Two for the Price of One

By Michael Bracken

A writing collaboration is often referred to as the process of doing twice the work for half the pay. A successful collaboration, though, results in a story that neither author could have written alone. In that way, the joint effort can benefit both collaborators.

JOE WALTER

The first issue of KPSS was
produced on a spirit duplicator.
Later issues were produced on a
mimeograph, and the final issues
on an offset press.
As high-school students in the early 1970s, my best friend and I were determined to become the next Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein. Our junior year, Joe Walter and I started Knights of the Paper Space Ship, a science fiction fanzine, to publish our short stories and those of our friends, and we spent a great deal of time together writing and editing.

We collaborated a few times, writing “faan fiction,” which is fiction about science fiction fans. The stories were, in essence, stories about us, narrated by Patrick Myers, the non-existent third member of our group. Joe and I alternated time at the keyboard, each writing a sentence or a paragraph or an entire scene before relinquishing the keyboard to the other. Because we typed directly onto mimeograph stencils, there was no editing or revision allowed. What we wrote together back then was not great literature, but it was fun to write and may have been fun to read.

Joe was the first of us to sell a story to a professional market—Vertex, which ceased publication before printing his story—but never sold another. “Patrick Myers” (my middle name combined with my stepfather’s last name) became a pseudonym I have used several times since then.

WALTER EARL ROPER

In the mid-1970s, during my first attempt at attending university, I worked for the Daily Alestle, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville’s student newspaper. While there I met Walter Earl Roper, and we collaborated on several articles for the paper.

At the time, I was the better writer and he was the better journalist, so Walter did most of the interviewing and research, and I did much of the writing. Perhaps not surprisingly, neither of us became journalists. He went on to receive a B.A. in Organizational Science Databases, Statistics, which uses his superior research skills, and I concentrated on writing fiction, which requires almost no research skills.

PAMELA CLIFF

My second wife, Pamela Cliff, received her undergraduate degree in journalism, and she had worked as a journalist and magazine editor prior to our meeting in Senatobia, Mississippi. At that time she worked as a customer service representative for a printing plant, and I was hired as the plant’s composition systems manager.

Pamela wanted to write fiction, but never seemed to finish anything, so our collaborations became a game. She would write the opening page or so of a story and I would finish it. Together we wrote and sold more than a dozen short pieces of erotica, all under pseudonyms.

She wasn’t satisfied with writing short pieces, though. She wanted to write a novel. So, prior to a diagnosis of cervical cancer, Pamela began work on a novel, which I completed several years after her death and self-published under my Rolinda Hay pseudonym. Stud is available for Kindle.

TOM SWEENEY

During the early 2000s, I edited five crime-fiction anthologies—Hardbroiled, Small Crimes, and the three-volume Fedora series—and Tom Sweeney was the only writer to have a story in all five. Around that time I was in discussions with a regional publisher to edit a crime fiction anthology, but every contributor had to live in Texas or to have been born in Texas. Tom fit neither category.

We fudged. I decided that he could get a story in the anthology if he collaborated with a writer who lived in Texas. I lived in Texas. So, we wrote the private-eye story “Snowbird.”

We passed the story back and forth many times, using Word’s Track Changes function to see what each of us had added, corrected, or changed, and we held discussions about the plot either within the document or in the emails accompanying the manuscript as we passed it back and forth.

By the time we finished writing, the anthology opportunity had disappeared. We soon placed the story with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine—the first sale to EQMM for either of us—and “Snowbird” appeared in the December 2007 issue, later placing fourth in the annual EQMM Reader’s Poll.

Tom doesn’t write much fiction these days, but his most recent non-fiction books, collaborations with his wife Annette titled You Ate the Wings Upon My Plate and Three Coins in the Construction Zone, were released in December 2018.

SANDRA MURPHY

On June 12 last year I wrote a Facebook post that included, “Sometimes I wish I were the James Patterson of short stories, able to farm out projects and share bylines with a plethora of other writers.”

As part of her response to my post, Sandra Murphy wrote, “If you want to give it a try, I’m game to be your no-name co-writer!”

Because my post was facetious, I did not anticipate anyone volunteering, so I was surprised when Sandra did. Thanks to membership in the Short Mystery Fiction Society, we have “known” each other for several years—I wrote a piece for a newsletter she edits, and she’s written two for a newsletter I edit—we were already familiar with each other’s writing.

I don’t know if Sandra called my bluff or if I called hers, but not long after that I saw an anthology’s open call for submissions, I had an idea I thought would be appropriate, and I shared the idea with Sandra. Though she has written some fiction, Sandra’s a well-established nonfiction writer, and turning my idea into a finished manuscript would require the kind of research that non-fiction writers do on a regular basis.

After much back-and-forth, we completed our story before the submission deadline, and I’m pleased to announce that “Gracie Saves the World” will be included in Maxim Jakubowski’s The Book of Extraordinary Historical Mystery Stories: The Best New Original Stories of the Genre (Mango), which is scheduled for an April 2019 release.

Sandra and I are currently kicking around two additional story ideas, one she brought to the table and one I brought to the table.

JAMES A. HEARN

I’m currently editing three anthologies for Down & Out Books—one’s been turned in, one will be turned in soon, and the third is due before fall of this year. In 2017, I began work on the first—The Eyes of Texas, a collection of private eye stories set in Texas and scheduled for release just in time for this year’s Dallas Bouchercon. At ArmadilloCon in Austin that summer I participated in a panel discussion about editing anthologies, and I announced to the audience that The Eyes of Texas was open for submissions.

James A. Hearn—Andrew—was in the audience. Andrew has been a finalist, semi-finalist, and honorable-mention recipient in the Writers of the Future contest, a quarterly competition now in its thirty-sixth year that has launched the careers of several science fiction and fantasy writers. He had been concentrating on writing science fiction and fantasy, had not yet been published, and left ArmadilloCon determined to submit a story to The Eyes of Texas. He did, I accepted it, and he’s gone on to contribute to the two other anthologies I’m editing.

Andrew and his wife Dawn live sixty or so miles south of Temple and me, and last year they joined us for our annual spring writer gathering. Since then we have twice met the Hearns for dinner, and the last time we met—mid-December—I became aware of Andrew’s knowledge of football. I just happened to have a story that I stopped working on because to finish it would require football knowledge. I provided Andrew with a rough description of the story and asked if he’d be interested in collaborating on it.

He was.

I sent Andrew my partially written scenes, rough outline, and notes, and yesterday, as I write this, he returned a complete draft of the story. The manuscript will likely bounce back and forth a few more times, but I think it’s almost submission ready.

AND ALL THE REST

Many other people have impacted my writing in one way or another. Some have given me story ideas, some have helped me organize plots, and some have proofread my final drafts—Temple does all this and more—but the writers mentioned above are the ones with whom I have truly collaborated, creating work that neither of us could have created on our own.

Twice the work for half the pay? Certainly. But well worth the effort.


My story “Something Fishy” appears in Black Cat Mystery Magazine 4 (January 2019).

After receiving my first two acceptances of 2019, I’m ready to up my bio stats from more than 1,200 accepted stories to more than 1,300 accepted stories. Alas, that isn’t 1,300-plus unique stories because more than a dozen of the acceptances are for reprints or secondary rights of some kind. And it isn’t 1,300-plus published stories because I can’t confirm how many stories have actually been published; early on I sold to several publications that never sent contributor copies and, because they often changed pseudonyms and story titles, I’ve no way to locate the stories through any known databases and indexes. Still, the checks cleared the bank.