Showing posts with label Michael Bracken. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michael Bracken. Show all posts

10 May 2022

I Went to the Edgars and All I Got was this Hoodie

Let’s not bury the lede: R.T. Lawton received the Edgar Award for Best Short Story at this year’s Edgar Awards ceremony in New York City. His first nomination resulted in his first win.

I also received my first Edgar Award nomination this year, for a story co-authored with James A. (Andrew) Hearn, and, unlike R.T, this was the first time I had ever attended the Edgar Awards.

Michael (in his new
hoodie) and Temple
in Central Park.

Temple and I spent the prior weekend at Malice Domestic in North Bethesda, MD, rode a bus from there to NYC, and spent the days leading up to the event visiting with friends and getting a whirlwind walking tour of various parts of the city.

New York was unexpectedly cold, and I had not packed a jacket or a sweater. So, as we walked from our Times Square hotel to Central Park on Tuesday morning, I stopped in the first store that had sweatshirts in the window and walked out with a hoodie that I wore constantly until time to dress for the awards dinner Thursday evening.

After our walk to Central Park, we met Ann Aptaker for dim sum in Chinatown and, following lunch, she gave us a walking tour through parts of Chinatown, Little Italy, NoHo, SoHo, and Greenwich Village, ending with a too-short visit to The Strand bookstore.

Dawn and Andrew

Andrew and Dawn Hearn arrived late Tuesday, so the four of us met for dinner. The next day, Andrew and I had lunch with Elizabeth Zelvin on Restaurant Row while our spouses had high tea elsewhere in the city. That evening Andrew, Dawn, Temple, and I met up with Stacy Woodson for dinner, and the five of us went to the Mysterious Bookshop for the launch of MWA’s latest anthology, Crime Hits Home. I met fellow SleuthSayer Steve Liskow, a contributor to the anthology, at the signing, and also met Otto Penzler and Michele Slung (who have been very good to me as a writer and an editor, selecting my stories and stories from projects I’ve edited for several best-of-year compilations). I also met a few writers I only knew online, and a great many I did not previously know.

The following day was the big event. It began mid-afternoon with a reception hosted by Dell magazines where we met Linda Landrigan, Janet Hutchings, and Jackie Sherbow from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and we visited with many AHMM and EQMM contributors we knew or knew of. After a quick change of clothing at the hotel, we attended the pre-Edgar reception for Edgar nominees, drifted out to the general reception, and then headed into the banquet hall for dinner and the ceremony.

Temple and Michael
dressed to the nines.

The three Edgar nominees published in AHMM—R.T., Andrew, and me—and our spouses sat with editor Linda Landrigan, Brendan DuBois, Chris Begley, and Abby Browning, and anticipation continued to build after dinner as each award was presented, with Best Short Story one of the last few.

When Schrödinger’s Edgar was revealed (see my previous post), R.T. experienced the joy of winning, and it was an incredible moment to watch someone I know receive the award.

That moment was also the culmination of a week spent wallowing in my nomineehood, something I had been unable to do until Temple and I began our trip to Malice Domestic and the Edgar Awards Ceremony. As mentioned in my previous post, real life had prevented me from truly enjoying my brief moment in the sun. But once we began our trip the Thursday before Malice, it began to hit me, and I rode an Edgar-inspired high that I still haven’t completely come down from.

And if I’m still floating on air from the nomination, I can only imagine how much longer it will be before R.T.’s feet touch the ground.

Though the Edgar eluded me, several other good things happened this week:

Nominated for two Derringer Awards, I received one for “The Downeaster Alexa,” published in Only the Good Die Young (Untreed Reads, edited by Josh Pachter).

My story “Dead’s Man’s Gorge” was published in the May/June Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and my name is on the EQMM cover for the first time.

“Locked Mesa” was published in Mystery Most Diabolical (Wildside Press), the Malice Domestic anthology.

19 April 2022

Schrödinger’s Edgar

The grooviest editor holding the
grooviest anthology.

Until the envelope is opened and the winner announced a week from Thursday, I am simultaneously an Edgar winner and an Edgar loser. Though there is no radioactive substance within the envelope and no feline is likely to die if there is, the situation calls to mind Schrödinger’s classic thought experiment, wherein a cat in a box that also contains a radioactive substance and a small flask of hydrocyanic acid is simultaneously alive and dead.

I first learned that “Blindsided” (co-authored with James A. Hearn and published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine’s September/October 2021 issue) had been short-listed for an Edgar Award when Art Taylor messaged me on January 19 (an event closely followed by a telephone call from Barb Goffman). My first phone call was to my co-author and the second to my wife.

Unfortunately, beyond the euphoria I felt the first few days, I’ve not been able to fully enjoy the nominee experience. Real life—you know, the things that happen outside the made-up worlds we writers create—has been a stressful highwire act for the past several months. So, I’ve been unable to relax and fully contemplate all that it means to be a Edgar nominee.

(Some of the stress is self-generated and none of it is inherently negative, so I’m not in need of thoughts and prayers.)

Part of me wishes I could travel several months backward in time to undo or clear away the things that have recently stressed me so that I could have spent my time wallowing in nomineehood. Alas, time only travels in one direction.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy nomineehood is to ensure that the envelope is never opened. Just as Schrödinger’s cat remains simultaneously alive and dead as long as the box is never opened, I remain simultaneously an Edgar winner and an Edgar loser as long as the envelope is never opened.

I can live with that. Even if Schrödinger’s cat may not.

In other news: Two of my stories—“Aloha Boys” (Hallmarks of the Job/Aloha Boys, P.I. Tales) and “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” (Only the Good Die Young, Untreed Reads)—have been shortlisted for Derringer Awards. Two stories from projects I edited or co-edited—Mark Troy’s “Burnin Butt, Texas” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine) and Stacy Woodson’s “Two Tamales, One Tokarev, and a Lifetime of Broken Promises” (Guns + Tacos, Down & Out Books)—have also been shortlisted.

And hitting the virtual newsstands last week was Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties (Down & Out Books), fifteen private eye stories by Jack Bates, C.W. Blackwell, Michael Bracken, N.M. Cedeño, Hugh Lessig, Steve Liskow, Adam Meyer, Tom Milani, Neil S. Plakcy, Stephen D. Rogers, Mark Thielman, Grant Tracey, Mark Troy, Andrew Welsh-Huggins, and Robb White.

Attending Malice Domestic this week? So are Temple and I! Stop us and say howdy. To find me, or to find any of my fellow SleuthSayers, use Barb Goffman’s handy guide to where we’ll all be: “Have Mask, Will Travel — I’m Ready for Malice Domestic.”

12 April 2022

Have Mask, Will Travel – I'm Ready for Malice Domestic

After a two-year hiatus (thank you, covid), Malice Domestic is resuming its annual in-person convention next week. I don't know where the time has gone. While I'm nervous to be in such close contact with so many people (freaking covid), I'm excited to see (and hug?--still a question mark) these friends I haven't seen in so long. It will be great to get back to normal and see my Malice family.

Normal. That's a concept, isn't it? Will it be "normal" considering a lot of the regulars won't be there? Some because of scheduling conflicts. Some because they're still being careful due to covid. (I so get that. I'll be checking in with a gazillion masks.) And some people won't be there because they're simply not around anymore. We've lost too many people we love since the last Malice, authors and readers.

But as they say, the show must go on. So, I've compiled information on where you can find me and my fellow SleuthSayers attending Malice. If you'll be there, I hope to see you.

Michael Bracken

  • Michael will be moderating the panel Murder in Few Words: Short Stories on Friday at 4 p.m.
  • He'll be participating in the signing for the new Malice Domestic anthology, Mystery Most Diabolical, on Friday at 9:30 p.m. 
  • He'll also be in the signing room on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Barb Goffman (yes, that's me!)

  • I'll be on the panel Make It Snappy: Our Agatha Best Short Story Nominees on Friday at 2 p.m.
  • I'll be signing in the signing room on Friday at 4 p.m.
  • I'll be participating in the signing for the new Malice Domestic anthology, Mystery Most Diabolical, on Friday at 9:30 p.m. (And if you're interested in getting a copy, it should be newly on sale at Malice!)

Art Taylor

  • Art will be moderating the panel Make It Snappy: Our Agatha Best Short Story Nominees on Friday at 2 p.m.
  • He'll be on the panel Last Night, I Dreamt I Went to Malice Again: Romantic Suspense Influences on Saturday at 11 a.m.
  • He'll also be in the signing room on Saturday at noon.

Mark Thielman

  • Mark will be on the panel Murder in Few Words: Short Stories on Friday at 4 p.m.

If you haven't read the five short stories nominated for the Agatha Award, there's still time to read them for free before you get to Malice to vote. Click here and scroll down to the five story names. They are links. And if Malice Domestic is new to you and you want to learn more about this annual fan convention celebrating the traditional mystery, click here.

So, that's it. Get packing. (Oh, who am I kidding. I bet some of you are already packed.)  See you next week!

29 March 2022

You’re Only Famous When You Die

Leigh Lundin was the first to notify me of my untimely death, when he emailed me on March 16:

Michael, while speaking this morning with my friend Cate in South Africa, she bloody nearly gave me a stroke.

She: “I’m sorry to hear about your friend, the one we were just talking about.” (We’d been talking about how prolific you and John Floyd are, masters of quality and quantity.)

Me: “What? Who are you talking about?”

She: “Michael Bracken. I saw his obit. It’s online.”

Me: “No!”

She pulled up the article and read it to me. Whew. It quickly became clear the obituary was referring to someone else, BUT… here’s the kicker. That early edition of the article spoke of the novels and numerous short stories you’d written, mentioned EQMM/AHMM, and that you’re editor of Black Cat. They conflated your career with the other guy!

Cate emailed me the URL, but by the time I got it this evening, the mix-up had been resolved. I regret I couldn’t get a copy to show you the conflation, but better for us, they had the wrong Michael B. I don’t know if there’s a way to get that early copy. I include the URL below.

I haven’t said anything to anyone else in case you might find an article/story in this, Michael. AND—this is exciting—you are definitely renown internationally.

I often wonder what will be written about me after my death and, apparently, I almost found out.

But I do wonder, so much so that I once attempted to draft my own obituary when I suspected no one in my family would do it justice. After I discovered that the cost to publish my bloviated paean to myself would cost my heirs more than I’ve earned for most of my short stories, I decided the paltry inheritance I’m bequeathing them—what is the going rate for half a ton of recyclable paper?—might better be spent on a twelve-pack of Mountain Dew to be shared at the Wake while everyone listens to “Highway to Hell” and “Stairway to Heaven” in an unending loop because I want all my bases covered.

So how is it we wish to be remembered after we’re gone? Loving parent and devoted spouse? Or hermit-like creature whose occasional screeds entertained tens of people? Will the list of the left-behind be a litany of children’s and grandchildren’s names or a screen capture showing all the unfinished manuscripts residing on our hard drive?

Either way, most of us are likely to be forgotten soon after our passing… unless we have stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine’s submission queue. Then we will live forever.

Until then, may you live long enough for your friends to read your obituary and to express relief that the report of your death had been greatly exaggerated.

08 March 2022

Writing Lessons from Top Chef

I recently became addicted to Top Chef, a cooking competition program that airs on Bravo, and I’ve been binge-watching the program during the past several weeks. I started watching with episode one of season one when I found reruns of the series on Hulu, and I’ve almost reached the end of season eleven. (Bravo recently began airing season nineteen, so, please, no spoilers.)

The season begins with twelve to nineteen chefs competing to be the last chef standing and to be named the “Top Chef.” Sometimes the chefs compete singly and sometimes they compete in teams, and each episode typically features two competitions: a Quickfire Challenge and an Elimination Challenge. The winner of a Quickfire Challenge is often granted immunity in the Elimination Challenge and may win a prize. Though the winner of the Elimination Challenge may also win a prize, the loser of the Elimination Challenge must leave the show.

Much like publication editors, the host (Padma Lakshmi ) and judges (Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and a rotating cast of guest judges) issue a “call for submissions” in the form of a challenge. They provide the competing chefs with a description of what they want, the parameters of the task, and a deadline.

A Quickfire Challenge is much like a flash fiction call for submissions: Create an appetizer using a Milky Way, a prawn, and a kumquat, and do it in twenty-seven minutes. The judges then taste the food, tell the chefs who prepared the worst dishes, who prepared the best dishes, and who won the challenge.

The Elimination Challenges are more complex. The competing chefs must prepare one or more dishes, often to a theme, and often for a crowd of diners. At some point during the season, the chefs are encouraged, or specifically instructed, to “tell a story” with their food.


At some point during the first few episodes of season eleven I began to see a parallel to what we encounter as writers. Editors provide us with guidelines that define what genre of stories they want to see, what elements the stories must have, and how many words we’re allowed to use to tell the stories. Sometimes the guidelines are quite specific, and other times they are vague or even nonsensical.

But the parallels become even more apparent when watching what happens at the Judges’ Table after the Elimination Challenges, both the conversations among the judges and their conversations with the competitors when trying to determine which chef gets the boot.

The chefs’ dishes are judged for adherence to the parameters of the challenge, creativity, and technical proficiency. Editors—though the debates are more often internal than among a group of editors sitting around a table—judge submissions much the same way. Does a particular submission meet the guidelines? While adhering to those guidelines, how creative is the final product? And, has the author displayed technical proficiency through proper spelling, punctuation, formatting, and so on?

And one dilemma that the chefs often face when a challenge involves preparing food for several hundred diners: Should they cook for the crowd or should they cook for the judges? During the seasons I’ve watched, food that seemed well-liked by diners has scored poorly with the judges. The lesson, repeated often through the seasons, is that pleasing the judges is critical to winning, just like pleasing editors is critical to getting published.


Top Chef is a reality show, so we know the stories told over the course of each episode and over the course of each season must be taken with a large grain of salt. How much is real, how much is staged, and how much of what we see has been manipulated to feed viewers particular story lines? Does it matter?

Maybe not.

But what does matter is something Tom Colicciho says, in one form or another, at least once each season: “We can only judge by what’s on the plate.”

Editors make publishing decisions much the same way. They can only judge your work by what’s on the page.

Ensure that it’s appetizing.

Black Cat Mystery Magazine 11 was released at the tail-end of February, and it contains new stories by Mike Adamson, Lis Angus, Marlin Bressi, Mark Bruce, Leone Ciporin, Veronica Leigh, Anita Murphy, David Rudd, Max Devoe Talley, and fellow SleuthSayers Robert Lopresti, O’Neil De Noux, and Elizabeth Zelvin. It also contains a classic reprint by Richard S. Prather.

15 February 2022

Continuum of Editors

I am currently reviewing and preparing some of my published short stories for a potential trio of collections, and I’ve realized that there are three types of editors. One type stands alone and the other two represent opposite ends of a continuum upon which most editors can be placed.

The first is the Compiler. The Compiler does no actual editing, publishing work exactly as received. Though this type of editor is often found at the bottom end of the publishing heap, I have worked with a few well-known editors who may be compilers. I wish I could say that my work is perfect and needs no editing—well, I could say it, but no one would believe me—but when editors provide no feedback beyond an acceptance letter and/or contract and I later discover mistakes (typos, for example) in the published work that match errors in my manuscript, I suspect that editor is a compiler.

The two ends of the continuum are represented by the Writer is God editor and the Editor is God editor.

The Writer is God editor has the writer confirm every change and correction, no matter how insignificant. A manuscript may pass back and forth several times before it is put into production, and then the Writer is God editor has the writer review and sign off on page proofs—no one produces actual galleys these days—before approving the finished product for printing.

The Editor is God editor never shows changes and corrections to the writer, and never shares page proofs. The writer only knows what’s happened once contributor copies arrive, if they arrive because the Editor is God editor sometimes doesn’t even bother to send contributor copies.


Most editors exist somewhere on the continuum, and I’ve worked with editors at or near both ends. Even so, I have probably been published by more Editor is God editors than Writer is God editors.

Regardless of where an editor may be on the continuum, a good editor will improve a writer’s work, regardless whether the writer’s input is sought. I’ve been lucky. I’ve only once had a published story harmed by editing—and that one did not have my byline on it.

Early in my career, I always compared my original manuscripts to my published work in an effort to learn from the editing. Many years ago I stopped doing that, though I do still read the published versions of most of my stories, sometimes surprising myself at how good they are.

Apparently, I should have continued comparing my published work to my original manuscripts. While preparing stories for the potential collections, I’ve discovered that several stories have substantial changes, and the ones that do were all edited by the same person. He published a few of them in a magazine and, after he left that position, published several more in a series of anthologies.

I grumbled when I first discovered all the changes he’d made to one of my stories, and then I grumbled even more when I realized how much he’d changed all the stories he published. I stopped grumbling when I realized how the changes had improved each of the stories, and I wonder how much I could have learned a decade or so ago if I had taken the time to do then what I’m doing now.


As a writer, I love working with Writer is God editors, but as an editor I understand why so few exist on that end of the spectrum.

Writers submit sloppy manuscripts, filled with weird formatting, extra spaces, improper quotation marks, backwards apostrophes, and the like, and a fair bit of time gets spent just cleaning things up. It’s a waste of time to ask writers to approve corrections of things they should not have screwed up in the first place.

Additionally, many writers do not follow—and may not even know—a publication’s house style. Is it Associated Press, Chicago Manual of Style, or something the publisher created specifically for its own use? And what about things like British spelling vs. US spelling or word selections such as “OK” and “okay”?

It takes time to convert everything in a manuscript to house style and, again, it’s a waste of time to ask a writer to approve the conversion to house style. Publishers establish and use a house style to ensure consistency of their products, and writers are not often given the opportunity to express an opinion about whether they like it or not.


The Editor is God editor is not an inherently evil entity. Deadlines, budgets, and corporate policies create situations where it just isn’t practical to touch base with writers every time there’s a change to a manuscript.

Despite the shock of seeing one’s words changed without one’s knowledge, professional editors often improve, and rarely harm, the material presented to them. Rather than being offended by what an Editor is God editor has done to a manuscript between submission and publication, it might be best to learn from it.

For example, many years ago I wrote short stories for a group of women’s magazines. I soon discovered that each time I used a brand name in one of my manuscripts, the brand name had been changed to a generic term in the published version. So, McDonald’s became “a fast-food restaurant,” a Quarter Pounder became “a hamburger,” and a Coke became “a cola.” This was not stated anywhere in the publisher’s guidelines, but as soon as I realized what the editor was doing, I stopped using brand names in my submissions.


I edit several projects—a consumer magazine, a mystery magazine, various anthologies, and miscellaneous other things—and each requires a different approach.

For the consumer magazine, which only publishes non-fiction, the approach is Editor is God. The magazine has three editors, each of whom takes a pass at every article. The only time writers may be involved in editing is during fact checking. For example, if a writer quotes “Steven Smith” and we believe the man’s name is “Stephen Smith,” we check with the writer to determine which is correct.

When editing fiction, I lean toward Writer is God, but do not fully embrace the concept. My approach is more like Writer is Minor Deity. After I’ve fixed all the wacky formatting and made the work conform to house style, I involve writers in more substantive changes. Usually, it’s a single pass: I return manuscripts with the changes indicated using Microsoft Word’s track changes function, and writers have the opportunity to accept the changes and/or to work with me on changes with which they disagree.

With Black Cat Mystery Magazine, the next thing writers see are page proofs, and I may or may not make additional minor corrections/changes to their work between the time I receive the edited manuscripts back from them and the time I deliver the files to production for typesetting and page layout.

With anthologies, there’s often an additional editing step. After I’ve delivered the fully-edited manuscript to the publisher, the publisher’s copyeditor takes a run through it, correcting errors the contributors and I missed and suggesting improvements (better word choices, sentence restructuring, and the like). I review all these changes, accepting the obvious corrections and some of the suggestions, before letting the writers review the copyeditor’s work. Sometimes this is the last thing the writers see; other times they also see page proofs.


Compilers aren’t really editors. So, because you never know if you’re submitting to a compiler or an actual editor, always strive to present your manuscripts as error-free as possible. You don’t want to be called to task by a reader blaming you for mistakes you thought your editor would catch and correct.

On the other hand, if you’re working with editors whose approaches can be placed somewhere on the God continuum, remember that their goal is to publish the best work possible. If they are Writer as God editors, appreciate their efforts to include you in the editing process. If they are Editor as God editors, learn from your final published pieces so that future submissions to those editors require little or no editorial intervention between your submission and the final publication.

My story “The Fishmonger’s Wife,” which first appeared in Pulp Literature, was reprinted in Black Cat Weekly #22.

25 January 2022

Building the Perfect Editor

A magazine issue, an anthology,
and a couple of collections
make for a pile of editing.
Over the years I’ve had several thousand pieces of writing accepted for publication, ranging from fillers, jokes, and anecdotes to essays and various forms of non-fiction, to short stories in a variety of genres, to a handful of novels. My work has appeared in anthologies, journals, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, webzines, and other types of publications. I have sold original work and reprints. I have written on assignment, on invitation, and on spec. I have been paid bupkis for some projects and have received payments in the low four figures for others. I have been paid promptly but often not, and too often promised payments never materialized. Through all of this, I have worked with many great editors and with a few who should die from a thousand paper cuts and be left on the side of the road for feral hogs to devour.

Because I have recently been doing more editing than ever before and because I don’t wish for my paper-cut-riddled body to be left on the side of the road, I’ve been pondering the attributes of the perfect editor.

For me, that editor responds promptly, pays promptly (and handsomely), publishes everything I submit, edits with a deft touch that puts a brilliant shine on my near-perfect prose, puts my name on the cover, sends numerous contributor copies, ensures that my work is seen by the most influential reviewers (all of whom recognize my brilliance), and ensures that my work is considered for every appropriate award and best-of-year anthology. No matter how much of an ass I am to work with, a great editor never badmouths me, my work, or my highly inflated ego, and always picks up the tab when we go for dinner and drinks.


The reality is that no editor can meet my expectations. All are constrained by the budgets and policies of their publishers as well as by their own strengths and weaknesses.

Still, I can dream, and my dream is to play Dr. Frankenstein and build the perfect editor from the best parts of the editors with whom I’ve worked, all the while hoping my assistant doesn’t bring home the brain from “Abby Normal.”

I would start by creating the environment in which the editor works: A well-funded publishing company that believes in treating content providers (writers, artists, photographers, and others) as important collaborators to be respected and not as necessary evils to be tolerated.

The editor would have an unlimited amount of time to accomplish tasks and would have stellar support staff, from editorial assistants to designers to contract managers to bookkeeping and accounting staff.

The editor would have all the necessary tools, from the latest hardware and software to appropriate reference materials to comfortable seating and favorite writing implements.

The editor would have the ability to focus on a single task when appropriate and the ability to juggle multiple tasks when necessary.

The editor would have a superior sense of story and the ability to pinpoint exactly where and why a story jumps the rails.

The editor would have superior copyediting skills or a trusted assistant editor with these skills.

The editor would have infinite patience to work with new writers and guide them through the publishing process as well as to answer the same questions ad nauseam.

The editor would have exemplary people skills and, perhaps more important, a sense of empathy that allows the editor to understand what writers experience when they sit at the keyboard to create or when they anxiously check email every thirty-seven seconds awaiting responses to queries, submissions, and revisions.


Alas, once I release the perfect editor into the world of publishing, the newly created creature, lovingly assembled from the best of every editor who has ever existed, is likely to become a jaded, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, hard-drinking SOB whose days consist of rejecting the brilliant work of new writers, publishing the work of washed-up hacks, introducing errors during editing, complaining about the production department, lobbying for a raise (if on-staff) or a bigger advance (if freelance), and bemoaning its failed writing career.

Damn, I really need to quit staring in the mirror when I write these things.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this post is intended to resemble any actual editors, living or dead, except those devoured by feral hogs.

James A. Hearn and Michael Bracken
at the 2019 Shamus Awards Banquet
in Dallas.
“Blindsided,” co-authored with James A. Hearn and published in the September/October 2021 issue of
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, has been nominated for an Edgar Award.

Congratulations to fellow SleuthSayer R.T. Lawton, whose story “The Road to Hana” (AHMM, May/June 2021), was also nominated for an Edgar.

04 January 2022

Still Rolling with It: 2021 in Review

The past two years have been a rollercoaster for many of us, with wave after wave of COVID-19 variants impacting our lives in so many ways. For the past two years, my year-end reviews have suggested that “rolling with it”—accepting whatever opportunities come my way and making the best of them—was the best approach to my writing and editing career, and I’ve done essentially that.

I haven’t, however, just waited for opportunities to fall into my lap, though some certainly have; I have also pitched new projects and used the end of some projects to spur me into creating replacements.

As my writing productivity decreased, my editing responsibilities increased, so this year I’m dividing my year-end review into two parts.


After rising in 2020, my writing productivity plummeted in 2021. I completed only six short stories—the shortest 1,600 words and the longest 5,800—for a grand total of 25,600 words. All were crime fiction, and three were private eye stories. One was a story I started writing 19 years earlier.


Even though productivity was low, I placed 30 original and reprint stories, including two collaborations with Sandra Murphy. This comes mostly from having been productive in previous years and the stories finally finding homes.

Thirty-four original and reprinted stories, including a collaboration with James A. Hearn, appeared in anthologies, periodicals, and webzines, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Barb Goffman Presents, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Weekly, Bullets and Other Hurting Things, Close to the Bone, Crimeucopia: We’re All Animals Under the Skin, Cupid’s Day, Guns + Tacos, House of Erotica/Andrews UK Limited, Horror for the Throne, Jukes & Tonks, Learning My Lesson, Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 2, Modern Mayhem, Mystery Weekly, Only The Good Die Young, P.I. Tales Double Features, Pulp Modern Flash, Punk Noir Magazine, The Mysterious Bookshop Presents The Best Mystery Stories of the Year, The Great Filling Station Holdup, Tough, Unnerving, and Vautrin.

Five editors are represented multiple times. Linda Landrigan published two stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Barb Goffman reprinted two in Barb Goffman Presents and Black Cat Weekly, and Josh Pachter published two in Only the Good Die Young and The Great Filling Station Holdup. Four stories appeared in projects I edited or co-edited, but the most stories were published by the unnamed editor at True Renditions LLC who reprinted two stories in Learning My Lesson and six in Cupid’s Day.

Though some of the stories accepted this year were published this year, not all were. So, I have stories forthcoming in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Groovy Gumshoes, Malice Domestic 16: Mystery Most Diabolical, Mystery Tribune, Prohibition Peepers, and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.


My story “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #6) was reprinted in The Mysterious Bookshop Presents The Best Mystery Stories of the Year (known in the UK as Best Crime Stories of the Year). It was also named an Other Distinguished story in The Best American Mystery and Suspense.

Both “The Ladies of Wednesday Tea” (Bullets and Other Hurting Things) and “Sonny’s Encore” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #9) made Robert Lopresti’s “best mystery story […] read this week” at Little Big Crimes.


I’d like to say that rejections kept me humble this year, but my wife might argue otherwise.

I received 22 rejections, and I’ll repeat something I’ve said before: Any year in which acceptances exceed rejections is a good year.


As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, editing is occupying more of my time than ever before.

Last year saw the release of three issues of Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and I joined Black Cat Weekly as an Associate Editor responsible for acquiring and editing one story each week. Additionally, I edited Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 2, co-edited (with Gary Phillips) Jukes & Tonks, and co-edited (with Trey R. Barker) season three of Guns + Tacos.

In addition to continuing work on the periodicals, I worked on several anthologies and other projects that will publish in 2022 and 2023.

Outside the mystery world, I edited six issues of Texas Gardener, a bi-monthly consumer magazine, and 52 issues of Seeds, an electronic newsletter for gardeners that, incidentally, published two short stories. I also continued my part-time position as marketing director for a professional orchestra, creating, editing, and managing a variety of advertising, marketing, and promotional materials for print, radio, television, and social media.

With the editing projects, I had the honor of directly or indirectly shepherding 76 short stories and novellas through to publication.


This year, several stories from projects published in 2020 were honored:

John M. Floyd received a Shamus Award for “Mustang Sally” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #7) and Gordon Linzner’s story “Show and Zeller” (BCMM #7) was nominated for a Shamus.

Alan Orloff received a Thriller Award for “Rent Due” (Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol 1. [Down & Out Books]) and Andrew Welsh-Huggins’s story “The Mailman” (MF 1) was nominated for a Thriller.

My story “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #6) was reprinted in The Mysterious Bookshop Presents The Best Mystery Stories of the Year and was named an Other Distinguished story in The Best American Mystery and Suspense.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins’s “The Whole Story” (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #7) made Robert Lopresti’s “best mystery story […] read this week” at Little Big Crimes.

I had the honor of publishing several kick-ass stories in 2021, and I have my fingers crossed that many of them will be similarly recognized during the 2022 awards season.


Having multiple editing projects, all with firm deadlines, requires more structure to my creative life than writing does, so I’ll likely not be able to “roll with it” this coming year. Even so, I’ll remain flexible, take advantage of opportunities as they arise, create new opportunities when I can, and try to increase my writing output.

I hope all of you had a good 2021 and that 2022 is even better.

January 1 was release day for Guns + Tacos compilation volumes 5 & 6. Vol. 5 includes novellas by Dave Zeltserman, Stacy Woodson, and David Hendrickson; vol. 6 includes novellas by Hugh Lessig, Neil Plakcy, and Andrew Welsh-Huggins. Each novella is available as a stand-alone ebook, but the compilation volumes are ideal if you missed the novellas when they were first released. Additionally, subscribers to the series receive, with vol. 6, a BONUS short story that I wrote.

14 December 2021

One Way or Another: Anthology Types

Although there are some minor variations, editors of anthologies of original fiction find content in three primary ways:

Michael's first

Open Call. An open-call anthology is one for which anyone may submit.

Limited Open Call. A limited-open-call anthology is one for which only a limited number of people may submit, and how many writers are included in the limited call can vary from a few dozen to several hundred. For example, various Sisters in Crime chapters produce anthologies that allow submissions only from chapter members.

Invitation Only. An invitation-only anthology is one for which only writers who have been specifically invited may submit.

There are hybrid forms as well:

Invitation Only/Open Call Mix. The Bouchercon anthologies and several anthologies I’ve seen promoted via Kickstarter campaigns combine invitation-only, by which they acquire stories from a handful of well-known authors, and open-call, by which they acquire the balance of the content.

Invitation Only/Limited Open Call Mix. The Mystery Writers of America anthologies acquire a few stories via invitation and then have a limited open call for the balance of the content. In this case, the call is limited to MWA members.


Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, and anthology editors must weigh the pros and cons of each when deciding how to approach any particular project.

Open Call. An open-call anthology has the potential to attract contributors unknown to the editor, and those contributors might be talented and have a unique approach to the anthology’s theme that results in great stories.

The downside is that a widely announced anthology with an appealing theme might attract a great number of submissions of wildly variable quality and appropriateness, potentially overwhelming the editor.

Limited Open Call. The advantages and disadvantages of a limited-open-call anthology are quite dependent on which writers are included in the call. Limiting the call to writers with whom the editor has previously worked will likely result in submitted stories that meet or exceed the requirements, and it may prove difficult to narrow the selections.

On the flip side, the quality of submissions to a limited open call where the submission pool is defined by membership in a particular organization may be quite variable depending on the organization and, because the editor may not be able to seek submissions outside the defined pool, may require the editor to do more work bringing all the accepted stories up to snuff.

Invitation Only. From an editor’s standpoint, this may be the best way to assemble an anthology. By inviting only writers with whom the editor has previously worked and/or writers the editor admires, it almost guarantees that every submission will be appropriate. Almost.

The downside is that inevitably one or more of the invitees fails to deliver, and if the editor hasn’t planned ahead, this can lead to some last-minute scrambling to complete and deliver the project to the publisher on time.


I edited five open-call anthologies for Wildside Press and Betancourt & Company in the early 2000s and then spent several years randomly pitching anthology concepts that, at best, received “We like this, but” responses and, at worst, were completely ignored.

I returned to anthology editing in February 2017 when Down & Out Books greenlit The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (2019). I’ve since edited and co-edited nine more (if I include the two due out later this month), and I’m in the process of editing or co-editing four due out in 2022, four tentatively due out in 2023, and one that does not yet have a release date because it does not yet have a publisher.

I have used all three methods (and some hybrid methods) to create these anthologies.

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books, 2019) was an open-call anthology, though there was one exception. During a conversation at Bouchercon in Toronto I mentioned a specific historical event in Texas that I was surprised no writer had used in a story. That conversation turned into an invitation when the writer I was speaking with said he could use that event in a story.

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 1 (Down & Out Books, 2020) was an Invitation Only/Open Call Mix. I invited four writers to submit and three of them did; the balance of the content came via open call. Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 2 (Down & Out Books, 2021), which was officially released yesterday, and MF3 (scheduled for 2022) were both open call. I recently released a limited open call for MF4 and have not yet decided if I’m going to switch to an open call.

Jukes & Tonks (Down & Out Books, 2021), co-edited with Gary Phillips, was invitation only. We each wrote a story and invited five other writers, for a total of twelve contributors. I don’t know how Gary chose his five, but my five were all writers with whom I had previously worked, that I knew could deliver what I wanted to see when I wanted to see it, and who I thought had at least a passing familiarity with the anthology’s theme.

Guns + Tacos (Down & Out Books), a serial novella anthology series co-created and co-edited with Trey R. Barker is an anomaly. Each novella is released as a separate e-book. Ultimately, though, all of the the novellas are gathered into three-novella anthologies. Volumes 1 and 2 were published in 2019, volumes 3 and 4 in 2020, volumes 5 and 6 later this month, and volumes 7 and 8 will appear in 2022. Guns + Tacos is invitation only, and Trey and I arm wrestle each year over which writers to invite. If there are additional entries in the G+T series, they will continue to be by invitation only.

Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties (due out April 2022) began as a single open-call anthology. I received more good stories than I could fit into a single volume, so I held back—with contributors’ approval—enough for a second volume with no assurance that there would even be a second volume. By the time Down & Out Books greenlit the second volume—More Groovy Gumshoes (due out in April 2023)—I’d lost a few stories to other publications. So, I invited two writers to come aboard at the last minute, making More Groovy Gumshoes an Invitation Only/Open Call Mix.

The other projects—which will go unnamed—include two invitation-only anthologies and a limited-open-call anthology I am co-editing.


If you’ve worked your way through the above overview of the various anthologies I have edited or am in the process of editing, you’ll note that I’ve slowly moved away from open-call anthologies toward invitation-only anthologies, with a few hybrids along the way.

There are two key reasons for this decision:

Success. It is, perhaps, egotistical to say this, but the first two anthologies I edited since returning to this side of the editorial desk resulted in an Anthony Award nomination for Best Anthology, six stories receiving or nominated for major awards, and two stories included or long-listed for inclusion in a best-of-year anthology. Writers want to submit to editors with this kind of track record, so the number of submissions has increased substantially with each new open-call project.

Other editorial responsibilities. As editor of Black Cat Mystery Magazine, which remains an open-call project, I read a significant number of submissions from writers of all experience levels and across all the crime fiction subgenres. (See “Killing Dreams One Rejection at a Time, the Sequel” for a glimpse at what it’s like evaluating 264 submissions.) Thus, I am exposed to, and have the opportunity to work with, many new and new-to-me writers.

So, to reduce my workload without reducing the number of projects I edit, I’m increasingly relying on limited-invitation calls and personal invitations to acquire content.


These days, I appreciate it when I’m asked to contribute to an anthology, but early in my career I had no idea how to get on an editor’s invitation list. The first few times I was approached I had no idea how the editor selected me. (See “Pay It Forward” to learn how I was invited to contribute to Max Allan Collins and Jeff Gelb’s Flesh and Blood: Guilty as Sin.) That, combined with the number of times I’ve seen beginning and early career writers asking the same questions I’d once had, leads me to offer a few suggestions.

Write, Submit, and Get Published. If you’ve never been published, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be invited to submit to an anthology. So, write, submit what you write, and improve your skills. Once your work is being accepted on a regular basis via open-call projects, create a formal or informal list of all the editors you’ve worked with and would like to work with again. Then cross-reference that list with editors of invitation-only projects to determine where you might have opportunities to step up your game.

Be Professional and Easy to Work With. I wish this didn’t have to be restated, but, unless you’re a creative genius, your work will be edited. Meet deadlines at every step of a project. You must complete ancillary paperwork—contracts, author bios, story blurbs—so be available and easily reached via mail, email, and telephone. Understand how to use Microsoft Word.

If you have proven yourself professional and easy to work with on an open-call project, you increase your odds of being added to that editor’s list of potential writers for future invitation-only projects.

Make Your Desire Known. This last suggestion requires a bit of finesse. Do it wrong and you look like a suck-up. Do it right and your opportunities increase.

If you have worked with an editor, enjoyed the process, and would like to work with that editor again, let the editor know. A simple email stating something like: “I enjoyed working with you on Project X and would appreciate the opportunity to work with you again. Please keep me in mind for future projects.” I regularly work with writers who have sent me similar emails.

If there’s an editor you think you would like to work with, you can send a similar email: “Although we’ve not previously worked together, I have enjoyed reading Project X, Project Y, and Project Z. I write in the same subgenre, my work has appeared in Magazine A and Magazine B, and I would welcome the opportunity to be considered for one of your future projects.” One of the contributors to the Guns + Tacos series approached Trey and I with a similar email.

If you do these three things, you will increase your odds of having your work included in an invitation-only anthology. If you write a great story, act professionally, and let the editor know you’re interested in doing it again, odds are great that your name will be included on that editor’s list of “writers to work with again.”


If I receive several hundred emails today from writers who want to be included on my invitation list for future projects, I’m going to put y’all on my suck-up list. You need to wait long enough for me to forget I wrote this so that I’ll think your emails are truly heartfelt.

And if nobody sends me an email about this, I’m going to have to rethink my entire approach to editing.

My “Christmas Enchiladas and a Gold-Plated Derringer” was the bonus story for subscribers to Season 3 of Guns + Tacos, and it accompanied Andrew Welsh-Huggins’s “A Smith & Wesson with a Side of Chorizo.”

02 November 2021

Killing Dreams One Rejection at a Time, the Sequel

Michael Bracken, Dream Killer
In my April 6, 2021, SleuthSayers post “Killing Dreams One Rejection at a Time,” I wrote about my experience reading 160 submissions for Black Cat Mystery Magazine’s forthcoming cozy issue. Let me tell you, the days when I could kick back and relax with a mere 160 submissions is but a fond memory.

BCMM’s most recent submission window ran September 1 through September 30. Over the course of the month I received 264 submissions, and I responded in one way or another—rejection, hold for second read, and/or acceptance—September 5–October 26.

Of the 264 submissions, three were withdrawn before I could read them, and I accepted eight stories upon first reading. Of those eight, two were stories I had previously read when they were submitted to, but were not appropriate for, an anthology I edited.

From the balance, I held 59 for a second read and, of those, ultimately accepted 32, for a total of 40 acceptances. That’s a 15% overall acceptance rate.

But that also means I rejected 221 submissions. If you’re gnashing your teeth right now, I can safely presume yours was one of those stories.


Despite my best intentions, I did not read every word of every submission. Before I explain some of the reasons for rejection, let me note that all of the stories I held for a second reading, and many that I did not, were publishable as is or with minimal editorial work.

So, why did so many stories fail to make the cut? The most obvious is limited space. My goal was to fill two and a half issues, which, depending on story lengths, requires approximately 25 stories. By accepting 40, I filled approximately four issues. I won’t know exactly how many issues I filled until I have time to organize everything and schedule the stories for specific issues.


Other editors have suggested that once submission volume reaches a certain point, they no longer look for reasons to accept stories, but instead look for reasons to reject. I found myself doing the same.

Because this was an open submission period, I read stories representing all sub-genres of crime fiction. So, I didn’t see any clear subject-matter trends, such as an abundance of stories with theatrical settings, the way I did when reading submissions for the cozy issue. What I did find were three things that weighed heavily against writers:

1. Not starting the story in the right place. Several stories began too soon or provided too much back story before anything of significance happened.

2. Bad dialog. Several stories began well enough, but the first patch of dialog kicked me out of the story.

3. Weird formatting. As I mentioned in my April 6, 2021, post, previous experience has proven that a writer unfamiliar with the fundamentals of Microsoft Word is going to be difficult to work with. In the past, I’ve been willing to suffer the pain of working with such an author, but this time I was not. Bad formatting led to rejection, even for otherwise fine stories.


The most stories submitted by a single author: Six.

The most stories accepted from a single author: Two—a pair of stories by a female author and another pair by a male author.

Accepted stories written by two authors in collaboration: One.

Accepted stories translated from another language into English: One.

Five accepted stories came from authors with addresses in Canada, two came from authors with addresses in the Netherlands, and the rest came from authors with US mailing addresses.

Twelve stories were written or co-written by female authors. The rest were written by male authors or authors whose bylines were not gender-specific.

I wish I had time to delve deeper into the data to determine, for example, how the ratio of male/female acceptances correlates to the ratio of male/female submissions and how the ratio of accepted stories from non-US residents correlates to the number of submissions from non-U.S. residents.

Alas, I don’t.


With a 15% acceptance rate, the odds are clearly stacked against any one particular submission, so your goal as a writer is to improve your odds. If you’re submitting to Black Cat Mystery Magazine or to any project I edit, you can improve your odds considerably by doing the following:

1. Read, understand, and follow the guidelines. Though I have seen many submissions from writers who didn’t follow guidelines, this, thankfully, was not a significant issue during this submission window.

2. Learn how to properly use Microsoft Word. Seriously. A writer not knowing how to use Microsoft Word is like a carpenter not knowing how to use a hammer.

3. Don’t dawdle. Get your reader into the story as quickly as possible.

4. Master dialog. Bad dialog is a story killer.

And then let me see your stories the next time Black Cat Mystery Magazine has an open submission window. I look forward to reading them.

12 October 2021

Protect Your Inner Life

Reacting to Lan Samantha Chang’s essay on, “Writers, Protect Your Inner Life,” Trey R. Barker (my Guns + Tacos co-creator/co-editor) posted on Facebook:

Michael, dressed for the
convention that never was.

The essay “at least partially misses what is actually the death of a writer’s inner self: the outer world. The world must take precedence, which makes it incredibly difficult to find time to do the actual writing, much less time to: A - think up the story, and B - do the foundational thinking that leads someone to the questions that become the basis for any writing. That is the inner life writers need to protect. It seeps away little by little and most often, a writer doesn’t even realize it. Not until it is nearly completely gone do they recognize what they’ve lost and by then? It can be too late to get it back.”

The loss or significant constriction of a writer’s inner life, which results in a reduction in creative output, is not the same as writer’s block. Writer’s block is an inability to write. Losing one’s inner life degrades, and potentially eliminates, one’s desire to write.

I should know. Events the past several months have wreaked havoc upon my inner life.

The eighteen-hour-a-week job that provides a steady base to my wildly fluctuating freelance income turned, for several months, into a thirty-hour-per-week job; health issues (nothing life-threatening, thank you for asking) demanded time I didn’t have to give and attention I didn’t want to give; and editing projects that I voluntarily took on consumed much of the time not otherwise filled.

When I wrote—and I did write—the stories I completed were adequate, probably even publishable, but lack a key element that comes from a rich inner life: They lack heart.

Without a rich inner life and the time to explore it, one loses heart, the quality of one’s creativity diminishes, and, thus, the desire to write evaporates.

Temple has noticed the light fading from my eyes—she says I’m happiest when I’m writing and happiest of all when writing is going well—and she’s asked what she can do to help me re-engage with my inner life. She’s even offered to use part of a recent bonus to fund a weekend getaway so I could lock myself in a room somewhere and do nothing but write. Though tempted by the offer, I know now is not the right time. I would likely spend much of the weekend mulling over the many outer-world concerns that have already invaded my inner world.

As Chang writes in her essay, one must “[h]old onto that part of you that first compelled you to start writing.” She further notes that “[t]he single essential survival skill for anybody interested in creating art is to learn to defend this inner life from the world.”

So, I think what I need to do is regain a firm grasp on the part of me that first compelled me to start writing—the youthful exuberance that made me think other people would be interested in the stories I had to tell—and combine it with a careful rebuilding of the inner world that allowed me to write so many stories over the years. Only then will my stories have heart, and only then will I regain a compelling desire to write.

My story “Remission,” first published in Landfall (Level Best Books, 2018), was reprinted in the first issue of Black Cat Weekly as a Barb Goffman Presents selection.

21 September 2021

Three Best

Over the years, SleuthSayers have been well represented in The Best American Mystery Stories, as John M. Floyd pointed out when he reviewed the first “Twenty Years of B.A.M.S.” back in 2016. One-time BAMS Series Editor Otto Penzler has launched a new best-of-year series—The Mysterious Bookshop Presents The Best Mystery Stories of the Year—and SleuthSayers are again well represented, with stories from three members—Janice Law, John, and me—included within the inaugural annual’s pages.

We thought about sharing trade secrets, such as the value of bribery and blackmail when dealing with best-of-year editors, but it turns out I’m the only one of us with low moral values. Instead, Janice and John have joined me to tell you a bit about each of our stories.

“The Client”
Janice Law

I always find the genesis of a story mysterious, but in the case of “The Client,” I can point to two houses, both in an old mill town near where we live. The great water-powered textile and thread mills of eastern Connecticut created prosperity well into the twentieth century. Their loss brought hard times to the area and to Ray Wilde, the first professional detective I have written about since I ended the Anna Peters series.

Ray was actually devised for an anthology edited by our SleuthSayers colleague Paul D. Marks, and a little story-and-a-half house behind our bank’s parking lot provided, not only a venue for my half-formed plot, but suggested a weary ex-cop sitting through a boring surveillance.

The resulting story was about mostly decent people caught in small crimes, and I figured one and done for Ray. Still, I liked his style and his turn of phrase. Another house, an imposing home gently going downhill, provided a home for his client and a use for an item in my notebook: a photo of an old New England Crime boss and his long-time companion.

Edith Wing, courteous and eccentric, a pillar of the library board and the local church, is an unlikely person to lead Ray into deep water. He likes her and I like her, too. Although the mystery genre is maybe kinder to older females than it used to be, women of a certain age are still usually victims or accessories. But elderly Edith Wing gave me an opportunity to create an intelligent, morally ambiguous character, who, as she puts it to Ray, knows that sometimes there are few good choices.

“The Client” appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (May/June 2020).

“Biloxi Bound”
John M. Floyd

One of my favorite subjects as a suspense writer has been the ordinary guy with an ordinary job who suddenly finds himself in a desperate situation. In the case of “Biloxi Bound,” my protagonist is one of two brothers who own and operate a small diner in an unnamed northeastern city. When their neighborhood becomes a hotbed of violent crime and their cafe begins struggling, they decide they should move to the slower-paced (and warmer) Mississippi Gulf Coast. That’s an area familiar to me because I once lived on the beach there during my Air Force years and have spent most of my life not too far away.

To this scenario I added a retired mobster, a friendly cop, a young employee at the cafe, a mysterious regular customer, and several plot reversals. The crime and violence that the brothers hope to avoid does of course arrive at the diner before they can relocate, and the result is nothing either of them could’ve foreseen. All this made the story great fun to write, and when I finished it I sent it to The Strand Magazine, which has always been receptive to tales with multiple plot twists and surprises.

I’m glad I did.

“Biloxi Bound” appeared in The Strand Magazine (February-May 2020)

“Blest Be the Tie That Binds”
Michael Bracken

Temple and I married the day after Thanksgiving about seven months before I began writing “Best Be the Tie That Binds,” and we spent our honeymoon—brief as it was—in a cabin in Brownwood, Texas. Saturday afternoon, during a brief respite from the rain, we took a leisurely walk through the woods, and a large dog of indeterminate breed came charging at us. I’m no hero, but I stepped in front of my new bride and shouted at the dog until it finally turned and ran back the way it had come. That’s when I began pondering how far a man might go to protect his wife.

“In Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” Robert Connelly, pastor of the Union Revival Baptist Church, faces this decision when his new bride is threatened—via a whisper in his ear—during their wedding reception. When the threat takes physical form, and when he later learns his wife isn’t the only one being threatened, Connelly must reach deep into his past—a past he doesn’t readily acknowledge—to the incident that led to his life as a man of God to seek help from a friend whose life went in an entirely different direction.

Though this story was published in a magazine I now edit, it was accepted for publication by Carla Coupe and John Betancourt well before my tenure as editor.

“Blest Be the Tie That Binds” appeared in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #6.


John and I often compare notes about the best-of annuals, and between us we identified almost every writer included in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year and The Best Mystery and Suspense long before their editors/publishers made official announcements. So, it was no surprise when John noted that he, Janice and I have been represented eighteen times—either by having stories included or by having stories named among the Other Distinguished Stories—in each of the Penzler-edited best-ofs, and one of us also made the Other Distinguished list in Steph Cha’s inaugural outing as editor of The Best American Mystery and Suspense.

But we aren’t the only SleuthSayers honored this year. Steve Hockensmith made the Honor Roll in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year, and Art Taylor (with co-author Tara Laskowsi) and the late Paul D. Marks made the Other Distinguished list in The Best American Mystery and Suspense.

So, if there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this, it isn’t the value of bribery and blackmail, it’s the value of being a SleuthSayer.

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.


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.