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

20 October 2020

Countdown to the Anthony Best Anthology Award


Anthony Award Nominees
Best Anthology or Collection
Bouchercon 2020

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods, edited by Michael Bracken (Down & Out Books)

¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico, edited by Angel Luis Colón (Down & Out Books)

Crime Travel, edited by Barb Goffman (Wildside Press)

Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons (Wildside Press)

Murder A-Go-Go’s: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Go's, edited by Holly West (Down & Out Books)

Anthony Awards Ceremony
October 17, 2020

6:35 p.m. I’m sitting in my office in Texas and concurrently waiting in an online breakout room with Angel Luis Colón, Barb Goffman, Verena Rose, and Holly West, all of us editors of anthologies nominated for Best Anthology.

Michael Bracken
dressed for success.
We chit-chatted for a bit, but we’ve been asked to mute ourselves while we await announcement of the winner. The ceremony doesn’t begin until 7:00 Texas time, so we’re sitting in silence.

6:40. We just received word that there’s a glitch of some kind and they’ve been unable to get all the nominees into the breakout rooms for their specific categories, which explains why we’re still missing an editor.

6:43. Shawn Reilly Simmons arrived in our breakout room but does not have live video. I think all of us are here now.

6:45. We are kicked out of our breakout rooms.

6:46. We returned to our breakout rooms.

And silence has returned.

6:50. Barb’s camera is on, but she’s disappeared. Shawn still doesn’t have live video.

In the silence, I can hear my wife and our guests in the living room. Andrew Hearn (a contributor to The Eyes of Texas) and his wife Dawn joined us for dinner this evening, and they will soon gather around Temple’s computer on the far side of the house to watch the ceremony.

Waiting in the
Breakout Room
and writing this
SleuthSayers post.

Andrew and
Dawn Hearn.

The ceremony
has begun.

6:54. I took a few selfies and a few photos of my computer screen. Still quiet.

6:57. Slugging Mountain Dew as if I can actually control my bladder. My greatest fear: Being in the bathroom when our category is announced.

6:59. My wife and our guests have gone to the other side of the house.

7:00. Has the ceremony begun? I have no way to know.

7:01. We received a message that the ceremony is live!

7:04. I’m practicing my smile. I look like a serial killer.

7:05. I have my acceptance speech on my computer screen. I modified the text from my prerecorded acceptance speech. I’m wondering if I’ll get to read it.

7:07. Award presentations have begun. Barb has returned.

7:08. Now, I’m getting nervous. I can feel my heart rate increasing. Maybe it’s just the Mountain Dew. 

7:09. Our category is being announced. Shawn now has live video.

7:13. Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible wins.

Much Later. Even though The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods did not win, I still want to share my thanks. So, here’s the speech I planned to make:

Thanks to Eric Campbell and Lance Wright of Down & Out Books for publishing The Eyes of Texas, and for all they’ve done to support it. Thanks to all seventeen contributors, several of whom received awards or award nominations for their stories. Thanks also to all the Bouchercon attendees who voted for the Anthony Awards, regardless of which anthology they chose. Most importantly, thanks to my wife Temple for all she does. Without her support and encouragement, none of this would be possible. Thank you all.


Recent Presentations

On Saturday, October 10, 2020, I presented “Write It. Sell It.” via Zoom to Malice in Memphis. This presentation was geared toward beginning and early career writers of short mystery fiction. To watch a recording of the presentation and to download the PowerPoint presentation, visit https://www.maliceinmemphis.com/october-2020--zoom-malice-meeting.html.

On Tuesday, October 13, 2020, I presented “Two Sides. Same Coin.” via Zoom to MWA’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter. This was a more general discussion of writing and editing in which I addressed several questions presented in advance of the presentation, and then answered a variety of questions posed after the presentation. To watch a recording of the presentation—which will only be available until November 9—visit https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/v0Scazk7dd6644JZSxt-45jESOCGWlN_7MAENEPAAgYBuJF_9gvr41XtBdpF-Zzy.AckWigUVuSPdFlwe, with the passcode F&.x6J.+

29 September 2020

Who Are You?


Though our bios are important,
what do our photos tell
readers about us?
Author bios can be some of the trickiest bits of writing we do. We want a reader to know something of our personality and something of our accomplishments, all within a tightly constrained word count and sometimes following special instructions from an editor.

During the course of our writing careers, our bios take at least three forms—some more stressful to produce than others—and, if we’re lucky, can take a fourth.

BIO LEVEL 1

The first form is the bio we write early in our career, the one accompanying our first few publications when we have no career of note.

It will be simple, and likely filled with information not writing related:
A. Writer eats broccoli, likes cats, and lives in his mother’s basement. This is his first sale.
BIO LEVEL 2

The second bio we write after we establish a modest career, and it is likely filled with info about our publications and, maybe, a personal note:
A. Writer is the author of Really Cool Novel (Small Press Publisher, 2016), and more than a dozen short stories published in Magazine A, Magazine B, and others. He still lives in his mother’s basement.
BIO LEVEL 3

Several years later, after we’ve established ourselves, we have so many accomplishments we could mention that we find ourselves torn. Which do we mention? How much can we say without sounding like an ego-inflated ass? And, so, even though we know it doesn’t include everything we’ve accomplished, our bio looks something like:
A. Writer is the author of several novels, including Really Cool Novel (Small Press Publisher, 2016), Really Cool Novel 2 (Small Press Publisher, 2017), Really Cool Novel 3 (Small Press Publisher, 2018), and the stand-alone My Agent Made Me Write This (Almost a Big Five Publisher, 2020), as well as several hundred short stories published or forthcoming in Major Magazine A, Major Magazine B, Magazine A, Magazine B, Magazine C, Magazine D, Anthology A, and Anthology B. His stories have been short-listed for half-a-dozen awards, some of which you’ve never heard of, and he’s twice had stories good enough to be included in the “Other Distinguished Stories” list at the back of The Best of Year Anthology. He edited Broccoli & Cats, an anthology of food-related cat stories. He finally has his own apartment.
BIO LEVEL 4

This one may be the easiest bio of all but is one few of us ever get to write. This is the point in our career when we have become so famous that our byline is all the bio we need. Think:
  • Stephen King
  • James Patterson
If forced to provide more than a byline, we can add just a touch of personal information:
A. Writer. His mother lives in his basement.
BIO VARIATIONS

Some editors (me, for example) prefer professional bios. That is, they want bios heavy on writing accomplishments and light on personal details. They want to know what awards you’ve received and where your work has been published.

Other editors prefer personal bios. They want to know about your veggie preferences, your cats, your kids, your spouse, your education, your hobbies, and any intimate details of your life you care to reveal.

Still other editors want a combination bio that includes a bit of both.

And, sometimes, an editor wants a specific bit of information included in your bio, regardless of which type (professional or personal) they prefer. For example, I asked contributors to The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods to include something about their connection to Texas, and through the author bios, readers learn which contributors were born in Texas and still live here, which were born here but moved away, who worked on a cattle ranch, who is descended from the first Secretary of War to the Republic of Texas, and so on.

IT’S NOT THE LENGTH OF YOUR BIO, IT’S WHAT YOU DO WITH IT

Editors often have space limitations, so we must be creative within whatever limitations we’re given. Twenty-five words? Fifty words? One hundred words? It varies from publication to publication.

So, pay attention to your editor’s bio guidelines. Pay attention to your word count, your editor’s bio style preferences, and any special requests. Then pack as much information as possible within the word count you’re given.

What you should never do is ignore the editor’s guidelines and send the editor your one-size-fits-all (but doesn’t really) prepackaged bio and ask the editor to revise it to meet her needs or cut it to fit within her publication’s space limitations.

MY BIO

I’m at the Bio Level 3 ego-inflated ass stage of my career—one doesn’t write for forty-plus years without acquiring several accomplishments—and, because I try to write bios that meet each editor’s specific guidelines, I constantly struggle with what information to include.

I’m not complaining about my current bio level, but it certainly would be nice to advance to Bio Level 4.



My past as the King of Confessions rises to the surface. Eight of my confessions have been reprinted in these four anthologies.

08 September 2020

Playing the Numbers


I like to think the process of getting a short story published is a numbers game—submit enough stories to enough publications and sooner or later at least one of them will be accepted—but it isn’t.

The stories in these publications beat the odds.

The process starts with the story, which must be well-written, competently proofread, and appropriately formatted. Accomplishing this is difficult enough, but additional factors impact a story’s salability.

For example, genres run hot and cold, with markets expanding and contracting. A pretty good story might sell if there are a dozen potential markets, but likely not when there are only two potential markets and all the top writers in that genre are also submitting to them. In that case, pretty good might not be good enough.

Additionally, targeted stories—stories written for specific open-submission calls—have an advantage over old manuscripts tossed into the submission queue just because they vaguely meet the requirements. On the flip side, though, a story written for a specific open call that doesn’t make the cut may be more difficult to place elsewhere if it’s too obviously a reject from that project.

BUT, THE ODDS

Still, the numbers are important, so let’s look at a few.

Stories currently under submission: Seventeen.

Stories not currently under submission: Thirty-five.

It frustrates me to have so many unsubmitted stories lounging about the house doing nothing to entertain readers, pay bills, and advance my career, but there are good reasons why some of them keep hanging around. They can be classified into three, easily identifiable groups:

1) Stories I wrote for the confession magazines. For much of my writing career I was a frequent contributor to magazines such as True Story, True Confessions, True Love, and the like, and when the last two confession magazines ceased publication a few years ago, I was left with about two dozen unsold confessions. Though I placed a few of them in romance anthologies, most of the stories that remain are not romances. I also placed a few with small-press pulp magazines, but most of the small-press pulp magazines want crime fiction, science fiction, and the like, not confessions/women’s fiction.

2) Stories I wrote for Woman’s World. Several years ago I made a run at Woman’s World but failed to sell WW any of those stories. When I stopped trying to break into the magazine, it was purely a financial decision: I was selling every confession I wrote, and I calculated how many WW stories I would have to sell relative to the number I wrote to earn as much as I was earning when I spent that time writing confessions. I don’t remember the exact number, but it was somewhere around one in ten, and I wasn’t selling any. Over the years I’ve placed a handful of the unsold WW stories, but, as with confessions, I’ve not found many markets open for the short romances I wrote.

3) The last group of unsubmitted stories is a mish-mash. Some were written for specific open-submission anthology calls and didn’t make the cut. Some were written for once-hot genres that have grown cold. Some were written with no specific market in mind. Some were written in genres where I’m not as familiar with the markets. So, they lounge about the house, taunting me with their failure to connect with the right editor.

What all of these unsubmitted stories have in common is that I haven’t given up on any of them. Every few weeks I spend quality time with my favorite search engine, seeking markets—open-call anthologies, new periodicals, webzines, and so on—looking for potential homes for one or more of the unsubmitted manuscripts. When I find potential homes, I send my darlings off to visit editors. It’s their job to convince editors of their worth.

EVENTUALLY, YOU’LL WIN

Of the seventeen stories currently awaiting decisions from editors, eight are on first submission; four on second; one on third; one on fourth; one on sixth; one on seventh, and the final one is a previously published story being offered as a reprint.

Of the thirty-five stories awaiting submission, thirteen have been out and back once; twelve have been out and back twice; seven have been out and back three times; and three have been out and back four times.

Based on past experience, most of these stories will sell...eventually. And this is where the numbers game comes back into play: The only way to sell a story is to put it in the hands of an editor who wants to publish it, and sometimes that means putting the story in the hands of many editors before finding the perfect match.

Because, if your stories are well-written, competently proofread, and appropriately formatted, and if you submit enough of them to enough publications, sooner or later at least one will be accepted.


My story “I Would Do Anything For You” was published August 31 at Pulp Modern Flash. This is one of the shortest stories I’ve ever written.


Breaking News! I will soon open for submissions to two new anthologies: Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties and Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir Vol. 3. Learn more at http://www.crimefictionwriter.com/submissions.html.

18 August 2020

The Rocky Writing Process


As I write this a few days before it appears, I have five full short-story manuscripts atop my desk. This is unusual. A full manuscript is usually only a thorough proofreading away from being finished and submitted, and I rarely let more than a few days pass before that happens.
I completed full drafts of all five stories within the past month, and they remain unfinished due to some small, niggling doubt about each one. I’ve been struggling to determine what it is about each story that suggests it isn’t ready, or I’ve pinpointed the problem but not the solution.
For example, the first story is set in the 1940s, and I glossed over an event late in the story that deserves more than the few sentences I devoted to it. It deserves a complete scene, but to write the scene I need to research train engines of the time period and I need information about a specific train station. So, I am at the moment stymied by lack of research.
Another story is set partially in the 1930s and partially today. The portion set in the 1930s is fine as is; the portion set today reaches an unsatisfying conclusion. I’m uncertain if my lack of satisfaction in the conclusion is because it isn’t properly set up, because it’s poorly written, or because it’s the wrong conclusion.
The other three stories have their own problems: flat characters in what is, essentially, a gimmick story; missing information in a tale-with-a-twist story that would make the twist more satisfying; and a horror story my wife doesn’t “get,” and I can’t tell if the problem is in the story or if Temple—who doesn’t read horror fiction and doesn’t watch horror films—is the wrong audience.
TOUCH-A, TOUCH-A, TOUCH ME
Instead of working to resolve the minor issues with these stories so I can send them out to visit editors, I have, instead, kept plowing forward with the completion of new work. I have several partially written stories—all begun before the world turned upside down—and most of the stories I’ve completed the past several months came from this pile of partials.
I often work this way, with multiple short stories and other writing projects in progress, and I bounce back and forth between them. Already today—it’s pushing four o’clock—I’ve completed a full draft of a story, made progress on a second story, and wrote most of this.
I have a handful of other stories in progress that I touch frequently, sometimes adding only few words or notes about scenes to come or plot points that need to be incorporated. I have another dozen or so that I touch less frequently, and I have hundreds that I haven’t touched in a while. All of these could, and likely will—should I write fast enough or live long enough—become stories that I ultimately finish and submit.
THRILL ME, CHILL ME, FULFILL ME
I don’t recommend my process to anyone, and I’ve lately attempted to alter it given how life has changed during the past several months. Early in my writing career, when I juggled family, full-time employment, and all that comes with each of them, I often wrote in short bits of time. For example, I wrote during my lunch hour, and the story I worked on during lunches was rarely the same story I worked on before or after work.
Recently, I’ve had a few day-long blocks of time. At first, I didn’t know how to effectively utilize such large blocks of time. So, my attention bounced from social media to writing to household chores to writing to errand running to writing and I wasn’t accomplishing near as much as I desired.
So, I tried to intentionally structure a few of my days. I ensured that I had no chores or errands, intentionally avoided social media, and planted myself in front of the computer shortly after breakfast. I selected a single story each day and worked on it until I had a full draft or had gone as far as I possibly could. If time remained in the day, I then began work on a second story.
This has worked spectacularly well the few days I’ve been able to structure my days in this way.
On the flip side, I now have five full short-story manuscripts that require something more than a final proofreading pass before heading out the door.
Perhaps I need to select one day and proclaim it as a problem-solving day. Perhaps I’ll structure it much like the writing days I’ve had recently—no errands, no chores, no social media, and at the computer right after breakfast—except that my goal will be to select a full manuscript, wrestle with it until I’ve solved its problems and, if there’s time, do the same with a second story.
Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.



August 1 was a good day. My story “Bone Soup” appeared in the August issue of Mystery Weekly and “Jalapeño Poppers and a Flare Gun,” which I co-authored with Trey R. Barker, was released as the eighth episode of the serial novella anthology series Guns + Tacos.


11 August 2020

Black Cat Mystery & Science Fiction Ebook Club


If you like reading crime short stories, and let's face it, you wouldn't be a regular SleuthSayers reader if you didn't, then you should know about Black Cat Mystery & Science Fiction Ebook Club. An offering of Wildside Press--which publishes a lot of mystery anthologies, including the Malice Domestic anthologies since their revival a few years ago and this year's upcoming Bouchercon anthology--the ebook club is nearing its third anniversary. It's like a book-of-the-month club, but weekly and with electronic short stories (and some novellas), mostly reprints. The ebook club is different from Black Cat Mystery Magazine, which is edited by my fellow SleuthSayer Michael Bracken, though the quarterly magazine is sometimes included as a weekly offering to the ebook club members.
Every week, paid club members get an email telling them about the seven (sometimes more) stories they can download that week in mobi or epub versions. Three or four are crime/mystery stories, the rest are science fiction. Unpaid club members get the same weekly email giving them access to one free story, a specific one each week. All of the ebook club stories are available for two weeks only, giving members an incentive to check in each week (or every other one) to download the new offerings.
A lot of the mystery stories are traditional, in the classic mode, originally published early in the twentieth century. But in June, Wildside began including a contemporary story with the mysteries each week. It is these modern stories with which I'm most familiar because I'm the person who's been choosing them. In the spring, Wildside's publisher reached out to me, asking if I would head up this series of stories, finding reprints I thought were really good. He's labeled this imprint Barb Goffman Presents. (That was a big surprise--a nice one--because I thought I was going to be solely behind the scenes.)
Since then I've read more short stories than I have in years, trying to find ones I love and think would be a good fit for Black Cat readers. (Stories originally published by Wildside Press are off the table.) When I find a story I think would work, I reach out to the author. It makes me feel like Santa Claus, which is pretty cool.
This work has given me an excuse to read many of the anthologies that I bought over the years but never found the time to read. And it's enabled me to share with readers stories that I think are special but might have been overlooked when they came out.
The first story I presented was "Debbie and Bernie and Belle," written by my fellow SleuthSayer John Floyd and published in 2008 in the Strand Magazine. Last week's story, which is still available to paid club members for a few more days, is "The Greatest Criminal Mind Ever" by Frank Cook, originally published in 2009 in Quarry (Level Best Books). And this week's story, which has been chosen as the week's free story for paid and unpaid members, is "The Kiss of Death" by Rebecca Pawel, originally published in 2007 in A Hell of a Woman (Busted Flush Press). Pawel's story is set in the New York City tango community and is a delight to read.
If you want to check out the ebook club, go on over to https://bcmystery.com/. And happy reading!

28 July 2020

Writing Squirrels


“Squirrel!”

In the movie Up, Dug is often distracted by squirrels while in the midst of conversations with Carl and Russell in much the same way writers are often distracted by new ideas while in the midst of writing something unrelated.

Writing squirrels are now delivered to the
Bracken household by the barrowful.
I certainly deal with my share of writing squirrels. This, in fact, is one of them. I was writing a scene about a woman in a convenience store when she looked out the window and—Squirrel!—I thought this might make for an interesting SleuthSayer post. I jumped over here, wrote the opening two paragraphs and then—Squirrel!—jumped into another file and noted the title and premise for a humorous horror story I might never actually write and then—Squirrel!—thought of a way to respond to a difficult question in an email, but even before I opened Outlook—Squirrel!—I imagined an opening scene for yet another story, quickly opened a new file, and made some notes.

By then I was exhausted, so I gave up chasing squirrels and wandered off to watch another episode of Foyle’s War.

I still haven’t returned to the scene about a woman in a convenience store looking out the window.

WHERE DO THEY COME FROM? WHERE DO THEY GO?

Writing squirrels are random ideas that hover at the edge of our subconscious, just waiting for a moment when we are deeply engrossed in writing to skitter across our consciousness and divert our attention from the project in front of us. They’re exciting and new—not the drudgery we’re slogging through—so we look away. We make notes, we write snippets of dialog, we draft scenes, and then the writing squirrel disappears. The idea abandons us mid-thought, or it truly is a good idea and we begin work in earnest, turning the writing squirrel into a project that requires our attention. We become deeply engrossed in our new project, certain this is the story that—Squirrel!—and then we’re off chasing another idea.

I think writing squirrels breed in our subconscious, sneaking meals from the mental bird feeder we fill with the random assortment of facts, images, turns of phrase, smells, tastes, news reports, snippets of conversation, dreams, and other detritus. When the squirrels have feasted sufficiently—when they have consumed and digested this smell and that news report and that overheard bit of conversation and that turn of phrase—they dart across our consciousness, letting us know that they have brought us an exciting, new idea.

Writing squirrels are our best friends and our worst enemies. While they often distract us from the task at hand, they often bring us our best ideas. We can neither tame them nor avoid them, we can only—Squirrel!


In addition to The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books, 2019) receiving an Anthony Award nomination, several stories from the anthology have also received recognition: “Lucy’s Tree” by Sandra Murphy received a Derringer Award; “See Humble and Die” by Richard Helms was nominated for a Derringer Award and was selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2020; “West Texas Barbecue” by Michael Chandos was nominated for a Macavity Award; and “Weathering the Storm” by Michael Pool was nominated for a Shamus Award. Even though there are four other excellent anthologies nominated for an Anthony Award this year, I’m partial to this one.

07 July 2020

Purchase. Read. Vote.


Though the first Bouchercon was held in 1970 and the first Anthony Awards presented in 1986, Bouchercon 2020 will be, if I’ve counted correctly, only the tenth time an Anthony has been presented for an anthology or collection.

As a contributor to three Anthony-nominated anthologies and the editor of one, it may be selfish to suggest that I wish an Anthony were awarded in this category every year.

As a voracious writer and reader of short mystery fiction, though, I think this is a great way to recognize the contributions of short-story writers and editors, and I believe their work should be honored every year. After all, crime fiction novelists have multiple opportunities to receive awards, far more than do short-story writers and editors.

PAST RECIPIENTS

The award seems to have had slightly different names over the years, and here’s a look back at past winners. The publishers of Anthony-winning anthologies/collections include both major publishers and small presses, and the editors tend to be well-known. Bouchercon’s own anthologies have won twice and, coincidentally, the only publisher to have won twice published the Bouchercon anthologies.

2018 Best Anthology—Gary Phillips, The Obama Inheritance (Three Rooms Press)

2017 Best Anthology or Collection—Greg Herren, Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 (Down & Out)

2016 Best Anthology or Collection—Art Taylor, Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015 (Down & Out)

2015 Best Anthology or Collection—Laurie R. King & Leslie S. Klinger, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon (Pegasus Crime)

2001 Best Anthology/Short-Story Collection—Lawrence Block, Master’s Choice II (Berkley)

1996 Best Short Story Collection—Marcia Muller, The McCone Files: The Complete Sharon McCone Stories (Crippen & Landru)

1995 Best Anthology/Short Story Collection—Tony Hillerman, The Mysterious West (Harper Collins)

1994 Best Anthology/Short Story Collection—Martin H. Greenberg, Mary Higgins Clark Presents Malice Domestic 2 (Pocket)

1992 Best Anthology/Short Story Collection—Sara Paretsky, A Woman’s Eye (Delacorte)

2020 NOMINEES FOR BEST ANTHOLOGY OR COLLECTION

There are five nominees for Best Anthology or Collection this year, each equally deserving. If you enjoy short stories, and if you want to read several great stories, you should order all five. Within the pages of these anthologies you will discover Agatha, Anthony, Derringer, Edgar, Macavity, and Shamus Award-nominated short stories, an Agatha Award-winning story, a Derringer Award-winning story, and at least one story selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2020.

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods, edited by Michael Bracken (Down & Out Books)

¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico, edited by Angel Luis Colón (Down & Out Books)

Crime Travel, edited by Barb Goffman (Wildside Press)

Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons (Wildside Press)

Murder A-Go-Go’s: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Gos, edited by Holly West (Down & Out Books)










So, order all five, read them closely and, when you receive your Anthony ballot this year, vote for the anthology you feel most deserving.

SIDE NOTE: SLEUTHSAYERS WELL REPRESENTED

Though Art Taylor is the only SleuthSayer to receive an Anthony for Best Anthology, Paul D. Marks co-edited the Anthony-nominated Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (Down & Out), and Barb Goffman and I each edited an anthology nominated this year. So, SleuthSayers are well represented in this category.


Sandra Murphy and I have a collaboration—“Goobers”—in The Book of Extraordinary Impossible Crimes and Puzzling Deaths (Mango) edited by Maxim Jakubowski; my story “Caked” appears in the June issue of Thriller Magazine, and my story “El Despoblado” appears in the June issue of The Digest Enthusiast.

16 June 2020

News From the Dark Side


A year before I joined SleuthSayers, I wrote “Tales From the Dark Side,” a guest post about editing that included some information about my editing background and several tips on how to please editors.

I’ve touched on editing in some of my subsequent posts, but this time I’m sharing news.

BLACK CAT MYSTERY MAGAZINE

Those of you who have read the recently released Black Cat Mystery Magazine #6—or have used Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to read the issue’s editorial—will already know this, but I am now the editor of BCMM.

I joined the BCMM staff at last year’s Malice Domestic, replacing Carla Coupe as co-editor upon her retirement. Earlier this year, after working together on the forthcoming special issue Black Cat Mystery Magazine Presents Private Eyes and reading through all the submissions from last fall’s open call, Wildside Press Publisher John Betancourt asked me to step into the editor’s role while he concentrated on his duties as publisher.

So, I did.

Our goal is to publish quarterly, with three numbered issues and one special issue each year, and John has charged me with ensuring that BCMM is home to the full range of subgenres within our field.

BCMM #6—filled will new stories by Michael Bracken, Trey R. Barker, Patricia Dusenbury, Robert Guffey, John Hegenberger, Laird Long, and Robert Lopresti, and a classic reprint by Bryce Walton—is the last issue in which all the stories were selected by John and Carla. John and I selected the stories for the private eye issue, and subsequent issues 7–10 contain a mixture of stories selected by John and Carla, John and me, and me.

As you likely gathered from the previous paragraph, we have filled the next four regular issues, so it could be as much as a year before we again open for general submissions. Even so, our next special issue—Black Cat Mystery Magazine Presents Cozies—will open for submissions later this year. Keep a close watch at https://bcmystery.com/Guidelines/ for guidelines and information about the short submission window.

DOWN & OUT BOOKS

A few years ago I began work on my first anthology for Down & Out Books—The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes From the Panhandle to the Piney Woods—and the number of projects I’m doing with D&O continues to grow.

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes From the Panhandle to the Piney Woods

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods
was released just before the 2019 Bouchercon in Dallas. In addition to strong reviews and an Anthony Award nomination for Best Anthology or Collection, stories from The Eyes of Texas have been singled out for award recognition:

Sandra Murphy’s story “Lucy’s Tree” earned a Derringer Award.

Richard Helms’s story “See Humble and Die” was nominated for a Derringer Award and was selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2020, due out later this year.

Michael Pool’s story “Weathering the Storm” has been short-listed for a Shamus Award.

Guns + Tacos

Guns + Tacos, the serial novella anthology series I co-created and co-edit with Trey R. Barker released its first season in 2019. Six novellas, released as ebooks one episode each month July–December constitute a season, and, after each season ends, that season’s novellas are assembled into a pair of paperbacks, each containing three episodes.

Season 2—with novellas by Ann Aptaker, Eric Beetner, Alec Cizak, Ryan Sayles, Mark Troy, and a collaboration between Trey R. Barker and me—begins next month. Each episode can be ordered individually, but subscribers receive a special bonus story that non-subscribers don’t. Last season I wrote the bonus story; this season Trey wrote it.

And—good news!—we’ve been approved for season 3.

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, the first in what we hope will be an annual anthology series, is set to release this fall. After all the contracts are signed and we get a bit closer to publication date, I’ll share the list of contributors.

Mickey Finn 2, slated for publication fall 2021, is in the last stages of the editing process and the manuscript will soon be delivered to the publisher.

Jukes & Tonks

Jukes & Tonks, which I am co-editing with Gary Phillips, is scheduled for publication in spring 2021. Gary and I are awaiting delivery of the last few stories and then copyediting begins.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

In addition to the above, I remain editor of a bi-monthly consumer magazine for gardeners and a weekly electronic newsletter for gardeners.

BUT WHAT ABOUT SOME WRITING NEWS?

My story “Best Be the Tie that Binds” appears in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #6.

You might say I have a vested interest in two of this year’s Anthony Award-nominated anthologies. Crime Travel (Wildside Press), edited by fellow SleuthSayer Barb Goffman, contains my Derringer Award-nominated story “Love, Or Something Like It.”

09 June 2020

Some thoughts on the short-story-related Anthony Award nominations


While we talk about many things that are writing related here at SleuthSayers (and many things that aren't), our primary focus is crime short fiction. So it's wonderful timing that today, a few hours before I sat down to write this column, the Anthony Award nominations were announced, including for best short story and best anthology/collection published last year.

I'm not going to write long today because I'd rather you take some time to read one of the nominated anthologies or short stories. But I do want to say a few things:

First, thank you to all of the authors who heard about my crazy idea to do a cross-genre anthology, mashing crime with time travel, and submitted stories for Crime Travel back in 2018. (Crime Travel was among the nominated anthologies.) I could only accept fourteen stories (plus one of my own). I wish I could have taken more.

Thank you to everyone who has congratulated me today. I love the camaraderie of our industry. This nomination belongs to the authors in Crime Travel as much as it does to me, and I applaud them.

Congratulations to my fellow SleuthSayers Michael Bracken (whose The Eyes of Texas: Private Investigators from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods was nominated for best anthology) and Art Taylor, who is up twice (!) in the short-story category, once for "Better Days," which appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and once for "Hard Return," which I was proud to include in Crime Travel. I'm so proud of you both!

I'd edited anthologies before Crime Travel, but this was the first time I chose the stories. It was a daunting task. One thing I learned from doing it is that while stories about a theme can be wide-ranging, in different sub-genres with varying approaches to storytelling, the best stories--at least to me--are the ones that touch you. The ones that have heart. And I hope that the nomination for Crime Travel today means that the stories in this book touched a lot of readers just as they did me. Thank you to everyone who read it and nominated it.

So, without further ado, here are this year's nominees for the Anthony Award in the best short-story category and the best anthology category. I hope you'll pick up one of them (or all of them).

BEST SHORT STORY
“Turistas,” by Hector Acosta (appearing in ¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico)
“Unforgiven,” by Hilary Davidson (appearing in Murder a-Go-Gos: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Gos)
“The Red Zone,” by Alex Segura (appearing in ¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico)
“Better Days,” by Art Taylor (appearing in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2019)
“Hard Return,” by Art Taylor (appearing in Crime Travel)

BEST ANTHOLOGY OR COLLECTION
The Eyes of Texas: Private Investigators from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods, edited by Michael Bracken (Down & Out Books)
¡Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas!: Stories to Benefit the People of Puerto Rico, edited by Angel Luis Colón (Down & Out Books)
Crime Travel, edited by Barb Goffman (Wildside Press)
Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons (Wildside Press)
Murder a-Go-Go’s: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Go-Go’s, edited by Holly West (Down & Out Books)

Happy reading!

26 May 2020

AloneStarCon


Though our friends are saddened by the cancellation of this year’s many mystery conferences and conventions, Temple and I spent Memorial Day weekend at AloneStarCon, the first-ever presentation of the Lone Star State’s premier mystery convention. We thought we would share some highlights with you.

This year’s convention was held in a modest venue selected for its proximity to the guests of honor. Convention staff went above and beyond to ensure that every guest felt welcome, and the many presentations were nothing short of exceptional. The distance between any two points in the event facility was negligible, the intimate setting allowed close interaction between writer and fan, and everywhere we turned we ran into our favorite writer. There was never a wait for a table in the restaurant, the food was excellent, and the serve-yourself bar allowed for generous pours of one’s favorite libations.


AloneStarCon
May 22-24, 2020
Hewitt, Texas

Guest of Honor By Default: Michael Bracken
Fan Guest of Honor By Default: Temple Walker
Surprise Guest: Kiwi

First event of the day was the Speed Dating Breakfast, where I had a scant two minutes per table to discuss my story “Sleepy River” in the current issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Here I am holding up a copy of The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods while moderating the panel on anthology editing.

Later, I moderated the panel on creating and editing a serial novella anthology series, and I’m showing the audience the first two volumes of Guns + Tacos.

The Fan Guest of Honor caught me in the lobby, taking a break between panels.

Surprise Guest Kiwi failed to adhere to social distancing suggestions when he joined me in the lobby.

The dealer’s room had quite a selection, and here I am with a copy of Password to Larkspur Lane, one of Temple’s favorite Nancy Drew titles.

After a hard day of paneling and book buying, we found a place at the bar for some much-needed libation.

When we finally made it back to our room the first night, we dumped out our swag bag and found many titles written or edited by the Guest of Honor.

Though we hope AloneStarCon does not become an annual event, we must express our gratitude to the organizers for putting together this stellar event on such short notice.

Until we see you all again, stay safe!


05 May 2020

A River Runs Through It


Although I’ve written and sold short stories in a variety of genres, my crime fiction primarily fits within the subgenres of private eye, hardboiled, and noir. I’ve written many stories in which violence is on the page, sex is on the page, and the climax involves someone getting shot. (The crime fiction I wrote for men’s magazines—prior to their demise as viable markets—often involved climaxes of a different sort.)

While I’ve done well working within these three subgenres, I realize restricting myself to them limits the number of publications that might use my work and relying on shooting someone for a climax lends a certain predictability to my stories.

So, during the past handful of years, I’ve made a conscious effort to expand my crime fiction into other subgenres. “Sleepy River,” in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, is a good example.

STORY GENESIS

I envy fellow short-story writers—Art Taylor, John Floyd, Robert Lopresti, and several others—who write wonderful essays about the inspiration behind this story or that story. I often find those kind of essays difficult to write because I rarely know where my ideas come from.

For example, all I can find in my notes is that I created a Word document for “Sleepy River” on June 19, 2018, and I had, at some point prior to that, roughed out five pages of handwritten notes. There is nothing to indicate where the idea came from, but the key elements of the story—including a rough sketch of the dock where the story begins and ends—are in the notes.

GENRE-CHALLENGED

I’m uncertain what sub-genre “Sleepy River” fits into, but it’s clearly not private eye, hardboiled, or noir.

It’s about what happens to two young girls idling away their time during summer break. There’s no sex, no bad words, and only muted violence. But there are good guys, bad guys, and a dead guy. And nobody gets shot in the climax.

Enjoy.

14 April 2020

Byte Me


Back up your files!

So many stories are no longer accessible.
I’ve been hearing this since the advent of personal computers, and I’ve always tried to adhere to what is, on the surface, good advice.

I no longer have the cassette tapes from my first computer—a Radio Shack TRS-80—but I have a collection of 5.25” floppy disks, 3.5” diskettes, Zip drives, and CDs containing word-processing files created with WordStar and various iterations of Microsoft Word on a variety of PCs and Macintoshes. Except for the CDs, I no longer have any working computers that can read the disks, and the self-extracting archives I created to store large documents and then copied over each time I’ve upgraded to a new computer no longer self-extract. So, even though I have backed up much of what I’ve written, I can’t access the work from the first few, post-personal computer, decades of my writing career.

More than four decades of writing.
On the other hand, almost everything I’ve archived on paper in my six files cabinets is still readable. The few exceptions are contracts I copied using my fax machine before I had regular access to a photocopier or my own copiers and scanners. (Faxes and copies created using thermal fax machines slowly darken over time.)

BLAST FROM THE PAST

How we submitted electronic ms.
Back in the day—sometime after the advent of personal computers with word processing programs and before the use of email for manuscript submission—several of the publications for which I wrote liked to receive electronic files on diskettes. So, I prepared a label with my (no longer valid) contact information as well as information about the disk and what was on it. I’m unsure why the disk pictured was returned to me, but apparently I submitted a story titled “I Hired a Private Eye,” which I saved in Rich Text Format as a file named PrivateEye.rtf on an IBM-formatted diskette.

MUSEUM PIECES

I’ve written before about my typewriters—“Three Typewriters and a Desk”—but I’ve never written about my computers. Alas, they have mostly just been tools to which I have no inherent emotional attachment.

My "computer museum."
My first personal computer was a TRS-80 connected to a small black-and-white television I used as a monitor and to a cassette tape player I used to back up files. I was never able to use it to write, and my most significant accomplishment was learning enough BASIC to create a short, text-based choose-your-own-adventure type game.

My next computer was an IBM PC, provided by a client who subcontracted consulting work to me, and since then I’ve worked my way through several brands of PCs before transitioning to Macintoshes and working my way through several generations of Macs.

I still use both PCs and Macintoshes on a regular basis, but the Mac has become my computer of choice, and I no longer own a functioning PC. Temple calls the collection of dead PCs in the garage my “computer museum.”

PLAN AHEAD

So, backing up your files is still valid advice—especially backing up unsold work and unfinished works-in-progress—but think ahead. How will you access those files next year or next decade when the software used to create the files no long exists and the media they are stored on is no longer accessible?

I certainly wish I’d planned ahead.


“Sleepy River” appears in the May/June 2020 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, due out later this month.

24 March 2020

The Possibly Last Case of Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac


Over the course of two-plus years, I’ve written stories for three anthologies edited by Josh Pachter and, publishing being what it is, all three anthologies are scheduled for release this year, two of them in April, within seven days of each other.

“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac” will appear in The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads), scheduled for release April 7.

“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo” will appear in The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe: Parodies and Pastiches Featuring the Great Detective of West 35th Street (Mysterious Press), scheduled for release April 14.

JONI

When Josh first approached me about contributing to the Joni Mitchell anthology, I was intrigued. Though I listened more often to hard rock (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Mott the Hoople, and the like) when I was younger, I was quite familiar with Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and many other singer/songwriters from that end of the musical spectrum.

Several hours after receiving the invitation from Josh, I tried to claim “Woodstock.” By then I knew the protagonist and had roughed out a plot. Unfortunately, one of the conceits for the anthology was that every one of Joni’s albums would be represented by at least one song, and someone had already claimed a song from her album Ladies of the Canyon.

I put that idea aside and binge listened to Joni Mitchell for the rest of the day, finding and reading lyrics whenever a song caught my ear. Thirteen hours after receiving the invitation, I had locked down my claim to “Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac,” from the album Night Ride Home.

“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”—the story of a young woman, her boyfriend, and what happens in the back seat of his father’s Cadillac—caught my attention because I thought there was a story hidden between the lines of the lyrics and because I remembered my mother’s big-finned 1959 Cadillac Sedan de Ville.

The writing came easily, and six days later I turned the story in. After a few minor editorial adjustments and correction of a few typos, Josh accepted the story.

My take on “Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”: When Ray’s dad’s winning streak turns into a losing streak, his Cadillac is repo’d by his bookie, and Ray’s girlfriend takes it upon herself to get the car back.

NERO

Alas, writing “The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo,” my Nero Wolfe parody, did not go as smoothly. I seriously under-estimated my knowledge of the Nero Wolfe canon, and I found myself doing quite a bit of research, writing and abandoning several ideas, and not turning in the initial version of the story until nearly three months after accepting Josh’s invitation.

That’s when I learned I hadn’t done enough research, and during the following six months Josh guided me through two start-to-finish revisions of the manuscript. The story remains essentially the same as in the initial draft—at the insistence of his longtime assistant, an aging detective long past retirement and near the end of his life takes a new case—but I relied heavily on Josh’s suggestions and revision demands to shape the story into its final form.

“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”: Convinced someone is stalking her, Baldy Badloss’s dance partner Ruth Entemann hires his boss Tiberious Dingo to learn who and why, and the investigation uncovers more family secrets than any of them expect.

LESSONS

If there are any lessons to learn from these diametrically opposed writing experiences, they may be:

1. Inspiration (“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”) and perspiration (“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”) both produce publishable fiction.

2. A good editor knows when a light edit is appropriate (“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”) and when to demand significant revisions (“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”).

3. A professional writer appreciates a good editor.

JONI, AGAIN

And the story inspired by Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that Josh nixed when I proposed it? A year later I returned to the idea, wrote the story I had imagined at the time, and “Woodstock” (the story) will soon appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.