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

08 June 2021

Displays of Love

I know I’m lucky. Temple is supportive of, and often takes an active role in, my writing career. Not all writers can say that about their spouses.

Early indicators of Temple’s support include her having a copy of my first professionally published short story framed to hang over my desk and her having the covers of four magazines with my name on their covers printed on mugs so that when I have my morning pick-me-up, I can pick me up.

The latest example involves redecorating decisions precipitated by family tragedy.

The summer before our November 2015 marriage, Temple’s brother Peter unexpectedly died. The two were quite close, and Temple was devastated by the loss of her younger brother.

Peter was a Pearl Jam fan and, after his passing, all nine of his Pearl Jam concert posters—professionally mounted and framed under glass—passed to Temple. So, to honor Peter, the posters became focal points in four rooms: the living room, the dining room, and both of my offices.

My favorite of Peter Walker’s
nine Pearl Jam posters,
this once hung on the wall behind
me when I sat at my writing desk. 
Hanging the Pearl Jam posters not only honored Peter, but their presence reminded Temple of him every day and, because visitors often asked about the posters, allowed Temple to share her memories of Peter. No matter what we did, one of the living room posters was constantly askew, exactly the kind of thing Peter might have done to annoy his sister.

Earlier this year, Peter’s now-teenaged daughter asked for the posters. Though the decision to relinquish them was heartbreaking, Temple gave the posters to her niece, which left large, empty spaces on the walls of four rooms.

The smaller posters in the dining room were replaced with Temple’s mother’s artwork. (Both her mother and my mother were artists, so we have their paintings, watercolors, and drawings decorating nearly every room in the house—but that’s a post for another time.)

One living room wall, which had contained two of the three largest Pearl Jam posters, remained near-barren, as did the wall directly behind me when I’m sitting at my desk, which contained the third of the three largest posters.

Nothing we already owned—and, trust me, we have a great deal of artwork created by our mothers, as well as miscellaneous artwork and posters created by non-family members—seemed appropriate. Temple nixed everything I suggested.

Then one day, as she looked at the covers of the three anthologies I’ve edited for Down & Out Books, she said, “You know....”

She told me that homes should be decorated to reflect their owners and not to reflect the contents of the sale bin at Hobby Lobby. More importantly, replacing Peter’s Pearl Jam posters with my book covers would do exactly that. She would be exchanging something that reflected the essence of her brother, whom she loved dearly, with something that reflected the essence of her spouse. Besides, she said, “They’re really cool covers.”

And a few weeks later, after having the covers enlarged, printed, and framed by, the covers for Jukes & Tonks and Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir were hanging in our living room, and the cover of The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods was hanging in my primary office.

Many writers don’t have spouses who take active roles in their writing careers, and fewer still have spouses who decorate the living room with giant reproductions of their book covers.

As I said at the beginning of this, I know I’m lucky.

When the Private Eye Writers of America’s 2021 Shamus Award nominees were announced earlier this month, I was surprised and delighted to see that two short stories from issue 7—the special PI issue—of Black Cat Mystery Magazine were nominated: Gordon Linzner’s “Show and Zeller” and fellow SleuthSayer John M. Floyd’s “Mustang Sally.” As editor of BCMM, I shan’t play favorites, so I’m hoping there’s a tie vote and that both Gordon and John receive a Shamus Award.

18 May 2021

Who Am I This Issue?

Accompanying an interview with me that The Digest Enthusiast published in June 2018 was a sidebar listing all of the pseudonyms I’ve used over the years, many of them assigned by editors rather than pseudonyms I’ve chosen.
A pseudonym is a disguise
for writers, much like the one worn
by the unrecognizable writer
shown above.

When I first began writing, I toyed with variations of my name before I settled on Michael Bracken. Michael Patrick Bracken was used only once, on my first professionally published short story. Mike Bracken appeared on much of my fanzine work before I turned pro and then, for a few years, on humor, fillers, and similar material.

I’ve published several pieces using one or the other of my self-selected pseudonyms: Rolinda Hay and Patrick Myers.

Additionally, I’ve been published under many house names or pseudonyms assigned by editors: Gilbert Anderson, Michelle Baker, Mel Barton, M. Bayman, Christine Bracken, Angela Brown, Peter Carson, Nick Ford, Linda Hay, Bruce Jones, Ned Parker, Wanda Reed, Frank Sandwell, Gladys Spivey, S. Turnham, Kate Williams, Aggie Winter, and Stan Young.

I wrote several stories for the sex letters magazines, and bylines were usually initials followed by the name of a city—for example: H.D., Glenview, Illinois—and are too numerous to list.

The stories I wrote for the confession magazines—True Confessions, True Love, True Story, and many others—were often published without bylines because they were presented as “true” and the narrator, whatever her name might be, was presumed to be the author.


There are many reasons why a writer chooses to use a pseudonym and many reasons why an editor foists pseudonyms upon writers.

A writer of erotica, for example, might have a day job as a grade-school teacher, and exposing herself as an erotica writer might negatively impact her day job. A writer well established in one genre might wish to differentiate her work in another genre, even if her use of a pseudonym isn’t a secret.

My use of pseudonyms—especially those assigned me by editors—had more to do with productivity and genre conventions.

I have had as many as four stories published in a single issue of a magazine, and I’ve had stories in multiple consecutive issues of a publication. By assigning pseudonyms to some of the stories, it appeared as if the magazines had more contributors than they actually did.

The confession magazines and sex letters publications also operated under genre conventions that implied the stories were written by real people and not by a bunch of professional writers like me. Some of the confession magazines would put a byline on a story that matched the name of the narrator, but many confession magazines dispensed completely with bylines on their fiction. The sex letters magazines operated under a similar convention: By using only the initials of a letter writer, accompanied by the city and state from which the letter writer supposedly hailed, they gave readers the impression that, again, the letters were written by real people and not by professional writers like me.


I think the last time I had something published under a pseudonym was in 2011 when I self-published the erotic romance novel Stud as by Rolinda Hay, and the last stories I had published without any byline at all appeared in the July 2017 issues of True Confessions and True Story.

There are several reasons why my use of pseudonyms ended during the past decade, most of them related to the rise of the internet and the decline of print publications. Though I’ve always been a multi-genre writer, much of my short fiction appeared in men’s magazines (a euphemism for publications featuring photographs of naked people and purchased primarily by men) and women’s magazines (primarily those publishing confessions of the sin-suffer-repent variety and purchased primarily by women).

The internet, which allows seemingly unlimited access to photographs of naked people, killed the market for men’s magazines. Dorchester Publishing, which purchased the half-dozen-plus confession magazines then published by Sterling/MacFadden in 2004, later sold them to two different publishers (BroadLit and True Renditions LLC) in 2011. By then, Dorchester had crippled the confession magazines such that the two that survived the company’s mismanagement—True Confessions and True Story—lasted only half a dozen more years.

Additionally, and in part because of the constriction or elimination of what were once my primary markets, most of my work these days falls under the broad umbrella of crime fiction. I am nowhere near able to produce enough crime fiction for any mystery magazine to publish multiple of my stories in any given issue, and with all the competition from my fellow SleuthSayers (I’m looking at you John Floyd) and from other writers, it’s unlikely any mystery magazine editor would ever need to.

So, will I ever again use a pseudonym?

You may never know.

“Double Dipping” was published in the May issue of Mystery Weekly.

The 27 Club” was published in Punk Noir Magazine.

27 April 2021

The Pause that Refreshes

Since the beginning of the year, I have read submissions to Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties, Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 3, and the special cozy issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine.

I then read, in quick succession, Sara Paretsky’s Brush Back, John Sandford’s Gathering Prey, and John Grisham’s Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer. 

When I finished them, I started reading the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which contains work from a significant number of SleuthSayers.

What I didn’t do is write.

That’s almost four months without finishing a new short story, a significant productivity gap considering I’ve had year-long stretches when I produced at least a story a week.

This weekend—only a few days before this post appears—I began writing again. Though I’ve not yet finished anything in my two days back at the keyboard, I’ve made progress on a trio of stories.


Write every day.

I’ve seen this advice repeated ad nauseam, and it’s good advice. Some writers need this structure in order to be productive, and other writers use it as a way to build a wall between them and their other responsibilities. (“I can’t do that now, this is my scheduled writing time!”)

But writing every day isn’t the only approach to productivity. Over the years I’ve had many writing gaps lasting from a few days to a few weeks. Sometimes real life demands our attention elsewhere, whether it’s a health issue, a family emergency, mandatory overtime at the day job, or a weather-related incident. And stepping away from the keyboard can be—when done by choice—a way to recharge one’s batteries and return to writing refreshed

In my case, time away was the result of a combination of things: a Snowpocalypse, editing responsibilities, and a week or so of binge reading to cleanse my literary palate.

I have returned refreshed, but I see another writing gap in the near future: All those stories I accepted for Groovy Gumshoes, Mickey Finn, and Black Cat need to be edited and prepared for publication.

With any luck, I can squeeze in a good bit of writing before the next pause.

April has been filled with good news:

“Last Waltz Across Texas” appears in the May/June Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

“Soiled Dove” appears in Crimeucopia: We’re All Animals Under the Skin.

“The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” appears in Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the songs of Billy Joel (Untreed Reads), edited by Josh Pachter.

“If You’ve Got the Money, Honey” appears in Jukes & Tonks (Down & Out Books), edited by Gary Phillips and me. The anthology, which released Monday, April 19, appeared on Amazon’s Hot New Releases list that day (the Kindle edition at #65 and the paperback edition at #67), dropped off, and reappeared the next day (Kindle edition at #29 and the paperback edition at #36).

And the ITW Thriller Award nominees were announced. Two stories from Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 1 (Down & Out Books), which I edited, were nominated for Best Short Story: Alan Orloff’s “Rent Due” and Andrew Welsh-Huggins’s “The Mailman.”

16 March 2021

Drafts? I Don’t Keep No Stinking Drafts!

When Eve Fisher wrote “I’m so relieved to hear that I’m not the only one with 50 versions of the same damn story on my hard drive” in her response to Bob Mangeot’s SleuthSayers post “Don’t Make Me Turn This Car Around,” I spit my drink across the room. Then I reread Bob’s post and realized I’d missed his mention of having “75 versions” of a story on his hard drive.

Clearly, Bob, Eve, and writers like them live in a different universe than I do. I only ever have a single draft of a story—the current draft, which, when I finish fussing with it, becomes the final draft.

I’ve found that keeping multiple versions of a story encourages me to look backward while I’m working—How did I handle the second scene in version three? Was the dialog in the fifth scene more pithy in version twelve? Why did I insert so many exclamation points in version twenty-seven?—when what I should do, and what I try to do, is constantly look forward.

Perhaps part of the reason I don’t keep multiple versions of stories is that I never actually have multiple versions. I write and edit as I go so that my first complete draft is my final or near-final draft. Often all that’s required at that point is a serious, in-depth proofreading.

Not all writers work as I do. Some pound their way through a draft, dumping everything into it as they go. Then they create a second draft, rearranging scenes, rethinking their characters’ motivations, revising so many bits and pieces that the second draft may actually be a different story. Then they do the same again for a third draft.


Okay, I lied. There are two exceptions to my having only one version of a story:

1) Early in my career I wrote for men’s magazines. Many of the stories were equally appropriate for genre magazines with one exception: graphic sex. So, I sometimes created two versions of a story: one with graphic sex intended for men’s magazines and one without graphic sex intended for genre magazines. Sometimes the version with sex sold; sometimes the version without sex sold. (And sometimes I sold first rights to the version with sex and later sold the sexless version as a “slightly modified” reprint.)

2) When I receive a copyedited ms. from an editor, I maintain my original version until we’ve completed the editing process and the story’s been published. Then I delete my version and retain only the published version.


So, one-and-done or multiple versions? Is one method better than the other?


Whether you’re a one-and-done writer or a 75-versions writer, the end result is likely the same: a publishable story.

And that’s what we’re all striving for.

23 February 2021

Writer’s Block of Ice

Today is Saturday, February 20, 2021. I have not written anything more complex than a trio of Facebook posts and a few brief emails since last Sunday. At approximately 6:30 a.m., Monday, February 15, the power went out in the midst of what has become known as the Texas Snowpocalypse, and it did not return until Thursday morning. Temple and I live in an all-electric house in Hewitt, a suburb of Waco, about halfway between Austin to the south and the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex to the north.

Look at the pretty snow.
It’s trying to kill you.

We live in an area with unstable electric power, where power flickers off and on year-round. For that reason, two of our computers are plugged into uninterruptable power supplies, which shield the computers from surges and can keep them running for up to an hour during a power failure, allowing for safe and systematic shutdowns. As soon as we realized the power might not be returning anytime soon, I charged my phone and Temple’s Kindle using one the UPSes. We should have also charged her phone.

As day stretched into night and day and night and day and night, the house grew increasingly colder (ultimately reaching a low of 48 degrees), we learned many things:

Multiple layers of clothing works. I added a new layer each day. By the end, I wore a sweatshirt over a T-shirt, jeans over sweatpants over underwear, slippers (when inside) or boots (when outside) over two pairs of socks. Over all of this I wore a thick Land’s End robe (when inside) or a winter coat (when outside). Accessories included gloves and a scarf.

We come from families of quilters. We have a few store-bought quilts and many quilts made by our mothers and other family members. I’m uncertain how many quilts we actually own because we did not have to dig them all out, but by the end we slept beneath five quilts—without taking off any of the layers of clothing we already wore.

We could not open the garage door more than one-third of the way. The emergency pull that should have disengaged the door from the electric door opening system’s chain did not function properly and we could not fully open the door. Even if we could have opened the door, there was no place we could have gone because everyone around us, all our family and friends, were in the same situation we were. Unable to get the cars out of the garage, we were not able to safely use them to warm ourselves or charge our phones.

Let’s have a cookout.
Chili and tea on the grill.

It is possible to cook a nutritious meal over charcoal briquettes. We often use our grill during the summer for traditional things such as steak and burgers. I used it to cook chili and heat the kettle for tea. We had enough briquettes that I could have prepared a second hot meal if I had needed to.

When the house is almost as cold as the inside of the refrigerator, there’s no real danger in opening the fridge door and rummaging through the contents. Milk remained cold and drinkable, and other fridge items remained edible throughout.

A cat will learn to appreciate covers. Kiwi often sleeps in our laps when we’re seated in the living room and he often sleeps atop me at night. The first night, despite our efforts to cover him, he resisted. As the house grew colder and he began to shiver, we wrapped him up and held him so he couldn’t escape. By the end, he insisted on being wrapped in a quilt.


The power flickered off and on for about an hour and a half on Tuesday afternoon, allowing the HVAC system to warm the house by a few paltry degrees.

Wednesday morning, power was restored to Temple’s father’s home. He lives about seven blocks from us. When it appeared that his power was stable, I made a renewed effort to open the garage door. I am not mechanically inclined, but after scouring the internet, I learned how to completely detach the door from the automatic system and opened the door. Temple escaped to her father’s home.

A few hours later, I took Kiwi to his house and returned home. Mid-evening, with no change in our situation likely, I joined them, and we had a warm dinner (leftover chili!), spent the night in a warm house, and had a warm breakfast.

Let there be light!

I returned home Thursday morning to find that power had been restored and the house was slowly warming. Mid-afternoon Temple and Kiwi returned home, I reassembled the garage door, and I showered for the first time since Sunday morning.

We spent Friday listening to transformers explode throughout our neighborhood. Each time, the power would flicker off and then return.

Friday, our community was placed under mandatory water conservation restrictions. So, while we’ve never been without water, we are avoiding showers, have not washed clothes, nor have we run the dishwasher.

Today, with the midmorning temperature above freezing and the roads reasonably clear, we ventured out. We had bills to pay, medications to pick up, and groceries to buy.

I tried to fill my car’s gas tank, but could not find a service station with working pumps.

The crowded grocery store had limited supplies. But we found milk, cheese, and potatoes as well as some canned items that would supplement the food we already had at home.

Many of our fellow Texans have suffered far more than we have—and some even escaped to Cancun—so I’m not about to complain about our experience. Still, I certainly don’t want to ever repeat it.

It will take a long time to recover from what’s happened. In fact, we may have PTSD—Post Texas Storm Disorder.


I did a lot of reading during daylight hours. (I completed two Peter Lovesey novels and am halfway through a third. I strongly recommend his work even if you’re not caught in a Snowpocalypse.)

What I didn’t do is write. I couldn’t. Survival took precedence.

I don’t believe in writer’s block, and I never have. This week, though, I experienced the ultimate writer’s block.

This week I was beaten by a writer’s block of ice.

On February 12, Down & Out Books released Bullets and Other Hurting Things: A Tribute to Bill Crider, edited by Rick Ollerman. The anthology includes my story “The Ladies of Wednesday Tea.”

My story “Family Films” was published by Close to the Bone on February 14.

The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffet, edited by Josh Pachter and published by Down & Out Books, was released February 22. Included is my story “Tampico Trauma” and stories by fellow SleuthSayers John M. Floyd and Leigh Lundin.

12 January 2021

Rolling With It: 2020 in Review

In “The End is Near,” my year-end wrap-up for 2019, I noted, “I ended my review of 2018 with a note that ‘2019 will be the year I just roll with it. I’ll try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way and see what happens.’

Includes my story
Final Reunion”
“That worked out well, so I’m going to approach 2020 the same way. A year from now I’ll let you know how it worked out.”

As it turns out, “rolling with it” was the only way to approach 2020. The pandemic threw a monkey wrench into every plan I had or might have considered making. Though Temple and I fared better than many others, my annual income dropped by several thousand dollars. Luckily, her income remained constant, and the money we saved from the cancellation of Malice Domestic and Bouchercon’s conversion to a virtual conference, combined with some belt-tightening, allowed us to end the year no worse off financially than when it started. So, even though we missed spending time with our friends in the writing community, we survived.


I previously wrote about the significant increase in my editing workload during 2020 (“Once More, With Feeling”), so I’ll concentrate on how my writing fared this past year.

I completed 104,196 words of new fiction (up from 67,200 in 2019). That’s 26 new stories (up from 14 the previous year), with an average length of 4,008 words.

The shortest was 136 words; the longest 15,000.

The 15,000-word story was the longest solo project I’ve written in decades.


I received 37 acceptances (25 original stories; 12 reprints), up from 16 in 2019. Being an editor has its advantages because four of the year’s acceptances were for projects I’m editing or co-editing.

I saw 38 stories published (18 originals and 20 reprints).

My story “Love, Or Something Like It,” published the previous year in Barb Goffman’s Anthony Award-nominated anthology Crime Travel (Wildside Press), was short-listed for a Derringer Award and “The Town Where Money Grew On Trees,” published November 5, 2019, in Rusty Barnes’s Tough was selected as an “Other Distinguished Story of 2019” in The Best American Mystery Stories. Additionally, my stories “Dirty Laundry” (Tough, April 20, 2020) and “Woodstock” (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, November/December 2020) made Robert Lopresti’s “best mystery story [...] read this week” at Little Big Crimes.


I once wrote that any year in which acceptances outnumber rejections is a good year, but is a year in which rejections outnumber acceptances necessarily a bad year? It might mean I’m doing a poor job of targeting my submissions or, on the flip side, it might mean I’m stretching myself by targeting new markets or by submitting more to high-end markets.

Regardless, even though it felt as if I received more rejections that I did, I actually received more acceptances than rejections.

I received 23 rejections.


I have stories forthcoming in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Bullets and Other Hurting Things, Close to the Bone, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Great Filling Station Holdup, Guns + Tacos (Season 3), Jukes & Tonks, Malice Domestic 16: Mystery Most Diabolical, Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir Vol. 2, Mystery Tribune, Only the Good Die Young, and Unnerving.

There’s a taco truck in Chicago known among a certain segment of the population for its daily specials. Late at night and during the wee hours of the morning, it isn’t the food selection that attracts customers, it's the illegal weapons available with the special order.

Season 2 of Guns + Tacos (released as stand-alone novellas during the last six months of 2020) was released as a pair of paperbacks on January 1, joining the Season 1 paperbacks released at the beginning of 2020. Each novella stands alone, so they can be read in any order, and subscribers to the series get a bonus story at the end of each season.

Vol. 1 features novellas by Gary Phillips, me, and Frank Zafiro

Vol. 2 features novellas by Trey R. Barker, William Dylan Powell, and James A. Hearn (Subscribers get a bonus story I wrote)

Vol. 3 features novellas by Eric Beetner, Trey R. Barker & me, and Alec Cizak

Vol. 4 features novellas by Ann Aptaker, Ryan Sayles, and Mark Troy (Subscribers get a bonus story Trey R. Barker wrote)

Order directly from Down & Out Books or from your favorite book retailer.

22 December 2020

All We Want for Christmas is a Fair Shot

Earlier this year, Alex Acks, in “Slush v Solicitations: Just tell us where we stand,” wrote about magazines’ and anthologies’ “complete lack of transparency regarding just how much of their content they actually take from the slush pile versus how much is solicited.” Though writing primarily about SF/F markets, Acks’s comments apply equally to other genres.


Before I react to Acks’s blog post, perhaps I should provide some transparency about my editorial work.

I edited my first five anthologies more than a decade ago. So, while I’m pretty sure every story in them was selected from slush piles, I don’t honestly remember. I can, however, discuss more recent editorial work.

The Eyes of Texas
: Almost every story came from the slush pile. The one that didn’t was an anomaly. At the Toronto Bouchercon, I discussed the anthology with another writer and mentioned that I was surprised I had seen no stories involving a certain historical event. He asked several questions and later submitted a story in which that event played a role. I accepted the story.

Mickey Finn, volumes 1 and 2: I invited four writers to submit to the first Mickey Finn because I felt they would deliver solid stories around which I could shape the anthology. Three of the writers submitted stories, and I accepted all three. Other than my own contributions, the rest of the stories in MF 1 and all of the stories in MF 2 came from the slush pile.

Guns + Tacos, seasons 1, 2, and 3 (coming July-December 2021): All of the stories included in the first three seasons of G+T were solicited.

Jukes & Tonks (coming April 2021): All of the stories in J&T were solicited.

Black Cat Mystery Magazine
: I suspect several stories in the first issue were solicited (mine wasn’t; I invited myself). I wasn’t involved with the editorial side for the first few issues, but every issue since I joined the staff has been filled from slush pile submissions.


In “Slush v Solicitations: Just tell us where we stand,” Acks describes four types of submissions—slush, solicited, backdoor, and select/private—all of which can or do serve as barriers to new writers.

Unsolicited submission via the slush pile is the primary way new writers break into publishing short fiction. However, the slush pile may offer false hope at publications that acquire only a small percentage of their stories from the slush.

So, is it fair to dangle hope in front of new writers by having a slush pile without acknowledging the other three types of submissions and how they impact story acquisition? Acks doesn’t think so and advocates for transparency. If editors are transparent about how they acquire stories and how many stories are actually plucked from the slush pile (as a percentage of total published stories, not as a percentage of total submitted stories), then writers will “know not to waste [...] time or emotional energy on a useless want” where slush piles are more for show, and writers can therefore target submissions to where they feel their stories have the best chance of acceptance.


Granted, the more information available to writers, the better their odds of success, but in addition to Acks’s desire for transparency, there’s an equally important question that new writers should be asking: How does one rise from the slush pile to become a writer whose work is solicited, whose work will be considered by publications that say they’re closed or that allow submissions via a “submissions portal” with a URL that is “not public”?

The answer is simple: Hard work, good writing, and professional attitude.

Every single magazine with which I have or have had a working relationship began when the editor plucked one of my stories from a slush pile. Almost every working relationship I have with anthology editors began when those editors plucked my stories from the slush piles of open-call anthologies.

I began writing professionally in the 1970s, so much of the information available to new writers today either was not then available or was much harder to acquire. What I knew about publishing came from the pages of Writer’s Digest and The Writer. What I knew about open markets came from the back pages of those same magazines and from the annual Writer’s Market. Later, I discovered newsletters such as Janet Fox’s Scavenger’s Newsletter and Kathryn Ptacek’s The Gila Queen’s Guide to Markets.

Even so, I had little or no information about how many published stories were discovered in slush piles, nor how many in a given issue of any magazine were slush pile finds vs. stories that were acquired through some form of “insider” submission (solicited, backdoor, and select/private). What I did know was that the only way out of the slush pile was to submit a well-written story that met the publication’s guidelines.

So I did it. Again. And again. And again.

And now, though I’m a writer whose work is sometimes solicited, I’ve yet to encounter any publication with formal or informal backdoor or select/private submission policies. That may be the difference between SF/F markets and mystery markets, or it might just mean I haven’t yet reached that level of success.


You may have noticed that some writers appear in several of my projects, regardless of whether the projects are open-call or invitation-only. If there isn’t some secret handshake, how does this happen?

The reason is simple: these authors provide good stories, well-told, delivered on time and on theme, and they have proven themselves easy to work with throughout the editing process.


So, yes, there may be publications and anthology editors with backdoor submission policies and secret/private submission portals, and there certainly are many invitation-only projects, but one’s goal as a writer should be to reach the point where one no longer has to battle through the slush pile on a regular basis.

So, should editors be transparent about their processes? I’m with Acks on this: Yes.

Will complete transparency create a level playing field for new writers? Alas, no.

But, really, all a writer wants is a fair shot.

So, for Christmas this year, let’s ensure that every writer has a fair shot.

01 December 2020

Once More, With Feeling

Though writing has gone well this year, I’ve spent a great deal more time on the editorial side of the desk than in any previous year. Editing involves everything from pitching ideas to writing guidelines, reading submissions, editing accepted submissions, formatting files for publication, reviewing publisher copyedits, reviewing covers, assisting in promotional activities, and so much more.

Rereading the full ms. of
Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir
vol. 2. Note the pandemic-
influenced hairdo.
So, this year, in the midst of a pandemic that has shut down or curtailed wide swaths of our economy, I’ve worked (in one way or another) on multiple issues of Black Cat Mystery Magazine, three volumes of Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, two seasons of Guns + Tacos (with Trey R. Barker), Jukes & Tonks (with Gary Phillips), and Groovy Gumshoes. Some of these were or will be published in 2020, some in 2021, and some in 2022.

Additionally, and not mystery related, I edited six issues of Texas Gardener, a bi-monthly non-fiction consumer magazine, and 52 issues of Seeds, a weekly electronic newsletter. Though there are some similarities in the editorial processes between a non-fiction consumer magazine and a mystery anthology, that’s a discussion best saved for another time.


The mystery projects I’ve worked on this year have included both invitation-only and open-call, each with unique challenges, but once submissions start rolling in there isn’t much difference in what happens: A great deal of reading.

1. The first read is cursory. When I receive a submission for any project, I give it a quick read to determine if it adheres to the guidelines and is competently written. Some submissions don’t survive this stage and are rejected. Other stories are held for a second reading.

2. The second read is an in-depth examination of the manuscript and the story. At this point I’m looking at several things. Among them: Does the plot hold together? Do the characters engage me? How much work is involved in preparing the story for publication? If it’s a submission to a themed anthology, does it differ in any way from other submissions? 

3. An accepted story gets a third read. This is the editing pass, a combination of developmental editing, copyediting, and formatting, where I examine every element and correct errors (spelling, grammar), confirm factual information (dates, product names), ensure consistency (character names, place names), and look to plug plot holes. Were I editing novels, development editing, copyediting, and formatting would likely be three separate and distinct processes. Because I work with short stories, I tend to do them at the same time.

4. The edited manuscript usually* gets sent to the author with corrections, changes, suggestions, and questions inserted into the document via Microsoft Word’s track changes function. Any extensive comments or revision requests are included in the cover letter, and the fourth read happens when the manuscript is returned. This read is to ensure that the author has addressed every correction, change, suggestion, and question. This read also involves ensuring that the author did not insert new errors and that I did not miss any in my original editing. This stage may be repeated several times depending on the author and the story. 

5. After all the mss. are merged into a single file, the entire anthology gets the fifth read. This time, I’m looking to ensure consistency across all stories. For example, are words with various spellings spelled the same throughout the entire project (barbecue, barbeque, bar-b-cue, bar-b-que, BBQ), and, if not, are the different spellings justified? I also try to ensure that nothing is lost or has lost its formatting during the process of merging all the files into one.

6. The next read happens when proofs come back from the publisher. I read to see what the publisher’s copyeditor changed and why. I’m checking to ensure that everything is formatted consistently. Often, but not always, proofs are shared so that each author has one last chance to review what the publisher’s staff has done to their story.

So, by the time a story appears in an anthology or periodical I edit, I’ve read it at least six times.

And, sadly, I still miss things.


Once of the most important lessons I take away from all this reading is to be judicious in my selection process. Knowing that I will be reading a story at least six times helps ensure that I select stories I will feel as good about on my sixth reading as I did on my first, either because they were great stories or because, through working with the writer through the editing process, they have become great stories.

On the other hand, is it any wonder why I can’t keep up with all the anthologies and periodicals in my to-be-read pile?

*Sometimes a ms. is so clean there’s no reason to return it to the writer for correction or revision. Sometimes the deadline is so tight that there isn’t time to return it to the writer. At the consumer magazine we rarely involve writers in the editing process, and, as a writer, I’ve worked with many editors, both inside and outside the mystery genre, who do not involve writers in the editing process. 

Speaking of projects I’ve read at least six times:

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir is a crime-fiction cocktail that will knock readers into a literary stupor.

Contributors push hard against the boundaries of crime fiction, driving their work into places short crime fiction doesn’t often go, into a world where the mean streets seem gentrified by comparison and happy endings are the exception rather than the rule. And they do all this in contemporary settings, bringing noir into the 21st century.

Like any good cocktail, Mickey Finn is a heady mix of ingredients that packs a punch, and when you’ve finished reading every story, you’ll know that you’ve been “slipped a Mickey.”

Contributors include: J.L. Abramo, Ann Aptaker, Trey R. Barker, Michael Bracken, Barb Goffman, David Hagerty, James A. Hearn, David H. Hendrickson, Jarrett Kaufman, Mark R. Kehl, Hugh Lessig, Steve Liskow, Alan Orloff, Josh Pachter, Steve Rasnic Tem, Mikal Trimm, Bev Vincent, Joseph S. Walker, Andrew Welsh-Huggins, and Stacy Woodson.

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 1 releases December 14 from Down & Out Books.

10 November 2020

The Best American Mystery Stories

November 3, 2020, was the official release date for The Best American Mystery Stories 2020, the last edition with Otto Penzler as series editor. Beginning next year, Steph Cha will be the series editor of the renamed The Best American Mystery & Suspense, and Otto Penzler will helm The Mysterious Bookshop Presents: The Best Mystery Stories of the Year.

My relationship with The Best American Mystery Stories began with the 1998 edition—the second—and I read it and every subsequent edition upon release. A few years ago I found a used copy of the 1997 edition, so I’ve now read every edition save for the current one, which, as I write this, has yet to arrive.

Through email, John Floyd and I recently shared some thoughts about those early editions of BAMS. We discussed how we read in them the work of our literary heroes, imagining what it must be like to have one’s work selected as among the year’s best, and only dreaming of our own work someday being included.

To say that BAMS has since made our dreams come true is an understatement. Including the current edition, John has had three stories included in The Best American Mystery Stories (2015, 2018, and 2020) and another five listed among the “Other Distinguished Stories” of the year (2000, 2010, 2012, 2016, and 2017).

The Best American Mystery Stories has also been good to me, with one story included in 2018 and three listed among the “Other Distinguished Stories” of the year in 2005, 2019, and 2020. It has also been good to me as an editor: The 2020 edition includes a story first published in an anthology I edited, and four stories from anthologies I edited have been listed among the “Other Distinguished Stories” of the year (two stories in 2002, and one each in 2005 and 2020).


The science fiction/fantasy/horror genres are awash with annual best-of-year compilations, but for the past several years BAMS has been the mystery genre’s only best-of-year anthology, and some writers have questioned whether we can support more than one.

I think we can because we have in the past.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch and John Helfers edited The Year’s Best Crime and Mystery Stories 2016, and, beginning in 2000, Ed Gorman (alone at first but later with Martin Greenberg) edited twelve editions of an annual best-of series, originally as The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories but with later editions under various titles. (One of John’s stories was named an Honorable Mention in the 2001 edition and a story from an anthology I edited was named an Honorable Mention in the 2002 edition.)

Other best-of-year compilations pre-date these, including The Year’s Best Mystery and Suspense Stories series edited by Edward D. Hoch 1982-1995, and Best Detective Stories aka Best Detective Stories of the Year, edited, at various times, by David C. Cooke, Ronald Knox, Brett Halliday, Anthony Boucher, Allen J. Hubin, and Edward D. Hoch.

So the mystery genre can clearly support two annual best-of-year collections, and maybe the new writers of today will read them and have the same dreams John and I had. With any luck, twenty years from now a few of today’s new writers will share with readers how they saw their dreams come true when they had their work recognized in one of the annual best-of-year anthologies.

Publishing has been good to me the past month:

“Woodstock” was published in the November/December issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Bicycles” was published in the October 21 issue of Pulp Modern Flash.

“Bet Me” was published in the second issue of Hoosier Noir.

Today is the official release date for Peace, Love, and Crime (Untreed Reads), edited by Sandra Murphy, which contains my story “Jimmy’s Jukebox.”

And “The Town Where Money Grew on Trees” (Tough, November 5, 2019) was named one of the “Other Distinguished Stories” in The Best American Mystery Stories 2020.

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

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, 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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.
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.
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 And happy reading!