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

23 May 2023

In Search of the New Normal

Stacy Woodson, Michael, and David Dean
at the Ellery Queen’s Readers Award
presentation. (Photo by Ché Ryback)

During the past seventeen-plus years, I developed a less-than-optimal schedule for writing and editing.

Each morning Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; all-day Tuesday and Thursday; and occasional evenings and weekends on concert days, I drove downtown to my part-time job as marketing director of a symphony orchestra. I spent afternoons Monday, Wednesday, and Friday editing a bi-monthly gardening magazine and a weekly gardening newsletter. Editing anthologies, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Black Cat Weekly, as well as writing short fiction, SleuthSayers posts, and the like was shoehorned into evenings, weekends, and moments stolen from my other commitments.

Until recently, working sixty-plus hours each week was the only way to accomplish all of these things and was “normal.” After leaving the symphony, I need to establish a new normal.

Terry Shames affixing Michael’s name badge
before the Edgar Awards banquet.
(Photo by Aslam Chalom)

I spent my first week in New York and Bethesda, attending the Edgar Awards and Malice Domestic. These were highly invigorating, but not part of a “normal” week, and I returned home pumped and ready to dive into my new schedule, whatever it might be.

My commitment to the gardening magazine and the gardening newsletter remains, so I’m still devoting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons to them. Because I’m already spending these half-days editing, I decided to devote the entirety of M-W-F to editing, and have spent my first few weeks reading submissions to Black Cat Weekly and Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 5, reviewing the publisher’s copyedits to Prohibition Peepers, and developing a rough schedule to ensure I meet my editing commitments.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are devoted to writing. So far, I’ve finished and submitted one story, think I’ve resolved a problem with another story that’s been vexing me for years, have been fussing with a story a co-writer and I have kicked back and forth a few times, and have written this post.

Moderator Deborah Lacy, Michael, Carla Coupe,
Linda Landrigan, and Josh Pachter
on Short Stories: Magazines & Anthologies
panel at Malice Domestic.
(Photo by Neil Plakcy)

Though I’m still doing some writing and editing during evenings and weekends, I’m able to spend more time with Temple, and we’ve been doing a few things we’ve not had time for prior to now, such as making a last-minute decision to attend a Marc Cohn concert and planning an upcoming trip on the Texas State Railroad.

So far, this schedule is working.


Do you have any idea how many time-consuming errands and how many household tasks one can self-generate to prevent sitting at the computer?

So, how about sharing some tips with me: How do you schedule your writing time? How do you avoid procrastination? And, how do you ensure quality time with your significant other?

I recently appeared on the Central Texas Life with Ann Harder podcast, discussing, among other things, four stories that were nominated for awards last year. It’s available on YouTube and wherever podcasts are available.

I’ll be presenting two sessions at the Between the Pages Writers Conference June 9-11 in Springfield, Missouri: “Editorial Sausage,” a behind-the-scenes look at how short story anthologies and fiction magazines are put together, and “Plot Stories Using a Decision Tree,” how using well-developed decision trees can generate multiple stories. Learn more about the conference and the other speakers here.

02 May 2023

In Search of the Perfect Office

My office on day one of my return to full-time
freelancing. I didn't even bother to
straighten up.

If you are like several writers I know, your writing space is an afterthought. It’s the kitchen counter, one end of the dining room table, your lap in the living room, a large closet with a desk shoved into it, or the corner of a multipurpose room you share with family members often engaged in distracting activities.

If you’re among the luckier writers, you have a room designated as your office. It’s an attic space, a room in the basement, or a bedroom once used by your now-grown-and-moved-away child.

Regardless of what the actual space is (or was before you laid claim to it), it likely has been furnished on a catch-as-catch-can basis. You found the desk at a yard sale and the filing cabinet at a discount office supply store. The bookcase came from Aunt Marge’s house and the chair with the wobbly wheel had been thrown out by your employer when they redecorated some muckety-muck’s office. In short, you’ve made do.

But what if you could gut your writing space and start over? And what if money were no object? What furniture would you choose, what equipment would you want, and how would you arrange the space for maximum comfort and efficiency?

These are questions Temple and I have been wrestling with ever since we decided I would return to full-time freelancing. We have been poring over office-furniture websites, examining photographs of other writers’ workspaces, and trying to determine exactly what I need and want.

There are limits to what we can do, of course. We can’t change the location of the window, the closet, or the door, and it’s unlikely we could reroute the HVAC vent. And no matter how big we dream, there likely will be a limit to how much we can spend.

In fact, this weekend’s purchase of an office chair may have blown the entire budget. After much research and a test sit, we ordered a Herman Miller Embody chair, an ergonomic chair consistently rated among the best office chairs for those sitting long periods.

For now, though, on day one of my return to full-time freelancing, nothing has changed. I haven’t even taken time to straighten things up before diving into the pile of work on my desk.

So, because we’re still in the planning stage, how about giving us some advice about furniture, fixtures, and office equipment? Or just share your dreams about what your office would look like if you could gut it and start over with an unlimited budget.

I look forward to learning about your experiences and your ideas.

11 April 2023

Story Mining

I don’t often write about the genesis of my stories because I often don’t know or don’t remember much about how they came to be. My stories don’t exist, and then they do.

On the other hand, “Denim Mining” (scheduled for publication in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine), has a distinct, three-part path from concept to finished story.


In early 2019, I read several articles about the value of vintage blue jeans—especially Levi’s—and how collectors scour abandoned farms and mines looking for denim treasure. Particularly significant finds can be worth several thousand dollars, as CNN reports in an October 13, 2022, article about a pair of 19th century Levi’s found in a mine shaft that sold for $87,000. Silver mines in Arizona, California, and Nevada seem to be particularly good locations to find vintage Levi’s. I printed hardcopies of some of the articles and made a few notes about a possible story, and stuck everything into a file folder.

Not long after that, I read some articles about silver mining in Texas, and was fascinated to learn that Franciscan friars discovered and operated several silver mines near El Paso, Texas, around 1860, concealing the mines when they feared they would lose control of them to the Jesuits, and that several silver mines operated in Texas well into the 1950s and sporadically since then. Of particular interest was Jim Bowie’s lost silver mine near Menard, Texas, which legend says may contain a billion dollars’ worth of silver.

So, I began writing a story about two men—one an assistant professor of Texas history who believes he has identified the locations of several abandoned and forgotten Texas silver mines—who go in search of vintage denim.


Around this time, Bouchercon announced the theme of the 2019 anthology, Denim, Diamonds and Death. So, I wondered what might happen if my denim-mining duo stumbled upon a cache of diamonds in one of the silver mines. I made more notes and wrote more bits and pieces of a story, and then...nothing. I returned to the story repeatedly, well past the deadline for the Bouchercon anthology. I figured out how the diamonds came to be in the mine, and I sort of knew what I wanted to happen, but the story wasn’t progressing. It had no ending.


I rarely discuss stories-in-progress with other writers, but mid-summer 2020, I posted something here about having a few stories that had hit brick walls. Fellow SleuthSayer Leigh Lundin offered to look at one of them, and I took him up on his offer. He read what I had written and made several suggestions—an important one having to do with weapons of the past—that broke down the wall and allowed me to bring “Denim Mining” to a satisfying conclusion.

One interesting note is how I structured this story. Most of my stories are linear, with one event happening after the other. “Denim Mining,” though, alternates between the past and the present. The scenes from the past tell the story of how the diamonds wound up in the mine while the scenes in the present tell the story of how the diamonds are discovered. In a sense, “Denim Mining” is two separate stories woven together, but what happens in the past clearly impacts what happens in the present.

For those of you who like to track these kinds of stats: “Denim Mining” was submitted to AHMM on 8/20/20, accepted 7/29/21, and will be published in the May/June 2023 issue.

Released yesterday: More Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties (Down & Out Books), the sequel to last year’s Groovy Gumshoes. This rollicking romp through the sixties features stories by Michael Chandos, Wil A. Emerson, Jeff Esterholm, John M. Floyd, Nils Gilbertson, Wendy Harrison, Dave H. Hendrickson, gay toltl kinman, Lynn Maples, Jarrett Mazza, John McFetridge, Robert Petyo, Graham Powell, Bev Vincent, Joseph S. Walker, Stacy Woodson. If you haven’t already read the first volume, why not order both?

14 March 2023


I’ve been MIA for my last three SleuthSayers posts, with friends Andrew Hearn, Stacy Woodson, and Sandra Murphy filling in for me. That’s because life events prevented me from writing beginning the day after Christmas and lasting through much of February (more about that in a moment), and my friends, when I told them what had happened, took up the slack. I hope they know how much I appreciate their help, but I also know that I could have asked any of several dozen other writing friends and had the same result.

Temple’s father, who been undergoing treatment for leukemia, took a dramatic and unexpected turn for the worse the day after Christmas. A pair of emergency room visits and a follow-up with his oncologist during the following two weeks led to a hospice referral and an estimated life expectancy of one to two months. The estimate was wrong. Eight days after the referral, on Friday, January 13, James Lincoln Walker passed away in his own home, in his own bed, in the presence of his daughter and granddaughter.

In addition to the emotional devastation that accompanies the death of a loved one, we were faced with the daunting and ongoing task of sorting through my father-in-law’s life. There are bills to pay, paperwork to review, furniture to disburse, personal items to sort through, and all the other responsibilities large and small that became Temple’s upon her father’s passing. We are only now out from under the worst of it, and I am only now catching up on all the projects that went on hold for two months. Luckily, and thanks to help from friends and tolerance from editors, publishers, and clients, I’ve not missed any deadlines.


For the past seventeen-and-a-half years, I have worked part-time as the marketing director for a professional symphony orchestra. Post-pandemic the marketing position changed, and I found the time devoted to it at odds with my freelance writing and editing. Temple and I spent much of last summer and fall discussing when might be the best time to take my leave of the symphony. Though the increased writing and editing commitments and opportunities coming my way were pushing us toward a decision, her father’s passing reminded us how little time we may have left, and it gave us the last  push we needed to set an end date.

I’ve worked too long and too hard to reach this point in my writing career, and it’s time to take advantage of every opportunity. So, my last day with the symphony will be Friday, April 21. The following week I travel to New York for the Edgar Awards ceremony and then to North Bethesda, Maryland, for Malice Domestic. When I return home, I will, once again, be a full-time freelancer.

I was freelancing full-time when I took the symphony as a client—that relationship changed when I officially joined the staff—so freelancing fulltime is not new. What is new is that I’m not doing it alone. I was single the last time around. This time I have Temple with me for the ride, and having someone who understands and supports what I do will make the transition back to fulltime freelancing much smoother than it otherwise might be.

So, 2023 began with a significant upheaval in our lives with the passing of Temple’s father, and our lives will continue to transform with my imminent change in employment.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the future brings.

28 February 2023

Guest Post: Failing Up

I’m uncertain when I first met Sandra Murphy, but I am certain that we’d crossed paths online for many years before we met in person at the Dallas Bouchercon in 2019. Before we met in person, though, our writing careers intersected in an unexpected way: I posted a smart-alecky remark on Facebook that I wanted to become the James Patterson of short story writers by collaborating with other writers to increase my productivity. Sandra called my bluff and offered to give it a shot. Since then, we’ve finished and sold five short stories, have one in progress that shows great potential, and have a few more that, while not actually dead, are clearly on life-support. Here she explains how her non-writing failures have led to her writing successes. 

— Michael Bracken

Failing Up

By Sandra Murphy

Sandra’s love of learning new things—in this
case learning to create things with mixed
media—has inspired many of her stories.

I speak Spanish and Chinese. I love to dance. As a kid, I signed up for all kinds of after school lessons—swimming, piano, ballet, tap, and baton twirling. In adult education classes, I learned to make a meringue Christmas tree, spinach quiche, and the paper frills that go on a crown rib roast. Such a variety of skills and yet, they all have one thing in common.

I am astonishingly bad at all of them.

Four years of high school Spanish and I can ask what’s your name, how much does this cost, and what is the location of the bathroom. In Chinese, I can let you know, I am tall. There is no doubt that these are not my native languages. To my credit, I never harmed anyone with a misguided baton toss. There was an incident with that quiche and too much Tabasco sauce which apparently reaches fiery levels after baking.

As for as dancing, I have no rhythm and cannot hear the beat except when the Bee Gees are singing. So far, I’ve not harmed anyone on the dance floor either. There’s still time.

I was reminded, double-digit years ago, how much I enjoy the written word. It was also pointed out, I wasn’t limited to reading. I could write as well. Rather than writing well, I scribbled an untold number of articles and stories that will never see the light of publication. As soon as an editor could stop laughing at my pompous attempt to sound like my idea of a writer, an instant rejection would have followed.

I kept writing. There was a short romance story where my main character was deemed to be a stalker rather than a nice guy, chatting up a nice gal. My mystery had no hook, dragged along at a pace compared to that of a snail with a limp. I wrote descriptions of weather, scenery, and characters, just to see if I could.

Surrounded by other writers, I got better. And I began to notice how often my fictitious alter ego used my real-life experiences to tell her stories.

Despite not being able to roll my r’s or sing a tune, I do speak fluent Dog. After years of pet sitting for dogs as small as a three-pound Pom and as large as a 250-pound mastiff, I’ve learned to not just listen to the canine voice but to respond in kind. I shouldn’t have been surprised when a cocky, some might say conceited, Jack Russell Terrier turned up as a drug sniffer in an early story, titled “Arthur.” A mama cat and her litter of four kittens made their debut during Hurricane Harvey, in “Lucy’s Tree.” Denali, a large, rowdy pup of indeterminant parentage, introduced a lonely woman to a shy man. When her ex assumed he was welcome to return, Denali showed him the door, literally. “Denali” is in the Dogs and Dragons anthology. Dogs just run full tilt into my stories, skid to a stop, and refuse to leave. Good dogs!

Cooking bloopers were brought to light in “The Chicken Pot Pie Fiasco,” “The Tater Tot Caper,” and “Bananas Foster.” I swear, I’ve never set anyone on fire with a flaming dessert in real life. I’ve been more into nuking than cooking from scratch since that Tabasco incident.

My unintentionally non-profit business of creating jewelry for drag queens meant time in their dressing room before a performance. Details of those eye-opening visits turned into scenes in “The Exterminator.”

When the words become rowdy and uncooperative or worse, go on break, I resort to playing online gin rummy with avatar Bill, who I suspect cheats. If a couple of games doesn’t set my creativity free, I move on to YouTube videos. My favorites of late are mixed media demos. The artists use paint, junk mail, and expired credit cards to make art. I can’t say I understand it but watching them layer odd bits into a finished piece makes me think of how words on the page, in the right order, layered with emotion, bring a story to life.

In “The Mixed Media Mess,” published in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, issue #13, one of the main characters is a mixed media artist, the other a writer who has a Corgi in her book. Once again, my life oozed into my writing.

I may never hear the beat in music, but reading a story aloud at writers group, I hear the cadence of my words.

In one instance at least, I got rhythm.

In St. Louis, Sandra’s enthusiasm and love for bright colors, textures, and shapes, far outweighs her talent for mixed media. Raised by a mother who could turn canned biscuits into hockey pucks, Sandra managed to win the Betty Crocker Homemaker of the Year award in her senior year of high school. Luckily, it was a written exam.

She’s editor of Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of the ’60s (Untreed Reads), and her story “The Mixed Media Mess” appears in the just-published Black Cat Mystery Magazine #13.


07 February 2023

Guest Post: I’m Stuck—Now What?

Filling in for me today is Stacy Woodson, a writer I first met at Malice Domestic in 2018. I was participating in Malice Go Round, a form of speed dating where pairs of authors move from table to table every few minutes pushing their latest project to several interested readers. I was on break when Stacy arrived. There were no seats available at the official tables, so—in violation of the rules!—she sat with me at the break table and I learned she had just sold her first story to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Stacy and I have since crossed paths at several in-person and virtual events, and she has contributed to several of my projects, including the recently published Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 3 and the forthcoming More Groovy Gumshoes.

Learn how she overcomes those inevitable moments when she gets stuck.

— Michael Bracken

I’m Stuck—Now What?

by Stacy Woodson

The ideal solution.
When it’s time to write, I light a scented candle, put on classical music, sit at my computer and the words flow through my fingertips. I’m a vessel for story. It’s euphoric.


That’s a load of crap.

At least for me. (I do envy people who can access story this way.) My process is messy, don’t-look-behind-the-curtain-Wizard-of-Oz kind of messy. I need an interesting character, thrown into an interesting situation. I need to know the ending and the twist. Without the twist I’m dead in the water. And when I’m writing I’m constantly saying to myself: give the reader a reason to care.

A HOT MESS—that’s my writing process.

As you can imagine, I’m often stuck. Not blocked. (Yes, I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe in writer’s block.) But I do believe in getting stuck. And recently (six months ago, recently) I started being mindful of things I do to get unstuck—thanks to Becca Syme and her Intuition Series.

So, I created my own personal “stuck list,” a list of things that have helped me get unstuck. It’s a list I continue to update. (And yes, there are some things on there that we’ve all heard before like: take a shower or a long walk.) But it has other things that I think are unique that work for me, and I hope some of them work for you, too. So here it is. My stuck list in all its messy glory:

Can’t figure out how to start.

First the initial frustration hits: OMG I can’t start. Why can’t I start? What is wrong with me? The candle is lit, the music is playing. (Just kidding. I promise, I’m not on that hamster wheel again.) But seriously, I was having one of those moments a few months ago. Frustrated, I turned to my shelf and opened a book by an author I admire and read the opening paragraph. Then, I opened another. Five books later, I turned to some of the short stories I had written. I read those openings, too. And then I felt it. (I’m an intuitive writer. I outline [sort-of] and chase a feeling [always]—tone, vibe, a way to hear the voices of my characters. I told you, I’m a hot mess.) After reading those openings I was able to start.

Can’t move forward.

People say write ahead—pick a scene that comes later and write it. This doesn’t always work for me. Often, I am a linear writer. I need the momentum of the story to carry me to the next scene. But I always know the ending before I start and sometimes writing the scene with that twist gets me there. “The Retirement Plan” worked that way. I wrote the ending when I was blocked (I mean stuck) and then I was able to write the missing pieces.

The household chaos.
Things still need to marinate.

I say all the bad words. Then, I take a walk or a shower or go to the box. (In the CrossFit world that’s a fancy way of saying gym.) Sometimes my subconscious just needs time to work on the story. There are times I do more research and look at pictures. When I wrote “The Rose” I looked at dozens of pictures of Honky-tonks and watched a documentary about the Broken Spoke. It helped me hear the voice, feel the vibe, and access the story.

Plot isn’t ringing true.

More cussing. Especially if I’m halfway through the story. (I served in the Army. Cussing is a reflex for me. It’s like breathing.) When I’m done verbally purging, I start asking questions. Are the stakes personal enough? What happens if the protagonist fails? And do I care? If I can’t move forward still, I go to my resource folder. (Thank God for great craft articles and classes and blogs.) I read and use this information to brainstorm how to fix it. Click here for one of my favorite posts at The Write Practice on stakes.

Can’t figure out the twist.

This happens during my “sort-of-outlining” process. I have that interesting character in that interesting situation and then I have NOTHING. No twist. And all the frustration. Then comes… all the Facebook. Because that’s what I do when I get stuck. Instead of going to my list, I click over to Facebook. Don’t click over to Facebook. It suuuuuucks you innnnnnn. My phone rings or the dog barks (thank God, again), and I realize that I’ve disappeared into the void for an hour. Then, I regroup and go back to my trusty resource folder and look at lists I’ve made about twists—generic and specific examples. When I read a story, especially short fiction that has an interesting twist, I write them in a journal so I can go back and study how the twist was executed. I look at articles that I’ve collected, too. Click here for one of my favorites from Screencraft.

Can’t hear the character’s voice.

I started creating a list of characters that resonate with me from television and film, and I watch snippets of their performances so I can hear their voice and feel their vibe. (I DON’T use their words. This has nothing to do with their dialog or their story.) I’m simply trying to access who they are during their performance. If I’m looking for a troubled vet, I often watch Huck from Scandal. I need a crusty mentor character, I watch Lloyd from Yellowstone. A chatty gossip, anyone from the movie Steel Magnolias. No impulse control, Daisy from Bones. Someone bigger than life, Effie from The Hunger Games. (Yes, my viewing choices are diverse.) There’s a tenor and cadence in how these actors deliver their lines that I can harness when I’m writing dialog.

The uncredited assistant.
Don’t care about the character.

I’ve created an interesting character in an interesting situation, and I have the twist. I start writing—and I don’t care. Ugh. I’ve done all the things. The story gods should reward me, right? Wrong. After the cloud of profanity passes, I look at the emotional stakes in the story. Are they strong enough? (This goes back to my personal give-the-reader-a-reason-to-care-mantra.) Does the story feature important relationship characters? Does it feature pertinent interpersonal conflict? Are the emotional stakes tied to plot stakes? Questions I’ve hijacked from Kim Weiland and her amazing blog Helping Writers Become Authors. Click here to read her article on emotional stakes. (I’m a total Marvel nerd and LOVE this one.)

My in-case-of-an-emergency-break-glass person.

If I’m still struggling, first, I complain about the story to my husband. We brainstorm in the kitchen. Sometimes it works. (He helped with the twist in “Armadillo by Morning” which will appear in a future issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine.) Often, unfortunately, I’m still stuck. But it’s not a waste of time. Even without an answer or way ahead, verbalizing the story (external processing) helps because I’ve considered and discarded other ideas, and this keeps the creative juices flowing. I try chatting with friends in my writers group (shout out to The Royals), bus stop moms and dads, my CrossFit friends on the sunrise squad. (Sometimes Barb Goffman gets a call, too.) And when all else fails, I turn to a story coach. It’s true. I have a story coach. She’s like my own personal story therapist. When I’m really blocked (I mean stuck), I call Dawn Alexander. Which results in a session where I tell her everything. And she looks at me over Zoom, smiles, and says—have you thought about this? Then, I love her and hate her all at the same time because she’s usually right.

Can’t focus.

The kids are too loud, the dog won’t stop barking—but I can’t leave the house. The frustration! So, I put on Brown Noise. Not White. Brown. I read an article about Brown Noise (how the sound blocks out other sounds so you’re less distracted) and tried it. I’m hooked. In fact, I have it playing right now. More on the science behind Brown Noise here.

Click here if you want to take Brown Noise for a test drive.

Phew. So that’s my stuck list, for now, anyway. I’m sure I will continue to get stuck, and my list of hacks will continue to grow. What works for me, may not work for you. Still, I hope there’s something here that’s helpful. Do any of you have a stuck list? What works for you?

Stacy Woodson ( is a US Army veteran, and memories of her time in the military are often a source of inspiration for her stories. She made her crime fiction debut in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s Department of First Stories and won the 2018 Readers Award. Since her debut, she has placed stories in several anthologies and publications—two winning the Derringer Award.

17 January 2023

Guest Post: You Can Go Home Again

Filling in for me today is James A. Hearn, a writer I’ve known ever since publishing his first short story in The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods back in 2019. Hes since published several more stories and was an Edgar Award nominee this past year.
—Michael Bracken

You Can Go Home Again:
The Story behind “Home Is the Hunter” in Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, Volume 3

by James A. Hearn

“All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” — Federico Fellini

The dream of the Old House is always the same. I’m walking through the woods with my dad; he’s alive and well. Robust. Immortal. I am both the boy I was—scrawny, quiet, hair so blond it’s almost white; and the man I became—fuller of face, quiet, the white now represented in my beard.

We’re walking through the scrub brush of West Texas, along one of the innumerable trails crisscrossing 150 acres of family land. We called this property the Old House. The name stood both for the hunting cabin someone had built there and for the land where it was situated. I’m not sure who named it that; maybe Sidney, my older brother with Down syndrome, took one look at it and said to my dad, “Pop, that’s an old house.” Sid loved going there to enjoy his comic books or listen to his cassette tapes; we all loved it. The Old House was to be our legacy.

View from the Old House’s front porch
on a snowy day.

In the dream, my dad and I are just walking. We have our hunting rifles, but we’ve no wish to disturb the tranquility of these sacred woods. There’s the live oak tree where I nearly stepped on that copperhead. Over there, the entrance to the gully that gets progressively deeper as it runs westward, until you’re walking between lichen-covered boulders taller than houses. These are the woods where I learned at my father’s knee how to skin a buck and run a trotline, as the song says.

It is home; I am at peace.

And I wake up and remember. Dad has been gone since 2007, the victim of a rare bone cancer that began in his skull and touched his brain, and the Old House has been sold. In the final year of his illness, I tried in vain to persuade my dad not to sell the property.

James, no one has mowed the grass around the Old House. It must be waist-high by now. Don’t worry about that. I’ll mow the grass when I can. James, the water pump in the well house needs to be drained before the next freeze. Dad, I’ll take care of it. We need to get you better, first. I’m not going to get better, Son. I don’t want there to be fighting about who owns the Old House. We won’t fight, I promise you. We’ll share it. There needs to be money for Sidney’s care when I’m gone. This will help. Barbara will take care of Sid. Grace, Jon, and I will help her. Don’t sell the Old House, please.

Scale model of the Old House as a birdhouse.

But my dad’s mind was set, and the Old House was sold. It gave him a kind of peace I didn’t understand, but I eventually accepted. Then on November 15, 2007, Howard Wade Hearn—retired schoolteacher, huntsman, craftsman, veteran of the Second World War, and the best father a boy could hope for—passed away. My sister Barbara and her husband Larry took on the enormous responsibility of Sid’s care, just as they’d promised. The money from the Old House’s sale, in part, helped to pay for an additional bedroom, one just for Sid, and other renovations for my brother with special needs. Maybe that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise; maybe my dad made the right decision.

After the funeral, I returned to Georgetown, Texas, and settled back into my life. I was an attorney with a mortgage, a wife I loved, and a job I tolerated. With my dad’s passing and the Old House’s sale, childhood was officially over. I guess it had been for a while, since I was thirty-six. It might sound strange, but up until that time, I hadn’t felt like an adult. Not really. I hadn’t felt the burdens of life on my shoulders until I became my dad’s executor. I hadn’t felt old.

At fifty-one, I still have dreams about the Old House and the lessons I learned there. Even waking, I find myself thinking about sitting in deer blinds with my dad. We designed and constructed them ourselves, even putting one on telephone poles for a commanding view of a clearing frequented by deer. I sometimes use Google Earth, starting from the I-20 exit for Gordon, Texas, and I retrace from memory the highways and dirt roads leading to the Old House. I could bookmark the location, but I like finding it this way better; it’s like a treasure hunt where you find yourself.

Destroyed by fire.

Unless I win the lottery, I’ll probably never have enough money to buy the Old House and restore it to the family. Not in this economy. And even if I did, the actual Old House, the hunting cabin, has been destroyed by fire.

My sister, Barbara, and her sons discovered this on one of their occasional drives to West Texas from Fort Worth. Like me, they enjoy recalling the good ol’ days; unlike me, they live close enough to make the actual trip. Every so often, they’d drive by the property, look over the barbed wire fences, and remember. I’m thankful Sid wasn’t with them on that trip; though we miss him terribly, his passing in 2019 at least kept him from seeing his beloved cabin in ruins.

When Barb sent me photos of the rubble, the news was a gut-punch. There was the Old House’s tin roof collapsed over a burned-out husk, the roof I’d helped my dad put on during a windy day when we were both nearly blown off. Oddly, the flames didn’t reach the nearby shade tree, and the horse tire swing my nephews loved still hung from its branches, forlornly waiting for a rider. Seeing those photos, it was like I lost it all over again, and home never seemed more far away.

But sometimes, through writing, you can go home again. In “Home Is the Hunter,” my third entry in Michael Bracken’s Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir anthology, Joe Easterbrook returns to his roots in the wilderness of West Virginia. When Joe sets foot on the land he loved, his emotions are my emotions. When he recalls hunting with his father, his memories are my memories. And when he rebuilds his father’s hunting cabin, I’m holding the hammer.

This one’s for you, Dad. We’ll be together again one day, and we’ll take that walk.

An Edgar Award nominee for Best Short Story, James A. Hearn writes in a variety of genres, including mystery, crime, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. He and his wife reside in Georgetown, Texas, with a boisterous Labrador retriever who keeps life interesting. Visit his website at

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 3, is available here.

27 December 2022

Deer in the Headlights: 2022 in Review

As I write this year-end review, there’s still a week left in 2022. I doubt anything significant will happen before the new year, so I’m jumping the gun.


Though my productivity remained low this year, I managed to write fifty percent more stories than in 2021, completing nine versus only six the prior year. The shortest was 1,300 words and the longest 14,100 words, for an average of 4,567. Eight were crime fiction. The ninth was a horror story I rough-drafted in January 2006, and all it really needed were some minor tweaks and a title to reach completion.


Even though productivity was low, I placed 72 original and reprint stories.

Eleven stories, including a collaboration with Sandra Murphy, appeared in Black Cat Weekly, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Groovy Gumshoes, Haus, Malice Domestic: Mystery Most Diabolical, Starlite Pulp Review, and Vautrin. Four of the 11 were reprints, with one story being reprinted twice.

Only two editors are represented multiple times: Janet Hutchings published two original stories in EQMM and Cynthia Ward reprinted two in Black Cat Weekly. I included one of my stories in Groovy Gumshoes, a private eye anthology I edited. Six editors or editorial teams each published a single story.

Including stories accepted this year and those accepted in previous years, I have stories forthcoming in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 4 (a collaboration with Stacy Woodson), Mystery Tribune, Prohibition Peepers, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Starlite Pulp Review, Tough, and Weren’t No Other Way To Be.

Also forthcoming: three collections of erotica containing 58 stories—two originals and 56 reprints—all written back in the days when erotica represented a significant portion of my fiction output.


“The Downeaster ‘Alexa’,” published in Only the Good Die Young, received a Derringer Award.

“Aloha Boys,” published in Hallmarks Of The Job / Aloha Boys: A P.I. Tales Double Feature, was short-listed for a Derringer Award.

“Blindsided,” co-authored with James A. Hearn and published by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, was short-listed for an Edgar Award.

“Disposable Women,” published by Tough, was short-listed for a Shamus Award.

“Dead Man’s Gorge,” published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, was named “Best Short Story of the Week,” by Anne van Doorn, who reads a short story each day and picks his favorite each week, much like fellow SleuthSayer Robert Lopresti does at Little Big Crimes.


Nine rejections. The only way to avoid these pesky things is to stop submitting.


As mentioned earlier, editing occupied a significant amount of time this year. I over-committed myself, and, though I don’t think I missed any, I spent much of the year staring at oncoming deadlines as if I were a deer caught in the headlights.

This year saw the release of two issues of Black Cat Mystery Magazine (issues 11 and 12). As Associate Editor of Black Cat Weekly, I was responsible for acquiring and editing 52 short stories, one for each weekly issue. This year also saw the release of Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties, and Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 3.

I also edited two additional issues (13 and 14) of BCMM, both of which should appear in the first half of 2023; edited the anthologies Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 4, More Groovy Gumshoes, Private Dicks and Disco Balls, and Prohibition Peepers, all of which will appear in 2023 or early 2024; and co-edited (with Barb Goffman) an anthology to be identified later. This is the first time I’ve edited an anthology without having a publisher lined up in advance, so I’m learning how to pitch a finished project.

I also co-edited (with Trey R. Barker) the last season of the serial novella anthology series Guns + Tacos.

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

Adding all the editing projects together, I had the honor of directly or indirectly shepherding 120 short stories and novellas through to publication.


This year, several stories from projects I edited or co-edited were recognized:

“Two Tamales, One Tokarev, and a Lifetime of Broken Promises” by Stacy Woodson, published in season three of Guns + Tacos, received a Derringer Award.

“Burnin Butt, Texas” by Mark Troy, published in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, issue 10, was short-listed for a Derringer Award.

“An Ache So Divine” by S.A. Cosby, published in Jukes & Tonks, was selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery and Suspense and was included in the Honor Roll in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year.

“Return to Sender” by Gar Anthony Haywood, published in Jukes & Tonks, was selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery and Suspense.

“Everybody Comes to Lucille’s” by John M. Floyd, published in Jukes & Tonks, was included in the Honor Roll in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year.

“The Last Gasp” by H.K. Slade, published in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, issue 10, was included in the Honor Roll in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year.

“Washed Up” by Nils Gilbertson, published in Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 2, was included in the Other Distinguished Mystery and Suspense list in The Best American Mystery and Suspense.

I had the honor of publishing several equally amazing stories in 2022 and hope to see many of them recognized during this coming year’s award season.


In February, I’ll be reading submissions for Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 5, and I will soon be editing the novellas for Chop Shop, the serial novella anthology series that replaces Guns + Tacos. Work on Black Cat Mystery Magazine and Black Cat Weekly continues, as does efforts to place the anthology Barb Goffman and I co-edited.

I have several anthology concepts I plan to pitch, but first I need to take a bit of a breather. I have several short stories that are near completion, and I’d like to get them off my to-do list and into the hands of editors before I again dive deep into editing.

Additionally, I was elected to the Board of the Mystery Writers of America, will attend orientation in January, and will soon learn what my duties and responsibilities will be during my term in office.

I hope you all had a productive 2022, and I look forward seeing what 2023 brings us.

15 November 2022

Batter Up!

My disinterest in baseball probably stems from my single season as an outfielder for the worst team in my local Little League when I was a fifth grader. The coach rarely showed up, and my mother, the only parent who regularly attended practice, would stand at home plate and belt fly balls and grounders to us.

That may be why I’m surprised to realize, around the time of this year’s World Series, that two of the best stories I’ve recently read were baseball themed: Joseph S. Walker’s mystery short story “Give or Take a Quarter Inch,” first published in Tough and reprinted in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year (Mysterious Press, 2022), and Aeryn Rudel’s horror novella Effectively Wild (Grinning Skull Press, 2022).

Walker writes about a kidnapping where the ransom demand isn’t money. Instead, Ryan Vargas, a retired, Cy Young-winning pitcher whose wife has been kidnapped, comes face-to-face with a batter he had struck out three times during the batter’s only major league game nineteen years earlier. To save his wife, can Vargas give the kidnapper one last at-bat?

Rudel writes about Martin “Wags” Wagner, a washed-up catcher relegated to the minor leagues who is presented with an opportunity to return to the big leagues. All he must do is mentor a promising young pitcher—a pitcher with no experience that the organization keeps separated from the rest of the team and who gets stronger each time he takes the mound. When Wagner discovers the pitcher’s secret, he must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice to relive his own dreams.

Both Walker and Rudel captured and held my attention through their characters. In Walker’s story, Vargas’s nemesis—Mickey Loch—was as finely drawn as the protagonist, and Rudel presented an excellent portrayal of Wagner as an everyman desperate to hold onto his dream career.

While baseball is important to both stories, I found I was not hindered by my lack of knowledge of the sport. Each author provided enough information for me to understand what was happening without burdening the stories with arcane details that only true fans would appreciate.

My memory is hazy on this point, but I don’t recall my Little League team ever winning a game. On the other hand, Walker and Rudel both—to use an already over-used cliché—knock it out of the park.

My story “Little Spring” was reprinted in Haus (Culture Cult Press), marking my first official publication in India. (Several years ago I had a story published in India without my permission or prior knowledge.)

13 September 2022

Editing Evolution

My process for editing has changed over the years, and especially more so lately as the number of editing projects has increased. My first editing projects happened back when manuscripts arrived in the day’s mail, and all editing was done on hardcopy. Some of those manuscripts bled red (or blue, or whatever color pen I was using that day) by the time I finished.

At the back: A novella in progress.
The other three piles:
Anthologies in progress.
Email eliminated the need for authors to send hardcopy, but not the way I worked. I printed, read, and edited on paper before entering my edits and comments into the appropriate Word documents. Over time, I realized my process was responsible for the decimation of much of the world’s forests.

My current process, which may evolve yet again in the future:

1. Before I read a submission, I reformat it to double-spaced 12 pt. Times New Roman; flush left, ragged right; .5” paragraph indents, and no odd spacing between paragraphs. Then I do a quick search-and-replace to fix common problems such as improper dashes and improper quotation marks. I do this because I’ve discovered that the visual appearance of a manuscript (font, font size, etc.) impacts my opinion of it. By making every submission look the same before I read, I find it easier to judge the work based solely on the writing.

2. I read the manuscript on my computer, and I have track changes turned on. As I read, I correct obvious errors (their for there, for example), delete extraneous words, and make notes about things that confuse me. If I find myself making multiple corrections and changes, or find myself  inserting multiple notes, I’ll stop reading and reject the submission.

3. Then I run the file through spellcheck, which almost always identifies something of concern. Sometimes spellcheck finds an error I missed and sometimes it identifies non-errors, such as slang words and dropped gs (goin’ for going).

4. At this point, anticipating an acceptance, I print a hard copy and read the story one more time. Occasionally, I find something serious I glossed over when reading on the computer screen, and I reject the story. The likelihood, though, is that if I’ve reached the point of printing a hardcopy, I’m going to accept the story.

5. If I have identified any additional corrections or have any additional questions, I input them into the Word document.

6. I then send the edited Word document, which might be clean as a whistle (I love those writers!) or may look like the electronic version of a paper manuscript bleeding editorial red ink, to the writer.

7. Upon receiving the edited manuscript, the writer curses me, my ancestors, and my progeny (I may be projecting because that’s what I do when I get an edited manuscript back from an editor).

8. At some point, the manuscript returns. Sometimes writers accept every correction and change, sometimes we arm wrestle over something, and sometimes—if my corrections, changes, and notes are extensive—there may be another back-and-forth exchange with the writer.

9. Once I have all the edited manuscripts in hand, I collect author bios, write an editorial or an introduction, and then organize everything, determining in which order stories will appear in the anthology or magazine issue.

10. Then I spellcheck the completed manuscript and print a hardcopy, which I read cover-to-cover.

11. If there are any additional corrections necessary at this point, I input them into the final manuscript, and then send it to the publisher.

I have had the opportunity to work with three co-editors—Trey R. Barker with Guns + Tacos, Gary Phillips with Jukes & Tonks, and Barb Goffman with A Project to be Named Later—and each brought a different skillset to the party. Even so, the process remained much the same, with each co-editor having a pass at each manuscript and adding their corrections, changes, and notes.

The ultimate goal, regardless of my process and regardless of whether I’m working alone or with a co-editor, is to ensure that each published story is the best it can be and that the final product is worthy of a reader’s time.

Though this is published post-Bouchercon, it was written pre-Bouchercon. I hope I had the opportunity to meet some of you there!

23 August 2022

Can I Trust You?

Temple and I have been together for nine years, married for seven, and for several years now she’s been reading nearly everything I write before it ever gets submitted to an editor. It’s taken a while, but I have learned to trust her judgement.

Temple not only improves
my writing, she also makes
me dress better.
I mention that because for the past two weeks I’ve been wrestling with the end—and by “end,” I mean the last sentence—of a private eye story that otherwise we both like very much.

This trust didn’t happen overnight. Initially, showing Temple my final drafts was more me showing off: “Look what I wrote. Aren’t I great?”

The first few times she dared—dared, I say!—to suggest I might be able to improve something I had written or that some plot element didn’t make sense or that what was so clear in my head had never made it to the page, I was—to put it mildly—a bit huffy.

Over time, though, I’ve realized that any problem she notes with one of my stories is something to which I need pay attention. I don’t always agree with the solutions she suggests, but her suggestions always help me find a solution that satisfies us both.

This was brought home in a big way earlier this year with “Blindsided,” a story I co-wrote with James A. Hearn. Andrew’s wife, Dawn, also reads most of what he writes, and when Dawn and Temple saw an early draft of “Blindsided,” they told us we had written far past the actual end of the story. We grumbled, and moaned, and cut until they were satisfied.

And the story sold to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and received an Edgar nomination.

Temple’s not the type, but if ever there was something she could hold over me, that would be it. After all, without her comments and Dawn’s comments, Andrew and I might have written a decent story and it might have gotten published, but it certainly wouldn’t have been nominated for an Edgar.

So, that last sentence of the private eye story I’ve been wrestling with for two weeks? I’ll keep wrestling with it until Temple gives it her seal of approval.

“The Ladies of Wednesday Tea” was reprinted in Black Cat Weekly #50.

“Little Spring” was reprinted in Black Cat Weekly #51

Everything is Relative” was published by Fried Chicken and Coffee, August 13, 2022.

02 August 2022

Deadlines, Shmeadlines

One of the many attributes of successful writers and editors is the ability to meet deadlines, and the ability to meet deadlines is one of the ways I have managed to sustain a multi-decade writing and editing career. I try not to over-commit my available time, and I try to plan large projects with built-in buffers in case unexpected events—family emergencies, for example—demand my attention or a high-value project with a tight turn-around drops into my lap.

How do you keep track of projects
and meet deadlines?

On the rare occasions when it looks like I might miss a deadline, I work with my editor, publisher, or client to find a satisfactory solution. Not to be too cocky, but it’s been a long time since I missed a hard deadline.

Until three weeks ago.

Y’all were treated to one of Shifty’s animated adventures on July 12 because I whiffed the ball. I wish I had a great excuse—while on a humanitarian mission to rescue zoo animals from Ukraine, I resuscitated a penguin that had choked on a sardine, midwifed the birth of twin albino Siberian tigers, and taught a malformed baby porpoise to swim with a prosthetic tail I crafted from Mountain Dew bottles—but I don’t.

My excuse is far more mundane: I entered my SleuthSayers deadline on the wrong calendar date.

By the time the secret master of SleuthSayers emailed a reminder that my blog post was due that night, I had already shut down my computer and had shifted my attention elsewhere.


Meeting deadlines means learning to juggle. I edit a bi-monthly consumer magazine and a weekly newsletter, and I’m associate editor for a weekly magazine. These publications all have hard deadlines, as do the anthologies I edit. I also edit a quasi-quarterly mystery magazine, which has spongy deadlines, and I create marketing material (TV, radio, and print ads along with brochures, flyers, social media posts, and more) for a professional orchestra with constantly changing deadlines determined by concert dates and media requirements.

And in the nooks and crannies between all these deadlines I’m also writing new stories, some of which have hard deadlines (when I’m writing to invitation, for example) and some of which don’t.

Once upon a time I was able to keep all these deadlines in my head and remember what I ate for breakfast. No longer. I’ve grown older at the same time I’ve become busier, and I just can’t remember every deadline. I’m now relying on my computer’s calendar and a to-do list I keep next to my computer.

But when I fail to add something to the to-do list or I enter a deadline incorrectly into my computer calendar...well, that’s when I risk missing a deadline.


I have found ways to ensure that I (nearly always) meet my deadlines, but as an editor I find it difficult to ride herd on writers. Professional writers know that editors have deadlines. We can’t publish anthologies, magazines, and newsletters with blank pages. And, unless you’re George R.R. Martin writing the next volume of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, not many editors are willing to wait until you get around to putting words on paper. We’re going to press with you or without you.

But beginning and early career writers don’t always understand how important it is.

Get a reputation as someone who fails to deliver promised manuscripts on time, fails to approve copyedits and page proofs on time, fails to show up on time for a panel, or fails to meet any of dozens of other deadlines and commitments that are part and parcel of being a professional writer and the opportunities will slowly disappear.

And that once-promising career becomes nothing but memory dust.

I stumbled. I’ll recover. And I’ll turn in this post several days early.

But what about you? How do you keep track of your deadlines?

My story “Sparks” appears in the Summer 2022 issue of Vautrin.

My co-authors’ blog posts for AHMM and EQMM appeared the same week. Read Sandra Murphy’s “Add (Your) Life to Your Writing” at Something is Going to Happen and James A. Hearn’s “A Writer’s Tears” at Trace Evidence.

And I’m moderating a panel at Bouchercon next month. “Groovy Kind of Death: Murders Set in the 60s/70s” is scheduled for 1:45-2:30 p.m., Thursday, and panelists include Lou Berney, Wanda M. Morris, Richie Narvaez, Marcie Rendon, and Gabriel Valjan.

21 June 2022

Miles of Files

I started my writing career long before personal computers were anything more than a plot device in science fiction stories. Despite making the transition from a manual typewriter to an IBM Selectric and from there to a series of ever more powerful PCs and then to a series of ever more powerful Macintoshes, my record-keeping system has remained almost entirely manual.

The file folder and tracking
system I used for “Disposable
Women,” currently
shortlisted for a Shamus.
I’m uncertain if this is ironic or pathetic, given that for most everything else in my life I’m a heavy user of computers and computer programs, but I think it may be the result of long-established habit and the knowledge that if I did convert to a more sophisticated system I wouldn’t be satisfied with a spread sheet or two for new work. I would want to build a sophisticated database that includes everything I’ve ever written and includes every possible bit of information about each story.

I would want to know at the click of a few keys which is my shortest story and which my longest, which had the most submissions before acceptance, which has been reprinted most often, my sales/rejections ratio with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, how many times I submitted to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine before I received an acceptance, and so much more.

The time it would take to input all of that information, and the time I would later spend using the data to create charts and graphs and all manner of interesting reports, would consume a significant amount of time and eliminate what little writing time I have these days.

These six filing
cabinets may soon be
joined by a seventh.
For now, I remain with the tried-and-true: Every finished story gets a file folder, and into it goes a hardcopy of the story and a cover sheet where I track submissions, rejections, and other important information such as the dates I returned the signed contract, copy edits, and page proofs, and the story’s publication date. Also in the folder goes a copy of the signed contract, copies of important research, and a copy of the published version.

This file folder travels through a series of file drawers: awaiting submission; under submission; accepted, not paid for; paid for, not published; published, not paid for; and so on until the folder moves into its final home after the story has been published.

There are six of these filing cabinets in my second office, containing everything I’ve had published since my first sale back in the mid-1970s. In my first office—the one where I do much of my writing—are three file drawers containing the work under submission or awaiting submission, as well as several bookshelves filled with my novels and short story collections, anthologies I’ve edited, and many books and magazines containing something I’ve written (short stories mostly, but essays and non-fiction as well).

A 5.25" floppy disk
containing an early
version of the novel published
as All White Girls.
Hard copies of finished manuscripts take up a great deal of space—hence the six filing cabinets—but I can still read every one of them. Many of the earliest stories were written on typewriters, so hard copies are the only versions that exist, and the on-going evolution of computer science has left me with 5.25” floppy disks, 3.5” diskettes, and Zip drives for which I no longer have appropriate drives. Even if I had appropriate drives, many of the files were created with WordStar and I no longer have a program that will allow me to open the WordStar files and save them as Word documents. Luckily, I so rarely need to access the oldest files that it is easier to retype anything I might need.

Temple and I have reached the age where retirement is in her foreseeable future (writers don’t retire, so it isn’t in my future), and we’ve discussed downsizing to a smaller home with less upkeep. The biggest obstacle, though, is my antiquated record-keeping system—a system I started using long before personal computers stopped being a science fiction plot device and became a reality.

My story “Disposable Women,” published in
Tough (July 19, 2021), has been shortlisted for a Shamus Award.

“Sit. Stay. Die.” A story I co-authored with Sandra Murphy was published in the July/August Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. This is our fifth collaboration and my second consecutive appearance in EQMM.

31 May 2022

Where I Write

Even after a half-day spent
cleaning, my desk is still
a mess.

Over the years, I’ve written in many places, most often a room in my home that is (or was) a dedicated office, though when I was single and living in a one-bedroom apartment, the dedicated writing space took up a significant part of the living room and, for a few years when my children were small and my home didn’t have enough rooms, my writing space occupied half of the master bedroom.

Back in the early days of personal computers, I kept a few works-in-progress on a floppy disk that I kept in my briefcase. During my lunch hour, I would slip the floppy into my work computer and bang out a page or two. I still sometimes write away from home (or thumb-type notes into my cell phone), but home has always been, and remains, my primary writing location. Part of the reason is that I’ve been tethered to desktop computers. My first portable computer was far too heavy to tote around. My first laptop computer had a flakey battery life and would never stay connected to my desktop when I tried to work from other rooms in the house.

A month ago, the entire
table was filled with

When Temple and I married almost seven years ago, I sold my home and moved into hers, and my office moved, too, from a bedroom in my home to a bedroom in hers, and that room has been my writing center ever since. Unfortunately, try as I might, I can never keep my desk as neat and organized as I would like. Every so often, I clean everything off, filing what’s important, discarding what isn’t, and doing my best to maintain a welcoming writing environment.

This past December I purchased a new laptop computer, hoping to break free of my desktop, and it may have worked too well. During the first few months of this year, I was working on five book-length projects at the same time. I needed space to spread out all my research materials, notes, and so on, and I took over the dining room table. By the end of April, I had delivered all five projects, but my laptop computer and various projects still occupy half the table.

My new outdoor office, easier
to keep neat because a
stiff breeze will blow
everything away.

Earlier this week, Temple purchased a chaise lounge for the back porch, and for a few hours each day since its arrival, I’ve parked myself and my laptop in it. (It’s where I sit right now, Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, drafting this SleuthSayers post.) While sitting out here, I’ve read submissions to current editing projects, and I’ve written part of a novella. The sunlight, fresh air, and minimal distractions are a nice change from the underlit bedroom office with distractions everywhere I turn.

This morning, Temple decided that my outdoor workspace needing sprucing up, so we cleaned off the porch, rearranged the outdoor furniture, and turned this into an inviting environment.

I think she’s hoping I’ll get all my stuff off the dining room table.

Maybe I will, or maybe I now have three writing spaces to choose from.