|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.
08 June 2021
18 May 2021
|A pseudonym is a disguise|
for writers, much like the one worn
by the unrecognizable writer
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.
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.
“Double Dipping” was published in the May issue of Mystery Weekly.
27 April 2021
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.
STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS BEFORE
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.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
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.
DO YOU FEEL A DRAFT?
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
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.
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
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.
READING AND WRITING
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.
Bullets and Other Hurting Things: A Tribute to Bill Crider, edited by Rick Ollerman. The anthology includes my story “The Ladies of Wednesday Tea.”
Family Films” was published by Close to the Bone on February 14.
12 January 2021
|Includes my story|
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.
22 December 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
01 December 2020
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-
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.
READ IT ONCE, READ IT TWICE, READ IT A THIRD 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.
LIVING WITH THE REPETITION
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
20 October 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)
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.
dressed for success.
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|
and writing this
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.
On Saturday, October 10, 2020, I presented “Write It. Sell It.” via Zoom to Malice in Memphis. This presentation was geared toward beginning and early career writers of short mystery fiction. To watch a recording of the presentation and to download the PowerPoint presentation, visit https://www.maliceinmemphis.com/october-2020--zoom-malice-meeting.html.
On Tuesday, October 13, 2020, I presented “Two Sides. Same Coin.” via Zoom to MWA’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter. This was a more general discussion of writing and editing in which I addressed several questions presented in advance of the presentation, and then answered a variety of questions posed after the presentation. To watch a recording of the presentation—which will only be available until November 9—visit https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/v0Scazk7dd6644JZSxt-45jESOCGWlN_7MAENEPAAgYBuJF_9gvr41XtBdpF-Zzy.AckWigUVuSPdFlwe, with the passcode F&.x6J.+
29 September 2020
|Though our bios are important,|
what do our photos tell
readers about us?
During the course of our writing careers, our bios take at least three forms—some more stressful to produce than others—and, if we’re lucky, can take a fourth.
BIO LEVEL 1
The first form is the bio we write early in our career, the one accompanying our first few publications when we have no career of note.
It will be simple, and likely filled with information not writing related:
A. Writer eats broccoli, likes cats, and lives in his mother’s basement. This is his first sale.BIO LEVEL 2
The second bio we write after we establish a modest career, and it is likely filled with info about our publications and, maybe, a personal note:
A. Writer is the author of Really Cool Novel (Small Press Publisher, 2016), and more than a dozen short stories published in Magazine A, Magazine B, and others. He still lives in his mother’s basement.BIO LEVEL 3
Several years later, after we’ve established ourselves, we have so many accomplishments we could mention that we find ourselves torn. Which do we mention? How much can we say without sounding like an ego-inflated ass? And, so, even though we know it doesn’t include everything we’ve accomplished, our bio looks something like:
A. Writer is the author of several novels, including Really Cool Novel (Small Press Publisher, 2016), Really Cool Novel 2 (Small Press Publisher, 2017), Really Cool Novel 3 (Small Press Publisher, 2018), and the stand-alone My Agent Made Me Write This (Almost a Big Five Publisher, 2020), as well as several hundred short stories published or forthcoming in Major Magazine A, Major Magazine B, Magazine A, Magazine B, Magazine C, Magazine D, Anthology A, and Anthology B. His stories have been short-listed for half-a-dozen awards, some of which you’ve never heard of, and he’s twice had stories good enough to be included in the “Other Distinguished Stories” list at the back of The Best of Year Anthology. He edited Broccoli & Cats, an anthology of food-related cat stories. He finally has his own apartment.BIO LEVEL 4
This one may be the easiest bio of all but is one few of us ever get to write. This is the point in our career when we have become so famous that our byline is all the bio we need. Think:
- Stephen King
- James Patterson
A. Writer. His mother lives in his basement.BIO VARIATIONS
Some editors (me, for example) prefer professional bios. That is, they want bios heavy on writing accomplishments and light on personal details. They want to know what awards you’ve received and where your work has been published.
Other editors prefer personal bios. They want to know about your veggie preferences, your cats, your kids, your spouse, your education, your hobbies, and any intimate details of your life you care to reveal.
Still other editors want a combination bio that includes a bit of both.
And, sometimes, an editor wants a specific bit of information included in your bio, regardless of which type (professional or personal) they prefer. For example, I asked contributors to The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods to include something about their connection to Texas, and through the author bios, readers learn which contributors were born in Texas and still live here, which were born here but moved away, who worked on a cattle ranch, who is descended from the first Secretary of War to the Republic of Texas, and so on.
IT’S NOT THE LENGTH OF YOUR BIO, IT’S WHAT YOU DO WITH IT
Editors often have space limitations, so we must be creative within whatever limitations we’re given. Twenty-five words? Fifty words? One hundred words? It varies from publication to publication.
So, pay attention to your editor’s bio guidelines. Pay attention to your word count, your editor’s bio style preferences, and any special requests. Then pack as much information as possible within the word count you’re given.
What you should never do is ignore the editor’s guidelines and send the editor your one-size-fits-all (but doesn’t really) prepackaged bio and ask the editor to revise it to meet her needs or cut it to fit within her publication’s space limitations.
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
|The stories in these publications beat the odds.|
18 August 2020
For example, the first story is set in the 1940s, and I glossed over an event late in the story that deserves more than the few sentences I devoted to it. It deserves a complete scene, but to write the scene I need to research train engines of the time period and I need information about a specific train station. So, I am at the moment stymied by lack of research.
Another story is set partially in the 1930s and partially today. The portion set in the 1930s is fine as is; the portion set today reaches an unsatisfying conclusion. I’m uncertain if my lack of satisfaction in the conclusion is because it isn’t properly set up, because it’s poorly written, or because it’s the wrong conclusion.
The other three stories have their own problems: flat characters in what is, essentially, a gimmick story; missing information in a tale-with-a-twist story that would make the twist more satisfying; and a horror story my wife doesn’t “get,” and I can’t tell if the problem is in the story or if Temple—who doesn’t read horror fiction and doesn’t watch horror films—is the wrong audience.
TOUCH-A, TOUCH-A, TOUCH ME
Instead of working to resolve the minor issues with these stories so I can send them out to visit editors, I have, instead, kept plowing forward with the completion of new work. I have several partially written stories—all begun before the world turned upside down—and most of the stories I’ve completed the past several months came from this pile of partials.
I often work this way, with multiple short stories and other writing projects in progress, and I bounce back and forth between them. Already today—it’s pushing four o’clock—I’ve completed a full draft of a story, made progress on a second story, and wrote most of this.
I have a handful of other stories in progress that I touch frequently, sometimes adding only few words or notes about scenes to come or plot points that need to be incorporated. I have another dozen or so that I touch less frequently, and I have hundreds that I haven’t touched in a while. All of these could, and likely will—should I write fast enough or live long enough—become stories that I ultimately finish and submit.
THRILL ME, CHILL ME, FULFILL ME
I don’t recommend my process to anyone, and I’ve lately attempted to alter it given how life has changed during the past several months. Early in my writing career, when I juggled family, full-time employment, and all that comes with each of them, I often wrote in short bits of time. For example, I wrote during my lunch hour, and the story I worked on during lunches was rarely the same story I worked on before or after work.
Recently, I’ve had a few day-long blocks of time. At first, I didn’t know how to effectively utilize such large blocks of time. So, my attention bounced from social media to writing to household chores to writing to errand running to writing and I wasn’t accomplishing near as much as I desired.
So, I tried to intentionally structure a few of my days. I ensured that I had no chores or errands, intentionally avoided social media, and planted myself in front of the computer shortly after breakfast. I selected a single story each day and worked on it until I had a full draft or had gone as far as I possibly could. If time remained in the day, I then began work on a second story.
This has worked spectacularly well the few days I’ve been able to structure my days in this way.
On the flip side, I now have five full short-story manuscripts that require something more than a final proofreading pass before heading out the door.
Perhaps I need to select one day and proclaim it as a problem-solving day. Perhaps I’ll structure it much like the writing days I’ve had recently—no errands, no chores, no social media, and at the computer right after breakfast—except that my goal will be to select a full manuscript, wrestle with it until I’ve solved its problems and, if there’s time, do the same with a second story.
Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.
11 August 2020
by Barb Goffman
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.
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.
The first story I presented was "Debbie and Bernie and Belle," written by my fellow SleuthSayer John Floyd and published in 2008 in the Strand Magazine. Last week's story, which is still available to paid club members for a few more days, is "The Greatest Criminal Mind Ever" by Frank Cook, originally published in 2009 in Quarry (Level Best Books). And this week's story, which has been chosen as the week's free story for paid and unpaid members, is "The Kiss of Death" by Rebecca Pawel, originally published in 2007 in A Hell of a Woman (Busted Flush Press). Pawel's story is set in the New York City tango community and is a delight to read.
If you want to check out the ebook club, go on over to https://bcmystery.com/. And happy reading!