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

26 May 2020

AloneStarCon


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

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


AloneStarCon
May 22-24, 2020
Hewitt, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until we see you all again, stay safe!


05 May 2020

A River Runs Through It


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

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

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

STORY GENESIS

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

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

GENRE-CHALLENGED

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

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

Enjoy.

14 April 2020

Byte Me


Back up your files!

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

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

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

BLAST FROM THE PAST

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

MUSEUM PIECES

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

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

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

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

PLAN AHEAD

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

I certainly wish I’d planned ahead.


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

24 March 2020

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


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

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

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

JONI

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

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

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

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

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

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

NERO

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

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

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

LESSONS

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

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

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

3. A professional writer appreciates a good editor.

JONI, AGAIN

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

03 March 2020

Goodbye, Joe


Introduced by Hasbro in February 1964, when I was 6 years old, G.I. Joes were 12-inch action figures—not dolls—created for boys, but I was a few years older when I began playing with them.

Original G.I. Joe lineup.
Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G.I._Joe
Though my own Joes may have suffered their share of pre-adolescent-induced combat trauma, they remained physically intact because I did not have pets to chew on them or siblings to tear them apart. My friends’ Joes were not so lucky and, because my interest outlasted theirs, I soon had a collection of damaged Joes—action figures that had seen too much action and were missing hands, feet, and other body parts.

The many Joes I collected allowed me to create a variety of scenarios, such as battle scenes and MASH units, where the crippled Joes were the star attractions. They had nicknames based on their afflictions—Lefty, Peg-Leg, Spike, Napoleon Blownapart*—and they accepted their roles with nary a complaint.

I didn’t limit my action-packed scenarios to my Joes. I recruited Barbies belonging to my friends’ sisters to serve as nurses and girlfriends, and the Barbies would kick poor Ken—4F and unable to articulate any of his critical body parts—to the curb whenever the Joes were on leave.

STORYTELLING

I had been exposed to storytelling from birth. My mother read to me and, because we did not own a television until I was in third grade, we listened to radio dramas rebroadcast from earlier decades.

But playing with G.I. Joes may be where I first developed my storytelling chops. I created characters with backstories and had them interact with other characters who had their own backstories. I developed inciting incidents or had them forced upon me—the Germans have broken through the line! Lefty’s been captured! The poodle of doom has run off with Peg-Leg!—and my characters and I faced hard choices: whether to stand our ground or retreat in the face of overwhelming odds, rescue Lefty or let him fend for himself, chase the neighbor’s poodle or risk the loss of Peg-Leg’s remaining leg.

During inclement weather, my Joes and I could spend an entire day indoors, fighting battles that raged from my bedroom across the hall into my mother’s or down the hall to the living room and kitchen. An early morning inciting incident would lead to rising action, setbacks, false climaxes, more rising action, a climax, falling action, and resolution. And all before bedtime.

In those heady times, before the reality of adulthood taught me that some fairy tales end with unhappily ever after and I learned to appreciate noir, all of my G.I. Joe stories ended with the heroes vanquishing the villains.

GOODBYE, JOE

I don’t remember when my Joes and I fought our last battle, but they were no longer part of my life by fifth grade. Having grown too old to play with dolls (no matter how they were labeled), I had moved on to other things. Even so, the storytelling skills I first toyed with back then became the foundation of my writing career.

And if I ever get stuck writing a story and need an unexpected twist, the poodle of doom is always lurking in the shadows.


*You really thought I was this clever in third grade?


Mid-Century Murder (Darkhouse Books, edited by Andrew MacRae) contains “Where’s Sara Jane?” a story I co-authored with Sandra Murphy.










“See Humble and Die” by Richard Helms, published in The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods, which I edited and Down & Out Books published, has been selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2020.

11 February 2020

Life of Crime Leads to Writing Crime Fiction



Several fellow crime fiction writers, including a handful of SleuthSayers, became crime fiction writers while working in, or after retiring from, law enforcement occupations. I approached my crime fiction writing career from the other direction.

I stole cars.

I don’t remember exactly how many I boosted during my relatively short career, but I would venture to guess at least a dozen, all different models from the same manufacturer.

These weren’t well-planned thefts; they were crimes of opportunity. Though I was too young to legally drive, that didn’t stop me. I saw cars I wanted, waited until the owners were distracted, and took them.

Back at my place, where I had the tools necessary to alter the vehicles’ appearances, I repainted them, and I turned at least two hardtops into convertibles. Then I wheeled them around for a few weeks until another opportunity presented itself.

And another opportunity always presented itself because the boys in my neighborhood were careless, always leaving their Matchbox cars unattended.

FROM CARS TO MOTORCYCLES

I came by my criminality honestly. My stepfather was an “Honorary Hell’s Angel.” At least, that’s what the card in his wallet said.

I don’t know if that’s a real thing or if it was some sort of gag, but my stepfather co-owned a service station, back when service stations did more than sell over-priced snacks and make you pump your own gas, and he actually employed Hell’s Angels as mechanics. Every time I visited the station, usually in the company of my mother, the bikers were there, sometimes working, sometimes not, and their choppers were parked behind the building along with several cars awaiting repair or awaiting pickup after being repaired.

The rest of this story may or may not be true, but this is the way I heard it, and there’s no one left to confirm or deny any part of it.

A group of Hell’s Angels lived in a house across the street from my stepfather’s service station. One night, one of them looked out the window, realized the service station was being robbed, and saw that the guy working that night was in trouble.

So, he shot the robber.

I don’t know if that event was the impetus, but shortly after that, my stepfather sold his part-ownership of the service station and we moved to another state.

FROM MOTORCYCLES TO BICYCLES

My junior high school was probably not as rough as I remember, but I wasn’t the only student who carried a knife for protection, and I once had a revolver shoved in my face while waiting at the bus stop after a school dance by a kid who wanted my bus money.

I was, by that point, building badass bicycles from parts I found in a ravine below a bridge a few miles from my home. I don’t remember what all I discovered during my initial visit, but I returned to the same spot several times and, over the following months, collected frames, handlebars, seats, wheels, and more.

I was much older before I realized I had probably stumbled on the dumping ground of a bicycle thief and that I might have been in possession of stolen goods.

FROM BICYCLES TO STORIES

I was going to wrap this up by suggesting my life of crime led me to write crime fiction, and then I remembered the story of my first professional fiction sale, which I wrote about in my initial post as an official SleuthSayers member. “Smooth Criminal” began “I wrote my first professionally published story when I was 17, sold it when I was 18, and saw it published when I was 19. That’s the story I tell, and the story I’ll continue to tell, but it isn’t the truth. The truth is more complex and involves my committing one of the worst crimes a writer can commit short of plagiarism.”

So maybe my life of crime didn’t actually end when I began writing. Maybe it was just the beginning.

Coming April 14: The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe: Parodies and Pastiches Featuring the Great Detective of West 35th Street (Mysterious Press), edited by Josh Pachter and featuring “Rollicking new stories written especially for this collection by Michael Bracken and Robert Lopresti.”

21 January 2020

Lessons Learned as a Freelancer


I have been freelancing most of my life, but until April 2003 I did it as a side gig while gainfully employed. My initial attempts to freelance full-time came after job losses, and, unable to generate sufficient income as a freelancer, I soon returned to full-time employment.

I can point to many reasons for my initial failures, but key among them may be my inability to hustle. Selling—myself, my services, or my product—does not come naturally. Though I am much better now than I used to be, I dislike cold-calling, I’m not good at asking for work, and I’m not good at closing the deal when an opportunity arises.

Writing short fiction, essays, and fillers allowed me to avoid the parts of freelancing at which I was least successful. I could generate copy and allow it to sell itself when discovered in editorial slush piles. Alas, that method produces highly erratic income.

LESSON ONE

My current run as a full-time freelancer began, as before, with job loss. I did not, initially, consider freelancing as an option, and I prepared my resume intending to seek full-time employment. Within a week, though, the publisher of a monthly newspaper offered me a steady, long-term freelance editing gig that would pay approximately half what my previous employer paid for full-time work.

I took the gig—which lasted almost 15 years—and I dove into freelancing, seeking one-off gigs to make up the income difference.

Three months later, the publisher of a regional consumer magazine offered me a steady, long-term freelance editing gig. I took the gig, which, 16-plus years later, continues.

Even with steady income from two clients, I continued seeking one-off gigs, and that led me to a professional orchestra, where I began, in September 2005, a steady, long-term gig creating advertising and promotional material.

With three steady clients generating more income than I had earned from my previous full-time employment (though sans benefits), I stopped seeking one-off gigs.

I applied the concept of repeat clients providing steady income to my fiction production as well, and I concentrated on producing short stories for a small group of publications that, between them, published several of my stories each month.

LESSON TWO

Each of my income streams requires different, though related, skills, and it is this combination of skills that allows me to continue freelancing.

Writing fiction is my first love, and the ability to create publishable short stories provides my favorite income stream.

The other income streams include:

Writing essays and various forms of non-fiction.

Copywriting (creating advertising and promotional material).

Editing (selecting work for publication) and copyediting (correcting spelling, punctuation, and grammar).

Layout/design/typesetting, most often in combination with the other skills.

I trained as a typographer when I was younger, and I maintained many of those skills as printing and publishing transitioned to desktop publishing. So, not only do I copyedit the articles published in the consumer magazine, I also design and layout the pages, and prepare print-ready files for the printing company. The same with the orchestra’s advertising and promotional material. I not only write the magazine and newspaper ads, I also design them and submit print-ready files to the various publications in which they appear.

This combination of skills allows me to take on projects that I might otherwise avoid, and I’ve learned that a diverse set of skills opens up a wide range of opportunities.

LESSON THREE

Prior to my latest venture into freelancing, my experience was almost entirely with print media—newspapers, magazines, brochures, flyers, and all manner of other things that are produced on printing presses. During the past several years, my creative world has expanded. I’ve edited electronic newsletters (one of which I’ve produced every week since April 26, 2006), I’ve written or written for websites, and I’ve written radio and television commercials.

Though I didn’t actively seek out most of these opportunities, none of them would have come my way had I not been open to them.

LESSON FOUR

Throughout all of this, I have continued to write and edit fiction.

While I enjoy all that I do, my first love always has been, and likely always will be, telling stories. So, whenever I find the volume of work skewed too far from what I most love, I seek ways to bring everything back into balance.

SUMMARY

Before I wrap this all up, I must make a few observations:

Somewhere over the years, I stopped freelancing for the orchestra and became a part-time employee. Yet, because I work about 60 hours a week, I’m still a full-time freelancer—a full-time freelancer with a part-time job.

A freelancer’s life is not for everyone. Despite having a few steady clients, the income can be wildly erratic and things many people take for granted—health insurance, sick leave, vacation time—a freelancer just can’t.

So, the lessons:

1. Find and nurture repeat clients.

2. Market your entire skillset.

3. Expand your abilities in multiple directions.

4. Continue doing what you love.

I don’t think I will ever return to a full-time job. At 62, though, the likelihood of being offered a full-time position as anything other than a Walmart greeter is slim, and that’s fine with me.

The first season of Guns + Tacos is now available in two handsome paperbacks: 

Volume 1

Volume 2

31 December 2019

The End is Near


As I write this, 2020 is only a few days away. As you read this, it likely is only a matter of hours. Tomorrow will be about looking forward, and Robert Lopresti will share prognostications from our fellow SleuthSayers. Today, though, is about looking backward.

I’ve had an unusual year, for several reasons, and following is my year-end wrap-up.

COLLABORATION

If 2019 had a theme, it was collaboration.

I collaborated on stories with four writers this year, saw one collaboration published (“Gracie Saves the World,” written with Sandra Murphy, was published in Maxim Jakubowski’s The Book of Extraordinary Historical Mystery Stories [Mango Publishing]) and had three more accepted. Two stories are making the rounds, and two more are still in progress.

I also collaborated as an editor. Trey R. Barker and I co-created and co-edited the Guns + Tacos serial novella anthology series, saw the first six episodes released as ebooks, one each month for the last six months of 2019, and the novellas will be collected in a pair of paperbacks scheduled for release in early 2020. Trey and I are currently editing six novellas for the second season, due out the last half of 2020.

Early in the year I joined Black Cat Mystery Magazine as co-editor and, though my name is listed in the masthead of issue 5, my first real impact on the publication will be the special issue Black Cat Mystery Magazine Presents Private Eyes, due out soon.

And Gary Phillips and I began work on an anthology scheduled for publication in spring of 2021.

NEW WRITING

Following a trend that began a few years ago, my output again dropped. I completed only 14 stories (including the collaborations), down from 19 last year, and that was down from 32 the year before, a huge drop from 56 in 2016.

I wrote (or co-wrote) 67,200 finished words of fiction. The shortest story was 1,600 words; the longest was 17,300 words.

Four stories were written in response to invitations. The rest were written for open-call anthologies, for markets where I’ve previously placed stories, or for no particular market at all.

ACCEPTED, PUBLISHED, AND RECOGNIZED

I had 15 stories accepted for publication. One was horror, one science fiction, one erotica, one a crime fiction/horror mashup, and the rest were various subgenres of crime fiction. Three were reprints; the rest were originals.

I had 22 stories published. One was fantasy, one science fiction, six erotica, and the rest various subgenres of crime fiction. Seven (including all six erotica stories) were reprints; the rest were originals.

My story “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” first published in Tough, was recognized as one of the “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2018” in The Best American Mystery Stories 2019.

REJECTIONS

I received 13 rejections this year, and any year in which acceptances outnumber rejections is a good year.

EDITORIAL PROJECTS

One of the reasons I’ve written less the past two years may be my involvement with various editorial projects.

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods was released by Down & Out Books just in time for Bouchercon, and the first season of Guns + Tacos was released the last six months of the year.

Edited this year (mostly) and scheduled for 2020 publication: Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir and the second season of Guns + Tacos.

Begun this year and scheduled for 2021 release: Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir 2 and an anthology I’m co-editing with Gary Phillips.

Additionally, as mentioned above, I joined Black Cat Mystery Magazine as co-editor.

UPCOMING

I ended my review of 2018 with a note that “2019 will be the year I just roll with it. I’ll try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way and see what happens.”

That worked out well, so I’m going to approach 2020 the same way. A year from now I’ll let you know how it worked out.

10 December 2019

Pull on Your Galoshes, We’re Headed into the Slush Pile


Earlier this year I joined Black Cat Mystery Magazine as co-editor, replacing the irreplaceable Carla Coupe. Unlike Carla, who performed multiple duties for Wildside Press prior to her retirement, my primary responsibility as the junior co-editor is to read and assess submissions.

This isn’t new territory for me—I’ve edited six published anthologies, including, most recently, The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books), and another (Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir) that’s scheduled for publication next year. I also co-created and co-edit (with Trey R. Barker) the invitation-only serial novella anthology series Gun + Tacos, and I’m currently reading submissions for Mickey Finn 2 and the second season of Guns + Tacos, and I’ve begun work on yet another anthology to be named later.

There is a distinct difference between reading slush for my own anthologies and reading slush for Black Cat Mystery Magazine. The most obvious distinction is the type of stories appropriate for each. My anthologies have all been themed, and most have favored hardboiled, noir, and/or private eye stories. The stories in BCMM are more representative of the many subgenres of mystery.

The second distinction is the decision-making process. With my anthologies I make the final decisions and the anthologies succeed or fail due to those decisions. BCMM, on the other hand, has two decision makers. Though John Betancourt, as publisher and senior co-editor makes final decisions, the co-editorship is structured such that every accepted story has been approved by both editors.

Though there’s not yet any interesting statistical information to report on my most recent editorial efforts, the seventy-four stories in my first five anthologies earned seven award nominations (Anthony, Derringer, Edgar, Shamus, etc.) and four “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories” or “Honorable Mentions” in annual best-of-year anthologies.

BONA FIDES

All of the above is to establish my bona fides before this:

Editors often discuss the “indefinable something” that separates an accepted submission from a rejected submission. We sit on panels and discuss plot and setting and characterization. We debate whether certain words—such as Dumpster/dumpster—have lost their trademark status and can now be rendered all lowercase. We arm wrestle over the use or non-use of the Oxford comma. We do all of these things when talking to writers and amongst ourselves, but we never seem to mention aloud one of the most telling signs that a manuscript will be rejected.

The manuscript itself.

Sure, we often tell writers to follow Shunn or some similar format, but the appearance of a manuscript when printed on paper isn’t all that we see. With the vast majority of manuscripts now submitted as Word documents, I’ve discovered how little many writers know about using one of the primary tools of their trade.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, the writers least familiar with Word also seem to be the writers most likely to have their submissions rejected.

If I open a file and discover a return at the end of every line as if the story were written on a typewriter, or if I see the title centered on the page through the use of a zillion spaces, or if I see any of several other signs that the writer has not mastered the fundamentals of Word, I’m already negatively predisposed toward the manuscript.

Why?

Because the writing often displays the same inattention to detail.

I read anyhow because I am sometimes surprised. Sometimes.

KING OF THE WORLD

If I were king of the world, the czar of publishing, or in some other authoritarian position to impose my will upon writers, I would do the following: Make it mandatory for every writer to master the basics of Word.

Perhaps we could start by having every creative writing program offer a mandatory class in the use of Word as part of the degree plan. Perhaps we could have every writing conference offer a mandatory seminar in the use of Word. Perhaps we could have every critique group treat themselves to an annual refresher course from their most experienced tech-savvy member (or from someone outside the group, if appropriate).

Perhaps, and this may be a radical thought, we could suggest that writers and would-be writers read the instruction manual, use the help menu, or use a search engine to find instructions on the internet for how to do things such as indent a paragraph, center a line of text, insert an em-dash, insert headers and automatically number pages, and do any of a number of other things that should already be part of a writer’s skill set.

Love it or hate it, Word is the de facto word processing program, and it is a fundamental tool of the trade. If you don’t know how to use the tools of your trade, you hobble yourself. Sure, a brain surgeon might be able to repair your aneurysm with a pipe wrench, but how confident would you feel on that operating room table when he opened up his toolbox?

So, before I’ve even read a word of your manuscript, show me that you know how to use the tools of your trade. Then show me you can write.


Recently published stories include: “The Town Where Money Grew on Trees” in Tough, November 5, 2019, “The Show Must Go On” in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #5, “Who Done It” in Seascape: The Best New England Crime Stories 2019 (Level Best Books), and “Love, or Something Like it” in Crime Travel (Wildside Press).

Earlier this month subscribers to Guns + Tacos received episode 6 of the first season, “A Beretta, Burritos and Bears” by James A. Hearn. Subscribers also received a bonus story that I wrote, “Plantanos con Lechera and a Snub-Nosed .38.” If you want to read all six episodes and the bonus story, there’s still time to subscribe!

30 July 2019

Living in a Writing Rain Forest


by Barb Goffman

Recently Michael Bracken wrote here on SleuthSayers about living in a writing desert. He doesn't have a lot of authors who live near him in Texas. So he doesn't have author friends he can easily meet up with for lunch or a drink or a plotting session. In response to my comment that a friend once said that here in the Washington, DC, area, you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a mystery author, Michael said:

"I often wonder, Barb, how much being part of a thriving writing community or being in a writing desert impacts how our writing and our writing career develops. I sometimes think that if I moved somewhere where one can't swing a dead cat without hitting a mystery writer I might get too excited. I'd have too much fun being a writer and not enough time actually writing."

Well, I'm here today to say that I know with certainty that if I were living in a writing desert instead of the opposite (which I'm guessing is a writing rain forest--all that water, right?) I would not be writing these words on this blog, and I wouldn't be writing fiction at all.
A real rain forest

I remember when I first got the hankering to try to write crime fiction. It was in my first or second year of law school, and I had an idea for a book. I thought I would start writing it in my spare time (ha!), perhaps over the summer. But summer came and went, as did the rest of law school and my first year of practice as an attorney. And guess what? I didn't write that book. Not even one page. 

One day I was thinking about the book. I wanted to write it, but three years (or so) had passed. Why hadn't I started writing? And I realized it was because I didn't know how to write a book. Legal briefs and memoranda, yes, those I knew how to write. Newspaper articles, yes, I could write those too. (I was a reporter before I went to law school.) But I wasn't trained in writing fiction. It was a mystery to me. (Ha again.) I knew there were rules I didn't know. I couldn't imagine how to start. Looking back, I realize I could have bought any number of how-to books, but I didn't. Instead, I decided that I didn't know how to write fiction, so I should just give up that dream.

But the dream wouldn't give up on me. Perhaps a week later, I saw an ad for an eight-week course starting in just a few weeks at a place called The Writers Center in Bethesda, Maryland. They were offering an introductory course on writing a mystery novel. The class would be on Saturday mornings, which fit into my schedule. The Writers Center was just a mile from my apartment. And I could afford the course. It was like fate was calling to me, "Don't give up!" 

So I signed up for the course, and here I am, nearly two decades later, with 32 crime short stories published, four more accepted and awaiting publication, wins for the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards under my belt, as well as 27 nominations for national crime-writing awards. As for that first book, the one that prompted all of this ... I stopped writing it after chapter 12 or so. But I wrote another novel after it, and that one I finished. It sits in a drawer, awaiting one last polish. I may get to it someday ... or not because I've realized I love short stories, and when I get time to write, that's what I want to work on. So I do.

I never would have learned all of that and done all of that and accomplished all of that if I had been living in a writing desert. Without that first class at The Writers Center, I wouldn't have started writing fiction. I also wouldn't have been introduced to Sisters in Crime, specifically to members of the Chesapeake Chapter. I wouldn't have heard about mystery fan conventions Malice Domestic and Bouchercon. I wouldn't have started writing short stories. (I started down my short-story path because the Chessie Chapter had a call for stories for its anthology Chesapeake Crimes II.) Boiling it all down, if I were living in a writing desert, I wouldn't be me, not the me I've become. I'd probably still be working as an attorney instead of working full-time as a freelance crime fiction editor. (The pay is worse but the work suits me so much more.)

Living in this rain forest also has affected my life in other ways. My closest friends these days are all writers. When I lived in the Reston area, four other mystery authors lived within two miles of me. Other close friends lived less than a half hour away. We would go to lunches and dinners, talk about writing and plotting and life. Now that I live a little farther away, those meals happen a little less frequently, but they still happen. And thanks to Facebook, I'm never far from my writing tribe. It is the modern-day water cooler. I also talk to my pals on the phone regularly. (Yes, I'm a throwback!)

So I am utterly grateful I don't live in a writing desert. I can't imagine who I'd be if I did. And while I hope no one ever actually swings a dead cat my way, if that were the price I'd have to pay, I'd pay it. But who would swing a dead cat anyway? Mystery lovers are animal lovers, and we like our cats--and dogs--alive and slobbery. But that's a blog for another day.
***

And now for a little BSP: I'm delighted to share that a few days ago my story "Bug Appétit" was named a finalist for the Macavity Award for best mystery/crime short story of 2018. And I'm doubly happy to share this Macavity honor with my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor, along with four other talented writers, Craig Faustus Buck, Leslie Budewitz, Barry Lancet, and Gigi Pandian. The winner will be announced on October 31st during Bouchercon. If you'd like to read "Bug Appétit" it's available on my website here. Or if you'd like to hear me read it to you, you can listen to it here. Once you reach the podcast page, click on my story title (Episode 114). Enjoy!

16 January 2018

You Only Live Twice


by Michael Bracken

Though perhaps not as famous as her husband—at least not until portrayed by Courtney Love in The People vs. Larry Flynt—Althea Flynt served, until her death at 33, as publisher or co-publisher of Hustler and other magazines the Flynts produced under various corporate names. She was, at the time I placed my first mystery in the January 1983 issue of Gentleman’s Companion, that magazine’s co-publisher. Though I never had direct contact with her, Althea was responsible for the creation of my series character Christian Gunn and my brief foray into spy fiction.

Though not as famous as their brother Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse and other magazines, twin-sisters Jackie Lewis and Jeri Winston published a string of sex letter magazines and, in December 1984, stepped outside the sex genre with the launch of Espionage Magazine, a digest-sized periodical filled with spy stories. Editor/Publisher Jackie Lewis, through Espionage, was instrumental in the continued life and ultimate death of Christian Gunn.
   
THE GUNN GETS LOADED

I had, in January 1983, effectively jump-started my professional fiction-writing career with the publication of “City Desk” in Gentleman’s Companion (see “Ripples”), and I soon placed a second story in the magazine. Though for quite some time Gentleman’s Companion headed the list of publications to which I targeted new stories, I ultimately only placed three stories within its pages.

In a letter from Gentleman’s Companion Managing Editor Ted Newsom, dated March 11, 1983, in which he rejects “A Matter of Policy” (a story that later appeared in the February 1985 Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine), he notes, “The last word I got on what Althea wants [...] is that she wanted the stories ‘lahk Jaimes Bound ounlie sexier.’” In the letter, Ted also suggests that I submit stories to Hustler, Gentleman’s Companion’s better-paying sister magazine.

I had never written a spy story, but was game to try. Coincidentally, less than two weeks after I received Ted’s letter, “The Spy Who Lay Dead in The Snow,” by Kim Rogal and Ron Moreau, appeared in the March 28, 1983, issue of Newsweek. The article began:
“On a lonely Alpine road north of Nice, the snowplow operator found a parked Peugeot 305, empty, its radio still blaring. Nearby lay a dark bundle that might have been a crumpled overcoat, except for the red stain in the snow. When the gendarmes arrived, they found a body sprawled face down in the fresh powder. Six feet away, they picked up a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum that had fired three shots. The gas tank in the car read empty. Money and keys remained in the victim’s pocket and there were no signs of a struggle. The police suspected suicide—until they found out who the dead man was: Lt. Col. Bernard Nut, 47, a senior operative in the French Secret Service.”
Once I read that article, I knew I had a hook for my first spy story, and I began writing:
“Lt. Col. Eduard Paroldi, a senior operative with the French secret service, sat in his Peugot 305, nervously tapping his fingers against the steering wheel. He had been parked on the shoulder of the lonely Alpine highway for almost three hours and his stomach was growling. Eduard dug in the pocket of his heavy overcoat for the last bite of a chocolate bar he’d been slowly nibbling at during his wait.”
Paroldi is dead by the end of the first scene, and Christian Gunn, an American operative, is sent to determine who killed him and why. Gunn mixes with British, German, and Russian agents in a wild tale of cross and double-cross.

On August 8, 1983, I completed and submitted “With Extreme Prejudice” to Hustler.

Six weeks later it came back with a form rejection.

Why I didn’t turn around and submit the story to Ted at Gentleman’s Companion I can’t determine from my records. Instead, I removed the graphic sexual content and sent “With Extreme Prejudice” to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and then to The Saint Magazine, both of which turned it around within a week of submission.

On November 19, 1983, I submitted the story to Mike Shayne, and a postcard from Editor Charles E. Fritch, dated May 6, 1984, notified me of the story’s acceptance.

“With Extreme Prejudice,” the first Christian Gunn story, appeared in the August 1984 Mike Shayne, the second of four stories I placed there. Unfortunately, the magazine was, by then, on its last legs, ending its run in August 1985.
   
THE GUNN GETS RELOADED

By 1984 I was writing for a handful of sex letter digests, including those published by Jackie Lewis and her sister. When the sisters announced they were acquiring stories for their new spy digest, I thought I had an in. I had already published a handful of mystery short stories, including one about a spy, and I had already written for their other publications.

So, I brought Christian Gunn back for “The Only Good Red”:
“Dmitri Sakharov, a low-level member of the KGB, sat on the upper deck of the McDonald’s paddle steamboat and stared out at the swollen Mississippi River. On the table before him was a half-eaten Quarterpounder and an untouched bag of fries. A small Coke was securely captured in one slender fist.”
True to form, by the end of the first scene Sakharov is dead and, once again, Christian Gunn is sent to determine who killed him and why. And, once again, Gunn is caught in a wild tale of cross and double-cross.

I submitted “The Only Good Red” to Espionage on June 21, 1984, and, in a letter from Jackie Lewis dated June 28, 1984, learned of its acceptance.

“The Only Good Red,” the second Christian Gunn story, appeared in the February 1985 Espionage, the first of two stories I placed in the magazine.
   
THE GUNN FIRES BLANKS

I aimed to feature Christian Gunn in additional short stories—I found in my files, while preparing this, notes for two stories (“Mockingbird Don’t Sing” and “Number Four with a Bullet”)—but I did not complete another before the 1987 collapse of Espionage effectively killed Gunn’s career and the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall sucked the life out of spy fiction.

Though Christian Gunn only lived twice, I did write two additional spy stories—“Only Heroes Die,” published in the November 1985 Espionage, and “Soft Focus,” accepted by Espionage in a letter dated March 14, 1985, but unpublished when the magazine ceased operation. “Soft Focus” saw publication, at long last, in the July 2002 Detective Mystery Stories.

So, was Christian Gunn “lahk Jaimes Bound ounlie sexier”?

I like to think so.

“With Extreme Prejudice,” “The Only Good Red,” and ten other stories from the early years of my career are collected in Bad Girls (Wildside Press, 2000), available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.
   
Learn more about the short life of
Espionage as told by one of its most prolific contributors: “I Spy: A Writer Remembers Espionage Magazine,” by Josh Pachter, appears in the January 2018 The Digest Enthusiast. Order a hardcopy or Kindle edition at Amazon.

26 December 2017

Three Typewriters and a Desk


by Michael Bracken
Michael and his mother, Myrta, September 6, 1963.

My mother, Myrta, died when I was 17. She suffered from mitral valve stenosis and died during or immediately following surgery to correct this problem. She never saw my first professional publication, but she was instrumental in my success—not just for encouraging my dream, but also for repeatedly providing me with the tools for success.

This is the story of three typewriters and a desk.

THE BEAST

My mother presented me with my first typewriter when I was attending sixth grade at Sherman Elementary in Tacoma, Washington. I don’t know where she found the hulking black beast (it may have been an Underwood) that dominated my tiny desk from the moment it arrived, but on it I taught myself to type by hunting and pecking at the keys.

Though I did not know then that I wanted to be a writer, I was the only sixth-grader in my school typing his homework assignments, and I continued using the hulking black beast as its mechanical parts degenerated to the point where I had to type by striking the keys with the ball-peen side of a ball-peen hammer.

 On it, I typed my first short story, “The 1812 Battle at Two Rocks.” This is the story I showed my mother when I told her I wanted to be a writer.

THE PORTABLE

The beast did not travel with us when we left Tacoma and moved to Ft. Bragg, California, partway through ninth grade. That Christmas my mother gave me my second typewriter, a small blue portable (it may have been a Smith-Corona) that bounced across my desk when I typed because I still pounded typewriter keys as if I were assaulting the hulking black beast of my youth.

On it, I wrote “The Magic Stone,” which became my first professional short story sale. A children’s fantasy, elements of “The Magic Stone” were taken directly from an experience I shared with my mother when I was in grade school.

THE SELECTRIC

After my mother’s death, I returned to Tacoma to live with my grandparents, and later moved to Glen Carbon, Illinois, to attend Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. I dropped out during the first quarter of my second year and moved to Collinsville, Illinois. In early 1978, my stepfather and I settled the medical malpractice suit filed following my mother’s death, and I used some of the money I received to purchase two filing cabinets I still use, the desk at which I sit as I write this, and a blue, wide-carriage, IBM Correcting Selectric II.

On it, I wrote “City Desk,” which became my second professional short story sale and first mystery. I wrote a great many other stories on the Selectric before I replaced it with a DOS-based personal computer running WordStar. During the years since, I’ve owned and used many PCs and Macintoshes, and now use Microsoft Word rather than WordStar.

THE DESK
Ellie, Michael's frequent writing companion, under the desk.

Though I still own the Selectric, it no longer functions properly and sits on a shelf in the closet. The desk I purchased with money from the malpractice suit—a black steel office desk with a faux wood-grain top and a secretarial arm—has traveled with me through several residences in Illinois, two in Mississippi, and two in Texas, and I have written all or part of every story since 1978 while sitting at this desk.

THE RESULT

My mother did not live to see the writer I’ve become—and I’ve written a few things I never would have shown her if she had!—but she’s been with me for the entire journey. Her literal heart may have failed her, but her figurative heart—her soul—remains.

05 December 2017

Ripples


by Michael Bracken

A single event in a writer’s life can create career-long ripples much like a pebble tossed in a pond causes ripples upon the water.
Michael Bracken teaching "Getting Your Short Stories Published,"
SIU-Edwardsville, April 4, 1985.
Photo by Kevin S. Kantola

Five years into my writing career I had a single professional fiction sale, one attributable to an act of literary crime (see “Smooth Criminal”). I was placing other writing in professional, paying markets—poetry in Intimate Romances, Intimate Secrets, and True Secrets; humor in Catholic Digest, Genesis, Hustler, Orben’s Current Comedy, The Saturday Evening Post, and other publications; and I even wrote a few gag lines for a pair of men’s magazine cartoonists. I had a handful of stories published in Shadows Of..., a science fiction/fantasy semi-prozine, but my professional fiction writing career seemed to have peaked with the publication of that single story in Young World.

A PEBBLE STRIKES THE WATER...

Having no luck with traditional SF/F publications, I expanded my submission list to include men’s magazines that published fiction.

During early 1976—less than a year after high school graduation—I wrote a pair of science fiction stories: “On the Blink” received 12 rejections and “Nothing is Ever Easy” received eight before I stopped submitting them in 1981, convinced that neither would ever sell. In 1982 I used pieces of both stories to write “Going Down,” a 4,000-word erotic science fiction story, and on May 11, 1982, submitted it to Gentleman’s Companion.

The manuscript returned two months later, but this rejection was unlike any other I had ever received. Ted Newsom, managing editor of Gentleman’s Companion, had retitled, rewritten, and retyped the entire manuscript. His rejection letter dated July 26, 1982, read:
Enclosed please find the return of your manuscript, GOING DOWN. The ms. was well liked by our editorial staff but after a title change and necessary reworks, it was denied by our Publisher. We feel that the reworks should help it find a home with another publication and we sincerely wish you the best of luck. 
We would like to see other submissions from you and thanks for your interest in GC.
Though I had received several personal rejections prior to this, many with useful suggestions about how to improve my work, no editor had ever torn one of my stories apart and put it back together the way Ted had. I studied each of his changes, determined to understand why he made them and to utilize what I learned when writing my next story.

When telling the story of why I wrote my first mystery, I’ve often said that “The Dregs” (the retitle of “Going Down”) was rejected because the publisher of Gentleman’s Companion didn’t want science fiction. As evidenced by the rejection letter quoted above, this may not true.

Regardless, at the time I received Ted’s revision of “The Dregs,” there was, sitting on the corner of my desk, the first scene of a story I had abandoned because it was neither science fiction nor fantasy. Utilizing everything I learned from reading Ted’s revision of “The Dregs,” I wrote and submitted “City Desk,” a 4,400-word erotic mystery about newspaper reporter Dan Fox.

Ted accepted “City Desk,” paid $300 (the most I had ever received for a single piece of writing to that point), and published the story in the January 1983 issue of Gentleman’s Companion.

…THE RIPPLES BEGAN…

Ted Newsom’s rejection and revision of “The Dregs” led to a decades-long career with ripples expanding in multiple directions.

Mike Shayne
Mystery Magazine

October 1983
I became a mystery writer. Gentleman’s Companion published “Adam’s Rib,” my second mystery, in March 1983, and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine published my third, “Vengeance To Show In The Third,” in October 1983. I’ve since published mysteries in several anthologies and traditional mystery publications such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Crime Square (Vantage Point), Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Espionage Magazine, and Flesh & Blood: Guilty as Sin (Mysterious Press).

I became a science fiction writer when Gentleman’s Companion—with a new publisher and new editor—published “The Dregs” in March 1985 and Oui published “Microchick” in April 1985.

I became a horror writer when Charles L. Grant included “Of Memories Dying” in Midnight (Tor Books), released in February 1985.

I became a men’s magazine writer, placing crime fiction, horror, and science fiction in publications such as Fling, Gent, Hustler Fantasies, Juggs, Max, Penthouse Letters, Score, Voluptuous, and other publications.

I became an erotica writer, with stories in several anthologies and periodicals such as Chic Letters, Playgirl, and Screw.

I became a novelist when Books in Motion released Deadly Campaign in 1994, a mystery featuring Dan Fox, the protagonist of “City Desk.”

I became a series writer, using Dan Fox for two additional short stories, and then writing several stories about St. Louis-based P.I. Nathaniel Rose—collected in Tequila Sunrise (Wildside Press)—and several more about Waco-based P.I. Morris Ronald “Moe Ron” Boyette.

I became a confession writer, with stories published in Black Confessions, True Confessions, True Experience, True Love, True Story, and many other women’s magazines.

In short, I became a writer.

...AND THEY NEVER END

A single story. A single editor. A single rejection.

The ripples from that event continue to impact my writing career, a career I might not have were it not for Ted Newsom’s revision of a single rejected story.

After all, writing about it is just one more ripple.
About a year before his passing, Ed Gorman selected “City Desk” for inclusion in Bad Business, a collection of stories that first appeared in men’s magazines when they published stories with a bit of sex rather than sex with a bit of story. Co-edited by Peter Crowther, the anthology will be released by PS Publishing.

14 November 2017

Smooth Criminal


by Michael Bracken

I have long participated in SleuthSayers, commenting on posts and occasionally writing guest posts, but this marks my debut as an official member of the tribe. Thanks, y’all, for inviting me to join.

I wrote my first professionally published story when I was 17, sold it when I was 18, and saw it published when I was 19. That’s the story I tell, and the story I’ll continue to tell, but it isn’t the truth. The truth is more complex and involves my committing one of the worst crimes a writer can commit short of plagiarism.

But let’s back up to the beginning.

Michael Bracken, pre-publication
My parents divorced well before I entered kindergarten, and the late ’50s and early ’60s were not filled with opportunities for single mothers. We were poor, we moved often, and we had limited entertainment choices. (We did not own a television until I was in the third grade, but we did curl up in my mother’s bed late on Saturday nights to listen to rebroadcasts of old radio dramas.) So, my mother taught me to read, and one of the first things we did each time we moved was locate the nearest library.

Through reading, I could be anyone, go anywhere, and do anything.

TRANSITIONING

Like many of us, I knew at an early age that I wanted to be a writer. Unlike most, I began seeking publication almost immediately.

When I was in the eighth grade, I wrote my first short story, “The 1812 Battle at Two Rocks.” In ninth grade, my junior high school’s literary magazine published one of my poems. (Unfortunately, many years ago a flood that destroyed much of my early, pre-publication writing also destroyed my first publication.) I contributed to my high school’s literary magazine, wrote for (and later edited) my high school newspaper, wrote for an underground newspaper while in high school, and published a science fiction fanzine while contributing to other fanzines.

Bracken's first pro rejection
I also began submitting fiction to professional publications, receiving my first rejection from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in September 1974. So, while other young men my age were tossing footballs and sinking free throws, I spent my high school years pounding the keyboard.

The rejections piled up.

GOING PRO

During the spring and summer of 1976, I wrote “The Magic Stone”—a 1,200-word fantasy about a young boy, an elderly woman, and a magic stone—and submitted it to various SF/F magazines. After the story earned several rejections, I sent it to Donn Brazier, who published “The Magic Stone” in the February 1977 issue of his fanzine Farrago. (Farrago, a limited-circulation amateur publication produced on a photocopier, was an offshoot of his more popular fanzine Title.) The response was positive, and someone suggested “The Magic Stone” was a wonderful children’s story.

Young World, November 1978
I’m not certain I knew then that what I was about to do was wrong, but I submitted the story to several children’s magazines without mentioning that it had already been published. When Young World accepted the story, I remained mum, and by the time “The Magic Stone” appeared in the November 1978 issue, I was 21 and fully committed to my crime.

TURNING LEGIT

So, the truth is that I wrote “The Magic Stone” when I was 18, it was first published when I was 19, but it didn’t achieve professional publication until I was 21.

Though my professional writing career began with a literary crime, I didn’t become a crime fiction writer until several years later. Next time, I’ll explain how and why I made the transition.

I am currently reading submissions for The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of private eye stories that Down & Out Books will release at the 2019 Bouchercon in Dallas. The deadline is November 30, and the guidelines and answers to FAQs can be found here: http://www.crimefictionwriter.com/TheEyesOfTexas.htm.