Showing posts with label Sandra Murphy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sandra Murphy. Show all posts

23 April 2019

Writer in a Raincoat


by Michael Bracken

As Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character Rod Tidwell repeatedly shouted in Jerry Maguire, “Show me the exposure!”

Too warm for a raincoat.
But is “exposure” enough? There is an on-going discussion among writers—and, perhaps, among creatives of all artistic genres—about whether one should ever create art without compensation.

Staunch proponents at either end of the spectrum—from those who advocate that we never write for free to those who advocate that publication is itself sufficient reward—hold firm to their beliefs, but the reality for most of us falls somewhere in the middle.

FOR THE LOVE

Many of us saw our first publications in high school literary magazines, student newspapers, church bulletins, company newsletters, and small-town newspapers. We wrote whatever we could and saw it published wherever we could.

I know I did, working my way along a trajectory that included junior high school literary magazine, high school literary magazine, high school newspaper, underground newspaper, college newspaper, and science fiction fanzines. I wrote fiction for semi-prozines (publications that paid fractions of a cent per word) and fillers for well-known consumer publications.

Over time, I sold longer work to better-paying publications, yet I never stopped writing for non-paying publications. The more I earned from sales at the upper end of the pay scale, the more I could afford to place work at the lower end of the pay scale. One, in a sense, subsidized the other.

FOR THE MONEY

I am amused by the number of writers who claim to only write for paying publications and who make the claim in blog posts for which they were not paid.

Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. Perhaps fiction is an art form and blog posting isn’t.

Or maybe it’s a knowledge of what is and is not marketable. Regularly placing short stories with top markets might make one less inclined to consider non-paying short story markets. Similarly, other than copy intended to promote myself or my work, I do not write advertising and public relations material for free.

But a short story?

If I wrote fiction only for paying publications, my office would be ass deep in unpublished manuscripts.

FOR THE EXPOSURE

Any editor who offers to publish my work “for exposure” and hopes to “someday” offer payment to contributors is clearly delusional, and I want no part of their unrealistic business model. But an editor who admits to producing a small-press publication as a hobby, financed with pocket change and no real hope of ever turning a buck, has my respect.

In one form or another, I’ve been them.

As a teenager, and continuing into my twenties, I published a science fiction fanzine, printed initially on a spirit duplicator, then for many issues on a mimeograph, and the last few issues on an offset press. The quality—the writing, the art, the production values—all improved as I learned about printing and publishing, and my experience with the fanzine helped me land my first real employment.

Along the way, I published the work of many great science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers who provided articles and columns without pay (among them: Robert Bloch, Algis Budrys, Grant Carrington, Don D’Ammassa, David Gerrold, Charles L. Grant, Thomas F. Monteleone, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle) or wrote letters published in my fanzine’s letter column (including Richard A. Lupoff, Barry N. Malzberg, Christopher Priest, William Rotsler, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Robert Silverberg, Bob Tucker, Ted White, and Gene Wolf).

It seems as if I’m humble-bragging, but the point is that these writers, and many others like them, wrote without pay when they could have blown me off when I asked.

These writers were my role models, and if they were willing to occasionally write without pay, who am I to behave otherwise?

FOR THE HELL OF IT

So, I do sometimes contribute to non-paying publications—if I like the editor, or the theme appeals to me, or, in the case of non-fiction (such as SleuthSayer posts), I feel I have something to say or can use the forum to pay it forward.

But asking me to write something for “exposure” is an insult.

Don’t insult me. Don’t insult other writers.

If I really want exposure, I’ll wear a raincoat and stand on a street corner, whipping it open every so often to show passersby my short . . . stories.

Coming in May: The Book of Extraordinary Historical Mystery Stories (Mango), edited by Maxim Jakubowski, which contains my collaboration with Sandra Murphy, “Gracie Saves the World.”

29 January 2019

Two for the Price of One


By Michael Bracken

A writing collaboration is often referred to as the process of doing twice the work for half the pay. A successful collaboration, though, results in a story that neither author could have written alone. In that way, the joint effort can benefit both collaborators.

JOE WALTER

The first issue of KPSS was
produced on a spirit duplicator.
Later issues were produced on a
mimeograph, and the final issues
on an offset press.
As high-school students in the early 1970s, my best friend and I were determined to become the next Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein. Our junior year, Joe Walter and I started Knights of the Paper Space Ship, a science fiction fanzine, to publish our short stories and those of our friends, and we spent a great deal of time together writing and editing.

We collaborated a few times, writing “faan fiction,” which is fiction about science fiction fans. The stories were, in essence, stories about us, narrated by Patrick Myers, the non-existent third member of our group. Joe and I alternated time at the keyboard, each writing a sentence or a paragraph or an entire scene before relinquishing the keyboard to the other. Because we typed directly onto mimeograph stencils, there was no editing or revision allowed. What we wrote together back then was not great literature, but it was fun to write and may have been fun to read.

Joe was the first of us to sell a story to a professional market—Vertex, which ceased publication before printing his story—but never sold another. “Patrick Myers” (my middle name combined with my stepfather’s last name) became a pseudonym I have used several times since then.

WALTER EARL ROPER

In the mid-1970s, during my first attempt at attending university, I worked for the Daily Alestle, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville’s student newspaper. While there I met Walter Earl Roper, and we collaborated on several articles for the paper.

At the time, I was the better writer and he was the better journalist, so Walter did most of the interviewing and research, and I did much of the writing. Perhaps not surprisingly, neither of us became journalists. He went on to receive a B.A. in Organizational Science Databases, Statistics, which uses his superior research skills, and I concentrated on writing fiction, which requires almost no research skills.

PAMELA CLIFF

My second wife, Pamela Cliff, received her undergraduate degree in journalism, and she had worked as a journalist and magazine editor prior to our meeting in Senatobia, Mississippi. At that time she worked as a customer service representative for a printing plant, and I was hired as the plant’s composition systems manager.

Pamela wanted to write fiction, but never seemed to finish anything, so our collaborations became a game. She would write the opening page or so of a story and I would finish it. Together we wrote and sold more than a dozen short pieces of erotica, all under pseudonyms.

She wasn’t satisfied with writing short pieces, though. She wanted to write a novel. So, prior to a diagnosis of cervical cancer, Pamela began work on a novel, which I completed several years after her death and self-published under my Rolinda Hay pseudonym. Stud is available for Kindle.

TOM SWEENEY

During the early 2000s, I edited five crime-fiction anthologies—Hardbroiled, Small Crimes, and the three-volume Fedora series—and Tom Sweeney was the only writer to have a story in all five. Around that time I was in discussions with a regional publisher to edit a crime fiction anthology, but every contributor had to live in Texas or to have been born in Texas. Tom fit neither category.

We fudged. I decided that he could get a story in the anthology if he collaborated with a writer who lived in Texas. I lived in Texas. So, we wrote the private-eye story “Snowbird.”

We passed the story back and forth many times, using Word’s Track Changes function to see what each of us had added, corrected, or changed, and we held discussions about the plot either within the document or in the emails accompanying the manuscript as we passed it back and forth.

By the time we finished writing, the anthology opportunity had disappeared. We soon placed the story with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine—the first sale to EQMM for either of us—and “Snowbird” appeared in the December 2007 issue, later placing fourth in the annual EQMM Reader’s Poll.

Tom doesn’t write much fiction these days, but his most recent non-fiction books, collaborations with his wife Annette titled You Ate the Wings Upon My Plate and Three Coins in the Construction Zone, were released in December 2018.

SANDRA MURPHY

On June 12 last year I wrote a Facebook post that included, “Sometimes I wish I were the James Patterson of short stories, able to farm out projects and share bylines with a plethora of other writers.”

As part of her response to my post, Sandra Murphy wrote, “If you want to give it a try, I’m game to be your no-name co-writer!”

Because my post was facetious, I did not anticipate anyone volunteering, so I was surprised when Sandra did. Thanks to membership in the Short Mystery Fiction Society, we have “known” each other for several years—I wrote a piece for a newsletter she edits, and she’s written two for a newsletter I edit—we were already familiar with each other’s writing.

I don’t know if Sandra called my bluff or if I called hers, but not long after that I saw an anthology’s open call for submissions, I had an idea I thought would be appropriate, and I shared the idea with Sandra. Though she has written some fiction, Sandra’s a well-established nonfiction writer, and turning my idea into a finished manuscript would require the kind of research that non-fiction writers do on a regular basis.

After much back-and-forth, we completed our story before the submission deadline, and I’m pleased to announce that “Gracie Saves the World” will be included in Maxim Jakubowski’s The Book of Extraordinary Historical Mystery Stories: The Best New Original Stories of the Genre (Mango), which is scheduled for an April 2019 release.

Sandra and I are currently kicking around two additional story ideas, one she brought to the table and one I brought to the table.

JAMES A. HEARN

I’m currently editing three anthologies for Down & Out Books—one’s been turned in, one will be turned in soon, and the third is due before fall of this year. In 2017, I began work on the first—The Eyes of Texas, a collection of private eye stories set in Texas and scheduled for release just in time for this year’s Dallas Bouchercon. At ArmadilloCon in Austin that summer I participated in a panel discussion about editing anthologies, and I announced to the audience that The Eyes of Texas was open for submissions.

James A. Hearn—Andrew—was in the audience. Andrew has been a finalist, semi-finalist, and honorable-mention recipient in the Writers of the Future contest, a quarterly competition now in its thirty-sixth year that has launched the careers of several science fiction and fantasy writers. He had been concentrating on writing science fiction and fantasy, had not yet been published, and left ArmadilloCon determined to submit a story to The Eyes of Texas. He did, I accepted it, and he’s gone on to contribute to the two other anthologies I’m editing.

Andrew and his wife Dawn live sixty or so miles south of Temple and me, and last year they joined us for our annual spring writer gathering. Since then we have twice met the Hearns for dinner, and the last time we met—mid-December—I became aware of Andrew’s knowledge of football. I just happened to have a story that I stopped working on because to finish it would require football knowledge. I provided Andrew with a rough description of the story and asked if he’d be interested in collaborating on it.

He was.

I sent Andrew my partially written scenes, rough outline, and notes, and yesterday, as I write this, he returned a complete draft of the story. The manuscript will likely bounce back and forth a few more times, but I think it’s almost submission ready.

AND ALL THE REST

Many other people have impacted my writing in one way or another. Some have given me story ideas, some have helped me organize plots, and some have proofread my final drafts—Temple does all this and more—but the writers mentioned above are the ones with whom I have truly collaborated, creating work that neither of us could have created on our own.

Twice the work for half the pay? Certainly. But well worth the effort.


My story “Something Fishy” appears in Black Cat Mystery Magazine 4 (January 2019).

After receiving my first two acceptances of 2019, I’m ready to up my bio stats from more than 1,200 accepted stories to more than 1,300 accepted stories. Alas, that isn’t 1,300-plus unique stories because more than a dozen of the acceptances are for reprints or secondary rights of some kind. And it isn’t 1,300-plus published stories because I can’t confirm how many stories have actually been published; early on I sold to several publications that never sent contributor copies and, because they often changed pseudonyms and story titles, I’ve no way to locate the stories through any known databases and indexes. Still, the checks cleared the bank.

08 January 2019

Looking Backward, Looking Forward


by Michael Bracken

To steal and mangle some other writer’s most famous opening line: My dual career in 2018 was the best of times and the worst of times.

I received 47 short story acceptances and had 34 stories published, including one in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018. I became editor of a regional gardening magazine; turned in The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of Texas private eye stories to be released by Down & Out Books in fall 2019; selected the stories for Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, the first in an annual anthology series to be released each fall beginning in 2020; with co-creator/co-editor Trey R. Barker began work on the serial novella anthology series Guns & Tacos; and was approached about writing a novel, something I haven’t done in near-on twenty years.

On the other hand, my productivity fell through the floor, and I completed only 19 new stories, including one co-authored with Sandra Murphy that will be published in a Maxim Jakubowski-edited anthology in 2019.

I previously discussed two of the reasons for the decrease in output, one psychological (“The Obstacle Ahead is a Mirror”) and one the time-consuming side-effect of increased sales (“Do You Want Cheese with That Whine?”). Not mentioned in either post are my increased editing responsibilities, both crime fiction anthologies and magazine non-fiction.

THE WRITTEN

I write a fair amount in any given year, but I only track the word counts of completed short fiction, and in 2018 I wrote 19 stories totaling 68,250 words. Unfortunately, this is the worst year since I started keeping track in 2009. (In 2009, my best year, I wrote 75 short stories totaling 216,310 words.)

The shortest story was 250 words, the longest story was 13,500 words, and the average length was 3,592 words.

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

Seventeen of the stories are crime fiction of one sub-genre or another, one is a cross-genre mix of science fiction and crime fiction, and one is horror.

THE PUBLISHED

I had 34 stories published in 2018. Eighteen are crime fiction, 11 are erotica, one is fantasy, and four are romances.

Sixteen stories appeared in print publications, seven in web-based or electronic publications, and one appeared on the web and in print. Ten were released in audio format.

Twenty-nine of the stories are originals and the rest are reprints (“Smoked” in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018) or audio releases of previously published stories.

THE SOLD

Forty-seven stories were accepted for publication. Twenty-three are crime fiction, 20 are erotica, three romance, and one fantasy. A few counted as erotica are cross-genre (erotic crime fiction, erotic fantasy, etc.).

Thirty-six stories are originals and 11 are reprints or audio rights of previously published stories.

Two pieces of crime fiction were “accepted” by anthologies I am either editing or co-editing, perhaps proving that sometimes it is who you know.

Note that I wrote no erotica, fantasy, or romance in 2018, yet I placed original stories in all three genres.

THE REJECTIONS

I received 39 rejections in 2018, and any year in which acceptances outnumber rejections is a good year.

I received one unacceptance. An anthology that accepted a story in 2016 was cancelled in 2018, and my story—which had been paid for—was returned. The story sold to the next editor who saw it, resulting in a second check.

I also received my first-ever unrejection. A magazine rejected one of my stories and six weeks later contacted me and asked if the story was still available. It was. Read more about what happened at “The Rejection Reversal with Michael Bracken.”

THE FUTURE

For the past several years, my annual goals were to complete and submit an average of one short story per week and to receive an average of one acceptance per week. At the beginning of 2018, following the 2017 collapse of two of my primary markets, I realized these goals were no longer realistic. So, my primary goals in 2018 were to rebuild and re-establish myself as I moved into new markets and/or new genres.

During 2018, I placed work in several new or new-to-me markets but made no significant progress in cracking new genres. Though I did sell one fantasy short story, saw another published, and wrote one horror story, I made no other efforts to expand my genre palette. Instead, I concentrated on writing various sub-genres of crime fiction, including some not previously part of my oeuvre.

As I look forward to 2019, I’ve decided not to set concrete goals. The past year was filled with so much change that I’m unable to envision how things might shake out. More editing opportunities? More submission invitations? That novel I was approached about?

I’ve no clue.

So, I think 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. Maybe by the end of 2019 I’ll once again have a clear view of the future and can set concrete goals for 2020.

Until then, I’m prepared for a wild ride.


The tail-end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 saw several stories published: “Little Bubba Visits the Roadhouse” in EconoClash Review #3, “The Fishmonger’s Wife” in the Winter 2019 issue of Pulp Literature, “Split Decision” in the January 2019 issue of The Digest Enthusiast, and “Wishing Tree” in the January/February 2019 Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.