Showing posts with label Saturday Evening Post. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saturday Evening Post. Show all posts

18 December 2018

Do You Want Cheese with That Whine?


By Michael Bracken

We’ve all heard successful novelists mention the grind of hours-long book signings and months-long book tours, and many of us secretly (or not so secretly) wish to experience them for ourselves, but it isn’t just time-consuming public appearances that eat into our writing time.

Michael Bracken (left) at Bouchercon 2018.
Being a writer involves much more than actually writing, especially for moderately productive short-story writers. The more productive we are, the more ancillary tasks chew up our writing time. This is something I wish I had known when I began writing, and one of the things no one ever thinks to mention to beginning writers.

Research. Each completed story requires market research to determine the best market or markets for the story.

Format. Though a few of us older writers and editors pretend there is, there is no longer a standard manuscript format, and some manuscripts have to be reformatted before each submission.

Rejection. Each rejection must be recorded to prevent submitting a story to the same publication multiple times, and then it must be filed (as I do) or discarded (as some writers do).

Acceptance. This likely involves some response to let the editor know that, yes, the story is still available and, yes, I’d love to see my story in her publication, and, yes, I’m looking forward to receiving the contract.

Contract. Have you seen some of these things? I’ve received contracts that were longer than the stories for which they were offered, and I read every word before I sign. Sometimes, terms of the contract require negotiation, which requires even more time.

Payment. These days payment doesn’t often happen before publication, but God bless the publications that pay on acceptance. Regardless of when payment is received, it has to be recorded in some form (ledger, spreadsheet, accounting software) and then deposited in the bank.

Copyedit. Many publications let contributors review copyedited manuscripts prior to publication. This is when I realize the editor is a freaking genius or I decide the editor’s third-grade education did not prepare him to edit my work. Either way, copyedits require time to read and time to generate a respectful, professional response explaining exactly why I disagree with some or all of the changes.

Page proof. I know many people refer to these as galleys, but they aren’t. (Most of the people who refer to these as galleys aren’t old enough to have worked with actual galley proofs. If what you’re reading is formatted and presented to you in page form, you’re reading page proofs.) Like copy edits, these take time to read and to generate a response.

Contributor copy. Most publications provide a contributor copy. (Many amateur publications provide a “free copy!” because the publishers don’t know the proper term for what they’re doing and think providing contributor copies is somehow doing contributors a favor.) It takes time to reread my story in published form. It also takes time to record the date of publication and to share the news with supportive family and friends.

Reprint. A story might later be reprinted in a best-of-year anthology, a themed all-reprint anthology, a collection of my own work, or licensed for publication in another language, licensed for other media such as audio, or optioned for movie or television, and each of these reprint and licensing opportunities comes with paperwork and ancillary tasks similar to that listed above for an original sale.

Every step in the process, and maybe even a few steps I’ve overlooked, requires time and takes it from writing time.

And none of this includes optional tasks such as maintaining social media and engaging in blatant (and not so blatant) self-promotion, nor does it include semi-optional tasks like developing and maintaining good relationships with editors and other writers.

A writer who produces only a few stories each year may never realize how much time they spend on ancillary tasks, but even moderately productive short-story writers soon find themselves spending more time on the ancillary tasks than the primary task that creates all this extra work.

When I get overwhelmed with all the ancillary tasks and complain to my wife about how much time I’m working but not writing, Temple brings me back to earth by noting that I’m only complaining because I’m living my dream, and she asks, “Do you want cheese with that whine?”

My story “Remission” appears in Landfall (Level Best Books), “Deliver Us from Evil” appears in issue 2 of Thriller, and “Christmas Wish” appears online at The Saturday Evening Post.

01 September 2018

POSTed, STRANDed, and BCMMed


Situation report: It's been a pretty good summer, writingwise. I worked with my publisher to finish the manuscript of my new story collection coming later this year, I participated in two panels--and moderated one--at our annual Mississippi Book Festival (6400 people attended panels that day), and I've written some short stories, sold some, and had some published. At the moment, I have stories in the current issues of three publications: The Saturday Evening Post, The Strand Magazine, and Black Cat Mystery Magazine. And since I couldn't come up with another topic for my column today, I decided to give you a few "stories behind the stories" for these three shorts.

Of these three, my story in The Saturday Evening Post (the September/October 2018 issue) is the only one that's not a mystery. It's probably more of a drama/romance. It's also the only one that was inspired by actual events. It's called "The Music of Angels," the meaning of which will become clear if/when you read it, and it's short--about 2000 words. (The print edition of the SEP features one piece of fiction in each two-month issue, and so far my stories there have ranged from about 1500 to about 5500 words.)

The first half of this story is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and many years pass. What happens next I won't reveal, here, but since I've told you it's essentially a romance you can probably figure it out. What I hope is entertaining about it is the process, and a surprise or two. I will say that the opening scene, which features two college students who meet at the information desk of their Student Union, happens almost exactly the way it happened to me, in real life. The rest is fictional, but the final part of the story is based closely on my mother, who's 92 and still lives in the house where I grew up.

Another unique thing about this story is that I once promised our oldest son's three children, who all love to read, that I would one day include characters with their names in one of my stories. So the main characters in this one are named Lillian, Anna, and Gabe. It's a small and silly thing, but I think those three kids'll get a kick out of that when they read it.

My story in The Strand Magazine (the June-October 2018 issue) is called "Foreverglow"--original title "The Foreverglow Case"--and was one that I dreamed up while sitting in our backyard swing a few months ago, before the temperature and the humidity and the mosquito population rose high enough to send everyone screaming into their houses. I must've been in a noirish frame of mind that day because the idea that popped into my head was of a blue-collar guy who lets his smarter girlfriend talk him into robbing the jewelry section of the department store where she works. They devise a plan by which she can smuggle a display case of samples of their new Foreverglow collection out of the store to him while she remains inside, and then they can make their getaway the following day after things have calmed down. I hope what happens will be a surprise to the reader, but you probably already suspect that things don't work out exactly as planned. Do they ever?

The third story I have out right now is "Diversions," which appears in Issue #3 of Black Cat Mystery Magazine, alongside stories by my SleuthSayers colleagues Eve Fisher and Michael Bracken. This one is also a mystery/crime story, but it's a western (how could I not want to write a western after watching all those episodes of Have Gun--Will Travel?), and features a bank robber who's been caught in the act and is now in custody in a temporary jail and under guard by a female (and also temporary) deputy. The most unusual thing about the story is that the entire plot takes place in less that an hour's time and inside those four walls, and the fact that the inspiration for one of the characters' names came from a road sign on State Highway 25, about forty miles northeast of where I live. On the sign were--and still are--the names of two Mississippi towns, one above the other: LENA, with an arrow pointing west, and MORTON, with an arrow pointing east. One day when my wife and I were driving past on the way to visit my mother, I noticed the words on that sign, and made a mental note. Now, about a year later, the deputy's name in this story is Lena Morton.

I find myself doing that kind of thing occasionally just because it's (1) fun, and (2) different. Which, now that I think about it, is a good way to describe (1) writing, and (2) writers.

So those are my current publications, and a few facts about how they came to be. Upcoming are stories in AHMM, EQMM, BCMM, Woman's World, Mystery Weekly, Flash Bang Mysteries, The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, and nine anthologies, including one that also features my heroes Joe Lansdale, Bill Pronzini, and Max Allan Collins. Here's the cover of that anthology, Pop the Clutch, which'll be released on November 1.


Do any of you have stories out, or coming up soon, in magazines or collections or anthologies? Any novels recently released, or scheduled? If so, let me know what they are--and keep up the good work. I hope your story ideas--and mine--keep coming.

See you in two weeks.

05 December 2015

Posted and Stranded




Sounds like a soldier abandoned at his duty station, right? Actually, what it means is that this month I'm lucky enough to have short stories in The Saturday Evening Post and The Strand Magazine. And there are three reasons I'm writing on that subject today: the first is a "Look, Ma--see what I did!" thing (otherwise known as BSP, with emphasis on the BS); the second is laziness (nothing is easier than talking about your own creations, since you're the only one who knows how and why they were written); and the third is that I couldn't think of anything else to write about, this week.

Anyhow, those two stories, both of which are fiction, are different in several ways. For one thing, the first is short, around 2000 words (most of it takes place inside a plane parked on the tarmac of an airport), and the second is long, around 8000 words. Also, one is fairly easygoing and the other is violent. Besides all that, the first tries to make an observation about right vs. wrong, while the second is a twisty suspense story about murder, robbery, kidnapping, and a few other heinous deeds. In their own ways, I suppose both are mysteries in that they involve puzzles that the protagonist has to figure out--but only one of the two stories fits the generally accepted definition of mystery fiction, because only one involves crimes that are central to the plot.

The only thing truly common to both stories is a rather unintentional "secondary" theme: One of the best ways to deal with the stressful seas of Corporate America is to hold your nose, jump over the side, and swim for shore. Being somewhat familiar with that theme in real life, I felt qualified to use it as a plot element in these stories.

A tale of two ditties

"Business Class," which appears in the current (Nov./Dec.) print issue of The Saturday Evening Post, is both a Christmas story and a fictional account of ethics and (the lack of) common sense in the modern-day business world. The antagonist, like Mrs. Robinson or Apollo Creed or Smokey chasing the Bandit, isn't really an evil villain--he's just an antagonist. He's there to prevent the protagonist from accomplishing what he needs to do. And the only mystery in the story is the "clue" that the hero discovers that allows him to complete his journey.

This story, published on November 1 (at least that's when I received my contributor's copy in the mail) was also made available online at the SEP's website yesterday, December 4. If anyone's interested, here's a link. FYI, The Saturday Evening Post publishes one piece of fiction in each print issue (six stories a year).

My other story, "Arrowhead Lake," is featured in the current (Oct.-Jan.) issue of The Strand Magazine, and with this one I'm on more comfortable ground: it's a crime story with a lot of action, and it's probably more of a thriller than a mystery because it involves ordinary people thrust into a fight-or-flight, life-or-death situation. In this story, which is actually quite a bit longer than a ditty, a successful businesswoman and her underachieving younger brother face off against a couple of ruthless home-invaders with hidden agendas, who do little to hide the fact that the victims probably won't survive to see the end of the tale. What finally happens comes as something of a surprise to both the bad guys and the good guys--and, if I'm lucky, a surprise to the reader as well.

A most pleasant surprise to me was that this issue of The Strand also contains a never-before-published short story by a fellow (and slightly more famous) Mississippian named William Faulkner. In fact, Strand editor Andrew Gulli has managed to unearth and publish quite a few of these long-lost manuscripts lately, by authors like Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, etc. The first I heard about this one was an interview with Andrew on NPR that aired the other day, in which he talked about the new issue. I picked the magazine up at our local Books-A-Million this past week and just finished reading the Faulkner story--I think you'll like it. And I hope you'll like mine also.

The Strand usually publishes four or five pieces of fiction in each issue, and this one includes interviews with Dean Koontz and A. E. Hotchner.

Bonus material

I was also pleased, during a trip to Kroger the other day, to discover one of my stories in Woman's World. (The contract always names the issue in which they expect the story to appear, but that sometimes doesn't hold true, so I usually find out for sure by hearing about it from one of my e-friends who has a subscription or from spotting it myself on the newsstand when I go to the store for necessities like Oreos or potato chips.) This story, my eighth in WW this year, is called "Strangers on the Block," in the December 7 issue, which went on sale on November 26. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this market, WW publishes one mystery and one romance in each issue. You can probably guess which genre I prefer.

A quick note about Woman's World mini-mysteries. They really are minuscule (700 words max), and since the "solve-it-yourself" format was introduced in 2004 they are always interactive, featuring a puzzle and an upside-down "solution box" that allows the reader to try to supply the answer. In my story this time, the amateur sleuth figures out which of the three suspects is the guilty party, and the reader's challenge is not whodunit but howdidsheknowwhodunit?

Several of my present and former co-conspirators at SleuthSayers--B. K. Stevens, R. T. Lawton, and Deborah Elliott-Upton, among others--have sold to WW, and they'll vouch for the fact that writing those little mysteries is a lot of fun.

Counting my blessings

As I have mentioned before at this blog, 2015 has been kind to me, writingwise. I'm sure the Law of Averages will soon catch up to me, but meanwhile I'm having a great time. One of the best things to happen to me this year, on the literary front, was having three of my writing buddies--B. K. (Bonnie) Stevens, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor--join our infamous group here at SleuthSayers, and the other was getting the chance to finally meet Bonnie and Art face-to-face, along with fellow SSers R. T. Lawton, David Dean, and Rob Lopresti. And to see and visit once again with longtime friends Barb, Dale Andrews, and Liz Zelvin.

Here's to a good year for all of us, in 2016.

10 May 2014

A Saturday Morning Post


by John M. Floyd

A word about the title of today's piece: It might not be imaginative, but it's appropriate. This is, after all, a column that was posted on Saturday morning. The subject of the column is appropriate as well, I hope, because it deals with writing in different genres and coming up with characters and story ideas and targeting certain pieces to a certain publication. In my case, it was several stories of mine that have recently been featured in The Saturday Evening Post.

Only one of those three stories, which appears in the current (May/June 2014) issue, has a mystery at its core, and even that one is not primarily about the mystery. It's more of a story about the love between two unlikely friends, set in the rural South of the 1970s. More about that in a minute.

Exchanging guns for roses

A little over a year ago, I was informed that The Saturday Evening Post publishes six pieces of short fiction every year--one in every bimonthly issue--and that that market might be a possibility for some of the stories I like to write. Since that time, due primarily to an oversized dose of blind luck, I have managed to sell three stories to the Post.

The first, a 2600-word story called "The Outside World" (March/April 2013 issue), dealt not with my usual crime-related themes but with injury and hardship and the rays of hope that can sometimes appear in seemingly hopeless situations. The inspiration for it came in part from my vague memories of Mark Hellinger's short story "The Window," in which an elderly woman in a sanitarium tells her bedridden roommates what she sees from her window every day. My characters were based on people I have known, which probably isn't surprising: author Greg Iles said in a recent interview that any writer of fiction who says his characters aren't based in some way on himself or his acquaintances is lying. What was surprising, at least to me, is that this twisty-plot story of mine sold to that particular magazine. Not that I spent much time analyzing how or why; I just counted my blessings and wrote another one.

That second story, "The First of October," sold to the Post as well, a few months later (the November/December 2013 issue). This one was short, around 1600 words. In truth, it was more of a romance story than anything else, but it also dealt--as the first one did--with folks who have experienced and overcome physical and mental obstacles. The idea for it first appeared one night when my wife and I were watching an episode of As Time Goes By, a BBC series about a couple who'd fallen in love long ago, were then separated during World War II, and years later met by chance, rekindled their love for each other, and were married. My story once again featured characters from my past, or at least composites of people from my past. and again didn't contain any of the murder and mayhem that I usually enjoy sprinkling throughout my fiction. Who says old mystery writers can't learn new tricks? I will confess, though, that it too contained several plot reversals--no matter what the genre, I can't seem to resist those.

Writing what you know

My third story, "Margaret's Hero," which is in the current issue of the Post, is a bit different from the first two. For one thing, it's longer--about 5500 words--and it does include some criminal activity. What I set out to do in this story was to point out that the racial tensions that have always been present in the Deep South are sometimes overruled by the genuine love people can have for one another, the kind that transcends age and race and social status. Unlike the previous story, this isn't romantic love--instead, it's the strong feelings that develop between a little white girl named Margaret Kindy and a grandfatherlike African American named Gus Newberry, who is the foreman of the ranch/farm owned by Margaret's actual grandfather. It's also a tale about rural life and tornadoes and dysfunctional families--this is the South, remember--and about the attachment between Margaret and a horse she and Gus decide to raise from a colt, and the ways that the horse affects both their lives. The title itself has a double meaning: Hero is the name the child gives her pony. And, once again, there's sort of a surprise ending.

The foreman--the story's real hero--is patterned closely after someone from my own childhood: an old, wise, and always cheerful black man who often took me hunting and fishing with him in the swamps and bottoms near my hometown when I was barely ten years old. Almost everything about this character, from his kindness and patience to his salt-and-pepper hair to his great size to his bib overalls and baseball cap, was true to life, and brought back good memories throughout the writing process. The setting, too, was comfortable to me, because I grew up in a tiny Mississippi town that was almost the same as living out in the country. We owned a horse and other livestock and raised many of our own crops, and at Margaret's age I happily roamed the woods and pastures every chance I got.

Post scripts

NOTE: I've included links to all three of my Post stories in the text above, and I should mention here that although the version of "Margaret's Hero" in the printed magazine is complete, the version posted at the S.E.P. web site accidentally omitted a paragraph (?!?) from the middle of the story. That works out well for me, actually, because if you decide to read it online and you think something might not sound exactly right, I have a built-in excuse . . .

NOTE 2: I said earlier that luck played a big part in my selling that first story to the magazine. Well, I was lucky afterward as well. In the issues immediately following the ones that featured my first two stories, the LETTERS section of the Post included two glowing reviews from readers, along with requests that the editors publish more of my stories in the future, and I suspect that that was a factor in their decision to accept my next efforts. I didn't know those two kind readers (no, they were not my mother and my sister), but I will always be sincerely grateful for their letters to the editor.

My point, here, is that even though I certainly prefer writing mystery/crime/suspense, it's sometimes fun and even profitable to reach beyond the genres you're used to and try writing something different. It's also fun to occasionally test some previously untried publications with your stories.

The worst they can do is say no, right? And you might even get a pleasant surprise.

Or three.