Showing posts with label Smoked. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Smoked. Show all posts

19 February 2019

Baby You Can Drive My Car

by Michael Bracken

Until recently, Temple’s parents lived in Tyler, Texas, about a three-hour drive from our home near Waco. We visited her parents a handful of times each year, and during the long drive to and from we often discussed story ideas. This, inevitably, led to discussions of plots, characters, and settings, and by the time we returned home from each trip, we had generated and fleshed out one or more story ideas that I ultimately turned into finished manuscripts, including “Smoked,” which was reprinted in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018.

My mobile workstation.
Often, we started the discussion with me describing an invitation to submit that I had received, or a call for submissions that interested me, or, when I was writing confessions, a discussion of what holiday or other event might occur in the publication month I was targeting. (This would include, for example, generating Christmas stories for the December issues.)

There is something about being behind the wheel of a car on a long trip that liberates my mind to free associate in a way that I do not often do when sitting at a keyboard. Other than the attention I must pay to the traffic around me, there are no distractions. The cats aren’t walking on my keyboard. The dog doesn’t need to go out. Email doesn’t ding with incoming messages. I can’t get sucked into a rabbit hole of increasing internet research of decreasing value. And online word games don’t lure me from the task at hand.

It helps, of course, that Temple sits beside me with notepad and pen in hand. We bounce ideas back and forth, and she makes note of the best ones. The notes might include a rough plot outline or might be little more than a title or character name or inciting incident.

Upon arriving at her parents’ home, while Temple visited with her family, I would sometimes disappear into the sunroom to turn the notes into something more by thumb typing or dictating into my phone. Upon returning home, I would spend the next few days turning the more detailed notes, rough plots, and partially completed scenes into finished manuscripts.

That, unfortunately, is about to end. Temple’s mother passed away last September, and her father recently purchased a home half a dozen blocks from us. When he completes the move from Tyler, our long drives will be a thing of the past.

We are likely to visit her father more often, but there will barely be enough time during the drive (or the walk, in good weather) to his new home to discuss extremely short stories. The end result could be a rash of flash fiction.

Or it could mean we must find a new destination for our drives, someplace about three hours away that offers a good meal, great company, and sufficient incentive to break our daily routine, get in the car, and go.

There’s a disturbance in the force. I’ve had nothing published since my previous SleuthSayers post, so here’s a throwback to 2001: All White Girls, one of my first novels, was published and is still available in various formats from Wildside Press. With ten reviews, it ranks 4.5 stars at Amazon, and reviewers at the time of publication said:

“...violent and very hard-boiled.” A 4-Star Review—Detroit Free Press

“All White Girls is a one-sitting, in-your-face, hard-boiled mystery; and it’s damn good.”—I Love A Mystery

“...a gritty novel where almost everyone has an interest in the dark side of human nature.”—Blue Iris Journal

“...a driving pace that keeps the reader engaged from cover to cover.”—Judas

Order from Amazon.

25 September 2018

Not a Dry Eye in the House

by Michael Bracken

I cried.

I screamed loud enough to be heard on the far side of the house. Then I cried.

My reaction to the email from Otto Penzler notifying me that my story “Smoked” had been selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018 was not the reaction I would have anticipated had I ever thought inclusion was a real possibility. I screamed across the house for my wife, and, by the time she arrived in my office, I was crying. All I could do was point at the computer screen and let Temple read the email herself.

I’ve had many reactions to acceptances and publications, but crying has never been one of them.


Having a story selected for The Best American Mystery Stories is a dream that began when I read The Best American Mystery Stories 1998, the second edition of the now long-running series, and I own and have read every edition since.

As an editor, two stories I first published made the 2002 “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories” list (“The Horrible, Senseless Murders of Two Elderly Women” by Michael Collins and “Teed Off” by Mark Troy, Fedora), and one of my stories made the 2005 list of “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories” (“Dreams Unborn,” Small Crimes).

But actual publication in the anthology? I never thought it was a possibility.


Each time my wife and I visit her family, we spend much of the three-hour drive brainstorming story ideas while Temple notes them on a legal pad. Shortly before one such trip, I read the submission call for Level Best Books’ Noir at the Salad Bar, which sought stories that featured “food or drink, restaurants, bars or the culinary arts,” and during that trip my wife filled two handwritten pages with every food-related story idea we could imagine.

Then she suggested barbecue.

By the time we arrived at her family’s home, I knew the story’s setting and primary characters. While Temple visited with family, I filled several more pages of the legal pad with notes, and I created a rough outline. But after inspiration comes perspiration, and the story required several drafts before becoming “Smoked,” the story of an ex-biker in the Witness Security Program after turning state’s evidence against his former gang members. Relocated to a small Texas town, Beau James has opened Quarryville Smokehouse. Then his cover is blown when a magazine food critic names his smokehouse the “best-kept secret in West Texas” and his photo accompanies the review.

Shortly after publication, Robert Lopresti reviewed “Smoked” at Little Big Crimes, and he described the story better than I ever have: “The story takes place in modern Texas, but it has the feeling of an old-fashioned Western, with the bad guys getting closer and the townsfolk having to decide where they stand.”


My wife insists “Smoked” is one of my best stories (and believes it would make an excellent movie for Amazon or Netflix!), but she’s obviously biased, and I learned long ago never to trust my own judgment.

So, I had no reason to think “Smoked” had any more of a chance to be selected than any of the many other stories I’ve sent Penzler over the years.

That I was emotionally overwhelmed when Penzler’s email popped up in my inbox is an understatement. Perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit it, but I’m not: I cried with joy.

In addition to “Smoked” in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, my story “Texas Hot Flash” appears in the first print edition of Tough and my story “Mr. Sugarman Visits the Bookmobile appears in Shhh...Murder!