Showing posts with label The Eyes of Texas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Eyes of Texas. Show all posts

29 October 2019

Bouchercon Bound!


Though I am writing this more than a week before it posts, the day after it posts Temple and I will head to Dallas for Bouchercon 2019, our fourth consecutive Bouchercon, which, as a point of reference, occurs less than a month before our fourth anniversary.

Michael with Rebecca Swope at the 2002 Shamus Awards Banquet.
(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Swope.)
I’ve attended science fiction conventions off-and-on since the first Archon in St. Louis, Mo., forty-three years ago, but the 2002 Bouchercon in Austin, Texas, was my first mystery convention. I was lucky to be a panelist (discussing my private eye novel All White Girls), I met and spent time with several writers I had only known online or via snail mail prior to the convention, and I attended my first Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards Banquet that year. Unfortunately, financial constraints prevented me from fully experiencing the convention. I commuted each day from Waco because I could not afford a hotel room, my food budget was negligible, and I had no money to spend in the dealer’s room.

My second mystery convention was the 2011 Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe, N.M., where I participated in a short story panel, met more writers I had only known online, and met one editor to whom I’ve since sold several short stories. Unfortunately, I spent much of my time in Santa Fe suffering from altitude sickness, and I thought my head was going to explode the entire time I was there.

My experience with mystery conventions took a positive turn in 2016, with Bouchercon in New Orleans. Less than a year earlier I had the good fortune to marry a mystery fan born in New Orleans, so I had no difficulty convincing Temple that we could combine a mystery convention with sight-seeing. Receiving a lifetime achievement award at the convention was a bonus.

In addition to meeting many of my writing friends during the convention, Temple had a book signed by Michael Connelly (she claims Connelly’s her second-favorite mystery writer named Michael, but I’ve seen the gleam in her eye every time a new Connelly novel is released or a new season of Bosch airs), and she had a close encounter with Sara Paretsky at the Shamus Awards Banquet. Before the convention ended, Temple was making plans to attend Bouchercon the following year in Toronto.

We added Malice Domestic in North Bethesda, Md., to our convention schedule in 2018 and had hoped to attend Left Coast Crime in Vancouver earlier this year. (Unfortunately, the unexpected need to replace my car saw us using our travel savings for a down payment on a new vehicle, causing us to cancel our trip.)

But Temple fangirling over her favorite mystery writers and us spending time with friends both old and new are only a few of the many benefits of attending mystery conventions together. I’ve walked away from each of the last three Bouchercons and two Malice Domestics with writing or editing opportunities I likely would never have had had I not attended.

At Bouchercon this week, I’ll be participating in “Short and Sweet but Sometimes Dark,” a short story panel at 4:00 p.m. Thursday, moderated by Barb Goffman and featuring panelists Mysti Berry, John M. Floyd, R. T. Lawton, and James Lincoln Warren.

I will also be presenting a brief introduction to Texas private eyes at the Shamus Awards Banquet Friday evening.

And, though there’s no formal event scheduled, Murder By The Book will have copies of The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books) available for sale and many of the contributors and I will be wandering around the convention ready and willing to sign copies.

I can’t predict what else may come from this week’s convention or from future mystery conventions, but even before this year’s Bouchercon has begun, Temple and I are already making plans to attend both Bouchercon and Malice Domestic next year.

My story “A Cling of Koalas” appears in A Murder of Crows (Darkhouse Books).

My story “Sex Toys” appears in Knucklehead Noir (Coffin Hop Press).

My essay “Lifecycle of a Fanzine Fan,” about how I now do professionally all the things I did as a teenaged fanzine editor, appears in Portable Storage Two.

08 October 2019

Open Your Heart and Bleed


What are your stories about?

I’m not interested in elevator pitches—“My stories are about a plucky private eye who searches for missing labradoodles with the aid of her grandfather’s long-dead schnauzer.”—but rather about the underlying themes in one’s work.

I’m pondering this question, as I have many times before, because Barb Goffman, moderator of “Short and Sweet but Sometimes Dark,” a short story panel at this month’s Bouchercon, asked participants to send her two recently published or about-to-be published stories to aid in her preparation.

As I looked through mine, I was reminded of how often I write about the lingering impact of expired relationships. Whether relationships end by choice or not, former lovers (survivors, in the case of death) carry emotional weight all the rest of their days, and this weight, in one form or another, informs much of my fiction.

I NEVER SAID GOODBYE

Michael Bracken, Heartache-bound
I had known Vickie since sixth grade, and she sat behind me in homeroom when I was a fourteen-year-old ninth grader at Mason Junior High School in Tacoma, Washington. I visited her home, where we played games, watched television, and dined with her family. Our first date—an unchaperoned date, no less—would be the first dance of the school year, held in a multi-purpose room with a stage at one end, theater seating at the other end, and a hardwood gymnasium floor between the two. Because Tacoma had public transportation, I would take the bus from home—a mere block from the junior high school—to hers a mile or so away, return with her, and attend the dance.

Between the time I asked Vickie to the dance and the day of our date, I learned that my parents and I would be moving to Fort Bragg, California, and we were leaving the morning after the dance. I told no one.

As planned, I picked Vickie up at her home and we traveled by city bus to the junior high school. We sat in the theater seats, listening to the music and watching some of our classmates on the dance floor. Vickie repeatedly asked me to dance, but I wouldn’t. I wanted to tell her I was moving, but I couldn’t.

After a while, she grew frustrated and left. Alone.

The next day I climbed in the back seat of my parents’ car, and we moved to California.

I never saw or talked to Vickie again.

I never told her I was leaving, I never said goodbye, and I have carried that weight for nearly fifty years.

MAYBE I DID THIS TIME

I did not have another girlfriend until I was a seventeen-year-old high school senior. Yvonne, a junior, served on the school’s newspaper staff with me, and we dated during the last semester of my senior year, the same semester my mother died during heart surgery. More than a girlfriend, she was one of the few people (along with my best friend Joe and my English teacher Mrs. Richmond) who helped me cope with the loss of my mother.

Even so, I struggled with my mother’s passing, and my stepfather and I did not get along. So, my grandmother traveled to Fort Bragg to take me home with her.

I think I told Yvonne I was leaving—I hope I did—but once again a budding relationship was truncated by events beyond my control, and at least two years passed before I again opened my heart.

AND THEN MY HEARTACHES BLED INTO MY STORIES

Over the years, I have survived many additional heartaches—the deaths of loved ones, the slow disintegration of relationships that began with such promise, relationships truncated for reasons beyond my control—and those heartaches bled into, and continue to bleed into, my fiction.

So, when I selected two stories for Barb, I found myself unable to find two in which the end of a relationship didn’t play at least some small part in the tale. I chose “Who Done It,” coming next month in Seascape: The Best New England Crime Stories 2019 (Level Best Books), and “Woodstock,” forthcoming in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. (I didn’t select “Love, Or Something Like It,” forthcoming in Crime Travel [Wildside Press], which Barb edited, because the theme is much too obvious.)

I could have selected any of several other stories because dealing with the emotional weight of expired relationships has long been an underlying theme in my work, just as it has in my life.

Still, if you prefer the elevator pitches, catch me when I’m feeling less confessional.


My story “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” published last year in Tough, has been named one of the “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories” in this year’s The Best American Mystery Stories. This is the second time one of my stories has made the list (the first, “Dreams Unborn,” made the 2005 list); last year my story “Smoked” actually made it into the anthology.

Join us at the launch party for The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down and Out Books) at Murder By The Book in Houston on October 21. Seven of the contributors—Chuck Brownman, James A. Hearn, Scott Montgomery, Graham Powell, William Dylan Powell, Mark Troy, and Bev Vincent—will join me to discuss the anthology and their stories, and to sign copies. If you can’t get to the signing, contact Murder By The Book. I suspect they’ll let you preorder a copy that we can sign for you and that they can ship after the event.

06 August 2019

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods



by Michael Bracken

A few minutes ago, as I write this, I finished checking proofs for The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods and, as soon as I have the answer to a question posed to one of the seventeen contributors, I’ll be sending everything back to the publisher. Scheduled for October 21, 2019, release from Down & Out Books, The Eyes of Texas will be my sixth published anthology.

I edited the first five—Fedora, Fedora II, Fedora III, Hardbroiled, and Small Crimes—(all of which were released in hardback and which will soon be released in trade paperback and as ebooks)—in the early 2000s, so there’s been a bit of a gap in my anthology output. This wasn’t by choice. In the interim I pitched anthology ideas to several publishers, received some positive feedback and encouragement, but finalized no deals.

THE BACKSTORY

One of those ideas—a collection of private eye stories set in Texas—had a positive reception at a regional publisher, but, like many other pitches before and since, ultimately led nowhere. (On the positive side, it did lead to cowriting “Snowbird” with Tom Sweeney, the first sale either of us made to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.)

The idea languished in my file of anthology pitches until February 2017 when I learned that Bouchercon was coming to Texas. I dusted off The Eyes of Texas, revised the proposal, and, in my pitch to Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books, suggested releasing it to coincide with the Dallas Bouchercon. Three days later I had a commitment from Eric and work began.

I soon issued an open call for submissions and set the submission deadline for November 30, 2017. Submissions drifted in during the coming months, from new writers and well-established writers, from writers I had worked with previously, writers I had shared space with in various anthologies and periodicals, and writers with whom I had no previous experience.

(For those who like to see stats: I received forty-three stories from thirty-nine writers. I accepted seventeen. I received submissions from twenty-nine writers who appear to be male; I accepted fifteen. I received submissions from ten writers who appear to be female; I accepted two. I did not include my own work.)

Though I rejected stories throughout the process, I did not send acceptances until the tail-end of December 2017, and I spent the next several months editing and working with the contributors, finally delivering the full manuscript to D&O in early July 2018, more than a year before the scheduled publication date.

One of the stories I accepted was the author’s first sale, submitted after he saw me on a panel of anthology editors at Armadillocon. One of the stories was submitted following a conversation I had with the author at the Toronto Bouchercon in which we discussed an aspect of Texas history that no submission had addressed, and which the author incorporated into his submission. One story’s protagonist first appeared in a story published years earlier in Fedora III, and one story’s protagonist will be featured in a forthcoming novel.

Unfortunately, one contributor has passed away.

And those stories I didn’t select? At least two have found other homes: One recently appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and another will appear in an anthology edited by Maxim Jakubowski.

THE NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Editing The Eyes of Texas led, directly or indirectly, to several new opportunities. I recently turned in the manuscript for Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, the first in an annual anthology series, and I will begin reading submissions for Mickey Finn 2 in September. (For guidelines, visit http://www.crimefictionwriter.com/submissions.html.) I co-created and am co-editing, with one of the anthology contributors, the Guns + Tacos serial novella anthology series. With one of the anthology’s contributors, I co-authored and sold two stories. With another contributor, I co-authored a story that is currently making the rounds, and I’ve placed stories in two anthologies edited by yet another contributor.

All of these unexpected opportunities remind me how interconnected we are as writers and editors, and they remind me how important it is not to give up. If I had stopped pitching anthologies during my decade-plus drought, it is likely that none of these new opportunities would have fallen into my lap.

THE EYES OF TEXAS

Texas has it all, from bustling big cities to sleepy small towns, and law enforcement alone can’t solve every crime. That’s where private eyes come in. They take the cases law enforcement can’t—or won’t. Private eyes may walk the mean streets of Dallas and Houston, but they also stroll through small West Texas towns where the secrets are sometimes more dangerous. Whether driving a Mustang or riding a Mustang, a private eye in Texas is unlike any other in the world.

The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods features seventeen original tales of Lone Star State private eyes from Trey R. Barker, Chuck Brownman, Michael Chandos, John M. Floyd, Debra H. Goldstein, James A. Hearn, Richard Helms, Robert S. Levinson, Scott Montgomery, Sandra Murphy, Josh Pachter, Michael Pool, Graham Powell, William Dylan Powell, Stephen D. Rogers, Mark Troy, and Bev Vincent.

Preorder now at https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/bracken-eyes-texas/.



Three Brisket Tacos and a Sig Sauer, my contribution to and the second episode of the Guns + Tacos serial novella anthology series Trey R. Barker and I created and edit, released August 1.

Joseph “Joey D” Garrett owes everything to his Aunt Sylvia, including a stint in the Stateville Correctional Center. When he’s released, Joey returns to the only life he knows, and he soon becomes an instrumental part of his aunt’s plan to rob four banks in a single day.

Before that can happen, though, Joey meets Gloria Sanchez, and she turns his life upside down. Gloria’s everything his aunt isn’t, and their developing relationship makes him think about how life could be if he weren’t so dependent on Sylvia. When he’s forced to choose between the two most important women in his life, Joey finds the answer in a take-out bag from a taco truck.

Order here: https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/bracken-three-brisket-tacos/.

Or order the entire first season here: https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/guns-tacos-s1-subscription/.

Also, I’m reading my story “Oystermen” from the July/August issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in episode 118 of EQMM’s podcast. Recorded at this year's Malice Domestic, my voice had grown a bit horse before Jackie Sherbow began recording. Listen here.

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.