Showing posts with label Tough. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tough. Show all posts

27 August 2019

Expanding Our Universe



By Michael Bracken

I recently attended an event in which a speaker attempted to encourage inclusiveness, letting attendees know how welcome they were....except those who weren’t. He essentially told attendees that if you don’t think like us, change or be silent.

This is, unfortunately, the same message presented by proponents of the opposite ideology, and it divides groups into an us and them mentality.

And this ties in neatly with something Temple and I have been discussing lately.

The mystery writing writing community, just like the writing communities of other genres, have struggled in recent years to be more inclusive of people (writers, editors, publishers, booksellers, and fans) who are not like us.

While we, as a community, clearly have a long way to go, we often overlook the realities that some of us experience. For example, the people in my non-writing social and business life are quite a homogeneous group.

Within the writing community, however, I have several friends, many acquaintances, and many professional relationships with people who are not like me. They are different ethnicities, have different sexual orientations, come from different socioeconomic classes, hold (or held) a diverse number of non-writing occupations, represent various levels of formal education, come from different geographic regions and different countries, worship differently, and so on. In short, being a writer has exposed me to far more diversity than I ever have been, or likely ever will be, exposed to in my “real” life.

Do we, as a community, still have far to go to ensure equitable opportunities for and equitable treatment of everyone? Absolutely.

And I, for one, appreciate the diversity to which I have been exposed, and I look forward to growing my circle of friends, acquaintances, and professional relationships as our community expands.

LOOKING FORWARD

But taking a moment to appreciate how being a part of the mystery writing community has enlarged my world isn’t the end of the story. A few days ago, as I write this, I attended a presentation about “Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture,” a program specifically targeting non-profit organizations that helps them through the “cycle of change as they transform from a white dominant culture to a Race Equity Culture.”

Changing the culture within an organization, according to the program, involves three steps (I am over-simplifying the steps because the hour-plus presentation only skimmed the surface of the topic):

In the Awake stage, organizations concentrate on increasing representation by the under-represented.

In the Woke stage, organizations strive for inclusion, ensuring that everyone is included in the conversation.

In the Work stage, organizations make specific changes to processes, programs, and operations to “ensure integration of a race equity lens into the organization.”

As a community, we face different challenges than formal organizations, but within our community are several organizations that can make changes, among them booksellers, conventions, publishing companies, and writers’ groups. They can implement some version or variation of the Awake to Woke to Work process within their organizations, and the changes they make will ultimately impact our entire community.

I hope someday soon we will no longer separate ourselves into us and them, because we will all be us—readers, writers, editors, publishers, and fans, all brought together by our love of crime fiction and its many sub-genres.


My private eye story “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” which first appeared in the online edition of Tough, now appears in issue two of the print edition. Order a copy here.

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.

DREAM

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.

DREAM COME TRUE

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.”

LIVING THE DREAM

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!