Showing posts with label Trey R. Barker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trey R. Barker. Show all posts

02 April 2019

The Genesis of Guns + Tacos

by Michael Bracken
with Trey R. Barker and Frank Zafiro

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas, but no one ever asks anthology editors where they get theirs.

In my October 16, 2018, SleuthSayers post “The Obstacle Ahead is a Mirror,” I alluded to a project conceived at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida, that had me excited about writing again. Season One of that project—a novella anthology series named Guns + Tacos—premieres in July, with an episode appearing each month through December and a second season already scheduled for July–December 2020.

The story of how Trey R. Barker and I conceived of Guns + Tacos, and how it evolved from a joke to an anthology series, begins back in February 2017. That’s when I pitched The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of private eye stories set in Texas that will release in fall 2019 (near the same time as the Dallas Bouchercon) to Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books. (More about that anthology closer to the release date.)

Trey, a Texas native now living in Illinois, submitted a story, which I accepted, and in the process of working on that anthology, we swapped several emails. I don’t think we’d ever crossed paths before, but we seemed to know several of the same people. So, we—Trey and his wife Kathy, me and my wife Temple—made plans to meet for lunch at the 2018 Bouchercon in St. Petersburg.

Here, of course, is where the story gets hazy, and I suspect each of us remembers things differently. But what I remember is this: Among the many things we discussed during lunch were guns and tacos, and at some point Trey said they were his two favorite things. A little later—I think it was after lunch as we were returning to the main part of the Vinoy—the subject came up again and Temple suggested that guns and tacos sounded like a good premise for an anthology. Off and on during the next several hours, Trey and I batted the idea around.

That evening, we found ourselves on the Vinoy’s veranda, hanging out with a revolving group of editors and writers affiliated with Down & Out Books, and we pitched the idea to Eric. Several of the people present made comments and suggestions, but the most significant contribution to the conversation came from Frank Zafiro when he described what he was doing with A Grifter’s Song, a novella anthology series he created for D&O.

A novella anthology series is much like a Netflix series, with a new episode (a novella) released each month over the course of a six-month season. A Grifter’s Song was already set for a January 2019 debut, was committed to a two-season arc, and Eric was looking for a series that could run the last six months of 2019. He asked if Trey and I could turn our anthology idea into a novella anthology series.

Trey and I met several times during the balance of the convention, and we made notes and a list of writers we wanted to approach. By the time we left for home, we had a good handle on the project.

I had successfully (and unsuccessfully) pitched anthologies, so I knew the fundamentals of writing a proposal, but a novella anthology series was a new beast entirely. We asked Frank to share his proposal for A Grifter’s Song, which he did, and we later wrote a formal proposal for Guns + Tacos using Frank’s proposal as a blueprint.

And Trey and I weren’t the only people excited by the concept behind Guns + Tacos. While Temple and I were sitting at the airport awaiting our flight home, I received an email from Frank containing a scene from the story he wanted to write wherein his protagonist visits the taco truck and gets a gun.

But Trey R. Barker and Frank Zafiro may remember things differently, so I’ve asked them to join me today and share their memories of how the project came together.

TREY R. BARKER

What a load of horseshit.

Here’s what happened…as best I remember, some of it’s kinda fuzzy….

Michael Bracken, Frank Zafiro, and Trey R. Barker
at Bouchercon 2018
I was at the Titty Twister. Remember that place, yeah? In Mexico? Rodriguez made a documentary about it awhile back. Anyway, I was banging straight up bottom-shelf tequila and Kathy was dancing on a table. Hot…HAWT!

So I’m doing my thang with the tequila and part of a worm and leering at Kathy. Mostly, I’m waiting for the Federales to quit sniffing all up in my business, just chilling to get back to San Angelo (home of Los Lonely Boys, don’cha know) and thinking I’m getting hungry.

In walks Michael and his little number and they’re waffling about tacos and I’m all like, “Yeah, I dig me some tacos,” but the Twister kitchen was closed ’cause the band was about to play or some crap…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

Me and my gun sat down with them, kinda freaked them out ’cause I ain’t never met them before and they ain’t been married long so they wanted to boom boom their own thang but I was down for tacos now they’d got mentioned so it wasn’t really my fault when the bottle got smashed open and the tequila went everywhere.

Damned waste of good agava juice.

So the band—Tito and Tarantula—started playing and it’s smoking hot; greasy guitar and thumping drums and Kathy’s dancing and now this cat Michael challenges some big, hairy dude to single-bullet poker and slams a gun right down on the table…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

Kathy said, “Hey, man, vegetarian tacos and guns…that’s a good night,” while Michael licked a bullet and eye-boned the hairy guy.

Vegetarian tacos? Man, this place is a trip.

Temple is all like “What the F ever, Michael,” like she’s done this scene before and is straight up bored. Kathy’s banging back some sweet Riesling while she’s dancing and now the joint is full like a damned reunion of freak show wannabes all stank-sweaty and drinking like Sweet Baby Jesus was coming back tomorrow and bringing Prohibition with him.

The hairy guy holds his hands up, passive scared looks like to me, and leaves while Michael snorts aggressive and gives Temple some big ass Bad Daddy kiss and some new dude comes in.

Waving guns like a cheap stripper with spinning tassels. Got a gun in each hand, four or five more on his hips, strapped X across his chest with bullets like some old line Bandido, screaming he wants some damn tacos now or the Twister Armadillo gets it hard.

Scared the shit outta the armadillo. Poor damn thing running back and forth in that cage. Barkeep had to put a bowl of tequila in there to calm it down.

So Gunboy starts gassing about how he’s had tacos before, a plate of 12 or some crap, and he wants more tacos and I said “Guns and tacos…mmmmmmmm,” and Temple said something like “Guns and tacos…that’s the best you can do?” and Kathy said “Vegetarian guns and tacos,” which I took to mean vegetarian tacos, not guns, but I don’t know…that part’s kinda fuzzy.

And so that’s how Michael and me and Gunboy bought a taco truck in Sausalito.

But it’s all kinda fuzzy.

FRANK ZAFIRO

I just happened to be walking past Michael and Trey, huddled together over drinks in the lobby area, when they spotted me and called me over. They asked about a project of mine called A Grifter’s Song. Now, this was about a month away from the official announcement from Down & Out Books. Nonetheless, I swore them to secrecy, and then proceeded to lay it all out for them.

[I can keep secrets. Really.]

I explained the artistic and logistical set up for A Grifter’s Song, which features a pair of grifters who love two things: each other, and the game. The series runs twelve episodes across two six-episode seasons. I wrote the first and last episodes and ten other authors penned the rest. Each is self-contained. Subscribers to the series get a price break, automated delivery and a bonus, subscriber-only episode.

When I finished, one of them asked a little hesitantly, “Do you think we could get a copy of the treatment you sent Eric for the series?”

“Of course,” I said.

Why wouldn’t I? The dirty little not-really-a-secret was that my original plan was to write the series myself and release quarterly, but then Gary Phillips invited me to submit to a series he was working on. His format? Every episode written by a different author, and a once-a-month release schedule. It was a great idea, and I quickly realized it was the right model for A Grifter’s Song. I put together a treatment for the series and pitched it to D&O, who came up with the subscription model.

Now, while I wouldn’t call it theft, I most certainly felt a debt to Gary Phillips. So not only do I acknowledge the inspiration, I offered him a slot in season one. He graciously contributed Episode 4: The Movie Makers.

So you can see how it was my pay-it-forward duty to share a preview of this project with Michael and Trey. In this tribe, that’s how it works, at least most of the time. We take care of each other.

They seemed to dig the idea, and as you’ll surely read, things took off from there. Seeing that success is satisfying enough, but I got something else out of the deal, too—an invitation to submit.

I started my story at the airport on the way home from Bouchercon.

Fittingly, Gary Phillips is in this one, too.

THE END RESULT

Joining us on this adventure are Gary Phillips, William Dylan Powell, and James A. Hearn. Though they weren’t there at the conception, they’ve certainly helped make the first season a success, and were great to work with as Trey and I figured out how to turn Guns + Tacos into a reality.

Read the official press release announcing Guns + Tacos but note that it leaves out one important bit of news. Even before the first episode drops, Guns + Tacos has been picked up for a second season!

In other news: My story “The Maltese Terrier” appears in the latest issue of Black Mask.

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.

16 October 2018

The Obstacle Ahead is a Mirror

by Michael Bracken

Michael Bracken and Josh Pachter
celebrate September birthdays
while at Bouchercon.
I’ve been writing long enough to recognize many of the obstacles that interfere with productivity. I’ve experienced the death of a parent, the death of a spouse, two divorces, four marriages, multiple job changes and relocations, heart surgery, and any number of other consequential life events. Yet, I can’t recall ever facing the obstacle that blocked my writing path throughout the middle half of this year.

During 2016 and 2017 my writing took a great leap forward, and my work was recognized in unexpected ways—leading to a lifetime achievement award in 2016; having a story included in The Best American Mystery Stories in 2018; placing stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and several new publications; and having other mystery writing opportunities fall into my lap. Unfortunately, sometime this spring all that good news overwhelmed me.

For many years, my schtick was to tout my productivity. I was the back-of-the-magazine, middle-of-the-anthology guy, the writer editors relied on to fill pages because they knew I was likely to turn in something on time and on theme that required little or no editorial sweat to make publishable.

For years I pounded out stories because writing was fun, and my head was (and is) filled with more stories than I will ever put on paper.

And then I stopped being that guy.

PLAY BECOMES WORK

I don’t know exactly when things changed, but I began to view my writing through a different lens. Instead of asking myself, “Is this fun?” I began asking myself, “Is this important? Is this significant? Is this noteworthy?”

And the answer, too often, was “no.”

I didn’t stop writing, but I set stories aside because they weren’t important, significant, or noteworthy. Then stories I did think were important, significant, and noteworthy—stories I felt confident would sell the first time out because I knew my markets—bounced back from editors with form rejections.

My mojo was no mo’.

WORK BECOMES PLAY

I did not have writer’s block. I didn’t stop writing but writing became a job I didn’t want to go to and didn’t want to do when I got there because it had stopped being fun.

This is how I felt in early September when Temple and I left home for Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida. Unlike New Orleans, where Temple and I spent almost as much time wandering around the French Quarter as we spent at the convention, and Toronto, where I participated in numerous events, St. Petersburg was more about hanging out.

Like many attendees, too many interactions with fellow writers were little more than “how ya doin’?” as we crossed paths on our way from one place to another. I did manage some interesting conversations about writing with Barb Goffman and Art Taylor, had some long conversations with Josh Pachter about all manner of things, and spent time with Trey R. Barker, both alone and in the company of our wives.

Michael Bracken, Frank Zafiro, and
Trey R. Barker bond over a mutual love
of taco truck cuisine.
I also spent a great deal of time hanging out on the veranda with a revolving group of editors and writers affiliated with Down & Out Books. Over the course of the convention, a joke Trey and I shared expanded into a project that we pitched to D&O Publisher Eric Campbell on that veranda. As we did, Frank Zafiro and other writers made suggestions that expanded the scope of our idea into something Eric liked so much he asked for a formal proposal.

By the time Temple and I reached the airport to leave St. Petersburg on the last day of Bouchercon, Frank Zafiro had already written several thousand words for the project, and within a week of returning home Trey and I put the formal proposal in Eric’s hands and began work on our own contributions.

As I write this, we have not yet received the go-ahead from Eric, but it doesn’t matter. I’m about 9,000 words into a 15,000+ word novella that isn’t important, significant, or noteworthy.

And writing it is damned fun.

“Mr. Sugarman Visits the Bookmobile” appears in Shhhh…Murder! (Darkhouse Books, edited by Andrew MacRae), and it’s the fifth story of mine to be included in Robert Lopresti’s list of best stories he’s “read this week” at Little Big Crimes.