Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hopeful notes

My year ends on a pair of hopeful notes. A few minutes ago I learned that one of my essays has been tentatively accepted for an anthology, and yesterday I learned that one of my short stories is being held for further consideration by a magazine that has published my work in the past.

While neither will count as an acceptance for this year (alas, "maybe" isn't "yes"), perhaps they'll count in next year's total.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Published 2x

My story "Chance Encounter" appears in the February True Story and "Total Package" appears in Best Gay Romance 2010, edited by Richard Labonte and just out from Cleis Press.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Story seventy-five

I just finished and will tomorrow submit my 75th short story of the year. This time it's a 4,500-word Memorial Day confession. Plot Monkey and I came up with the idea for this story and roughed out the plot on November 7. We were sitting on the bench in my front yard and we challenged ourselves to come up with a story based on something we could see in my neighborhood. What we saw, about a block away, was a group of bikers--motorcycle riders, not bicyclists--and that became the impetus for the story. Because the plot was fully formed I was able to write the entire story yesterday and today and still enjoy my third Christmas celebration, an evening out at the movies, and a couple of extra hours of sleep this morning.

Story seventy-four

I'm about to submit my 74th short story of the year, a 4,100-word Easter confession I started writing December 18. I finished writing it yesterday but didn't have a chance to proofread/edit the manuscript until this afternoon. It'll go into the mail tomorrow.


At, Gummy has this to say about my 2005 crime fiction collection Yesterday in Blood and Bone:
The stories are sometimes short to the point of being abrupt. One author called him this era's Mickey Spillane. He may be better, actually.

Cool, huh?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

36, 37

One of my Christmas wishes has already been partially granted. A few minutes ago I received my 36th and 37th acceptances of the year. One is for a St. Patrick's Day confession submitted November 3; the other is for a Spring Break confession submitted December 6.

All I want for Christmas... for editors to respond to my submissions (acceptances preferred).

...publishers to pay me what they agreed to pay me, when they agreed to pay it.

...and the opportunity to keep writing for another year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Published 3x

My story "Love After Death" appears in the February issue of True Love and my stories "Games" and "Snub Nose Love" appear in issue #6 of Out of the Gutter.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I miss rejection slips

When I started writing in the early 1970s, photocopiers were not ubiquitous. Not every publishing office had a photocopier, so multiple copies of generic rejection slips were often printed on the office mimeograph or on a printing press using hot metal type. Later, photocopiers mostly replaced mimeographs in the office and offset printing mostly replaced letterpress in print shops.

But rejection slips remained slips of paper that accompanied unwanted manuscripts home from the slush pile.

Over time we learned how to read those rejections slips. No, not the generic copy printed on them that said, in one way or another, "Thanks, but no thanks." We learn to read the implied messages.

A poorly photocopied rejection slip? Didn't make it past the intern who's being punished for accidentally insulting a senior editor's spouse.

A crisp, photocopied rejection slip? The intern actually read the first page of the manuscript.

An original, printed rejection slip--not a photocopy? The intern kicked the manuscript up to an assistant editor.

An original, printed rejection slip with one or two words indecipherably scrawled at the bottom? The assistant editor read a few pages.

An original, printed rejection slip with "Not for us" or "Try again" scrawled at the bottom? The assistant editor read the entire manuscript.

An original, printed rejection slip with the editor's name scrawled at the bottom? The assistant editor kicked the manuscript up to the editor, who read a page or two.

An original, printed rejection slip with "Not for us" or "Try again" scrawled at the bottom, followed by the editor's name? The editor read the entire manuscript.

An original, printed rejection slip with any comment related to the story--"weak plot" or "unbelievable characters," for example --scrawled at the bottom, followed by the editor's name? The editor read the entire manuscript and liked it enough to offer a few thoughts.

A personalized rejection letter that the editor took the time to type? That's almost a sale. Or the editor had too much free time, in which case the publication didn't have much of a slush pile.

Beyond that are responses that aren't actual rejections; suggestions for revision, requests for revision, acceptances contingent upon revision, and acceptances.

Today, though, all that implied information is lost to writers. With manuscripts submitted via e-mail, and responses, when they come, also arriving by e-mail, it isn't possible to easily suss out who may or may not have looked at the manuscript and what they may or may not have thought of what they read. Rejections are often cut-and-paste blocks of type with no personal touches added, and when personal touches are added, they may be nothing more than dropping the writer's name into a space reserved in the salutation and the story title dropped into another spot in the opening sentence.

And a sig line isn't a signature. It's just another cut-and-paste block of type.


Although I don't receive nearly as many rejections as I did back in the early 1970s, I miss rejection slips.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

If writers worked the drive-through

So that's one novel, extra plot. Do want a short story with that?


I received my 35th acceptance yesterday, this time from an anthology for the story of a mafioso and what he does to move up in the organization. I submitted the story on December 4.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Story seventy-three

I finished and submitted my 73rd short story of the year this afternoon. This one is a 2,700-word Easter-themed confession. I began writing it on November 27.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Story seventy-two

I finished and submitted my 72nd short story of the year, a 5,500-word Spring Break-themed confession that I started writing October 16, 2008.


I received my 34th acceptance of the year a few minutes ago, this time for a 3,800-word confession I submitted on November 8.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


A few days ago, an agent asked her readers which conferences they would recommend to other writers, but in her example listed both conferences and conventions as examples. It bothers me that people who should know the difference, don't. My response:

Although there is some overlapping of programming and opportunity for writers between the two, there is a significant difference between conferences and conventions.

Conventions--such as Bouchercon, mentioned in your post--are FOR the readers/fans while conferences--such as Pennwriters, mentioned by a previous poster--are FOR the writers.

At a convention you're most likely to hear a well-known writer give the "and then I wrote" speech to a roomful of fans. At a conference, that same writer is more likely to give the "here's how I wrote" speech to a roomful of writers and would-be writers.

While attendence at both conferences and conventions can be beneficial to a writer, it's in the writer's best interest to understand the difference and to understand what they should bring to the event (if a speaker or panelist) or take from the event (if an attendee). Having appropriate expectations will play a significant factor in evaluating the experience post-event.

This morning I read a pair of blog posts by a writer assembling his first collection of short stories, where he continually refers to it as an anthology. It isn't. A collection contains the work of a single author. An anthology contains the work of several authors.

I frequently read blog posts and articles by authors who claim to have received galleys of their work, but have probably never seen a galley in their lives. The advent of desktop publishing programs such as Pagemaker, QuarkXPress, and InDesign virtually eliminated the need to produce galleys because these programs allow you to skip that production step and produce page proofs instead.

Why do these errors bother me this morning? Because if we, as writers, can not be trusted to properly use the terminology appropriate for our own industry, how can be be trusted to write about anything else?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Story seventy-one

I finished writing my 71st short story of the year earlier this evening, and the manuscript will go into the mail tomorrow. This is a 3,500-word Spring Break-themed confession that I started writing on October 27.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Published 2x

My story "My New Year's Casanova" appears in the January True Confessions, and my story "A Big Scoop of Love" appears in the January True Love.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Story seventy

I finished and submitted my 70th short story of the year this evening. This time it's a 2,600-word bit of crime fiction about a mobster angling to move up. I started writing the story on November 24, almost four months after seeing an anthology's call for submissions.


My story "Hot New Year" appears in the January issue of True Story, which just hit newsstands in central Texas.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Google Books and my work

I am not a fan of Google Books and am even less so now that I've discovered significant portions of nearly every book I've written and anthology I've edited available via Google Books. Because many of my books are short story collections, this means many of my short stories are available for free, eliminating much of the incentive for readers to purchase the collections.

This, however, is an opportunity for you. If you've ever had any desire to read some of my short stories or portions of my novels, go here.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Tiger troubles

Tiger Woods is rumored to have had an affair with a woman in Las Vegas.

Apparently, he wasn't satisifed with a hole in one.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Story sixty-nine

I completed and submitted my 69th short story of the year this evening. This time it's a 2,000-word confession set during Spring Break that I started writing on October 29.

33 and published

I learned of my 33rd acceptance of the year--a bit of non-fiction--when I picked up the publication containing my article while at the grocery store earlier today. I wrote the article on assignment so I fully expected it to be accepted; I just didn't know that it had been.


Sometimes it pays to be on intimate terms with an editor. Sometimes it pays to look one in the mirror every morning.

My 32nd acceptance of the year is a science fiction/children's story first published in 2005 that I will be reprinting in a newsletter I edit.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Blast from the past

A copy of Fantasy Macabre #8, published in 1986 and containing my short story "The Passenger," is now available for purchase on eBay. Opening bid is $9.99. See for yourself here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I received my 31st acceptance earlier this evening, for a 1,500-word relationship story I submitted to an anthology on October 21.

Monday, November 23, 2009


I received my 30th acceptance of the year in today's mail, this time for a 3,600-word Valentine's Day-themed confession I submitted October 26.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Story sixty-eight

I finished and submitted my 68th short story of the year a little while ago. It's a 2,200-word story of seduction, written for an anthology. I started writing this story on November 12, after I saw that an anthology to which I had already submitted a story had extended the submission deadline. Who knows, maybe the editor will take both stories...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Story genesis

I enjoy reading what other writers have to say about the genesis of their stories because they are either a) full of pretentious hooey or b) their muse is the antithesis of mine.

For example, one writer might claim that his story came about because he "wanted to explore the dichotomy of the yin-yang of male-female relationships in a post-Apocolyptic America."

Me? I just wanted to write a story about boinking a zombie.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I received my 29th acceptance today, this time for a 2,400-word Valentine's Day-themed confession I submitted on October 7.

Story sixty-seven

I submitted my 67th story of the year this morning. It's a 2,400-word "deal with the devil" story. Sort of. The devil sends an underling to deal with a lawyer.

I wrote the opening sentence on March 27, and it sat on my computer for several months until I matched it to an anthology's call for submissions. Then I thought about it for another month or so before spending the past few days writing and revising.

Monday, November 16, 2009


My 28th acceptance of the year arrived in today's mail, a contract for a 4,300-word New Year's Eve-themed confession submitted September 27.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Story sixty-six

I completed and submitted my 66th short story of the year this morning. It's a 1,100-word bit of erotica, but with a twist ending. I don't know if I had the idea before I saw the call for submissions or not, but I wrote a one-line description of this story on October 30, wrote a full draft of the story yesterday, and put the story through several drafts this morning.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Story sixty-five

I completed and submitted my 65th short story of the year a few minutes ago. This time it's a 3,100-word story about two skateboarders and a purse-snatcher. I started writing this October 22, after seeing a call for submissions and spending several weeks trying to come up with an appropriate idea.

Monday, November 09, 2009


I had a story rejected today. Not my story. Somebody else's. It arrived in one of my SASEs.

This rarely happens. After more than 30 years and several thousand rejections, this may be the third time I've received someone else's rejection.

It's an odd feeling of dismay to open the envelope and see the enclosed rejection, followed by a sense of relief that the rejection wasn't meant for me, following by another round of dismay as I wonder where MY manuscript went.

And there's also a feeling of Peeping Tomism because I read the rejected manuscript and study the editor's note (when there is one). What did this writer do or not do? How does my work compare? Do I agree or disagree with the editor's decision to reject? If it were my manuscript, how would I revise it?

In this case, the writer's eddress was on the manuscript. I've emailed her to let her know of her rejection, and tomorrow I'll mail the manuscript back to her so she can read the editor's note.

And I'll continue wondering where my manuscript went...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Story sixty-four

I just finished and submitted my 64th short story of the year, a 3,800-word St. Patrick's Day love story.

I started dictating this story on November 11, 2008, using the dictation software I purchased for my laptop when I was recovering from quadruple bypass,* and had completed the first four pages or so. A couple of weeks ago, Plot Monkey and I looked at what I had written and plotted out the rest of the story. This week I finished writing the story the conventional way (fingers on keyboard).

*I know I mention this too often, but the four months I spent recovering had an impact on my writing that I'm still dealing with more than a year later.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


I received my 27th acceptance today.

I woke up this morning to find a response to last evening's query, submitted the full ms., and received an acceptance within hours.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Story sixty-three

I finished writing my 63rd short story of the year earlier this evening. It's a 2,300-word story intended for an anthology of stories about athletes. Rather than going for the obvious--wrestlers or football players, for example--I opted to write about a caber tosser.

I had a rough idea for this story on May 3, but had only written a few sentences prior to seeing the call for submissions. I did a little research about caber tossing and then wrote the story yesterday and today.

The editor of the anthology requires queries prior to submission, so a query left here a few minutes ago.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


I received my 26th acceptance earlier this evening, a bit of crime fiction to appear in an anthology of biker fiction. I knew this acceptance was coming--had even mentioned it in an earlier blog post--but didn't count it as an official sale because the editor was awaiting approval of the publisher before issuing contracts. The contract arrived today.

Story sixty-two

I finished my 62nd short story of the year a few minutes ago, a 4,000-word St. Patrick's Day confession I started writing on October 25. Rebecca--aka Plot Monkey--provided me with the idea and helped me rough out the plot before I started writing. I'm printing the final draft now and will put the ms. in the mail tomorrow.

Monday, November 02, 2009


My story "He Was a Substitute Santa" appears in the December True Story.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Some story ideas deserve to die

Brokeshell Mountain

The tragic story of misguided snail herders. They ride turtles and drive the snails from the midwest toward the west. They intend to sell the herd to fancy French restaurants in California. But they never make it. A wrong turn sends the herd across the Great Salt Lake.


I received my 25th acceptance of the year earlier today, this time for a 3,400-word confession/romance I submitted on September 30.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I get quoted in the strangest places. From an October 19 blog post titled "When You’re Starting Your Own Business – What Successful Businesswomen Know":

Starting a new business can be hard, and many entrepreneurs quit because finding clients is harder than they thought, they feel discouraged, they lose hope, or they no longer believe in themselves or their product. The longer you persevere, the more you improve your chances of starting a successful business. “A writing career is nothing more than a long series of disappointments punctuated by occasional moments of success,” says Michael Bracken. Successful businesswomen know that this isn’t just true of writing careers!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Story sixty-one

I completed my 61st short story of the year a few minutes ago. It's a 3,600-word confession that begins with a woman being stood up on Valentine's Day and progresses from there. The ms. will go in the mail tomorrow.

I started writing this on February 11 and had about a third of it complete but no clear sense of how to get to the happy-ever-after ending the story needed. Plot Monkey and I spent Saturday evening looking at some of my incomplete manuscripts and she helped me finish plotting this one and a handful of others.

Published x3

My stories "Keeping Secrets" and "Falling in Love" appear in the December issue of True Love. Both are romantic confessions.

And I forgot to post this a few days ago when my contributor copy arrived: "Pussy & the Cat Burglar," a hardboiled erotic mystery, appears in the November issue of Hustler Fantasies.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Story sixty

I finished and submitted my 60th short story this evening. It's a 3,200-word bit of sexually-charged women's fiction. It seems a bit too explicit for the confession magazines and not explicit enough for the erotica market, so I sent it to New Love Stories Magazine.

I started "writing" this story November 25, 2008. Actually, I started dictating the story on that day. I had been unable to write because of my bypass surgery the previous September and the drugs I was taking at the time futzed up my brain. In an effort to overcome the physical and mental challenges I was then facing, by changing how and where I wrote, I purchased a new laptop computer and dictation software and tried to dictate new work.

I dictated about half the story before I stopped. I wrote the rest of the story this week using the conventional method--by typing on the keyboard of my desktop computer--but, amazingly, kept the first half almost word-for-word as I had dictated it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

24 and published

I just received my 24th acceptance of the year, this for a 2,600-word romance/confession I submitted November 8, 2008.

And I received a copy of the Winter True Experience containing my story "The Unwanted Christmas Present."

It's a good day, eh!

Healthy competition

Even though I often think of myself as the poster boy for prolific short story writers, I know I'm not the only highly productive short story writer currently writing, Over the past few years I've developed a strong e-mail relationship with Laird Long, another prolific short story writer. Like me, he writes in many genres under many names, and we regularly sell to the same markets, sometimes even appearing in the same anthology or same issue of a magazine.

We regularly share market information and I'm sure I have a few sales that resulted from information he's shared with me; I can only hope the reverse is also true.

Earlier today we shared year-to-date stats. I've finished and submitted 59 short stories; he's finished and submitted 72. We challenged each other to see who can end the year with the most completed short stories.

He's 13 stories ahead of me and there are 10 weeks left in the year. That's OK. I figure he needs the head start.

(Then again, maybe I'll cheat. I should be able to knock out 13 pieces of Twitterfic between the end of Survivor and bedtime...)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Story fifty-nine

I finished and submitted my 59th short story of the year, a 1,500-word bit of erotica.

I started writing this story in December, 2003, but had managed to write only the opening two paragraphs before setting it aside. I picked it up again earlier today and finished it in time to meet an anthology's impending deadline.

The James Patterson of short fiction

Sometimes I wish I could become the James Patterson of short fiction, generating ideas, farming them out to other writers, and then slapping my byline on the finished manuscripts and taking all or most of the credit.

Why? Because I have far more short story ideas--many of them in some partially written draft form--than I can ever hope to turn into finished manuscripts.

Unfortunately, my short story ideas are often unexplainable until I have a complete draft, and after I've gone to the trouble of doing all that work, there isn't a need for the farm team to enter the game.


Maybe after I die--which I hope is a gazillion years from now--someone will come along and do a V.C. Andrews with my partials, giving me a writing career that continues long after my death.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Story fifty-eight

I finished and submitted my 58th short story of the year a few minutes ago. It's 2,500-words about a gardener, written to the specifications of an anthology's call for submissions.

I started writing this yesterday afternoon, after several weeks spent kicking around possible ideas, and finished it this evening.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Story fifty-seven

I completed and submitted my 57th short story of the year today. It's a 2,200-word Valentine's Day romance.

I began writing it on August 8, 2008, but had completed only the first scene before I picked the story up again a few days ago.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I received a tentative anthology acceptance earlier this evening. The editor is awaiting confirmation of his selections from the publisher before issuing contracts. When that happens--presuming I make the final cut--I'll move this from tentative to actual and give it an acceptance number.

Story fifty-six

I just completed and submitted my 56th short story of the year. This time it's a 3,000-word ghost story.

I don't know exactly when I started writing this story. The oldest piece of paper with a date on it shows March 6, 1999. But the draft shows my address as one I left in 1994, and the oldest draft in the folder is even older than that. So, I've been working on this story for somewhere between 15 and 19 years.

I finally completed a full draft of the story earlier this month in response to an anthology's call for submissions. Then I tore the draft apart and rearranged the order of scenes. Then I revised/rewrote parts of it. The "finished" manuscript has been sitting on my desk all week. Because I've been working on this story for so long, I've completely lost objectivity. Today Plot Monkey read the story and liked it. So, after one last pass to correct a few typos and whatnot, off it went to the anthology editors.

We'll see what they think of it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Story fifty-five

I finished and submitted my 55th short story of the year today. It's a 3,000-word Valentine's Day romance that starts with the theft of a rose.

I started writing this story on August 1, 2006, and had about half of it completed before I picked it up again earlier this week.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Harlequin vs. Hard Case Crime

While at the grocery store this evening I spotted three novels published by Harlequin that reminded me--in look, feel, and genre--of Hard Case Crime novels.

A little Internet sleuthing revealed this:

Harlequin is reissuing "suspense and adventure" novels they originally published many years ago, with six titles already released.

Are they any good? I can't say. I didn't have enough scratch with me to buy any of them.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Emotion vs. writing

Although I'm loathe to admit it, emotion plays a significant role in my writing process. For example, this month is crunch time for submitting Valentine's Day stories and my personal life is such that the last thing on my mind is happy-ever-after.

I've seen variations of this in the past. Some of my darkest, most violent stories were written when I was angry (at the world, at the people around me, at myself), some of my saddest stories were written when I was in my deepest funks, and some of my best happy-ever-after stories were written when I had hopes of a happy-ever-after for myself.

Of course, market requirements mean that the stories driven by my emotional state and the stories editors want to buy aren't always in synch. Sometimes I just let my emotions spill onto the page and don't worry about placing the resulting manuscript until it's finished; other times, like now, I try to quash my emotions so that I don't miss a window of opportunity.

So, happy-ever-after, here I come!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Story fifty-four

I completed and submitted my 54th short story of the year earlier today. It's a 2,400-word Valentine's Day story I started writing on October 2.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


I received my 23rd acceptance a few minutes ago, for the story I finished writing last night. It's the story of a young man interning at a prestigious firm who is approached by the police to do a little "undercover" work, and it will appear in an anthology scheduled for publication next year.

Query to submission

Last night's query resulted in a request to see my latest story, so off it went this morning.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Story fifty-three and an essay

I finished writing my 53rd short story of the year earlier today and a few minutes ago I completed and submitted an essay.

The story is a 3,300-word bit of crime fiction. I started writing it January 17, 2007, in response to an anthology's call for submissions. I had written about half the story before the deadline for submissions passed. That was OK, I suppose, because the story seemed about to take a turn that would have made it inappropriate for that anthology. A month or so ago I spotted another anthology's call for submissions, realized that this story, after taking its turn, would fit. So, I finished it and sent a query off to the editor because he only wants queries, not full ms. submissions.

I wrote the essay in response to another anthology's call for submissions. I spotted the call on September 29 and the essay rolled out of me this evening. It's about 650 words and went to the editor a few minutes ago.

i enjoy writing essays, wish I had more opportunity to write them, but I have more trouble locating good essay markets than I have locating short story markets.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Story fifty-two

I finished writing my 52nd short story of the year earlier this evening and it's already been mailed to an editor. It's a 3,400-word confession that features a bet and a kiss at midnight New Year's Eve.

I wrote the first 500 or so words on July 24, 2007, and wrote the rest of it this week.

Monday, September 28, 2009


My story "Under Watchful Eyes" is the lead story in the November True Confessions.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Story fifty-one

I finished writing my 51st short story of the year yesterday evening and this afternoon I proofread it one last time. I'm printing it now and it'll go into the mail tomorrow.

This time it's a 4,300-word confession that starts a few minutes before midnight on New Year's Eve. I began writing this story on July 22, 2006, but had only completed the opening few hundred words because all I had was the opening scene. I wrote most of the rest of the story this week.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Organizing for anthology success

I track a few dozen print and electronic newsletters, periodicals, and web sites, constantly scouting for new markets. I regularly find guidelines for anthologies with open submissions policies--guidelines that may only appear one time in one newsletter, or may only be posted for a few days on a single web site. At first, I printed every guideline and I soon found my desk littered with paper. When rooting through the mess, I would often rediscover anthology guidelines months after the submission deadlines had passed. I tried bookmarking every site containing anthology guidelines, but soon found my browser yards deep in bookmarked sites and again missed important deadlines.

A binder, a highlighter, and a three-hole punch finally rescued me from disorganized data overload. Each time I discover guidelines for an anthology to which I think I would like to submit, I print the guidelines and immediately highlight the submission deadline. Then I three-hole punch the guidelines and place them in my binder. Guidelines are organized chronologically by submission deadline so that each time I open the binder, the first thing I see is the anthology with the nearest deadline.

When I’m between assignments, I open the binder to see which anthologies have deadlines forthcoming, then attempt to revise work-in-progress or create new work which meets the anthologies’ requirements. While I haven’t managed to write something for every anthology that appeals to me, my success rate has improved significantly. Since adopting this method of tracking anthology guidelines and deadlines, I’ve placed stories in three anthologies, have been rejected by two anthologies, and have stories awaiting a decision at two others. I also completed two additional stories too late for their intended anthologies and am floating them around to other markets.

Had I not adopted this method, there are at least nine stories I probably would not have written and three acceptances I definitely would not have received.

And my desk is much, much neater.

"Organizing for Anthology Success" was originally published in Gila Queen's Guide to Markets, May, 2007. I still have the binder open on the desk beside me and I've placed many more stories in anthologies because of it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Story fifty

I finished writing my 50th short story of the year a few minutes ago. The final draft is printing as I type.

This is a 2,000-word vampire story, written in response to an anthology's open call that I saw mid-summer. I began work on the story on July 22 and have been niggling at it ever since. I worry that the story is too short, based on the parameters in the call for submissions, but I can't see any way to lengthen the story without resorting to fluff-and-fill. So, out it goes. Fingers crossed. Hope for the best.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Guest blogging

I'm the guest blogger tomorrow at Sleuths' Ink. I'll be providing tips on becoming a short story writer and maintaining a long-term career as a short story writer. Then I'll be popping in throughout the day to respond to follow-up questions.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Story forty-nine

I just finished and submitted by 49th short story of the year. This one is a 3,200-word bit of crime fiction featuring a soft-hearted debt collector for a bookie/loan shark.

After seeing an anthology's call for submissions, I knew my protagonist, and back on August 10 I made a few notes about him. I didn't have a plot until earlier this week when it came to me in a rush. Most of the time working on the story since then has been spent getting all the pieces to fit together just right.

Friday, September 18, 2009

On site it must be right

On the WWWriters Yahoo Group, a short story writer asked if she should list her sales to confession magazines on her yet-to-be-created Web site. Another writer--a romance novelist--responded that she has a Web site for readers to visit and wondered "how often will a reader of a confession story need to find out more about the author?"

My response:

A confession reader may not care about the authors of the stories they read, but a writers' Web site can do much more than connect with readers. It can, among other things, serve as a connection to editors and other potential clients.

I list my confessions on my Web site (with nearly 200 confessions to my name I've been dubbed the "King of Confessions"), and that information--in addition to the other information presented on my site--has helped me obtain speaking engagements and copywriting assignments, gigs that than earn me more income than I earn when a confession reader buys a magazine containing one of my stories.

When developing a Web site, first determine your intended audience. Then decide what your site should include to help you reach that audience.

22 and why I love Christmas

I received my 22nd acceptance of the year in today's mail, this time for a Christmas romance I submitted September 9. Unless I've miscounted, this is the fourth Christmas story I've sold this year and the fifth story scheduled for publication in December.

If it isn't obvious, I like Christmas. I write Christmas stories every year. Several Christmas stories. In several genres. And I sell them. (Well, most of them. There are three still floating around out there.)

Why is Christmas so good for my writing career? Because it comes around every year, because most magazines publish end-of-year Christmas or Holiday issues, and because every editor who publishes fiction keeps at least one eye open for a good Christmas or Holiday story.

I had sold a few Christmas stories throughout the first few dozen years of my writing career, but I didn't intentionally start writing Christmas stories until I saw something SF writer James Van Pelt posted in a discussion group several years ago. He mentioned--and I'm relying on memory here, so don't take this as a literal recreation of what he said--that he was writing a Christmas story every year and that he'd been having good luck selling them.

Just one? Do you know how many magazines there are?

I stuck a note in my mental writer's calendar (that's the one that tells you it's Christmas in July and Independence Day in December) and started writing Christmas stories during the blistering days of summer. Every summer.

And started selling them.

Then I realized Christmas isn't the only holiday we celebrate every year, so I started writing and selling Valentine's Day stories and, though not with the regularity and consistency of Christmas stories, New Year's Eve, Easter, April Fool's Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving stories. I've even written a few Mother's Day, Father's Day, and National Diabetes Month stories.

There's a holiday damn near every month. Sometimes two, or three, or a dozen.

So I write stories tied to holidays and significant annual events.

And sell them.

If you're a writer, go forth and do likewise.

But stay away from Christmas.

That's MY holiday.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Where to submit?

A member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society recently asked the group how experienced writers decide where to submit their stories. I suggested the following:

You can approach this in one of two ways:

1) Write the story and then try to find a market.
2) Study a market and then try to write a story for it.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. If you write the story first, you may write a great story but find that it does not fit any publication's current needs. If you study a publication first, you may write a story so specific to that publication's requirements that it has little hope of selling anywhere else.

If you've read any of the mysteries in Woman's World, you'll know what I mean. WW has unique story needs. The likelihood of sitting down and writing a story for Woman's World without ever studying the magazine is highly unlikely. On the other hand, any story you write to WW's requirements is highly unlikely to sell anywhere else (at least, not without significant revision).

I take a combined approach. I study markets so that I have markets in mind while I write. While the basic story might not change, details within the story might be different depending on the market(s) I think I want to submit to. Do I put the violence on-stage or off-stage? Is there a sexual element and is it hinted at or blatant? Do I use obscenities or do I clean up the language? Do I stretch out scenes to add to the word count or do I tighten them to cut the word count?

Does this approach work? I’ve sold more than 800 short stories, and I’ve had one or more short stories published every month for the past 74 consecutive months. So, yeah, it works pretty good.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Flash fiction

Yesterday Carol Kilgore discussed repetitious sentence construction in her blog post "Wake Up Your Writing" at Earlier today I replied with an example and then realized I'd unintentionally written a bit of flash fiction.

Here it is:

She went to the store. She bought eggs. She bought rat poison. She went home. She prepared her husband's breakfast.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guest Blogger

Last month I was invited to be a guest blogger at the group blog of a writers' group in Missouri. I just finished and submitted a 700-word post and am waiting to hear if it's what they wanted. If not, I'll post it here and write something else for them.

19, 20, 21

Some days are better than others--much, much better. Today I received my 19th, 20th, and 21st acceptances of the year.

True Love accepted two stories--a light-hearted Christmas romance I submitted on September 4 and a romance about a single mother who thinks she's fallen for a man already involved with someone else that I submitted on August 13--and True Experience accepted a Christmas confession--no romance involved--that I submitted on July 19.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bonus year

Three days ago I celebrated my 52nd birthday.

Today I celebrate the end of my first bonus year.

One year ago today I had a quadruple bypass. Since then my life has changed in significant ways, and yet it hasn't changed at all. I'm the same person, doing the same things, in--mostly--the same ways. But I do everything now with a sense of my own mortality that I didn't have before.

No great epiphanies here, just the observations of a guy who spends too much time sitting on his ass writing and not enough time exercising.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Story forty-eight

I just submitted my 48th short story of the year. This one's a 2,900-word romance/confession that takes place on New Year's Eve and the following two days.

I don't know when I started writing this story because my records are incomplete, but I had the first three pages already written and waiting for me when I picked it up again on September 6.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Story forty-seven

I just packaged my 47th short story of the year and will mail it the next time I leave the house. It's a 5,000-word Christmas romance. I started writing the story on July 19, 2007, and had about half of it completed before I picked it up again yesterday.

I seem to be on a roll with Christmas stories, but the window of opportunity for submitting them this year is rapidly closing. I have about a week remaining for manuscripts that have to be mailed and about two weeks remaining for manuscripts that can be e-mailed.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


If one of your characters falls, where does he fall? If outside, he should fall to the ground. If inside, he should fall to the floor.

It irritates the bejesus out of me when an author and/or the author's copyeditor uses or allows the use of "ground" as a synonym for "floor." I've checked my dictionaries and my thesaurus: They aren't synonyms.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Story forty-six

I just submitted my 46th short story of the year. It's a light-hearted Christmas romance/confession that clocks in at 3,900 words. I wrote the first few hundred words of the opening scene on December 26 of last year and wrote the rest of the story this week.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Story forty-five

I completed and submitted my 45th short story of the year a few minutes ago. It's a 3,300-word Christmas confession. I had the idea for it and started writing yesterday morning. I finished writing this morning and let the manuscript sit for half a day before proofreading it and sending it off.

Friday, August 28, 2009


This has been a good week. I received another acceptance today--my 18th of the year--this time for a hardboiled bit of erotic crime fiction. I finished writing this story in early January and it sold to the second editor to see it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I received my 17th acceptance of the year a few minutes ago, this for the 5,300-word confession I submitted on August 19.

Friday, August 21, 2009


My story "Lower Standards" appears in the September/October issue of New Love Stories Magazine, hitting newsstands right about now. When I wrote the story back in 2007, I hoped to sell it to one of the confession magazines. All the confession magazines rejected it.

The up side? NLSM paid almost twice as much as the best-paying confession magazine would have given me.

Sometimes rejection pays off handsomely.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Story forty-four

I've quit counting the days, but I did complete and submit my 44th short story of the year earlier today. It's a 5,300-word confession that I started writing on January 13, 2002. I had completed a good draft of the first two scenes--1,000-words, give or take--sometime during the years since starting work on it. I picked the story up again last Friday morning and worked on it until I left for ArmadilloCon that afternoon. I returned to work on the story after my return, spending a few minutes on it Sunday night and several hours on it last evening and this afternoon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another market fades

I received an e-mail today letting me know that one of my regular markets has just gone on hiatus "until at least January 2010." This market has purchased and published many of my short stories, all under one of my pseudonyms, so it's distressing to see it go on hiatus. I hope that it returns next year and that "hiatus" isn't a polite way of saying "dead."

Monday, August 17, 2009

ArmadilloCon rejuvenated me and threatens to set my Plot Monkey free

I began my writing career as a science fiction writer. Well, actually, I began as a science fiction fan with an intense desire to be a science fiction writer. Despite that early desire, most of my recent writing success has come from crime fiction and women's fiction.

ArmadilloCon last weekend, my first SF convention in several years (and ArmadilloCon's the only SF convention I've attended since moving to Texas in the early '90s; this was, I think, my third ArmadilloCon) was a bit of an eye-opener. I've been away from active participation in the SF community long enough that I do not recognize the current crop of SF writers, and I've been away so long that whatever limited notoriety I had as an SF fan and even more limited notoriety I had as an SF neo-pro all those years ago has faded from the collective consciousness.

(For example, only two people showed up for my reading on Friday evening, and one of them was Rebecca [a.k.a. Plot Monkey], attending her first genre convention of any kind.)

The nice thing about ArmadilloCon, though, is that it does draw a few crime fiction writers. Rebecca and I had an all-too-brief conversation with Bill Crider and Joe Lansdale on Friday evening, and we spent most of Saturday evening in the bar with Victor Gischler and a slowly evolving group of writers, hope-to-be-writers, and fans. An editor from Tor--Jim Frenkle--even joined us for a bit.

Except for all-too-rare poker games hosted by local mystery writer George Wilhite and his wife Becky, I have no face-time with other writers; my contact with other writers is limited to e-mail and participation in a couple of on-line communities. So, having spent much of Saturday evening talking shop (and talking about a zillion other things as well), I came away from ArmadilloCon refreshed.

Over the course of the weekend, Rebecca* and I came up with nearly a dozen story ideas, one of which she brought to the table almost completely formed. All I did was take notes as fast as my pen could fly and add a kick-ass title. As soon as I complete the story I was working on before leaving for the convention, I'll try to write the story she gave me, and hope I can do it justice.

In the end, it's obvious that my writing career has taken me away from my roots; it's even more obvious that time spent among other writers--writers from any genre--can be quite rejuvenating.

The weekend at ArmadilloCon even has Rebecca thinking about writing her own stories instead of feeding me her plots.
*She's MY Plot Monkey and YOU can't have her.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day two-hundred-twenty-five, story forty-three

It's been a long, hot summer, and I've not been writing much. A few minutes ago I finished and submitted my 43rd short story of the year, a 3,000-word romance/confession that takes place on Thanksgiving.

Yesterday I saw a call for submissions from an editor seeking "a dozen or so" Thanksgiving-themed romance/confession stories by Monday morning. I had written the first 400 words of a Thanksgiving story back on July 18, 2007, and had left it sitting on my hard drive. Yesterday afternoon I blew off the digital dust and then spent a few hours yesterday evening and several hours this evening completing the story.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


ArmadilloCon--a science fiction convention that draws a few mystery writers--takes place in Austin, Texas, next weekend (August 14-16).

I'll be there; I'm doing a reading Friday evening and I'm on a panel Sunday morning.

If any blog readers also plan to be attend, feel free to say "howdy."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Writing-to-guideline vs. writing-for-self

In the current issue of Newsweek (July 13, 2009), Lawrence Block is quoted as saying, "I think the less attention I pay to what people want and the more attention I pay to just writing the book I want to write, the better I do."

Earlier today, before stumbling across Block's comments, I happened to (re)read reviews of my books that readers had posted at, and I had spent a goodly part of the late afternoon wondering why the fiction I've been writing lately would probably not receive the same kind of glowing reviews. Much of what was reviewed was written with no particular market in mind and much of what I write these days is for specific markets with specific requirements. I was pondering whether or not I have been putting too much emphasis on writing-to-guideline and not enough on writing-for-self.

It's been a bloody long time since I wrote a story with absolutely no market in mind, with no goal other than to please myself. Oh, I've come close a few times, starting stories with no market in mind but knowing before I ever finished the final drafts exactly where I intended to submit them. And that knowing causes subtle shifts in both the writing and the revision. (The violence is too graphic/not graphic enough, the sex is too explicit/not explicit enough, etc.)

So I've been asking myself, what would I write if I could completely block out my knowledge of editorial guidelines and write something just to please myself?

Damned if I know.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

My first rejection from the future

It's already tomorrow in Australia and an Australian publication just e-mailed me a rejection letter.


My future looks bleak.

One sure-fire way to identify an amateur publication

If, anywhere in the publication, copyright is referred to as "copywrite," don't submit your manuscripts. Either the editors don't know what copyright is or their proofreading skills suck.

copyright = "the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc."

copywrite = not a dictionary-approved word, though a copywriter is "a writer of copy, esp. for advertisements or publicity releases."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What constitutes "professional"?

Following is a revised and expanded version of something I wrote in the comments section of yesterday's post:

"Professional" is how one group of writers attempts to distance themselves from another group of writers, and each group of writers manipulates their definition to ensure that they are "professional."

One thing that amuses me is when writers of one genre, having little experience with common practices in another genre, define "professional" in such a way that professionals in the other genre are excluded from the definition of "professional."

Here are some rather general guidelines to determine whether or not a publication is professional:

1) How much does it pay?

For purposes of obtaining active membership (membership with full voting privileges) HWA and SFWA require short story sales to publications that pay no less than 5-cents/word. MWA and PWA are less rigid. My understanding, which may be incorrect, is that RWA considers only sales of novels as a qualification for active membership.

2) Is the editor of the publication paid?

A professional publication pays its staff. Usually. Some literary magazines are staffed by volunteers and underwritten by a university or a non-profit organization.

3) Does the contract indicate understanding of copyright law?

A professional publication offers a contract or letter of agreement that clearly indicates that they understand copyright law.

Why e-zines aren't generally considered "professional":

1) They don't pay or they pay only a token amount. A few science fiction e-zines do pay "professional" rates, but writers in other genres are unaware of them and therefore tar all e-zines with the same negative brush.

2) Few e-zines have paid staff because the e-zines don't generate enough income. Many e-zines are supported by the editor/publisher's day job. Professional publications aren't usually supported by the editor/publisher's day job. They ARE the editor/publisher's day job.

3) Far too many e-zine editor/publishers indicate a complete lack of knowledge about copyright law in their guidelines. For example, their guidelines say things such as "all rights belong to the individual contributors" or "all rights return to the writers after six months" or some other nonsensical statement.

Here are some rather general guidelines to determine whether or not a writer is professional:

1) How much does she get paid?

Some organizations consider any amount of money received below a certain threshhold--for HWA and SFWA that threshhold is 5-cents/word for short fiction; for MWA it's $25/story--to be below professional level and that a writer who accepts less than "professional" pay is, therefore, not a "professional."

2) Does she pay self-employment tax on her earnings from writing?

A professional writer is, in fact, self-employed. She keeps accurate records and reports her income from writing and expenses related to writing to the IRS and, when she shows a profit for the year, pays taxes on her income.

3) What portion of her income is generated by writing?

A professional writer generates a significant portion of her annual income from writing or, by some definitions, by writing and writing-related activities (editing anthologies, lecturing, mentoring, etc.). What constitutes "significant" varies.

4) What does she write/where has she been published?

I have met many novelists who seem to believe that what separates "professional" writers from all other writers is the publication of a novel, especially if the novel is published by a "New York publishing company." Some writers believe that only ink-on-paper constitutes "professional" publication, ignoring audio, electronic, and other forms of publication.

5) What is her education?

Having a degree (B.A., M.A., M.F.A.) in professional writing, creative writing, journalism, or a similar subject is a plus, though a degree alone is usually insufficient.

6) What awards has she received?

Remember, awards from "my" organization are more professional than awards from "your" organization.

7) Does she pay to have her work published?

Vanity publication, self-publishing, or starting a company that publishes the publisher's writing in addition to that of other people is considered unprofessional. Except when it isn't.

I might could go on, but no matter how we try to differentiate between "professional" and non-professional writers, it usually comes down to a discussion of "us" versus "them," and we always want to be part of "us."

Didn't Pogo say, "We have met the enemy and he is us"?

Perhaps we should spend more time thinking about what it means to be "them." After all, someday they might be "us" and we will be "them"--stuck on the outside looking in because we no longer fit the definition of "professional."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Per-word vs. flat-rate

Earlier today I listened to a presentation about short story writing. One of the two presenters--an established mystery short story writer--claimed that professional publications pay by the word and that publications that pay flat rates are not professional publications.

What a crock.

I've sold short stories--some of them mysteries--to many publications that pay flat rates The flat rates some of these publications pay exceed the per-word rates that the top mystery magazines pay for stories of equivalent length. And sales to some of these publications were used to qualify me for active membership in the Horror Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

So, whether a publication pays per-word or pays a flat rate for its fiction is not, in and of itself, an indication of whether or not the publication is a professional market.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Of Memories Dying

It was a small town on the northern California coast where the teenagers still cruised Main Street, stopping at both the stoplights on their trek from the A&W north to the bowling alley, then around and back again; a small town nestled against the ocean where the Coast Ranges prevented most radio and television signals from bringing in the latest fashions; a small town where progress rarely interfered and the A&W was still the only link to a world of fast food.

A full moon hung low in the evening sky, fragmented by naked branches and power lines. I stood in the shadows before the high school, staring at the faded spot on the wall where the capital B had fallen off, leaving only aker High School still intact. The school was much the same as it had been when I left, still a collection of single-story hallways intersecting to form inaccessible open courtyards.

I stood on a brown patch of grass, my knapsack at my feet. Faded green canvas, I’d bought it at an Army surplus store and carried it around the world with me, stuffing it with tiny objects I’d found in small villages and back-alley shops where tourists never went.

A breeze from the ocean blew up through town and sent a chill crawling through me. I pulled my jacket tighter around my gaunt frame, fumbling to tug the zipper upward with shaking fingers.

My clothes hung limply from my body, mismatched and out of style. The shirt, brown cotton gauze stained with sweat, I’d found in India. The jeans, now faded and frayed at the cuffs of the bell bottoms, were a pair of counterfeit Levi’s I’d found in Hong Kong. The green jacket I’d received from an Army deserter in Cambodia after spending a five-day drunk with him, helping him through a bad case of the DT’s and a good case of scotch. My shoes--a pair of low-top black tennis shoes--were new. I deserved that; I’d walked through the soles of so many others.

“Hey there!”

I was suddenly pinned against the school wall by a spotlight, silhouetted like a marionette with no strings.

“Hey there.” The voice behind the spotlight called again and I blinked my tired eyes against the light, squinting to see who was talking to me.

“What are you doing there?”

“I used to go to school here,” I said. My voice was ragged, hesitant, because I could not see the other person.

The light snapped off and I blinked again, adjusting to the sudden darkness.

“Class of ’80.” The voice came from inside a police car. “You?”

“Class of ’74,” I said. It seemed like so many years had passed, like so many things had worn away at what I was, what I had dreamed of being, that I no longer had a sense of time.

“What brought you back?” he asked. He was broad-shouldered and serious, the type who had played football and been class president, gotten good grades and been liked by everyone.

I shook my head. There was nothing I could tell him.

He motioned me over to the patrol car and offered to buy me a cup of coffee. I gathered up my knapsack and climbed into the car beside him.

“Mike Morelli,” he said as he stuck out a thick hand with strong fingers.

I grasped his hand firmly, shook it, and released it quickly. His touch burned in my memory, my palms sweaty and shaking. “Patrick Bates,” I said.

Morelli slowly swung the patrol car out of the faculty parking lot and pointed it down the road toward the main part of town. Silence between us and the faint crackling and popping of the radio as he drove tickled at the razor-sharp edges of my nerves, rubbing the exposed ends like ground glass.

“Seventy-four,” he said thoughtfully, his forehead wrinkled as if he strained to remember. “Wasn’t that the year--”

“It was,” I said, interrupting his question. I had wondered how long it would take him to remember.

Morelli grunted, silent again. He drove through town, down narrow streets between rows of houses washed pale by my memory of them, south to the A&W, pulling the patrol car to a halt in one of the stalls. He reached out his open window and pressed the button on the face of the speaker, ordering two coffees and a Papa Burger. He looked over at me, the details of my face lost in the shadows inside the car. “You want anything else?”

“No. Coffee’s fine.”

“That’s it, sweetheart,” he said to the teenaged voice in the speaker. Then he turned to me again. “They’ve all left, you know.”

I nodded. It wasn’t hard to guess that my few remaining classmates would leave town just as I had left.

“Nobody else has ever come back,” Morelli said. “Nobody I ever heard of.”

I nodded again, wishing my coffee would hurry. We sat silent for a moment, watching as a Mustang careered into the parking lot, teenaged boys hanging from the open windows, yelling and waving. As soon as they saw the patrol car, they slowed and the driver very carefully pulled the rusting car into a stall at the far end of the row.

“Now them boys,” Morelli said, pointing his finger at the Mustang, “they don’t understand what this town does.”

“They will,” I said. “Give them time.”

Before he could respond, our coffee and his hamburger arrived. He passed a steaming cup to me, then unwrapped his hamburger and took a bite. Catsup and mustard spewed out the other side of the bun. He wiped at his uniform with a napkin, the stain already evident and too late to wipe away.

“You surprise me,” Morelli finally said.


“You’re not what I expected.” He took another bite of the hamburger, more carefully this time. “You look late sixties,” he said. “Like you forgot to leave an era behind.”

“Here?” I questioned. “This town’s always been an era behind.”

Morelli didn’t know whether to laugh or take me seriously. He considered a moment, then agreed with me. “This town moves slow. It always has.”

A blonde waitress wiggled past, carrying a tray full of root beer mugs to the Mustang at the end of the aisle. Morelli’s eyes followed her to the Mustang, then back into the restaurant.

“You must have a lot of bitter memories,” Morelli said. “The whole class of ’74 must have bitter memories.”

I nodded. “It pushed them away. Kept them from coming back.”

“It was a hell of an accident,” he continued, oblivious to my comment. “Damn near the whole senior class.” He shook his head as if to shake away the memories; then he said, “I lived three blocks away from the hotel. The explosion woke me up. My father and I watched the fire from down the street. I must have had nightmares for a month after that.”

I knew what he meant. The nightmares would never end for me, had never stopped, and I didn’t expect to free myself of them.

“Where were you when it happened?” Morelli asked.

“Outside,” I said. “In the parking lot sneaking a drink from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. My girlfriend was inside.”

“Jesus.” Morelli finished his hamburger and crumpled up his napkin. “You were lucky.”

“Maybe.” I pulled aside my long, greasy black hair and showed him the purple splotches on the side of my face and the back of my neck. They extended far down my back and across my chest, a tattoo of burning tuxedo etched into my skin. “I went in after her. There was nothing I could do.”

We sat together watching the boys in the Mustang as they piled out of the car and took their places on the hood. They laughed and swore at each other, pushed one another off the car, spilling root beer on the pavement. They were rough-and-tumble, as I had once been.

“Can I drop you someplace?” Morelli asked as he started the car. “I have to make my rounds again.”

I looked over at him in the darkness of the patrol car, seeing the hard lines already forming in his young face. “I want to go back to the school.” I said.

“I could take you to a motel if you want.”

“The school will be fine.”

He shrugged and pulled from the parking lot. “They don’t know how lucky they are,” Morelli said as he motioned toward the boys. “In a few years they’ll realize they can’t escape from this town. Nobody does,” he said. “They come back sooner or later.”

I listened to him ramble, watching the town crawl slowly past the car window. In ten years, nothing much had changed. D’Grasso’s Hardware Store had a new coat of white paint. Henderson’s Floral Shop had become Johnson’s Floral Gallery. The Hi-Ho Inn had expanded into the next building. And the remains of the old hotel had been swept away, replaced by a small park in the center of town. But the Standard station where I’d had my first part-time job still had full service and the weekly newspaper still posted the front page of the most recent edition in their front window. And the houses were still the same bland blend of clapboard and vinyl siding.

“I came back,” he said. “I had dreams. Big dreams. But I came back.” He looked over at me. “Your class had dreams, too. But you’re the first one to return.”

“Most of us never had a chance to leave,” I said.

“Hell of a tragedy, wasn’t it? I mean, so many kids on their graduation night. They never really had a chance, did they?”

Morelli pulled the patrol car to a halt in the faculty parking lot and I climbed out with my knapsack firmly in hand.

“You sure you don’t need a ride someplace else?” he said. “I’d be happy to take you.”

“No thanks,” I told him. “I appreciate the offer, but I’ll wait here a while.”

I watched as the patrol car pulled away and I wondered if Morelli understood. Ten years is a long time for some of us.

I sat on the front porch of the school and waited, watched the moon and felt the breeze from the ocean sweep up from town to chill me. As chairman of the ten-year reunion committee, it was my responsibility to send out the invitations.

I began unpacking the knapsack; they would be arriving soon.

My classmates.

All of them.


“Of Memories Dying” copyright © 1985 Michael Bracken. First published in Midnight, an anthology edited by Charles L. Grant and published in paperback by Tor Books.

A little history:

“Of Memories Dying” was was written early in my career and was the first of my short stories to be published in an anthology. It appeared on the preliminary ballot for a Nebula Award.

It was later expanded and released under the title “In the Town of Memories Dying and Dreams Unborn” as part of Even Roses Bleed, an audiobook collection of seven of my stories released by Books In Motion in 1995.

After a slight revision, In the Town of Memories Dying and Dreams Unborn was released in 2000 as a small-sized paperback by Barley Books in England. Reviews sere solid: “A truly terrifying tale in the Stephen King tradition. Michael Bracken is a horror writer to watch out for.” (Writers Block) and “Nicely understated and atmospheric....” (Science Fiction Chronicle). Barley Books promptly went out of business.

In 2002, Wildside Press released Canvas Bleeding, a hardback collection of my horror short stories that includes the original version of “Of Memories Dying.”

“Dreams Unborn,” a prequel to “Of Memories Dying”/In the Town of Memories Dying and Dreams Unborn was published in Small Crimes, a hardback anthology of crime fiction I edited that Wildside Press published in 2004. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine reviewed the anthology and said, “... the concluding novella, ‘Dreams Unborn,’ which though much grimmer may remind you of American Graffiti, is the best piece of fiction I’ve read by editor Bracken.” “Dreams Unborn” was named one of the year’s best mysteries by the editors of The Best American Mystery Stories 2005.

Maybe someday the two halves of the story--“Dreams Unborn” and “In the Town of Memories Dying and Dreams Unborn”--will be published together.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bad review of an old story

Koi's notebook reviews Midnight, an anthology of horror stories edited by Charles L. Grant and published by Tor Books in 1985, and has this to say about my contribution:

Of Memories Dying is a failure as a horror story. Two men meet in front of a school, drive to a burger joint. One eats a burger. They drive back to the school. One gets out, the other drives off. There is a nebulous hint that something out of the ordinary might happen a few pages after the story has ended. This is not a horror story. This is not even a prologue. This is ... pointless, utterly pointless, and the worst proofread part of the book to boot.

Of Memories Dying appeared on the preliminary ballot for a Nebula Award. Different strokes, different folks, eh?

Monday, June 15, 2009


In the June 9 entry at the Make Mine Mystery blog, "Stop Shouting Already," Marvin D. Wilson comments on the overuse of exclamation points. If you read the comments following the post, you'll notice that Mark Troy quoted the complete text of "The Shootout," an incredibly short story I wrote that contains 10 exclamation points but only two words. Of course, most people won't understand the story without reading Mark's comments before and after the story.

Go. Read. Now.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day one-hundred-sixty-three, story forty-two

I just finished and submitted my 42nd short story of the year. I started writing this on Wednesday in response to an open call for submissions I received on June 4. It's 2,100 words, contains a crime, but it's not crime fiction. It's a relationship story. Sort of.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Day one-hundred-fifty-eight, story forty-one

I finished and submitted my 41st short story of the year earlier this evening. It's a 2,400-word confession I started writing on May 27, 2008.

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Last weekend I went to the theater to see Up. The theater charged $2 extra because the movie was in 3-D.

This evening I went to a porn theater. They charged me $1 extra because the movie was in Double-D.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Career reboot

When I started writing again in January, 3.5 months after my quadruple bypass, new material began pouring out of me, and it continues to pour out of me. I've completed 40 short stories since January 1. At this pace I'll complete 100 short stories this year, nearly double the production of a typical year.

Much of what I've written has been outside my "box"--stories written for new markets, "old" markets to which I've never sold, and themed anthologies I might not have looked at twice a year ago. The downside of writing outside my box is that my sales rate is down and my rejection rate is up. Despite that, income from short fiction is holding steady and is comparable to this point last year.

In a way, the 3.5-month drug-induced stupor that prevented me from writing during the closing months of 2008 helped to reboot my career at the beginning of 2009.

Go figure.

Prone to error

Too often I read stories--especially various forms of crime fiction--in which a person or a body is described as "prone," and yet the context makes it clear that the person or body is actually "supine."

It frustrates the bejesus out of me.

Direct from the dictionary definitions:

Prone = "lying face downward"

Supine = "lying on the back, face or front upward"

I hope you're not prone ("having a natural inclination or tendency to something") to making this error.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


I received my 16th acceptance of the year today, for a 5,800-word confession I submitted on April 22.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day one-hundred-fifty, story forty

I finished and submitted my 40th short story of the year a few minutes ago. It's a 700-word bit of literary crime fiction I started writing on Thursday. I sent it to a non-paying, on-line literary publication.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day one-hundred-forty-six, story thirty-nine

Earlier this evening I finished writing my 39th short story of the year, a 3,500-word ghost story. I started writing this story on April 18 after I saw an abandoned house out in the middle of nowhere. After my protagonist buys the house, he learns that the previous owner had disappeared.

I emailed the story to an editor a few minutes ago.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Day one-hundred-thirty-seven, story thirty-eight

I finished writing my 38th short story of the year this morning, a 700-word mystery. I started writing this on July 13, 2006, and finally finished it. Hardcopy goes in the mail later today.

Yesterday in Blood and Bone reviewed

From GoodReads, Ed had this to say about my collection Yesterday in Blood and Bone:
A ton of very short fiction, each with a twist in the tale. Dark, noir book.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Day one-hundred-thirty-five, story thirty-seven

I just finished writing my 37th short story of the year, an 800-word romance involving a security guard. I started writing this one on June 14 of last year. Hardcopy will go in the mail tomorrow.

Six years, or 72 consecutive months

Today's mail brought contributor copies of the July 2009 Hustler Fantasies containing "Fuck or Fucked?" (not my original title), a hardboiled story about a hitman, retired by a heart attack and subsequent quadruple bypass, who becomes the subject of an open contract.

With publication of this story, I have had one or more pieces of short fiction published each month for 72 consecutive months--that's six years of short fiction. During those six years I survived a divorce and my own quadruple bypass. I also wrote one hell of a lot of short fiction.

The streak started with the August 2003 Hustler Fantasies, which contained two of my stories, and has included short stories in nearly every genre. Excluding those months when I had collections released, my best month was April 2008 when I had nine stories published in four different publications, followed by July 2006 when I had eight stories published in three different publications, and March 2005 when I had seven stories published in four different publications and June 2006 when I had seven stories published in four different publications.

My short stories have appeared under my own byline, under a variety of pseudonyms, and, in the case of confessions, without any byline at all.

Because editors determine which stories to accept and which issues to put them in, this is a publication streak that I don't have much control over. I can not predict how long it will continue, or even if it will continue at all.

On the other hand, there are a few things I have control over. These are things I've done, and will continue to do, that explain the reason for this streak and why it might continue into the future:

Maintain high productivity. The more stories I write and submit, the greater the odds that I will continue getting published with regularity.

Target multiple genres. There don't seem to be enough paying markets in any single genre to support a highly productive short story writer. Therefore, I write in multiple genres.

Target multiple publications. Even within the genres, I spread my work out among multiple publications.

Write themed and seasonal stories. I try to write some stories that are tied to themes or seasons, thus producing stories that are most suitable for specific magazine issues. For example, I've had particularly good luck with Christmas stories (published in December) and Valentine's Day stories (published in February), but have also written St. Patrick's Day stories (March), April Fool's Day stories (April), Back-to-School stories (September), and Diabetes stories (October).

Although I have additional stories scheduled for publication in June and July, I don't have any scheduled for August. It's probably too late to submit anything specifically for August, so if I haven't already put something in an editor's hands that fits an August issue, I may see my streak end.

But I hope I don't.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Day one-hundred-thirty-two, story thirty-six

I finished writing my 36th short story of the year a few minutes ago. It's an 800-word romance involving go-karts. I wrote the opening sentences on May 18 of last year as an example of a "meet cute" for a writing class I was teaching. I liked the opening so much I copied it from my class notes and--over the course of a year--turned it into a complete story.

The hardcopy will go in the mail tomorrow.

My name's Michael, by the way

"My name's Michael, by the way."

"Welcome, Mr. Bytheway. We've been expecting you here at--"

"No, no, no. My name's Michael, by the way."

"Yes, Mr. Bytheway. I understood you the first time."

"No, you didn't. My name's not Bytheway. It's Michael. 'By the way' is a crutch writers use when they need to introduce characters to one another. It's often done in romantic fiction as part of the 'meet cute.'"

"The 'meet cute'?"

"That's a different post. Stick to the subject."

"So why do they do it?"

"Because it's easy. Writers use this crutch when they can't or won't take the time to be creative. There must be a zillion ways to have one character introduce himself to another without resorting to 'by the way.'"

"A zillion? Surely you're exaggerating."

"Maybe I am. And don't call me 'Shirley.'"

"Yes, Mr. Bythe-- Michael. Perhaps you could share a few examples."

"I can."

I introduced myself and stuck out my hand.
"Pleased to meet you, Michael," he said as he grasped my hand. "I'm Steve."

He glanced at the name tag pinned over my badge. "Nice to meet you, Officer Bracken. I'm Bob Smith, attorney for the plantiff."

"The name's Bracken. Michael Bracken. Yours?"

I handed him my business card and waited. He moved his lips while he read so I waited longer than usual. Finally, he looked up and, as if to confirm what he had just read, asked, "Mr. Bracken?"

We'd been talking for ten minutes and I still hadn't told him my name. I decided I would wait until he asked. If he asked.

I interrupted him. "I didn't catch your name."
"I didn't throw it."
"So what should I call you?"
"Don't call me. Don't ever call me."
"I think 'Meathead' will work. You can call me 'sir.'"


"Well, you should get the idea by now."

"I do, Mr. Bytheway, I do."

Monday, May 11, 2009


I received my 15th acceptance of the year earlier today, this for the romance story I submitted to an anthology editor on April 29.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Day one-hundred-thirty, story thirty-five

I finished and submitted my 35th short story of the year a few minutes ago. It's a 1,500-word bit of erotica.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Day one-hundred-twenty-nine, story thirty-four

I finished and submitted my 34th short story of the year a few minutes ago. It's a 3,700-word bit of crime fiction about two college boys and what happens to them during spring break.

Last week I saw the call for submissions for an anthology and wondered if I could come up with something appropriate. I made multiple false starts. Then on Wednesday I found a file on my computer from March 11 of last year, an opening scene of less than two hundred words. The characters were all wrong but the setting and basic events depicted in those <200 words had potential. I redrafted the opening and started piecing the story together, not realizing what I had until I had gone through multiple drafts. Unlike most of my stories, I wasn't sure what this one was about, where it was going, or how it was going to get there until I had a near-complete, but quit sloppy draft. Then I revised, rewrote, and rearranged until I had a story.

And now it's in an editor's hands.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

What would you do for a Klondike Bar, or to sell a short story?

While egosurfing, I found my name mentioned in a 2007 discussion thread about writing short fiction for a living. In one of the posts, Michael D. Turner wrote:
[T]here are some things I'm probably not willing to do to sell stories for a living. I won't pass myself off as Black, Korean, Vietnamese, or some other ethnic or "racial" type. [...] I'd pass myself off as a women writer to sell romances, except I haven't developed the touch to write romances yet [...]

I have two different reactions to this, one from the creative side and one from the business side.

From the creative side: Isn't pretending to be something we're not a major part of writing fiction? I'm a middle-class white male but I've written stories featuring both genders, multiple sexual orientations, various ethnicities, a variety of socio-economic classes, a wide variety of occupations, and on and on and on. Writing only stories populated by people like me would be pretty damned boring.

From the business side: I've never pretended to be anyone other than who I am when dealing with editors, but I've had work published with bylines that were not my own. There is a long history of female writers using male pseudonyms (especially for science fiction) and male writers using female pseudonyms (especially for romance). This is a marketing tactic that I readily embrace. If the difference between an acceptance and a rejection is my byline, then I'll change my byline.

How about you? What are you willing--or not willing--to do to sell a short story?

Monday, May 04, 2009

And look like a rhino's butt, too

Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry, in the May/June Poets & Writers, on the need for writers to protect their creative side:
"The self that writes may need to be a delicate and protected creature, but the self that submits to magazines ought to be as tough as a rhino's butt."


I received my 14th acceptance of the year earlier today, this for reprint rights to an essay.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Day one-hundred-twenty-three, story thirty-three

I finished my 33rd short story of the year a few minutes ago. One of the two stories Plot Monkey and I outlined last Sunday while waiting for Amazing Race to start, it's a 1,000-word country romance. I've submitted it to a magazine to which I've not previously submitted.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Day one-hundred-twenty-one, story thirty-two

I finished and submitted my 32nd short story of the year earlier this evening, a 2,500-word romance involving two college students and a skateboard. I started writing this story on May 2 of last year. I wrote half of it and then stalled. I showed what I'd written to Rebecca, my personal plot monkey, and she gave me some ideas on ways I could finish the story. I cherry picked from her suggestions and found the last half as easy to write as the first half had been.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Day one-hundred-twenty, story thirty-one

I finished writing my 31st short story of the year earlier today. It's a 5,000-word confession/romance about a single mother, her precocious first-grader, and her son's teacher. I started writing it on April 22 of last year and kept returning to it until the pieces fit together. It'll go in the mail tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I had to cut this from a WIP because it just didn't fit. But it was fun to write.
“Watch, Mom.” Tommy put a plastic dinosaur in a toy convertible and pushed it across the room. When the car hit the wall, he said, “Tyrannosaurus wrecks!”

Day one-hundred-nineteen, story thirty

I finished writing my 30th short story of the year earlier this evening, a 2,600-word romance. I began work on this Sunday evening while Plot Monkey and I were waiting for Amazing Race to start. We plotted two stories, both romances but intended for publications that are not at all alike. Because this one was targeted at an anthology with an impending deadline, I finished it first. It's already on its way to the editor.


My story "A Father's Final Gift" is the lead story in the June True Story.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Organizing short story production

On the Short Mystery Fiction Society list, a writer mentioned my "formidable production" and asked how I organize it.

My response:

If you write fast enough, you don't have to be organized. I have several hundred short stories in various stages of completion--ranging from one-sentence story descriptions to multi-thousand-word near-final drafts. Whenever I see a call for submissions that piques my interest, I take a quick stroll through the WIPs to see if I have anything that fits. If I do, then I finish and submit the story. If I don't, then I try to brainstorm something appropriate.

But most of my work goes to publications where I've been published before. Mastering a publication's requirements means I don't have to wait for calls for submission to cross my desk before writing and submitting stories.

But how do I organize the several hundred partial manuscripts? File folders on my computer labeled by genre or by magazine or by series character. If I have an idea for a Morris Ronald Boyette story, the partial goes into a folder named "Boyette"; in I have an idea for a confession, the partial goes into the folder labeled "confessions"; if I have an idea for a Woman's World story, the partial goes into the "Woman's World" folder.

One tip if you write for contests and anthologies: Get a three-ring binder. Print out the submission requirements or contest rules. Put them in the binder in due date order. When you sit down to write, open the binder to the first page. Write a story for that anthology or contest. If you finish in time, submit the story and tear the page out. If you miss the deadline, tear the page out. Either way, the next time you sit down to write, open up the binder to the first page and write a story for that anthology or contest. Repeat.

4/29/9 addition: I keep hard copies of all my finished manuscripts, so the torn-out page goes in the file folder with the hardcopy so that I know how to follow-up later if I need to.

Too American?

I received a rejection last week from an editor in the U.K. and one sentence from the rejection letter stands out: "[T]he story is so evocative of America, both in its sense of place and its characters, that we felt our readers wouldn't find the feeling of comfort and familiarity that they look for in [...]."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Day one-hundred-seventeen, story twenty-nine

I finished my 29th story of the year this evening, a 1,100-word bit of erotica. I don't know when I started writing it because it's based on a scene I cut from another story back on April 8. I added a beginning and an ending to turn it from a scene into a story and I'll put the manuscript in the mail in the morning.

Texas Mystery Week panel

I'll be joining George Wilhite, author of The Texas Rodeo Murders, and possibly other writers for the panel discussion "On Writing Mysteries" during Texas Mystery Week. Join us at 7 p.m., May 14, at the Barnes & Noble in Waco, Texas.

What are the odds?

I just learned that 225 stories were submitted to the Mystery Writers of America's Publications Committee for potential inclusion in an upcoming MWA anthology. One of them was mine. There are only 10 open slots. That's a 10-in-225 chance or a 1-in-22.5 chance that my story will be selected. And let's say 25 writers buggered up their submissions somehow--by failing to follow submission guidelines, by submitting the wrong genre, or by displaying sub-literacy--which would drop the odds down to 1 in 20. Not bad odds, but not great, either.

The final selections should be announced mid-May. I'd keep my fingers crossed until then, but it makes typing difficult.

Hourly rate

According to 25 Jobs that Pay $25-an-Hour, writers and editors--those who "Write and/or edit scripts, stories, publications, advertisements and other materials"--earn an average of $25.46/hour and have a mean annual salary of $53,000.


Maybe it was just my ego talking, but all this time I thought I was above average. Now that I've done the math, I don't think I am. Although I earn far better than $25.46/hour on some projects, I also earn far less on others. When I add them all together and divide by the number of hours worked, I'm just not quite there.

So now I have a new goal to strive for.

My goal is to be average.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Now available on Kindle

My private eye novel All White Girls is now available in a Kindle edition. It joins my young adult romance Just in Time for Love, previously released in a Kindle edition.

Inspiration is hard work

This past Friday, Sandra Seamans asked, on her blog My Little Corner:

Do you just write the story that tracks through your brain or do you write with a specific market in mind? For me writing for a market is plain torture and it shows in the writing, so I tend to write the stories as they come to me, then search for a market. Not the best way to work, I guess, but most days that works for me.

My response, which I thought I'd share here:

But here's a tip you can take to the bank (literally):

Select a publication you'd like to write for. Study it. Study the guidelines to determine what they say they want. Study the stories to determine what they actually publish. Then force yourself to write stories for that publication. Submit those stories. Pretty soon you'll discover that inspiration provides you with market-specific story ideas.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I'm a slacker

A friend of mine--a prolific, multi-genre short story writer like me (who I'm not naming because I didn't ask permission to quote him)--wrote in an e-mail yesterday, "I’ve been cranking out the words like never before (hoping to hit 27,000 this month, more than double what I used to average)."

My first thought was, "Holy crap!"

That's double my monthly average.

Then I realized that's less than 1,000 words/day. At my speed that's only twenty minutes of typing, leaving seven hours and forty minutes to think up what to type.

And I realized why I'm not as productive as I want to be: I think too much. I'm spending seven hours and fifty minutes a day thinking and only ten minutes a day typing.

Starting tomorrow, I'll cut ten minutes off my thinking time and add it to my typing time.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Day one-hundred-fourteen, story twenty-eight

I completed my 28th short story of the year a few minutes ago, a 2,300-word bit of crime fiction. I wrote the first two sentences on April 22. Yesterday I received a call for submissions for an anthology of biker fiction and immediately finished a rough draft of the opening scene. By that point I pretty much knew the plot, the characters, and the setting. I spent yesterday evening and this evening trying to make the words on the page match my vision. Mostly, it does. A few inspired twists were the result of multiple revisions. And the story's already on its way to the anthology's editor.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day one-hundred-twelve, story twenty-seven

I completed and submitted my 27th short story of the year this evening. It's a 2,700-word story of a man haunted by a past relationship. I don't know if it's horror or just a story about a relationship that's gone terribly wrong.

I had the idea for the story and started writing it on April 16.


I received my 13th acceptance this year, this time for the confession I revised and resubmitted last Friday. Apparently I eliminated the right 600 words.

Of course, the thrill of victory is tempered by the agony of defeat. I received a rejection from the same editor.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The British are paying! The British are paying!

I've had a PayPal account for a few years now, but I've never used it. Today an editor in the U.K. paid for a short story via my PayPal account. The process--especially because it involves converting payment from one currency to another--was much simpler and faster than my other method of dealing with payments from other countries. There's no filling out forms at the credit union--forms that only one person knows how to find and no one knows how to complete--and waiting for several weeks for money to appear in my account--minus a severe service charge.

I guess this means I've made another step into the future. At this rate I ought to have a cell phone before the turn of the century.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Day one-hundred-nine, story twenty-six

I don't Tweet, but now I've written Twitter Fiction. I just wrote and submitted my 26th story of the year, a ten-word (59 character) bit of noir crime fiction. To a paying market, no less.

Friday, April 17, 2009

It's not how long your story is, it's what you do with it

A few months ago I submitted a 6,600-word story to a market that, at the time, was accepting stories up to 8,000 words. While waiting for a response to my submission, the publication's guidelines changed and and the maximum length is now 6,000 words.

Today my story came back with a note letting me know that the editor liked the story, reminding me of the new length requirements, and suggesting that I resubmit the story if I could cut 600+ words from it.

Cutting the first 300 words was easy. Cutting the second 300 words wasn't.

First to go: Dialog tags. All those "he said"s and "she said"s weren't necessary. Many were cut.

Next to go: Imprecision. For example: "A few minutes before six, he..." became "At six, he..."

And then: Holy crap. At this point it becomes a paragraph-by-paragraph, sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word line edit.

But I did it and the story is on its way back to the editor.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Day one-hundred-six, story twenty-five

A few minutes ago I completed and submitted my 25th story of the year, a 5,800-word confession/romance. I started writing the story on January 16, 2007, worked on it at various times since then, and finished a complete draft last night. Today I edited/proofread the manuscript and then sent it off.


My short story "Hard Worker" appears in the just-published The Mammoth Book of Erotic Confessions, edited by Barbara Cardy and published by Running Press.

Technology and the death of the author-friendly word count

A long time ago, in a land not so far away, before every would-be writer owned a personal computer and word processing software, manuscript preparation followed a fairly rigid format. Because manuscript format was rigid, it was easy to calculate manuscript word counts: One page contained 250 words. The opening page of a short story, because it began halfway down the page to accomodate the title, the byline, and the author's contact information, contained 125 words. The last page varied and need to be guesstimated based on how much of the page was actually filled.

Back then I could safely estimate that my 11-page short story manuscript contained 2,500 words. Editors, who usually used the same method to estimate word count, paid based on that estimated word count. At 5-cents/word, I could expect to receive a check for $125.

Not long after I began submitting electronic manuscripts (on disk initially; via e-mail these days), I noticed that publications paying on a per-word basis were paying less. Their per-word rates had not been reduced. Instead, they were using a word processing program's wordcount function to determine pay. That 2,500-word manuscript (using the "traditional" method of counting) may only contain 2,100 words. At 5-cents/word, the pay comes to $105.

In effect, publications that did not raise their per-word pay rates after the advent of electronic manuscripts actually reduced the amount of money they paid writers.

Go figure.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Something smells in here

I'm spoiled. I've been spoiled for several years. And it isn't really a good thing.

I sell almost every short story I write, quite often to the first or second editor to whom I submit them.

When I'm feeling good, I tell myself, "I really know my markets." When I'm not feeling good, I tell myself, "I'm not stretching myself."

When I started writing again in late December--after 3.5 months of negligible effort caused, it appears, by medication I began taking following a quadruple bypass in September and ceased taking a few days before Christmas--I wrote several stories outside my usual comfort zone, including an erotic vampire story and a P.I./fantasy cross-genre story.

As the weeks pass, I find myself more and more concentrating my efforts on the same-old same-old. Oh, sure, I've been targeting Woman's World since the beginning of the year, but I'm targeting a new market, not a new genre.

Before something starts to smell around here, perhaps I need to push myself a little harder. I need to stretch my writing muscles. I need to write fiction outside my comfort zone and not settle for selling the short stories I already know I can write.

Maybe I'll even create new genres:

Instead of writing Chick Lit, I'll write Hick Lit.

I'll combine mystery subgenres and write Hardboiled Cozies or Cozy Noir.

Or maybe I'll just try to finish another novel.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

All quiet on the western front

I'm a member of three Yahoo groups devoted to writing short fiction--active in two groups, mostly a lurker in the third--and I've noticed a recent paucity of posts on all three group lists. Usually the lists are filled with posts from members about publications, sales, and rejections. Lately there's been next to nothing posted.

Has spring driven all of my fellow writers outside? Or is it worse than that--has spring driven all the editors outside so they're not responding to submissions?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Day one-hundred, story twenty-four

I completed my 24th short story of the year today, another 800-word romance. I started work on the story on February 26, but wasn't able to finish it until this morning.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


My short story "Postcards for Mom" appears in the May True Confessions.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I'm guest-blogging at Rafe McGregor's place

As part of his on-going discussion about "the decline in the popularity and significance of the short story as a literary form," Rafe McGregor asked me how it's possible to make a living writing short fiction. He's divided my response into two parts. The first part--"Short Fiction Is My Life, Part 1"--has just been posted; the second part will be posted later this week.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Increasing income from short fiction

There are three primary ways a short story writer can increase his income from short fiction: write and sell more to current markets, write the same amount but sell to better-paying markets, and sell reprint rights to existing stories.

Sooner or later a competent and reasonably productive short story writer will find an editor who will publish his work on a regular basis. If the writer and editor get into a rhythm of two stories a year, it's time for the writer to try for three a year, thereby increasing his income from that one market by 50%.

On the other hand, let's imagine that the two-story-a-year market pays $100/story. If the writer finds a new market that pays $200/story and he writes one story a year for each publication, he's also increased his income by 50%.

Which is the better option? From an income standpoint the options appear equal. Whether they are depends on something many short story writers don't discuss and may not even consider: income-per-hour. If it takes five hours to write a $100 story and 10 hours to write a $200 story, then it's a financial wash. The $200/story market only becomes financially worthwhile if the writer can reduce the amount of time it takes him to write a story for that market.

Two less tangible factors are important to consider as well: status and visibility. Do your peers view one market as having a higher status, and could your appearance in that publication increase your visibility among editors (especially those that might approach you with assignments), agents (especially if you desire to write books), and conference organizers (especially those that pay guest speakers).

But what if efforts to crack the higher paying market prove futile? What if the income-per-hour results in a net gain of $0? Is the effort wasted? Not for a writer who plans ahead and develops a hierarchy of submissions.

For example: For many years I wrote for several magazines that published a similar genre of fiction. The best-paying (that I sold to) paid $750/story, the next tier paid $400/story, the next tier paid $300/story, the next tier paid $100/story, and then there were a handful of publications that made only token payments. The hierarchy I developed for my submissions in that genre worked well for several years, and I sold work at all levels. (Alas, magazines change publishers, change editors, change editorial needs, or just flat go out of business and that hierarchy of submissions is now a busted chain.)

I'm currently trying to crack a new-to-me market in a genre a half-step removed from one where I'm already selling regularly. I started writing and submitting to the publication before I had established my hierarchy of submissions, and I wasn't sure what I would do with my stories if they were rejected. During the past week I've found several publications that publish similar stories and I'm in the process of developing my hierarchy of submissions for stories in that genre.

What about reprints? Selling reprints is almost like earning money for nothing. I send copies of my work to appropriate best-of-year anthologies, and I keep a watch on market reports for other reprint opportunities. Occasionally I earn more for reprint rights than I earned for the original sale.

Are there other ways for a short story writer to increase his income from short fiction? Maybe, but damned if I know what they are.