For the past several months I have struggled with finding mystery magazine editors, let alone those willing to be interviewed for the blog.

I am trying to decide if it is worth it to continue this blog. But, in the meantime, in a time of social distancing, when a lot of people are cooking at home, I am starting a blog today that will give (at least one version) of recipes for the foods mentioned in the Inspector Montalbano series of books. There will be no quotes from the books since I have no official permissions, but I am re-reading the books in order and presenting recipes from the books in order. No set time sequencing for the books, and if your fmaily recipe differs from the one I give–please give yours! Every Italian/Sicilian household cooks a bit differntly. (I may also throw in some advice from the Decameron now and again)

Mangia bene…stay safe in this time of pandemic.

Anthology and Magazine Editor, Michael Bracken

Anthologies are a great way for short msytery writer to send their work out into the world. Michael Bracken, who has been editing stories for anthologies has agreed to share some of the thigs we writers should knwo about submitting to the wide variety of options out there for writers of short mysteries. In addition, he is also editing Black Cat Mystery Magazine, so if you are considering writing for them, pay close attention to what he likes.


Photo by Amber Bracken

Joan: Can you tell my readers a little bit about how you got started with collecting the stories of others for anthologies?

Michael: Fedora: Private Eyes and Tough Guys was released by Wildside Press in 2001, so I probably began work on it sometime in 2000. At that time, hardboiled and private eye stories—which is what I like to write—weren’t getting the love they seem to be getting now, so I pitched the anthology to my editor at Wildside and he agreed to publish it. Ultimately, I did five anthologies for Wildside Press and its imprint Betancourt & Co., including Fedora 2, Fedora 3, Hardbroiled, and Small Crimes.

 Several years have passed in the interim, but I’m again editing anthologies, with The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods released by Down & Out Books just before the 2019 Bouchercon in Dallas. I have several more anthologies in the pipeline for 2020 and 2021 publication. In addition, I am co-creator and co-editor, with Trey R. Barker, of the Guns + Tacos serial novella anthology series. Each “season” consists of six novellas issued monthly on a subscription basis July-December and then collected into paperback anthologies. The first season wrapped up in December 2019 and the second season begins in July 2020.

On top of all that, in mid-2019 I became co-editor of Black Cat Mystery Magazine.

 Joan: Who are your target readers? 

Michael: Most of my anthologies target readers of hardboiled, noir, and/or private eye stories. Black Cat Mystery Magazine targets a more general mystery reader, with stories representing several sub-genres in each issue.

Joan: Are you print and online or online only?

Michael: Some of my anthologies have been issued in hardback and some in trade paperback. Some have also been issued in electronic formats such as Kindle.

 Joan: What do you think of mixing crime with other genres? What must a crime story have, in order for you to consider it?

 Michael: Crime fiction mixes well with most genres, but as an editor I tend to favor projects that stick pretty close to the various subgenres of mystery and crime fiction. Each project I edit has different requirements, so submissions must adhere to the guidelines. In general, though, I like stories that have an emotional impact. I don’t mind being dazzled with cleverness, but if a writer makes me feel something when I read her story, I’m more apt to give the story serious consideration.

 Joan: What is an automatic turn off for you in a submission? 

Michael: Sloppy manuscripts filled with misspelled words, poor grammar, and weird formatting turn me off.

Opening scenes must hold my attention, but there’s no one right way to do that. I’ve published stories that opened with a bang and I’ve published stories that opened slowly, easing the reader into the narrative.

Joan: What would you like to see more of in submissions?

Michael: This goes back to an earlier answer: I want to see more stories that have an emotional impact. And I want to see more manuscripts from authors who actually know how to use their word processing programs.

Joan. What magazines do you read and like?

Michael: Though not a magazine, I recommend every crime fiction writer read The Best American Mystery Stories each year. Though we can quibble over the editors’ choices, this annual collection of the best mystery stories of the year provides an overview of the genre.

I read Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Down & Out: The Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Tough, and too many others to mention. The mystery small press is alive and well, and every small press publication needs to be supported.

 Joan: Do you have any upcoming calls for stories? Contests? An editorial calendar?

Michael: My next open call for anthology submissions is likely to be September 2020, for Mickey Finn 3: 21st Century Noir,  and I’ll post the guidelines for it and for any other open-call projects on my website: http://www.CrimeFictionWriter.comBlack Cat Mystery Magazine posts guidelines and open reading periods at https://bcmystery.com/Guidelines/, and writers should check both sites regularly.

Joan: Where/how can potential writers purchase a sample copy?

Michael: Directly from the publishers as well as at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online bookstores.

 Joan: Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers of this blog? 

 Michael: Read and follow guidelines. Proofread carefully. Don’t take rejection personally.

 Joan: Thank you, Michael!





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We are three quarters of the way through the year. While fall can be energizing–nice cool weather relieving the clammy humid heat of summer–it can also be a time we loose steam on our writing. The holidays are a great excuse to procrastinate  on writing projects. So, this month’s blog entry is from a blogger who sends out daily inspiration, advice, tips,  (among other things) to writers. She is a successful freelancer and loves to share the secrets of her success in dealing with editors, keeping to a project and more. Her name is Suzanne Lurience. She agreed to be interviewed. If you do not subscribe to her blog already, I say, SIgn Up!


Joan: Please introduce yourself and your newsletter to my readers. Most of them
write short mystery ..talk about how a general writing blog can be good for

Suzanne:Thanks for inviting me to your blog, Joan. I love connecting with other writers. For your readers who don’t know me, I’m the author of over 35 published books, a
writing coach, speaker, and chief editor at http://www.writebythesea, a blog about the
business and craft of writing. Most of my children’s books were written under
contract from various traditional children’s book publishers. I also taught for the
Institute of Children’s Literature for over 8 years. Today, I write mostly women’s
fiction and I ghost write children’s fiction.
I live and write by the sea on the beautiful Treasure Coast in Florida. I love helping
people become better writers and get published. I do this through my various
coaching programs, my free monthly writing challenges at writebythesea.com, and
all the materials in the private Resource Library for Writers that I have available
for those who subscribe to my mailing list.
I think every writer should have a blog, and it doesn’t have to be a blog about
writing. My first blog was a food blog, and it gave me good experience that can
translate well to writing about most anything.
I like your positive affirmations and advice on planning and goal setting. Can
you speak a bit about that?
Every weekday morning, I send out a short email about writing to members of my
mailing list. This email is called The Morning Nudge because it’s my way of
giving writers a little nudge and encouragement to get some writing done each day.
Writers are creative people and tend to have all sorts of great ideas. But if they
don’t set some writing goals, they can lose focus and never manage to get much
accomplished. For that reason, I advise my coaching clients and my Morning
Nudge subscribers to create no more than 3 major writing goals for the year, then
put those goals on an index card next to their writing desk or computer, so they
will see them when they are working. Then, every professional action they take for
their writing career each day should be in alignment with one or more of those 3 goals. It’s surprising how helpful it can be to simply look at your goals every day.
Most people create their goals at the beginning of the year, then never look at them
again until December and then wonder why they didn’t reach those goals. Go

Joan: Do you accept guest posts? if so, what do you look for?
Suzanne: Yes, I welcome guest posts for writebythesea.com. Posts need to be between 300
and 800 words and related to some aspect of the craft of writing. My readers
especially like tips about writing mysteries or romance, so I’m always on the
lookout for good posts about those two genres. A short bio and author headshot
should be included with the post, along with the writer’s website or blog address.

Joan: What advice have you given on meeting submission guidelines?
Suzanne: When I taught for the Institute of Children’s Literature, many of my students
complained about submission guidelines. In fact, they didn’t like guidelines of any
sort for their writing. They just wanted to write what and how they wanted to write.
But I always told them to be thankful for submission guidelines. They let you
know what a publisher wants and doesn’t want. And when you get really good at
adhering to submission guidelines you just naturally become a better writer. I also
tell all my coaching clients, and friends who are writers, to make sure they follow
submission guidelines to the letter. If the guidelines for a magazine you’re thinking
of submitting a story to wants manuscripts up to 1,000 words, don’t send them a
3,000-word manuscript, thinking they’ll love your story so much it won’t matter
that it’s way over their word limit. It will matter, and they won’t love it.

Joan: In your experience, what are the top five things editors want from a writer?

Suzanne: Here they are:

1.The ability to follow guidelines to the letter.
2. The ability to meet deadlines.
3. Open to editing tips and suggestions and able to execute these tips and
4. Fresh ideas for the editor’s market.
5. Respectful of the editor’s time.

Joan: What else would you like to tell my readers about finding calls for submission
for entering contests?
Suzanne: I would tell your readers to look for free writing contests or ones with very low entry fees. Also, look for local or regional contests, which tend to have less
competition. Also, I suggest they read this article at writebythesea.com – 10 Good Reasons to Enter Writing Contests.

Joan: What do you think about writing prompts?
Suzanne: Writing prompts are a great way to get a little creative writing done each day.
Nonfiction prompts are also a good way to get to know yourself better. And the
better you know yourself, I think the better writer you are able to be.
Anything else you would like to say that I did not ask?
Many people get uptight and nervous about writing. I tell my clients that writing is
serious work, but it should be fun. Otherwise, why write?

Joan: Anything else you would like to share?
Suzanne: Sign up for my newsletter and also get free access to my Private Resource Library for Writers at http://www.morningnudge.com or http://www.writebythesea.com

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Thank you, Suzanne!

Check this Out! Strand Magazine

Photo of Strand being held hostage by the update on my computer! I cannot access my pictures folder to paste it into it and then transfer here! Will add magazine cover when I figure it out!  Ha!  Got it!


This is one of the two mystery magazines I subscribe to–I’d love to subscribe to more, but I can;t afford it it. I read widely what I can get online and buy single issues of magazines when a friend has a piece in it or if the issue generally appeals to me, but I’m limited by the level of green in my bank account.

Strand is a magazine I enjoy for several reasons–they print new fiction , (YAY!) but they also use articles about mystery, and they have an abiding love of the classics, in mystery fiction and fiction in general. I’m particularly fond of the newly discovered stories they publish by writers not usually thought of as mystery gurus. While I have not yet had success in placing one of my own mysteries with them, in all correspondence I’ve had with Managing Editor Andrew Gulli, he has been kind, and polite. He answers it all, from small questions to these questions for the blog.  Give them a try–and let me know if you succeed!

Joan: Please tell us a bit about the history of your magazine and about the magazine’s goals present day? Particularly, can you define how your magazine differs from other crime magazines out there?

Andrew: We have been publishing since 1998—I know—where did my life go! And on average we publish 6 stories per issue. We like to keep things inventive, though we do know that readers like the traditional tale with a twist at the tail. I love all the crime fiction magazines out there and to be frank, I think we all end up learning from each other. We try to be more the type that has works that can be literary, at times we’ve published plays, or even articles.


Joan: What are you seeking in general and what especially delights you in a  fiction manuscript submission?

Andrew: If I read someone who has read Stanley Ellin, then I know they understand how to construct the perfect short story. When I get jealous of a writer and feel I can never write like they are writing that makes me like I said jealous, but also leads me to email them and publish their work.

Joan:  What is an instant turn-off in a fiction submission?

Andrew: Something sensational, formulaic, sex, four letter words, or plots that lead to nowhere.

Joan: How should a writer approach you on a non-fiction submission–review or interview? What do you want to see in a query?

Andrew: If they have something that is very interesting, unique and voice above everything I’ll take notice.

Joan: What are some of your favorite journals/magazines?

Andrew: EQ, Alfred Hitchcock, and sadly Mad.

Joan: How can writers contact you with questions and find out about submission calls?

Andrew: Best to email us via the website.

Joan: Do you ever consider reprints? (Fiction, non-fiction).

Andrew: Never, ever, never, ever!

Joan: Is there anything else you would like to say to writers who are considering submitting to you?

Andrew: Do your homework, pick up a magazine at the library and read it.

Joan: Is Strand a paying market? Please tell the readers rates and if there are unpaid sections where they can break in?

Andrew: We do pay, but we like to keep how much we pay between us and our authors.


Thank you, Andrew!


August Heat..Writing ABOUT mystery fiction

While browsing through opportunities for short story and other types of submissions, I came upon a call for pitches (a story idea) from LitReactor. Yes, it’s time for a confession–I do not just write short mystery fiction. I write poetry, essays, articles (about many things–food, lifestyle, travel, interesting people, other artist profiles, and lit topics).

I’m also a performer, so I speak in front of audiences, performing personal and folk tales and doing one woman shows (those have a lot of comedy in them). Noticing that the call for pitches was a bit old–over a month and knowing that my fellow freelancers are quick to jump on paying jobs, I emailed to ask if pitch season was still open. Alas, it was not, but the very kind editor, Josh Chaplinsky agreed to do an interview for the blog. I thought you might enjoy  some advice from an editor on writing about the genre we all love–short mystery fiction.

pimp photo


Joan: I read recently that you are looking for articles on plot, character, grammar, and the current state of the publishing industry–does this correctly outline your needs?

Josh: Well, it did. Unfortunately our needs have already been filled, as we got a huge response. So it might be a while before we put out another call for writers. We tend to hire “staff” writers, people who contribute on a monthly basis, as opposed to accepting individual article pitches at random.


Joan: How can a fiction writer break into this sort of writing? Any suggestions –such as, listing their own practice, top ten things that have brought them success–things of this nature? Do you have some resources (within your own magazine and without) that you wold suggest to them?

Josh: If a fiction writer is known, and already has an established authority in the arena of publishing, obviously they have a foot in the door. But for the rest of us mortals, I’d say good samples and good ideas are what is needed. If you write well and approach an editor with a great pitch, you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting hired. Of course, familiarity with the venue you are pitching helps. The more you know, and all that. The fit has to be right.

Note from Joan: A pitch, or query letter contains a one or two sentence tease about the subject of the article proposed, length proposed for final article, your qualifications to write the article and when you can deliver it.


Joan: What should a writer think about in terms of length for such an article?

Josh: LitReactor columns run approximately 1200 words, but we aren’t strict about it. Bigger isn’t necessarily better on the internet, as there’s a lot out there fighting for people’s short attention spans. It takes a lot of skill or cache to keep people interested for that long.


Joan:Do you prefer articles form experience or interviews with very successful authors?

Josh: Both are great, but I think people really appreciate advice from writers in the trenches, jobbing writers who have gone before them, who they can relate to.


Joan:Your guidelines say to query, send bio and links to other articles–how far out from publication date should this be done?

Josh: Again, we aren’t currently open to new submissions, but we usually send out a monthly email to our “stable” of writers asking for pitches. Then we make a schedule for the entire month. Of course, writers being writers, assignments aren’t always turned in on time, so we’ve learned to be flexible. Writers are like cats in that way. They don’t like being told what to do and they complain a lot.


Joan: Do you publish any fiction or poetry at all?

Josh: We have not made the foray into publishing fiction. There are already so many great venues doing that.


Joan:Are you a paying market?

Josh: Yes, we are. We pay a flat rate of $25 per column.


Joan: What magazines, on craft and other, do you read?

Josh: Personally, I read so many great articles as the Editor of LitReactor, I don’t really seek out additional material. I do love a good book on the craft of writing, though. And as a fiction writer myself, I love reading the work of the people associated with the site and the independent publishing scene.


Joan: Anything else you would like to tell my readers?

Josh: Yes. The best advice I can give to writers is be discerning. Learn what advice to take and what advice to ignore. Do what works for YOU. Also, make friends, and interact. Get involved with a community. Writers like to pretend they are an island, but we all need support.

Thank you, Josh!

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor.com. He has also written for popular film site Screen Anarchy and for ChuckPalahniuk.net, the official website of ‘Fight Club’ author Chuck Palahniuk. He is the author of ‘Kanye West—Reanimator.’ His short fiction has been published by Motherboard (Vice), Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, CLASH Books, Pantheon Magazine, Broken River Books, and Severed Press. More info at joshuachaplinsky.com and @jaceycockrobin on Twitter.

So, readers, if you like the idea of branching out into non-fiction, keep an eye out for LitReactor to open back up for articles/column entries. Check around for other magazines that might be interested in an article on your favorite mystery author. Non-fiction is a wide world–and it mostly pays.




Thank you

Christmas in July–Weird Christmas!

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Many merchants try to amplify their sales with a “Christmas in July” promotion. Craig Kringle (that’s what he goes by!) holds a contest called Weird Christmas. (weirdchristmas.com) and his submission period is open now, July! (And it lasts longer until early November–see below). So, if you have a mystery that includes a weird aspect about Christmas, and other late winter holidays, take a look at Chris’ responses and check out the url for last year’s selections.

Joan: Do you want the entries in the body of the email or attached? Single or double space?

Craig: As long as I can read it, I’m happy, whether pasted into the body of the email or included as an attachment. As for spacing, double spaced is always easier for me to read. I know that’s starting to be old fashioned since everyone’s using small screens now, but I’m ancient.

Joan: I appreciate the tip in your general guidelines about looking at the cards (weird Christmas cards) on your website and re-telling old tales, in a “weird” way but are you also open to crime fiction for this contest?

Craig: If it’s just straight crime fiction, I may not be as interested. But if it’s really strange crime fiction, I’m open to it. As for what counts as “weird” or “strange”…if you have to ask for much guidance on that, this probably isn’t a contest for you.

Joan: Do you sponsor other contests?

Craig: At the moment, this is my only contest.

Joan: May I reprint the other guidelines as well as the ones for this contest?

Craig: Sure!

Here are the guidelines on the website:

Deadline November 2, 2019. Winners will be announced on the podcast/site as soon after Thanksgiving as I can get the podcast out.

  • 350 word max limit (title not included).
  • $50 first prize, $25 second prize. (Maybe more depending on how the funds work out.)
  • Winners will be read on my podcast (preferably by you, but I can find others) and published on my site. (I’ll include 10 or so honorable mentions as well to be narrated and published.)
  • Submissions must be EMAILED to weirdxmas@gmail.com.

The general guidelines:

First, it should be weird or strange or odd. It can be “Haha!” weird or “Oh, Jesus, no!” weird. It can be genre (sf, fantasy, horror/weird, bizarro, etc.) or it can just be off-kilter. Sentimental is fine, but it better be sentimental in a way that leaves me feeling…uncomfortable. As long as it’s something about the holidays we aren’t expecting, it fits.

Second, it must be related to any winter holiday (Christmas, Hannukha, Kwanza, solstice celebrations, “Yule,” etc.). You can include other holidays like Halloween or Easter, but it has to still have some strong connection to the winter season’s celebrations.

Third, and this is new: try to avoid “evil Santa” stories. At least 1/4 of the submissions I got last time had “Monster Santa” or “Cthulhu Santa” or “Diabolical Santa.” That’s fun, but unless you have a REALLY original take on the idea, I’m gonna say the idea’s played itself out.

Fourth, a tease: I’d love to collect and publish all of these after another round or two, and I started looking into it. So keep in mind that it might be more than just a random online contest somewhere down the line…And that leads me to…

Fifth, rights: I’m asking for first rights to publish your story here and on the podcast. Beyond that, feel free to submit it somewhere else simultaneously, as long as the other venue doesn’t ask for exclusivity while the contest is ongoing. I’ll also contact everyone individually before publishing them, so if you’re only interested in winning and don’t want to be added as an “honorable mention,” say, you’ll have that option. Note that if I publish it, and you do want to take it somewhere else after the contest, it will technically count as a reprint. Keep that in mind if you’re hoping to get this published somewhere that pays more than I can, and, truth is, reprints won’t be as attractive to most markets. I just want to be up front about that, especially with the “honorable mentions” because I’ll be publishing them without paying. But, like I said, I won’t put anything up without your consent, and I’ll talk to each winner individually before publishing anything. This contest is mostly for fun, and I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m exploiting your hard work for “exposure”…which, if I’m publishing a story without paying, is essentially what that works out to. Just want to be totally clear about that.

Joan: What additional advice would you give my readers?

Craig: The best advice is to check out last year’s podcast episode or the printed version. There was a lot of variety there, but you can also get a better sense of what makes me sit up and pay attention. Here is the link to last year’s results:

WC #14: Weird Christmas Flash Fiction (contest results episode)

Joan: Just to get an idea of what appeals to you, what magazines do you read?

Craig:Mostly sf/f stuff like, well, F&SF, Analog, Asimov’s, Weird, a ton of online things like Strange Horizons. Like most people at this point, social media often gets you drawn to particular stories first and you become followers of an outlet later, so my habits are changing.

Thank you, Craig! And Happy Holidays!


Barb Goffman: A Success Story

Barb Goffman

Barb Goffman is a highly successful short story writer. Her work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies and she has been nominated for just about every prize there is for writers of short mysteries–and won many of them!!

Her style is different from that of last month’s guest writer, John Floyd, but her commitment to her work is just as intense. If you don;t know her work, read it!

This successful and talented woman has kindly agreed to share with us. Here are her answers to the What Editors Want You to Know, questions.

Joan: When did you start writing? What drew you to the short story form and what keeps you writing short stories? Do you write short stories in other genres besides mystery?
Barb: I started writing mysteries in 2001, but that was a novel. I started writing crime short stories in 2004. I tried writing my first short story because my Sisters in Crime chapter had an open call for stories for an anthology, and since the number of people who could submit was limited (to chapter members), I thought I might have a better chance of acceptance than an anthology that could get hundreds of submissions. I also thought that having a published short story could help when I eventually tried to get my novel published. It turned out that I loved the short-story form and have concentrated on it since. I love the fast turn around–I can go from idea to story completion in a matter of days (assuming I have the time to write). I love that a story can be submitted without an agent, then accepted and published in a matter of weeks or months, rather than years that a novel could take. And I love that the short story allows me to write so many different tales in the time that one otherwise would take. For someone who used to be a newspaper reporter, especially, the short story is a good fit. As a reporter I wrote a new article every day. A short story fills my same inclination to start and finish quickly and always have something new to work on.
As to other genres, I stick to crime/mystery (and that is a broad category that includes cozy, traditional, thriller, suspense, noir, police procedural–I write them all), although sometimes I will write cross-genre, meaning I add in elements of another genre, such as magical realism or horror, to my crime story. I love magical realism. It can be a lot of fun.
Joan: Do you write other forms as well? (blogging, articles, essays, novels, poems?) Do you focus on crime/mystery in these other forms?
Barb: I blog every third Tuesday at www.SleuthSayers.org. My posts there usually address writing, especially writing related to crime short stories. I’ve had posts addressing opening lines, reasons short stories get rejected, and the inspiration behind my stories, among other topics. As I mentioned above, I also have written a novel. It is one edit away from being ready to be sent out, but it sits in a drawer. I’m much more interested in writing short stories.
Joan: You have been widely published and widely awarded in the mystery field–what advice do you have for writers entering contests?
Barb: I don’t enter contests. Contests often charge entry fees, and I believe that money should flow to the writer, not away from the writer. With a contest, while the winner and maybe a runner-up or two might get some money, everyone else is merely paying for the chance to be considered. A lot of these contest organizers will publish an anthology with the winners and some of the also-rans, but the also-rans get no payment; the publisher gets to keep it all the income, and the writer gets exposure. That’s not such a great deal. As the saying goes, you can die from exposure. If you’ve taken the time to write a story that you hope someone else will publish in an attempt to make money, that publisher should be willing to share with you the income he/she makes using your story.
That said, early in my career I did enter two contests. In one case the entry fee was low and I was willing to pay for the chance to get into that anthology. (I didn’t. Goodbye ten dollars.) In the other there was no fee to enter. The authors of the top three stories won things (a Kindle, I think, and other items). The remainder of the top ten got their stories published, but there was no payment. I was willing to take that chance because I’d written a middle-grade story and had been having a hard time finding submission venues. So I was willing to ultimately accept publication without payment. I’ve also accepted publication without payment when the proceeds are going to charity.
Considering all this, my advice is to start submitting your story to the best venues you can. You never know when it will be accepted. If you ultimately decide that you’re willing to pay to submit to a contest, or that exposure is good enough payment for a particular story (and I recognize that the newer you are, the more exposure has appeal), be sure to read the submission rules carefully and follow them. Don’t disqualify yourself from the get-go.
Joan: Advice for writers submitting to large national magazines  Ellery Queen and others? For those submitting to anthologies?
Barb: I have the same advice for all submissions: Write the best story you can, let it sit after you’re done (a day, a week, a month–you’ll have to learn what works for you) so that when you come back to read it, it will be with fresh eyes. Then edit. Rinse, repeat. Find someone trusted to read your stories and tell you what works and what doesn’t. Edit again until you really think it’s good. Don’t get so excited about your wonderful story that you send it out too soon, only to kick yourself later when you read it with fresh eyes and think, Oh, I should have done, X, Y, and Z. (I’ve been there. It’s annoying as hell.)
Then when you are ready to submit, make sure you follow the instructions. As I said above, don’t disqualify yourself from the get-go because your story is 100 words too long or you didn’t set your margins properly. And don’t think pesky submission rules can be disregarded. Sure, it might just take you thirty seconds to fix your margins, so surely the editor could do it after she accepts your story. But imagine the editor having to do that for every story. And not just fix the margins but fix the indents and the font and the font size and … and you should get the idea why editors give rules for manuscript formatting at the outset. Even if your story is the best story ever written and you know the editor will take it even if you don’t follow the rules, you still should follow the rules because you want the editor to think you’re someone easy to work with, not a prima donna.
Joan. Can you name some of your favorite magazines to read and to submit to?
Barb: Here are some for mystery fiction: Ellery Queen’s Mystery MagazineAlfred Hitchcock’s Mystery MagazineBlack Cat Mystery MagazineFlash Bang Mysteries (which is an e-zine).
Joan: What writing organizations do you belong to and why for each one? (Benefits you receive and skills you contribute to each, please)?
Barb: I belong to Sisters in Crime (and its Chesapeake, Central Virginia, and Guppies chapters), Mystery Writers of America (and its Mid-Atlantic chapter), and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
Sisters in Crime was the first organization I joined after I started writing mystery fiction. I love how it gave–and gives–me the chance to meet and become friends with other crime-fiction authors and to learn from writers and subject-matter experts at monthly meetings. Plus there are field trips, the ability to meet critique partners, the chance to submit to anthologies, and so much more. My first mystery publication was in a SinC Chessie anthology! I’m a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime, and it is money well spent. What do I contribute to SinC? I’ve been president, secretary, and newsletter editor of the Chessie Chapter. I currently am the Chessie Chapter election chair and I help out the board as needed, including working with a great subgroup putting together a workshop for this June 2nd on reinventing your mystery career. I also co-edit the Chesapeake Crimes anthologies with Donna Andrews and Marcia Talley.
What I love about SinC is also what I love about MWA: attending monthly meetings, seeing and learning from other authors and subject-matter experts. As with SinC, I’ve also been actively involved with my local MWA chapter. I served as secretary for a few years. Now I am the chapter’s election chair. (Between MWA and SinC I run all the mystery elections in the Mid-Atlantic area. Ooh, the power. Just kidding. Maybe.)
The Short Mystery Fiction Society is an online group from which I learn a lot about writing and writing calls, and I try to weigh in when I can. This group also gives out the Derringer Awards and has made great strides in promoting short mystery fiction. It’s a wonderful organization.
Joan.:What writing conferences have you found most helpful to you and why?
Barb: I haven’t been to a lot of writing conferences–a conference being a multi-day craft event aimed at helping authors with their writing and with getting published. One that stands out is Sleuthfest, which is held in Florida. Not only did it have good classes, but I had an experience there that I later used as a jumping off point for what became my first published short story, “Murder at Sleuthfest.” (No, I didn’t kill anyone at the conference, though I was tempted. You’ll have to read the story to find out why.)
The sadly defunct Tony Hillerman Writers Conference was another one I really enjoyed. I learned about writing and gained confidence and met some great authors, including Sandi Ault–a wonderful writer and teacher–and Craig Johnson. Plus I got to go to New Mexico!
As a teacher, I’ve participated in Deadly Ink, which is a combination conference/convention. The first day is devoted to teaching craft. The next two days are devoted to fan-oriented panels. A few years ago I taught a short-story class with Donna Andrews at Deadly Ink, and it was really rewarding. Deadly Ink is held each summer/fall (the date changes sometimes) in New Jersey, and especially if you live in the Mid-Atlantic/New York City area, it is worth checking out.
I also attend two fan conventions every year: Malice Domestic and Bouchercon. These conventions don’t have panels devoted to teaching you how to write, but you still can learn about the industry by hearing authors talk (on and off panels), and authors will sometimes give writing tips on panels too. These conventions also give me the chance to meet readers, which is so important. I love to write, but I love being read, so it’s great to be able to meet people who are interested in what I write and to meet people who have read what I’ve written and want me to write more. That’s a high that’s hard to describe. Finally, both Bouchercon and Malice have anthologies associated with them. I’ve had a story published in one Malice anthology and one Bouchercon anthology. I especially love that these books will likely be read by people who read exactly the kind of stories I like to write, so I’m grateful for the chance to submit to them when I have the time.
Joan: If something of yours is rejected to you save it and re-purpose it for another market? Examples?
Barb: Sure. You need a thick skin in this industry. Not every story will be accepted on first submission. Sometimes it means that the story needs work. Sometimes it simply means that the story wasn’t a good fit for the anthology or magazine in question. (Sometimes both.) But you shouldn’t give up.
Here’s a perfect example: I wrote my short story “Bug Appétit” for an anthology of Thanksgiving food/crime stories, but the editor passed because he felt that the story wouldn’t be a good fit for an anthology that people likely would be reading on Thanksgiving, perhaps between meals or while eating appetizers. (The story title might give you a hint as to why he worried about readers’ reactions.) But I turned around and submitted that story to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. They took it, and editor Janet Hutchings called it “one of the best holiday stories I have ever read.” That story was nominated for an Agatha Award and is currently nominated for the Anthony Award.
Joan: Have you ever served as a writing contest judge or an editor? What advice can you offer from that perspective?
Barb: Yes, I’ve done both. My advice, as I’ve said earlier, is to follow the submission instructions. If you don’t do that for a contest, your story might be disqualified without being read. Such disqualification could happen with an anthology or magazine too. But even if it doesn’t, seeing an author didn’t bother to follow the guidelines would make me worry that this person might not be easy to work with. And life is too short to work with difficult people. Moreover, the more an author doesn’t follow the guidelines, the more work I have to do to get the story into shape, and the more I might be inclined to instead accept a different story, one that wouldn’t take as much effort on my part to get the story ready for publication.
Rules aside, remember also that contest judges and editors also are readers. They are looking for good stories. They want to be entertained. Don’t lose sight of that.
Joan: What is the best piece of advice you ever received as a writer and what word or words of advice would you like to pass on to other writers? Anything else you wold like to add that I did not ask about?
Barb: Good advice I’ve received, practiced, and given: read, read, read. The more you read in the genre you’re going to write in, the more you will become immersed in the genre’s standards. You also will begin to see what works and what doesn’t, plot-wise and writing-wise.
One more bit of advice: Enjoy the journey. Sure, we all write to be read. But it might be a while from when you start writing to when you get published. And some stories might never get published at all. If you’re only in it for the publication credit at the end, you could get discouraged. Writing could become a slog or a chore. But if you enjoy the process of writing, the process of creation, you’ll be so much happier. So don’t let yourself get so wrapped up in the end result that you can’t enjoy the actual writing. After all, you got into this field because you like writing, right? Don’t lose sight of that.


Joan: Thank you, Barb, for all of this excellent advice!

John Floyd

It is most appropriate to have John Floyd as my guest this month–short story month. John is the most prolific, published and paid short story writer I know. His carefully crafted pieces garner many awards while also being placed in magazines like Woman’s World, Saturday Evening Post, Ellery Queen, and a host of others. Hearing from a top short story writer like John, shows us that someone who is talented and works hard can succeed in placing their work, deciphering what editors want, and get paid for the effort.

John Floyd is as gracious as he is talented and consented to be interviewed. You can find other bits and pieces of his advice on writing by simply googling his name–and if you do that you will pull up a mind-boggling list of his accomplishments. So, without further word from me, may I present, John Floyd!

1. When did you start writing? What drew you to the short story form and what keeps you writing short stories? Do you write short stories in other genres besides mystery?

John: I started writing in the late 80s, and finally—after my wife talked me into it—began submitting stories for publication in 1994.  I think what drew me to short stories was a love of those little anthology series on TV long ago: Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, One Step Beyond, Death Valley Days, etc.  I liked the fact that they featured stories that could be told, start to finish, in half an hour or so.  And yes, I’ve written and published stories in all genres—but most are mystery/suspense.

2. Do you write other forms as well? (blogging, articles, essays, novels, poems?) Do you focus on crime/mystery in these other forms?

John: I’ve written and published a number of articles and essays, but usually only when editors have requested them, and I’ve written three unpublished novels and (believe it or not) over 300 published poems in places like EQMMGritFarm & Ranch Living, and Writer’s Digest.  As for blogging, I posted a column every Saturday for four years at the mystery site http://criminalbrief.com and for the past eight years I’ve written a column every first, third, and fifth Saturday at SleuthSayers.org.  And yes, most of my other forms of writing have been focused on mystery/crime.

3. You have been widely published and widely awarded in the mystery field–what advice do you have for writers entering contests?
John: I used to advise my writing students to save their stories for paying publications instead of entering them in contests.  The odds of selling a story to a respectable magazine or anthology are usually better than the odds of winning first place in a contest—and I don’t like the fact that many contests charge entry fees.  But a lot of writers disagree with me, and happily enter every contest they can find.  Different strokes for different folks.

4. Advice for writers submitting to large national magazines like Women’s World and Ellery Queen?

John: Don’t let the circulation and reputation of these big national magazines intimidate you.  They still want and need good stories for every issue.  Send in your best work and see what happens.

5. Can you name some of your favorite magazines to read and to submit to?

John: My three favorite magazines to read (AND to submit to) are AHMMEQMM, and Strand Magazine.  Other favorites are Black Cat Mystery MagazineFlash Bang Mysteries, and The Saturday Evening Post.

6. What writing organizations do you belong to and why for each one? (Benefits you receive and skills you contribute to each, please)?

John: I belong only to the Short Mystery Fiction Society and Mystery Writers of America.  I like SMFS because it’s focused on short stories and because of the information shared there by fellow writers; as for MWA, I enjoy their Third Degree magazine and on several occasions I’ve participated in MWA-sponsored workshops and events.

7. What writing conferences have you found most helpful to you and why?

John: The only conference I attend regularly (though not as regularly as I should) is Bouchercon.  Many complain that it’s too big to be effective, but I always enjoy the opportunity it offers to meet readers and other writers, and to reconnect with old friends.


8. Do you have an agent? Do you feel an agent is helpful for short story writers or short writers putting together a collection?

John: I do have an agent who represents my novels and, occasionally, some of my stories.  He also handles any film projects that result from the stories.  In general, no, I don’t think short-story writers need an agent.

9. Have you ever served as a writing contest judge or an editor? What advice can you offer from that perspective

John: I have judged about a dozen fiction-writing contests, and have edited one anthology of short mystery fiction.  My advice, on the judging, is to make sure you have time enough to do that, before you commit—some of those contests involve a huge number of manuscripts.  The same goes for editing anthologies, and also be ready for some arguments with contributors about changes to their stories.  Some writers are a pleasure to work with; others are not.

10. What is the best piece of advice you ever received as a writer and what word or words of advice would you like to pass on to other writers? Anything else you wold like to add that I did not ask about?

John: The best advice I’ve received (and the best that I could pass on to others) is DON’T QUIT.  A professional writer is just an amateur writer who didn’t give up.  Other advice: Read as much as possible, in every genre; write something, or at least think about plots, every day; never pay ANYone ANYthing to consider or publish your work; learn the grammar rules and then break them if you need to; submit regularly to the big markets; let your finished stories “cool off” for a few days before submitting them; don’t use too many exclamation points; and read any interview conducted by Joan Leotta!!!


On the Premises

I’ve had to space these a bit father apart than one per month –hope to be up to one per month by summer. In the meantime, here is some good information from Tarl Kudrick and Bethany Granger Co-publishers of “On The Premises” magazine

They are wonderful to work with and their magazine is a market many of us in crime fiction may not have considered.

Here is the interview and good luck, fellow scribes.

Who are your target readers?

Our target readers are fans of short stories who like multiple genres. We’re not a “science fiction” or a “literary” or a “crime/mystery” magazine, even though we’ve published stories that fit these descriptions. We deliberately select contest premises that can be used in almost any genre of story. We want creative, compelling, well-crafted stories that are built around the (deliberately broad) contest premise. We’re kind of like the “Iron Chef” TV show, but for fiction. We tell authors, “Here’s an ingredient that might be difficult to work with. Make something amazing from it.”

Are you print or online?

We’re 100% on-line. We convert older issues into PDFs which can be printed, but we don’t print them ourselves. We use the program “Submittable” to handle contest entries and communication with authors. We never want to know who wrote a story until we’ve decided if it’s going to be published, and Submittable lets us send emails to authors without learning who they are.

Are you open to crime fiction?

Any story, regardless of genre, needs to be creative, compelling, well-crafted, and built around the contest premise. Put interesting characters into interesting situations and go from there.

What are automatic turnoffs for you?

Automatic turnoffs: (1) Lots of syntax problems, like spelling and grammar, and also formatting that tells me someone’s struggling to use a word processor correctly. (2) Blatant melodrama, where characters are shrieking and crying and acting all out of proportion to what’s really going on in the story. (3) The moment when we can figure out what’s going to happen next–and we’re right–we lose interest. We get a lot of stories that are pretty well written, with interesting characters and everything else we’re looking for, but by page three we’ve figured out exactly where the story is going and we could pretty much write the rest of it ourselves. That’s always disappointing.

What magazines do you read?

I [Tarl] subscribe to Ploughshares and Tin House. I used to subscribe to Glimmer Train, but I felt the range of stories they started publishing got too narrow. I scan a ton of on-line fiction magazines when I’m looking for short stories to recommend to our readers via our free 10-times-a-year newsletter.

When are you open for submissions?

We hold short story contests (1,000 to 5,000 words) every June and December. We hold “mini” contests (for extremely short stories, usually a maximum of 40 or 50 words) in April, May, October, and November.

Anything else you would like to tell writers?

We offer thoughts and advice about short story writing in our 10-times-a-year (every month except March and September) newsletter. You can subscribe to it from a link on our main page, www.OnThePremises.com.

Tarl Kudrick and Bethany Granger
Co-publishers of “On The Premises” magazine

Thank you Tarl and Bethany!



Go West!

Have you ever thought about writing a mystery that is set in the west? A real live western? If you love the old west (or the new west!) and want to write in that setting, you have another possible avenue for publication–magazines that cater to readers of westerns. This month’s interview is with Dennis Doty the editor of Saddlebag Dispatches

Joan: Can you tell us a little bit about your magazine–who are its target readers?

Dennis: Saddlebag Dispatches was the brainchild of the late Dusty Richards, author of over 150 western novels and past president of WWA. His vision was to create a world-class magazine where western writers new and old could showcase their work. Our target audience is both the baby-boomer traditional western fans and new young readers who might be reading a western for the first time. We look for themes of open country, unforgiving nature, struggles to survive and settle the land, freedom from authority, cooperation with fellow adventurers, and other experiences that human beings encountered on the frontier. We believe these themes resound with readers of all ages and backgrounds.


Joan: When did you start the magazine? Are you print and online or online only?

Dennis: Dusty and our publisher, Casey Cowan, released the first issue of Saddlebag Dispatches in the Fall of 2014. We are both a print and on-line magazine published semi-annually in Spring and Fall. Our Spring 2018 issue was a tribute to Dusty Richards, so we also made it available in a hard cover edition.

Joan: What do you think of mixing the crime and cowboy genres? What must a crime story have, in order for you to consider it?

Dennis: Crime has always been with us, so it fits well into a western story. For a crime story to be a good fit for us, it need only display one or more of the themes I mentioned above. The time period can be anywhere from post-Civil War to modern times where the cowboy spirit still lives. It should have an identifiable western theme of some sort, not just a detective story set in Fort Worth. An excellent example of this would be Michael McLean’s “Little Things” which appeared in our Summer 2018 issue and can be read here saddlebagdispatches.com/dispatch/ or Craig Johnson’s Longmire series of books.

Joan: What is an automatic turn off for you in a submission?

Dennis:  Obviously, poor writing will get a rejection. Dusty was a three-time Spur Award winner and our issues are liberally sprinkled with other Spur Award, Will Rogers, Buckle, and Peacemaker Award winners. Story is everything. If we get a compelling story is has every chance of getting published. If the story is set in the old west we expect historical accuracy and writers who fail to do their research seldom make the cut. If its a minor detail, our editors will make a correction but we do expect the writer to know their material.

 Joan:What magazines do you read and like?

Dennis: Unfortunately, between writing and editing, I don’t have the reading time I once did. If I have a chance to read, it’s usually novels or historical non-fiction. Magazines which can still catch my interest on occasion are Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, Mother Jones, and True West.

Joan: Do you have any upcoming calls for stories? Contests?

Dennis:We have a rolling submission period. Submissions for our Spring 2019 issue close on February 1st, but we are immediately open to submissions for the Fall issue. Submission guidelines can be found here: saddlebagdispatches.com/wanted/ We don’t sponsor any contests at this time, but it has been discussed.

Joan:Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers of my blog? 

Dennis: We’d love to hear from your readers and writers. Does their hard-boiled detective wear a Texas Ranger hat? Was the crime they’re writing about committed on a Native American reservation? Who robbed the rodeo secretary? It’s an unfortunate fact that cattle rustling still happens, we just don’t hang ‘em on the spot anymore. If they have a story that’s a good fit for us, we’ll be happy to publish it among some of the best western writers of today.And of course, while the magazine only publishes Western themed work, we’re always on the lookout for good crime novels through our parent company, Oghma Creative Media oghmacreative.com/.