Thursday, March 16, 2006

Pro-File: Michael Bracken

Michael Bracken is the author of 11 books--including ALL WHITE GIRLS, BAD GIRLS, DEADLY CAMPAIGN, TEQUILA SUNRISE, and YESTERDAY IN BLOOD AND BONE--and nearly 800 short stories that have appeared in literary, small press, and commercial publications worldwide. He is the editor of FEDORA, FEDORA II, FEDORA III, HARDBROILED, SMALL CRIMES, and three additional crime fiction anthologies currently in press.

He serves as vice president of the Private Eye Writers of America, recently completed three terms as vice president of the Mystery Writers of America's Southwest Chapter, and is also an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Bracken's "Dreams Unborn" was named one of the best mystery short stories of the year by the editors of THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2005, "All My Yesterdays" received a Derringer Award, "Cuts Like a Knife" was short-listed for the Derringer Award, and "Of Dreams Unborn" appeared on the preliminary ballot for the Nebula Award. Stories from Bracken's anthologies have been short-listed for the Anthony, Derringer, Edgar, and Shamus awards.

In addition to writing and editing fiction, Bracken is editor of SENIOR NEWS, a monthly newspaper distributed throughout Texas, and managing editor of TEXAS GARDENER, a bi-monthly consumer magazine. His non-fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including ATLANTA PARENT, MOTHERING, MYSTERY SCENE, and THE WRITER. He has edited corporate and organization newsletters, and has received many regional awards for advertising copywriting. He regularly speaks about writing, editing, and publishing to audiences across the U.S.

A full-time freelance writer/editor, Bracken lives with his family in Waco, Texas.

1. Tell us about your current book.

YESTERDAY IN BLOOD AND BONE (2005) is a collection of 20 mystery short stories, 18 of which first appeared in various commercial, literary, and small press publications. Two stories--including the title story--are original to this volume.

Of particular interest are "City Desk," my first published mystery, and "Yesterday in Blood and Bone," both of which feature St. Louis newspaper reporter Dan Fox. "City Desk" originally appeared in the January 1983 GENTLEMAN'S COMPANION and I have revisited the protagonist three times since then.

In "Yesterday in Blood and Bone," one of my longest stories at 18,800 words, Fox witnesses the murder of veteran newspaper reporter Benjamin "Bucky" Weaver and learns of the death of Alderman William Kelvin. Fox finds himself searching deep into the past to discover how the two men were connected and why someone would want them dead. In the process, Fox learns a lesson about prejudice, 1950's justice, and how the power of the press is sometimes embodied in the things that aren't said.

2. Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?

Unlike many writers, I am not a novelist. I am a short story writer who occasionally writes a novel. At any given moment, I have a few dozen short stories in progress. Earlier this week I completed a story about a woman whose son disappears on a mission trip to Central America. I'm trying to finish a horror story about a haunted wardrobe and I keep tinkering with two stories featuring Waco-based P.I. Morris Ronald Boyette and three stories featuring St. Louis-based P.I. Nathaniel Rose.

I also hope to edit additional crime fiction anthologies, so I continue to create and submit proposals.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

I daydream for dollars. I make up stuff and people pay me for it. How cool is that?

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?

The greatest displeasure is the absolute unpredictability of income. If I didn't have a spouse with a steady paycheck and medical insurance, writing for a living would be quite difficult.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Writing might be an art, or it might be a craft, but publishing is a business. Learn the business.

Too many would-be writers and would-be publishers fail to comprehend that basic fact and they get themselves into trouble. They sign contracts they don't understand or they make promises they can't keep.

Technology has evolved so that it is now possible for every boy and his dog to start a publishing company on a shoestring and many would-be writers are so desperate for the immediate gratification of "publication" that they let their unrealistic expectations blind them to the realities of publishing. The publishers fail; the writers get burned.

So: Learn the business.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

Walter R. Brooks. His 26-book series about Freddy the Pig--who just might be the greatest detective alive--introduced me to mysteries when I was a child. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys couldn't hold my attention the way Freddy did. (A quick check on-line reveals that some of the Freddy the Pig books have been reprinted within the past few years. I think they all should be.)

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

I sold my first novel to a non-traditional publisher, and not entirely by intent.

DEADLY CAMPAIGN, a novel about St. Louis newspaper reporter Dan Fox, kicked around publishing houses for years. Many years. I tinkered with it. I revised it. Still, it went out and it came back.

In June of 1992 I submitted the unsolicited manuscript--the entire thing--to audiobook publisher Books In Motion. I knew nothing about the company and can't even swear at this late date that I knew they weren't a traditional ink-on-paper publisher. I just saw the company listed in a market report and took a chance.

On January 27, 1994, Gary Challender phoned from Books in Motion and told me they wanted to release my novel.

I could barely stand upright long enough to finish the phone call. Then I collapsed on the floor with joy.

A month later I received, signed, and returned the contract, and Books in Motion released DEADLY CAMPAIGN in May of 1994. (Six more years passed before the novel finally appeared in print. Go figure.)


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