13 August 2009

Bouchercon Guest Blogger #2 -- Debbi Mack

Welcome to the second installment of the Bouchercon guest bloggers series. Next up on the tour: Debbi Mack.

How I (Accidentally) Became a (Sort of) Short Story Writer
by Debbi Mack

You know, when I started making serious efforts to write and publish fiction, I intended to be a novelist.

The first novel I wrote was a hardboiled mystery featuring a lawyer-sleuth named Stephanie Ann "Sam" McRae. After it was critiqued by another author, who said, "I like it. This is publishable," I sent queries out to every agent I could. Got a few nibbles, even one request for the full manuscript—but no offers. Mostly what I got were rejections.

While I was doing all this, I got an idea for another Sam McRae novel. So I went to work on that. Finished it, sent it round to agents—and got more rejections. Not even nibbles this time.

As for short stories, I'd always heard they were HARD to write, that your story had to be told in the fewest words possible, resonate with readers in a profound, unforgettable way and end with a terribly clever twist. Sounded really hard! Plus how many markets were there for short story crime fiction? Let's see . . . one . . . two . . . (Are you counting the same two magazines I am? Yeah, I thought so.) Not a lot of markets, in any case.

Even so, I dashed off a short story for a contest. Didn't win, but placed third. Not bad, I thought. Maybe even something worth cleaning up and submitting elsewhere.

Then, the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime took blind submissions for its first anthology, CHESAPEAKE CRIMES. So I revised the story a bit and submitted it. And—what do you know—my first acceptance!

So, I started thinking—hey, maybe I should do a few more of these. So (in between novels, which I continued to write and pitch) I worked on several more short stories. I submitted to CHESAPEAKE CRIMES 2, but didn't make the cut that time. Oh, well, can't win them all.

Still there are many benefits to writing short stories, even if you want to be a novelist.

First, they're short. So even though that makes them tougher to write in some respects, it also means it won't take you forever to finish one.

Second, they can be a great way to break into publishing. After CHESAPEAKE CRIMES, I could finally say I was a published crime fiction writer. A big step, in my opinion.

Third, if you publish a few short stories now and then, it's a good way to keep your name out there between books. So even if some time lapses between novels (like, for some of us, several years?), you can claim active status as a fiction author by adding more short stories to your resume.

As a result, when a short story idea would hit me (and that's usually the way it felt—like it came to me in a flash), I'd sit down and start typing. Just get it down, see if it went anywhere. I've done this five or six times now—followed through and finished five. Of this number, three have been chosen to be published. And I'd like to polish up the others and submit those, too.

Meanwhile, I did finally find a publisher who accepted that second Sam McRae story, which was published as my first novel, IDENTITY CRISIS. I've written a third one and have lots more ideas for a series.

Now, three published short stories are, at best, a good start to a short story writing career. Nonetheless, it's occurred to me that my ratio of short stories to novels either published or pending same is 3-to-1 at this point. Which makes me primarily a short story writer—I guess.

And I sort of blundered my way into the whole thing.

I have to say I've learned several things from this. First, I actually enjoy writing short stories. They're fast, they're fun, they're challenging—I feel like I've really accomplished something when I write one.

Second, there's no money in short story writing. The markets are limited—two major crime fiction magazines, perhaps a few other less-obvious publications, some online ezines, the occasional open anthology and other than that, it's invite only, folks. And the pay? Well . . .

Third, I will do anything to be able to say I'm a published crime fiction writer, including writing short stories for a limited market and lousy pay.

And, if that's not devotion, what is?

Debbi Mack's novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, is a hardboiled mystery featuring female lawyer Sam McRae in a complex case of murder and identity theft. The novel was recently reissued in print and as an e-book. She's written other Sam McRae stories and would like to publish a whole series of them—when she finds a new publisher, that is. Her short stories have appeared in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES and BackAlleyWebzine.com. Debbi will have a short story in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES 4 to be published by Wildside Press in March 2010. Meanwhile, she keeps on writing more novels and, of course, short stories.


Peg Brantley said...

Good post, Debbi!

Publishing credits are publishing credits. Agents and editors hear "craft" and "dedication" as the credits roll passed them.

Very good!

Good luck on that publisher search.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peg! Hope springs eternal and I keep trying to keep my chin up. :)

Camille Minichino said...

I agree, a credit is a credit, and everyone in the business knows the dedication it takes to produce one publishable piece. Or even a decent blog!

You're well on your way, Debbi, and from your photo (so young!) you have a long career ahead of you.

Looking forward to meeting you at B'con!

Camille/Margaret Grace

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Camille! Ah--if only I were as young as people say I look. :) Thanks for that, too.

See you at Bouchercon!

Chester Campbell said...

Interesting post, Debbi. As for the young part, you're doing great. My first published novel came at 76. I now have five on the shelf and another in the hopper. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Chester! That's truly awesome. And I don't mean that just the way the "kids" do. ;-)

Thanks for your encouraging words. And keep writing those books, too.