Gray Listing

As you may know, if you’ve been following this space for a while, I quit subbing short stories for publication to run them myself. The paying markets for crime are almost nil unless you get an anthology invite. So until then, short fiction is going to be something of a garage band arrangement.

As Jim.

As Dick, I’m still subbing to paying markets. After a couple years of fine-tuning and reworking, I’ve discovered something. I am going to have to “gray list” a handful of markets. What’s gray listing?

While science fiction has a wealth of places to submit, there are a handful of markets that, despite what they say, really want to see a track record. Are you famous amongst the spec ficcers? Do #gamergate idiots want to boycott you? (Hint: That means you’ve made it, kids. Go thou and piss them off. It’ll boost your sales.) Did Tor or some other imprint buy your work? If so, you can get into these magazines because your name will sell copies. (Or in the case of tor.com’s short story page, draw page hits.)

When I first started subbing stories to pro markets, I decided to aim high and send to the biggest names in SF fiction. Every one has been shot down. Then it occurred to me that, until Dick either sells a novel to a trad house or manages to move a bunch of copies on his own, they’re not going to talk to me. Do I want to sell to them?

Does a tauntaun shit in the snow?

But that’s not going to happen now. So I’m gray listing them. What’s gray listing (for the second time, Jim)? Simple. White listing is a list of people, markets, or whatever that meet your approval automatically. No questions asked. Black listing, which many of us do to car companies, insurance carries, brands of beer, and so on, means this person, company, market, whatever is banned from doing business or interacting with you. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. Go directly to jail. For instance, I will never own another Chrysler product again. The Neon was just such a sloppily built vehicle that I can’t bring myself to make five years of payments on another one. So I have blacklisted Chrysler. I also have blacklisted one short story market for sending one set of specs for a story, then publishing a completely different set of specs. Mind you, I know there are exceptions, but their submissions requirements were so obscure that I had to go through back channels to get them. After being asked to submit. Sure, the pay there would be good, but I think a writer has a right to ask for some clarity.

Gray listing is different. Gray listing means you take the person, place, or thing out of the equation until the time comes when you and the person, place, or thing in question can work for mutual benefit. Hence, Large SF Market Oligarchy™ will not get anymore submissions until Dick becomes someone they would be interested in. Or they ask, which would be cool. One market I’ve stopped subbing to because of this, but also because they only take hard copy submissions. Hello! It’s 2014!

The reason is simple. If it’s highly unlikely an editor is not going to accept a submission regardless of how good it is, then the time spent waiting on approval or rejection is time wasted. Yes, prestige is all well and good, but I (as Dick) want two things: SFWA-approved credits and payment. I really want that last one. I’m a middle-aged man staring at years of student loan payments and want to get rid of a couple of mortgages.

So gray listing’s your buddy. You’re not wasting your time. You’re not wasting a magazine staff’s time (and believe me, the slush pile is an enormous time suck). You’re being efficient. And if one of those gray listed markets sends you a request, then the list has done its job. Win-win.

Get Into Jim’s Shorts: October Edition

Boxer briefs

CC 2008 Luis2402

It’s Rocktober! Which means it’s time for a new short story, this time with a Halloween theme (and maybe even the Day of the Dead, which takes place on November 1.) If last month’s contained hints of the setting for Holland Bay, this month’s story actually takes place in the titular neighborhood.

Entitled “Trick or Treat,” three diminutive gangsta wannabes get in touch with their inner Omar Little. (Remember him from The Wire?) Two minor characters from Holland Bay put in an appearance. They also drop hints about the novel’s storyline.

If you like the story, feel free to drop a line in the comments section. Enjoy.

The Compleat Kepler: The Confessor

cover-smallThe Confessor

The final story in this collection is “The Confessor,” about a man in Antebellum New Orleans who is mistaken for an Episcopal priest. The man, a wine trader named Jack Lucas, does nothing to correct this perception because he recognizes the old man who wants to unburden himself. See, Jack came to America from Italy and assimilated as a way of fitting in. And he remembers tales from his youth in Tuscany of “crazy old Montressor.”

How crazy is crazy old Montressor? Well, Edgar Allen Poe wrote a story about him, “A Cask of Amontillado.” For those of you rusty on your Poe or who have never read the story, Montressor is a man explaining how he lured a man named Fortunado to his death over some perceived insult that is never explained. While reading the story, I got the impression that the slight was all in Montressor’s mind. One other question arose the last time I read it.

Who in the hell is he talking to?

What follows after the jump is the answer.

Continue reading

The Votes Are In

Over the last couple of weeks, I asked for input on what book I should release next. To recap, those choices were…

  • Bad Religion – the next Kepler novel that still needs a little work
  • The Compleat Winter – the collection of non-Kepler short stories
  • Winter of Discontent – the blog in book form
  • An ebook of me writing about rock n’ roll

To the three of you that voted, thank you.

Seriously, though, the overwhelming opinion is that I should do Bad Religion next.

The Compleat Winter and the rock and roll book tied for second.

Nobody wants to read this blog as an ebook. But then, you already get the blog for free, don’t you?

Bad Religion will appear some time this summer.

The Compleat Kepler: A Walk In The Rain

cover-smallerA Walk in the Rain

A number of things came together one April night in 2001. Over the past two years, I became reacquainted with a high school friend who had become a professional musician. She had told me some of what had happened over the intervening years, including a failed marriage to a man who could best be described as a psychopath. That part of her story was very much on my mind that rainy spring night.

I had just finished the outline to Northcoast Shakedown and wanted to get a few short stories written to flesh out Nick Kepler. I’d written a couple already – “Race Card” and “Valentine’s Day,” but one was out with an editor (Gerald So, the first interaction of what became a long friendship), the other in dire need of a rewrite. But while thinking about my friend and that dark chapter of her past, I had a WWNKD moment. (“What Would Nick Kepler Do?”)

I had to run out to the Kroger around the corner. I walked. It was the cliched “dark and stormy night,” though the storm had blown through already, leaving everything damp and gleaming. On the way back, I imagined Nick walking down a deserted stretch of highway near Cleveland. I thought of a suburb called North Royalton and how Route 3 into Brunswick, another suburb, is pretty much a country road. So why would Nick be walking along the highway?

Sarcastically, I thought he might have stuffed my friend’s ex-husband into a car crusher. But Nick is not a murderer. But would he cover up a murder? I started writing about 8 that evening. I finished up shortly before midnight with 5000 or so words. It was one of those white heat moments writers live for.

I waited a couple of days, went over it one more time, and cast about for a place to submit. I wanted to send it to Blue Murder, but they were “on hiatus” (ie – on life support). So they were out. Thrilling Detective had “Race Card” and I had yet to investigate Nefarious, Judas, and a couple other web zines that have since shuffled off the cyber coil. Then I found Plots With Guns. They had just started up and wanted stories around 5000 words or less. It had to be dark. And it had to have a gun. Angie Warren, Nick’s childhood friend, killed her boyfriend with the gun he’d come to shoot her with. Dark and gun? Check. Off it went to Neil Smith for perusal.

He took it with very few changes requested. Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Winter was in the game.

“A Walk in the Rain” is still one of my favorites. Of the Keplers, it’s right up there with “Full Moon Boogie.” I’ve seldom had a story come together so fast and not require a lot of work on the back end. “A Walk in the Rain” was a rarity.

The Compleat Kepler: Valentine’s Day

cover-smallerValentine’s Day

“Valentine’s Day” was the second Kepler story I’d ever written. It was also the second one published, having appeared in Nefarious: Tales of Mystery, which is still around after all this time.

This was an odd one. The character of Greta Rensileer came first. She was based on someone I knew from an Internet discussion group who was obsessed with William Shatner. Now, she wasn’t the only one I knew like that. I had a really good friend who started a podcast about all things Shatner that recently has added digs at Chris Pine (aka the new Captain Kirk) to its snark repertoire. However, my friend is amused by her own crush. Greta’s inspiration?

Not so much. In fact, my friend and I were discussing how creepy this person was. Casting about for new trouble to get Nick into, I thought of our mutual acquaintance and thus Greta was born. Of course, like any character inspired by a real person, they generally take on a life of their own. Greta was no exception. She bears no resemblance to my creepier Shatner-obsessed acquaintance.

I started with Shatner himself and found a photo of him online from his pre-Star Trek days. I thought he looked like Clark Gable without the mustache. I didn’t want to use Shatner himself. Kepler would likely recognize him, especially with a Star Trek-obsessed pal. So I used the description for the photo and worked from there.

Was he real? Was this person actually Sam Jameson (Trek fans will get the inside joke with that name) a living, breathing entity? As time goes by, and Nick runs into more and more brick walls, and occasionally fists, he’s not so sure. Moreover, Greta’s attention toward him becomes more and more uncomfortable. She’s a strange one, taken to doing bizarre sculpture in the nude, finding Nick’s apartment without his telling her. Nick concludes he has a stalker.

It was a fun story to write, one I sent to my friend, she of the Shatner podcast. She immediately knew who had inspired it, even if Greta was her own living, breathing person. A cruel joke? I didn’t crow about it. I generally try not to base characters on real people if I can help it. Public figures are an exception, but we only see public figures’ personas, seldom their private lives. And Greta’s inspiration? Never met her in real space. So Greta is quite likely unlike the person we saw on the Internet.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Frank Jr

(Patti Abbot issued a flash fiction challenge based on a photo and a name. The photo disappeared, but the name remains: Frank, Jr. I immediately thought of a famous Frank, Jr. who had himself a bad three-day stretch in late 1963. And it might have sounded a little like this.)

“Listen, Johnny, why am I here?”

They stood outside room 417, the snow fall blanketing Reno with an early December coating.

“I thought you and I were here for forty grand,” said Johnny, a skinny 25-year-old kid sitting.

“Why?”

Joe, the older sad-eyed man leaning against the railing, took out a Lucky and lit it. “I mean what’s my job?”

“You just sound tough when Barry gets the old man on the phone.”

“He’s had the old man on the phone. And he’s doing all the talking.” He offered a cigarette to Johnny. “The kid’s insane, you know.”

“Junior?”

“Barry. Junior can see what this is. We’re amateurs. You think Junior don’t know amateurs? You know who the old man’s closest pals are?”

“Sammy and Dino?”

“Try Sammy and Jack, as in Giancana and Kennedy. The old man can bring heaven and hell down on our heads any time he wants.”

Johnny laughed. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Jack Kennedy died a couple of weeks ago. There was something about it in the newspapers.”

Joe took a drag on his cigarette and held it for a few before release a tremendous cloud of smoke from his lungs. “All I’m saying is this is nothing we should be mixed up in. The old man’s got clout on both sides of the law. If G men don’t have us breaking rocks in Leavenworth, some of those Chicago guys will just make us disappear.”

“You having second thoughts, Joe?”

“Aren’t you?”

Johnny shoved his hands in his pockets. “Look, Barry’s got problems. He lost all his cash. His wife dumped him. His back is killing him.”

“He eats percodan like candy and hears voices in his head.” He threw away the cigarette. “He’s worse than his old man.”

“That’s right,” said Johnny. “You used to date his mother.”

“She was a nice piece of ass, a little dim, but great in the sack.”

“Barry know you had his mom?”

“Do I care?”

“Fair enough.”

“Look, this is a hare-brained scheme, and you know it. We were supposed to nab Junior in LA, but the kid got cold feet.”

“We’d have done it two weeks ago, but they whacked the president on national television.”

“Thought you said it was in the papers.”

Johnny looked at Joe confused.

Joe laughed. “You know why he finally went ahead with it this week?”

“Because it was time?”

“Because we don’t have enough money to pay for our hotel. We need the ransom just to pay for our fucking room. Christ, Johnny, we had to borrow gas money from Junior in there. And do you see that smirk on his face every time we talk? He ain’t scared of us. He knows we’re amateurs.”

“Barry’ll get the money. Barry’s good with money.”

“Then why did he lose it all? And another thing, what if the old man won’t pay? You gonna shoot Junior?”

Johnny didn’t have an answer to that.

“Well?” When all Johnny did was look away, Joe said, “That’s what I thought. See, I killed people. Only it was in Korea. They were Koreans. Armed Koreans, not some peasant trying to scratch out a living in field. Only reason I killed them was they were shooting at me. Since I got out of the Army, I ain’t shot anyone. Only Koreans I see own a grocery store down the street.”

“Barry will get the money.”

“If he doesn’t, do you think it’s worth the gas chamber?”

Johnny seemed to be shaking and pulled his jacket tighter around himself. “You got a smoke?”

Joe shook out a Lucky for him and offered him a light. “So what about it? I didn’t sign on to kill nobody. I sure as hell don’t want to be on the wrong end of the old man’s wrath if we have to kill him.”

“We’re not killing Junior.”

“You don’t know that. For all you know, the woods are crawling with Feds while two Vegas shooters are down in the lobby waiting for us.”

“Look, are you in or out?” said Johnny. “If you’re out, just go.”

Before Joe could respond, the door opened. The clean-cut blonde kid with a crew-cut poked his head outside. “Sinatra just called. He’s paying. Joe, go to the drop and get the money. Johnny, I need you to take Junior home as soon as we count the cash.”

Inside, Frank Sinatra, Jr. shook his head, laughed, and went back to his game of solitaire.

You Need More Pulp In Your Diet

Pulp Metal Magazine, the nasty noir web zine from Jason Michel, is back with its Spring 2012 edition. I bring this up because yours truly has written a tale of two drug lords who discover their supplier is not only bat shit insane, but is giving their federal nemeses a bad hair day. “Joey Tran” tells the tale of why organized crime should avoid taking a play from al Qaeda’s book when they need to solve a problem.

Also, new fiction by Katy O’Dowd, KA Laity, UV Ray, Daniel Mkiwa, Ben Renner, AJ Savage, Craig Wallwork, Melanie Browne, Michael Keenaghan, Colin Graham, Samantha Traina, Rob Bliss, Jaime Grefe, Craig Caudill, Richard Shiers, Dr. Mel Waldman, Stephen Cooper, and CR Fausset.

Northcoast Shakedown: The Nick Kepler Chronology

In the run-up to Northcoast Shakedown, I wrote a series of short stories to help me get a handle on Nick’s background. They did not get published in order, and only one, “Flight of the Rat,” has an actual date. (September 11, 2001, and for obvious reasons.) If you look at the short story page, you can see the publication order of the stories. However, if you want to see Nick’s actual chronology, here it is:

Race Card” – January, 1999

A Walk in the Rain” – April, 1999

Valentine’s Day” – February, 2000

Just Like Suicide” – April, 2001

Wring That Neck” – May, 2001

Full Moon Boogie” – July, 2001

Flight of the Rat” – September 11, 2001

Demon’s Eye” – November, 2001

Cold Cocked” – January, 2002

Roofies” – March, 2002

Might Just Take Your Life” – May, 2002

Love Don’t Mean a Thing” – July, 2002

Northcoast Shakedown – August, 2002

Lady Luck” – September, 2002

“Wasted Sunsets” (novella, in progress) – November, 2002

“Gyspy’s Kiss” (in progress) – January, 2003

Second Hand Goods – (coming soon) July, 2003