Assessments 2022 / Goals 2023

By N. M. Cedeño

We’ll start with assessments:

I started 2022 with the goal of getting short stories published. In aid of that goal, I set another goal: to submit an average of three stories per month to magazines, anthologies, or contests. That’s thirty-six submissions. Why choose an average instead of a fixed monthly goal? Because I knew with travel, family responsibilities, and holidays, some months would be more difficult than others. As expected, June and July had only two submissions each. December might be the same. Giving myself the flexibility to submit four stories one month to make up for months with only two stories submitted was a practical decision. I know how these things go, so I wasn’t going to shoot myself in the foot by making the goal too rigid to meet.

End results:

I met my goal. By December, I submitted thirty-six stories to various markets to be considered for publication. I also submitted five stories for consideration for awards or recognition that includes publication. If I count those five as additional “submissions,” then I blew my goal out of the water.

Publications:

During 2022, seven of my short stories were published or reprinted in various magazines, e-zines, and anthologies. This is nothing compared to the John Floyds of the world, but pleasing for someone who only decided to focus on short fiction publication in 2020.

Six of seven covers for 2022. Seven is an awkward number!
  1. January: e-zine, Black Cat Weekly #19– “A Reasonable Expectation of Privacy” (reprint)
  2. February: anthology, After Dinner Conversation: Season Five – “The Wrong Side of History” (reprint)
  3. March: anthology, Crimeucopia: Say What Now?– “Reaching for the Moon”
  4. April: anthology, Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties– “Nice Girls Don’t”
  5. June: e-zine, Black Cat Weekly #37– “Serenity, Courage, Wisdom”
  6. August: magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine #12– “It Came Upon a Midnight Ice Storm”
  7. December: e-zine, Black Cat Weekly #68– “Merry Library Murder”

Firsts for 2022:

For the first time, an editor approached me because someone else had failed to supply a story. This led to another first: I produced a story— from researching the historical background to submitting the finished product— in about three weeks. Was the final product as polished as I would have liked? No. But, in the end, the only issues left were minor.

For the first time, I had a story “featured” on the cover of a magazine. “Merry Library Murder” is the featured story in Black Cat Weekly #68, which was published the week before Christmas. Seeing that cover was a lovely surprise and a fabulous Christmas present.

For the first time, I submitted some of my stories for consideration in “Best of” mystery anthologies, which is a box checked on a list of professional goals. I wondered: Should I let the editors submit for me? Or should I submit my own stories? Many authors wait on this sort of thing and let others, like editors, decide. But, where is the wisdom in not putting your work forward, not ensuring it will be seen and considered? Just as work left in the drawer won’t be published, work never sent for consideration for awards won’t be recognized with awards.

Goals for 2023:

  • Increase my writing productivity.

During the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, I was surprisingly (given the stress of those years) prolific. My writing output was steady. But 2022 did not go as well. My productivity in 2022 was much less than I had hoped. In speaking to other writers, I’ve heard many say that they felt like they hit a wall at some point in the last two years. They felt their energy levels plummet, and they felt like they didn’t have the emotional energy to invest in their writing. I too felt an energy drop this year. Instead of writing new material, I frequently focused on editing and submitting what I had already written. I kept working, but not always on new words. While I did produce new short stories, I didn’t write as many as in previous years. My creative batteries must have needed a recharge.

  • Keep submitting short stories.

I intend to keep my focus on short fiction for now. People keep asking when I will write another novel. I don’t know. Short fiction comes far more naturally than novels for me. I have always found novel writing to be a slog. Short stories are fun. So maybe I’ll focus on writing more stories than last year and submit three per month again? Or I could try for four submissions a month. Hmm. Things to think about. Decisions to be made.

  • Attempt to build relationships with more editors

As a wise editor told me: editors die or retire. Writers must build relationships with many editors to ensure a steady stream of story acceptances and publications.

  • Delegate when possible.

I’ve been elected president of my local SinC chapter again, starting in January. I’ve served on the chapter board in various capacities over the years: as vice-president, as president, as immediate past president. The position of president can be the equivalent of taking on a part-time job, or even a full time job, if I don’t delegate. People are very reluctant to volunteer right now. I may have to beg, plead, and twist some arms, which I hate to do. But I also hate to see something good fall apart for lack of volunteers. Wish me luck.

Libraries and “Merry Library Murder”

By N. M. Cedeño

The fact that the victim in my upcoming story entitled “Merry Library Murder” is a librarian is not a sign of hidden hostility or wishful thinking. Rather, the opposite is true. I set the story in a library because I spend a lot of time in libraries. Most of my reading material comes from the library, and I am a long-term library volunteer.

Of the many volunteering opportunities available in my children’s schools, the one to which I always gravitate is the assisting in the library. At one point, when I had an elementary, middle, and high school student in the house, I volunteered in all three libraries on a rotating basis each month. I started volunteering in school libraries about fifteen years ago and am still volunteering at the local high school library.

While volunteering, I’ve labeled, weeded, discarded, scanned into inventory, removed from inventory, added genre stickers to, added series number stickers to, shelved, checked-in, checked-out, magnetized, and demagnetized books. The books I’ve inventoried probably number well over 100,000. I’ve unpacked boxes of new books, packed boxes of old books, and shifted books on shelves. I’ve helped rescue books from a termite invasion and assembled and mounted signage. I once went through almost every picture book in an elementary school library to place red stickers on the spines of the ones with reading tests available for them. That meant looking up every single book on the computer to see if it had an associated test before placing or not placing a sticker on it. In order to raise funds for libraries, I’ve operated registers at more Scholastic Book Fairs than I can remember.

Last year, I helped genre-fy the entire fiction section of a high school library. How does one genre-fy a library? One separates the books by genre and creates sections: adventure, horror, science fiction, mystery, suspense, supernatural, fantasy, realistic, romance, historical, sports, humor, and classics. Graphic novels get their own section and genres, as do the books in languages other than English. This process required me to shift all the non-fiction books to make space. Consequently, I may be the only one in the entire community who has held almost every single book in the local high school library in my hands. That’s over 30,000 books.  

By far the most painful library duty I’ve ever performed is weeding fiction books. Removing fiction books from the collection that have sat on a shelf for years, untouched and unread, is a sad thing to do. But it’s something that has to be done. Shelf space is limited and new books are coming out every day.

Weeding non-fiction books that haven’t been read in years is less painful. If the material in the book is obsolete, it deserves to be removed from the library to make room for more current material. Who wants to read “How to Build a Webpage” out of a manual written in 1996? Books on teen pregnancy resources from the 1980s aren’t likely to be helpful to anyone today either. The oldest books I pulled from the shelves were from the early 1950s. They may have been useful in an archive somewhere, but not a high school library. After a day of weeding books, my hands are usually black with grime from decades of accumulated dust.

So to reiterate: I love libraries. And librarians. And Library Assistants, too. Many thanks to all the library staff I’ve worked with over the years. Sara, Becky, Maureen, Sarah, Ronda, Charity, Christina, Carole, Alyson, and all the rest, you are the best!

However, the victim in my upcoming short story, entitled “Merry Library Murder,” is a librarian. And yes, she is murdered in her own library during her town’s holiday festival. But this story is a holiday who-dunnit. Which means that justice will be served. If you’re looking for a quick holiday mystery, watch for Black Cat Weekly #68, coming out in late December. Or subscribe to Black Cat Weekly and get great reading delivered to your inbox every Sunday.

*All pictures by Pixabay.

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com

Writing “It Came Upon a Midnight Ice Storm”

By N.M. Cedeño

People like to ask writers, do you ever use details from your life in your writing? Answer: Sometimes. It depends on what I’m writing. If I’m writing science fiction or noir, nothing in the story may be evocative of my life. Other times, details from my life do creep into my stories. “It Came Upon a Midnight Ice Storm” is one of those stories that has a bit of my life in it.

Black Cat Mystery Magazine #12

Written originally in 2010 or 2011, the manuscript sat forgotten in a file for seven or eight years before I decided to revise and submit it for publication. The story is available in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #12, the special cozies edition, edited by Michael Bracken.

Without further ado, here are some things from my life that influenced my writing of the story “It Came Upon a Midnight Ice Storm.”

  • The story is set in Dallas during a Christmas Eve ice storm that traps a party of houseguests together overnight. Trouble ensues when one guest accuses the others of stealing her bracelet. I grew up in Dallas County where ice storms hit the city every few years. The city doesn’t get frozen precipitation often enough for anyone to have to drive on it with any regularity. When an ice storm hits and coats everything with an inch of ice, the city shuts down and everyone stays home for a day or two until it melts. Historical note: the first draft of the story was written about ten years before the 2021 catastrophic ice storm that hit Texas. Texans are used to ice storms hitting sections of the state. Ice storms big enough to coat the entire state in frozen precipitation for a week, as happened in 2021, are a whole other matter.
Things I’ve baked and decorated.
N.M. Cedeño
  • The main character in the story, Eleanor, spent the day baking and preparing for a Christmas Eve family gathering. I enjoy baking. A lot. Cookies, cakes, brownies, muffins, quick breads, scones, and scratch-made baking powder biscuits are the favorites in my house. Pies and fudge appear seasonally. As much as I enjoy baking, there have been times, usually after prepping for an event, where I have been utterly tired of baking, a feeling shared by my main character.
  • Eleanor’s husband Joe has three siblings with whom he is close in age. I come from a large family and grew up with two brothers and two sisters for a total of five of us, plus two parents, plus assorted dogs. Between friends and relatives our house was frequently packed. Holidays in my family have always involved a lot of people, and, thus, family dynamics. However, none of the characters in the story are like my siblings or my husband’s siblings.  
Nativity scene from Pixabay
  • As with Joe’s family in the story, my husband’s family has a Christmas tradition involving setting up a prominently-displayed, elaborate Nativity scene in their home in which the infant Jesus in the display remains covered from head-to-toe in a cloth until December 25th.
  • According to the character Luke, Die Hard is a classic Christmas movie. Most of my family would agree with this statement.
  • Like Becky in the story, two of my siblings and my eldest son attended UT Dallas.
  • Among my more than a dozen nieces and nephews you will find an Eleanor, a Joseph, a Luke, a Rebecca (not called Becky), and a (middle name) Helen (not Helene). However, two of them were born AFTER the characters in this story were named and, in truth, all of the names are coincidental. I wasn’t thinking of anyone in particular when I named the characters. This isn’t the first time I have used a family member’s first name for a character. If the first name fits, I use it.

The above are all details to the story. The plot about the disappearance of an expensive bracelet during a Christmas Eve party is entirely fictional.

*****

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com

When Submitting Short Stories to Markets, Patience is Required

By N.M. Cedeño

How long does it take to hear back from editors with acceptances or rejections of short stories? That depends on a number of variables, but in most cases in the world of short mystery fiction, patience is required.

How much patience?

I currently have stories that have been pending for 387 days, 200 days, and 190 days, respectively.

For the story pending the longest, I heard from the editor about several issues that have delayed responses. He made it clear that those who submitted are free to submit elsewhere, and, if the story is picked up by another market, to simply withdraw it from him. However, the story was written for a very specific call for submissions. I would have to re-edit the manuscript and change details to make it submittable elsewhere. So for the moment, I’ve decided to wait and see what happens rather than submit the story to another market.

The manuscript currently at 200 days post submission will probably not receive a response until a full year has passed. I know this because it’s submitted to one of the most prestigious markets in short mystery fiction, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The statistics on how long AHMM takes to respond to submissions are available online at The Submission Grinder. The average response time is currently 371 days. I know of authors who won’t submit to the magazine because of the extreme length of response time and low odds of acceptance. My current thinking, which may change at some point, is that if I don’t submit, I’ll have no chance of getting published by the magazine. The wait is the price I have to pay for that opportunity.

The next story, submitted 190 days ago, is a bit more perplexing. I submitted it early, well before the call deadline. So although the editor has had it for six months, the deadline for submissions was three months ago. From what I can see online and from asking other authors, no one has had a response from the editor yet. Since the call for submissions didn’t give a timeline for responses, only the planned publication date, which is just a few months away at this point, I sent an email inquiring if my story was still being considered. Sadly, I haven’t received a response to my query. Unless I want to withdraw the submission and try to submit the piece elsewhere, all I can do is have patience and wait to see if anyone else receives a response or if the editor responds to my query.

These three stories submissions represent the longest wait times for responses that I usually experience from markets that actually bother to send responses. (Some markets never respond unless they want the story. And, yes, that’s REALLY ANNOYING.)

Many markets respond much faster to submissions than the above examples. Data on response times for various magazines can be found on The Submission Grinder and other places online. Waiting a few weeks to receive a response is common, as is waiting a few months. But the need for patience doesn’t end with the submission process.

And then, wait some more…

Once a story is accepted, the wait to publication begins. The longest I’ve had a short story pending publication after acceptance is currently at 16 months and counting. I’ve heard from authors who’ve waited as long as two years between acceptance and publication of a short story in a magazine. In this case, the story will be published shortly because I received the proof pages from the editor a few weeks ago. It’s coming … eventually.

To reiterate: In writing and submitting short mystery fiction for publication, patience isn’t merely a virtue, it’s a necessity.

*****

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.

Facing a Writing Challenge

by N. M. Cedeño

Many writers find motivation in challenging themselves in various ways. Some attempt to write a novel length manuscript each November as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Some writers set daily, weekly, or monthly word count targets as challenges to meet. Most do this because they know that when they challenge themselves, they find out what they are capable of accomplishing and learn to push themselves to accomplish more.

Sometimes we writers set these goals for ourselves, other times someone, like an editor in need of a story, provides the challenge for us.

Opportunity Knocks:

In the last week of May 2022, I received an unexpected writing challenge. It arrived in the form of an email from an editor, inviting me to submit a short crime fiction story for an anthology. The catch was that the original deadline, which the editor was willing to extend for me, was only about a week away.

I read the submission criteria, considered my options, and reviewed what was already on my schedule. Then I asked for a month, June, to submit the story, not knowing if that would work for the editor’s timeline.

Could I have said no? Sure. But I recognized that the challenge was also an opportunity to show myself and the editor what I was capable of doing. I was afraid the editor might need the story sooner than my suggested deadline and that he might say no.

The editor replied to my email, agreeing to give me until the end of June to submit the story.

Hooray! And Yikes! I had a deadline to meet.

Meeting the Deadline:

The short story had to fit the specifications for the anthology in question which meant that it had to be set during a particular time period and incorporate some historical event. The time in question happens to be the decade in which I was born, so I have no personal memories of historical events from then. I had to do research. Normally, I research until I get a good grasp for an era before writing. I’ve been known to fall down research rabbit holes and find far more material than I need. My research process had to be curtailed to cover only what was essential: the time and place where I was going to set the story.

Next, I selected a previously created character to make a second appearance in my new story. That character, a private detective named Jerry Milam, appeared in a story called “Nice Girls Don’t” which I wrote for the anthology Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties. Already having a protagonist saved me from having to create a main character from scratch.

After researching the decade and selecting a protagonist, writing the first draft took about three days, resulting in a manuscript that was missing some details. Then, I left on a previously scheduled, nine-day, family vacation, taking my laptop, but knowing I wouldn’t have time to do much work. As it turned out, I only opened the laptop twice during my trip, both times late in the evening.

Once I returned home, I went to work in earnest adding the details I knew were missing. The middle of the story felt muddled, so I reworked it in another draft the following day. Satisfied that the manuscript was complete, I emailed the story to two of the world’s best beta readers, two analytical and detail-oriented people who know that I WANT them to point out every possible error. They know I can take criticism. (I’d rather hear about errors from them than have the story rejected for those same errors!) Both returned notes on the story within a few days, for which I am extremely grateful. (Thanks, Mike and Deb!) After reviewing what errors my beta readers noticed, I corrected and completed the final draft of the story.

In the next few days, I reviewed word choices and line edited the entire document. I made MSWord read the story to me, so I could proofread by listening for errors. Finally, I submitted the story to the editor on June 18, almost exactly four weeks after I received the initial invitation to submit.

Did I hesitate before hitting “send” to submit the manuscript, wondering if I needed to review it one more time?

Yes.

Did I send it anyway?

Yes.

Results:

A week later, I heard back from the editor. The story was accepted for the anthology. I’ll provide more details on the story closer to publication.

I met the challenge and learned something. I could have done it in even less time. I’m glad that when an opportunity dropped in my lap, I was able to rise to the occasion. I’m grateful that the editor gave me the opportunity to meet this challenge.

Leave me a comment on writing challenges you’ve met!

*****

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.

Getting Texas Wrong in Fiction- Details Matter Y’all

Anyone who lives in Texas knows that Hollywood’s version of Texas and the actual Texas are very different places. Mostly, we Texans roll our eyes and dismiss the errors, but it’s difficult to ignore errors when they yank us out of whatever story we are trying to enjoy. Recently I watched a movie set in Texas and read several stories that were set in Texas or that featured Texan characters. However, as a Texan, I could tell the director of the movie didn’t care about getting the setting details right, and I could tell the authors of the stories didn’t understand Texan speech patterns. Errors distracted me from the plots in both the movie and the stories.

From Pixabay

On someone’s recommendation, I watched the Tom Hanks movie News of the World. I learned quickly that the director favored filming sweeping vistas and that the background and environment were essential to the plot. The director, unlike the author of the book on which the movie is based, clearly didn’t care about getting the setting details right. The movie got Texas disappointingly wrong, which distracted me from the story line several times.

The same standard holds true for literature as it does for movies. If you don’t get the details right, no matter how great your plot is, you can lose the reader. For example, in some stories I read recently featuring characters from Texas, the author used regional speech incorrectly. Specifically, the authors used the word “y’all” wrong.

A Word on the Meaning of “Y’all”

Lots of people are aware that Texans, and a lot of Southerners, say “y’all” as a term for the second person plural. And we do. “Y’all” is a contraction of “you all” which means “all of you people.” No Texan would ever call a single individual “y’all.” Not ever. It’s a reference to a group, not an individual.

Word Cloud

Now, I may walk up to my brother and say “Y’all should come to lunch tomorrow.” He may be the only one standing there, but he will know from my usage of the word “y’all” that I’m including his wife and kids in the invitation. If I wanted him to come alone, I would say, “You should come to lunch tomorrow.”

Or one college student may say to another, “Y’all should come hang out at my place with us.” This translates to “you and your friends should come and hang out with me and my friends at my residence.” Only two people may be in the conversation, but the usage of the word “y’all” tells anyone listening that more people are involved than are present.

To reiterate: when a Texan says the word “y’all” to a single individual, they are referencing some group to which that individual belongs, and the individual being addressed will understand that group reference because the speaker used the word “y’all” instead of “you.”

Getting “Y’all” Wrong

Back to those stories I read that got things wrong: if a law enforcement officer in a story set in Texas walks up to a single suspect and says to that individual, “Y’all are under arrest,” then the author has failed miserably at using the word. That error will pull the Texan (and probably any Southern) reader completely out of the story.

From Pixabay

Or if a mystery author writes a story featuring a character who is supposed to be the only Texan in the story and has that character call an individual “y’all,” that author just created confusion. When I read the above instance in a story, I hoped the misusage of “y’all” was a clue that the character might be lying about her background. Alas, it wasn’t a plot point. It was an error by the author.

Details matter in story telling. When we get them wrong, we pull the reader out of the story, and, depending how egregious the error is, the reader may not come back.

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.

Writing “Reaching for the Moon” for Crimeucopia: Say What Now?

by N. M. Cedeño

Although I may veer off into other areas, my reading pile usually comprises two main categories of books: mysteries and histories. Sometimes when I’m writing, those two categories collide, and I write historical mysteries. Two of my historical mystery short stories will be published in March and April 2022.

Available March 2022 from Murderous Ink Press

The first story, “Reaching for the Moon,” is part of an anthology edited by John Connor entitled Crimeucopia: Say What Now? from Murderous Ink Press. The second story, entitled “Nice Girls Don’t,”  will be published by Down & Out Books in Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties edited by Michael Bracken. 

I wrote about the inspiration for “Nice Girls Don’t” in my last post. Today, I’ll review what inspired “Reaching for the Moon.”

Moon landing, NASA photo, from Pixabay.

I’m a fan of the history of space exploration. From Hidden Figures to Apollo 13, I’ve always been fascinated by the massive effort behind sending the first people into space and bringing them home safely. The space program’s tragedies – from Apollo 1 to Challenger and Columbia – and triumphs – from the Mercury Program to the International Space Station – are the stuff of legends.

Anyone who has read anything about the first US astronauts knows that the test pilot / astronaut lifestyle took a toll on marriages. Marital infidelity was common among the astronaut corps who were frequently away from home for training. Consequently, the divorce rate after leaving NASA was very high. But, NASA wanted to present a wholesome, clean-cut image of their astronauts that didn’t include divorce or infidelity. Life Magazine did full spreads on each of the first astronauts that presented the men as squeaky-clean Boy Scouts with perfect home-lives. This discrepancy between the public persona and private reality of the astronauts inspired ideas about the possibility of blackmail.

Because I live in Texas, I’ve toured the Apollo mission control center at Johnson Space Center in far south Houston several times. Anyone who has visited Space Center Houston knows that a mere thirty or so miles farther south down Interstate 45 is Galveston Island on the Gulf of Mexico.

Walking on a granite jetty, Galveston Island, Cedeño family photo 2021

Galveston Island has its own remarkable history. The barrier island was used as a pirate base before it became a major port city in the 1800s. Then, the 1900 Hurricane nearly obliterated the city, forcing port activity to move inland to Houston. The island became a vacation and pleasure spot infamous for ignoring the laws against drinking and gambling during the Prohibition era. Galveston enjoyed a lawless, mafia-run heyday between 1920 and 1950. Much of the illegal activity centered on the Balinese Room, a Maceo Family owned gambling joint and restaurant that perched on a pier over the Gulf and drew top talent from Hollywood, including Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope, to provide entertainment for guests.

The space center’s proximity to Galveston made me wonder: what if a 1960s astronaut wandered south to Galveston Island to see the places once made famous by Hollywood stars and mobsters and got himself into trouble? What if he had to seek the aid of a private detective to resolve the issue? And so, with a few name changes here and there to protect the innocent or the guilty, as the case may be, my story “Reaching for the Moon” was born.

I’m thrilled to have my story published with so many other great stories in Crimeucopia: Say What Now?, the 10th anthology in the Crimeucopia series from Murderous Ink Press and editor John Connor.

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For additional historical reading, I recommend Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Moon Shot by Barbree, Slayton, and Shepard, Failure Is Not an Option by Gene Kranz, Light this Candle: the Life and Times of Alan Shepard by Neal Thompson, and Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson.

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.

End of Year Assessments and Thanksgiving

by N. M. Cedeño

For writers, setting and meeting goals can be done in a variety of ways. Some people count words produced in a given year. Others count finished manuscripts. This year I have been focused on my short stories, specifically on getting stories published, so I set goals for submitting my work to markets.

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal of submitting a minimum of two stories per month to publishing markets. This meant I had to write, edit, and proofread the stories, locate the markets, format each manuscript to each market’s specifications, and submit the stories via whatever process the publisher indicated. I met this goal, submitting 27 manuscripts to 19 publishing markets by mid-November.

As a result of this focus on sending my stories to markets and not just leaving them sitting on the computer, I have licensed four stories for publication this year. Another six are still under review.

Of the four accepted for publication, one was published in the October 2021 issue of After Dinner Conversation: Philosophy and Ethics Short Story Magazine. One will appear in a Crimeucopia anthology from Mysterious Ink Press called Say What Now? in March 2022. The other two are also slated to appear in 2022: one in Black Cat Mystery Magazine and one in an anthology called Groovy Gumshoes, although I don’t have publication dates for either yet.

Of these four stories, two are private detective stories. One is an amateur detective cozy mystery. One is a science fiction crime story. One story was accepted on its fifth submission. One story was accepted on its ninth submission. One story was accepted after ten submissions. And one was written for a specific call for submissions and accepted on the first try.

The shortest time it took for an editor to reject a story was six hours. The shortest wait for a story to be accepted was 40 days. The longest response time from a market on a submitted story for either an acceptance or rejection is currently at 404 days and counting. (Yep– that story was submitted in October 2020, and I still don’t have a response on it.)

Another writing goal I’d set for myself was to be invited to submit stories to closed submission calls. To meet this goal an editor would have to know and like my work well enough to reach out to me and ask me to submit a story directly to them. I expected it might take years to meet this goal which could only happen at some point after I started having stories accepted from open calls for submissions. To my surprise, I met this goal this year. I am thankful for that editor who liked my work enough to invite me to submit work directly to him.

And on the topic of thankfulness: I accomplished editing and proofreading for my stories with the help of critique partners, beta readers, and at least one sibling with an eye for plot and an unflinching willingness to point out flaws. Without people willing to read early drafts, I’d have to rely entirely on my own eye. And once I’ve read a story a hundred times, I can’t see the forest for the trees. Thanks to all the people willing to critique my work to help me improve my writing!

To all the wonderful people who support the work of writers everywhere, I want to say ‘THANK YOU!’ To the board members and volunteers who organize and plan meetings for the Heart of Texas Chapter of Sisters in Crime, to the people at national Sisters in Crime who create webinars and newsletters, to those who organize write-ins and meet-ups, to those who monitor listserv groups and organize monthly Zoom ‘watercooler’ discussions for the Short Mystery Fiction Society, thank you very much. Your work is much appreciated.

To the family members who cheer me on, to my husband and kids, to my parents and siblings, thanks for your support!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter and is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.

Do You Enjoy Speculative Fiction?

By N.M. Cedeño

Do you enjoy speculative fiction? Do you know what speculative fiction is?

The dictionary defines speculative fiction as “a genre of fiction that encompasses works in which the setting is other than the real world, involving supernatural, futuristic, or other imagined elements.” The genre is an umbrella under which lies science fiction, fantasy, and even some kinds of horror. From fairy tales to space operas, from paranormal stories to alternative histories, any kind of fiction containing imagined elements that exist outside of known reality can be classified as speculative fiction. Many well-known books and series fall into this category.

Works of dystopian fiction like Brave New World by Huxley, 1984 by Orwell, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 are speculative fiction. The Hunger Games dystopian series is speculative fiction.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s work of magical realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude, is speculative fiction.

Stephen King’s horror novel It and his time travel novel 11/22/63 are speculative fiction.

Star Wars, Buck Rogers, and other space operas are speculative fiction.

The Twilight romance series featuring werewolves and vampires is speculative fiction.

The Harry Potter fantasy series is speculative fiction.

The Martian, a work of hard science fiction by Andy Weir, is speculative fiction.

Janet Evanovich’s Lizzy and Diesel urban fantasy series is speculative fiction.

Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas paranormal thriller series is speculative fiction.

Wonder Woman and other superhero stories are speculative fiction.

Irish folk tales about leprechauns or banshees are speculative fiction.

Given all the stories and genres that can be classified as speculative fiction, it might be easier to ask what isn’t speculative fiction than to go through all the examples of what it is. If a work of fiction is entirely realistic in its setting and involves no magical, supernatural, futuristic, or other elements that don’t yet or might never exist, then it isn’t speculative fiction. A mystery, police drama, or romance set in the present day with no imaginary elements added would be categorized as realistic fiction. Horror, thriller, and suspense novels that feature only human evil or terrors that are based in the real world are realistic fiction. A historical drama that accurately reflects life in a given time period would also be realistic fiction.

Speculative fiction allows for flights of imagination, presenting other worlds, dream worlds, and future worlds rather than depicting the world how it is or was. Realistic fiction stays within the bounds of known reality.

As an author, some of my writing falls under the mantle of speculative fiction. My Bad Vibes Removal Services paranormal mysteries featuring Lea, a woman who can see and talk to ghosts, definitely fits into the category. My romantic suspense / mystery novel All in Her Head also features paranormal elements.

My novel For the Children’s Sake is a murder mystery featuring an imaginary medical condition where some people’s skin oils cause other people to go into anaphylactic shock and die. That imaginary condition makes the book speculative fiction, even though the rest of the book is based in reality.

October 2021 issue

Several of my short stories are classified as social science fiction, set in possible future worlds. For example, my short story entitled A Reasonable Expectation of Privacy is a private detective story set in a world with no privacy rights.

My latest release is also a work of science fiction. The Wrong Side of History is currently available in the October 2021 issue of After Dinner Conversation: Philosophy and Ethics Short Story Magazine. The Wrong Side of History is a tale of blackmail set in a world recovering from a near-extinction event and featuring a 130-year-old politician trying to keep his legacy intact in a world with values that differ widely from those considered acceptable in his youth.

So back to the original question. Do you enjoy speculative fiction?

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is currently working on a paranormal mystery series called Bad Vibes Removal Services. Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.

Don’t Delete “Unsuccessful” Manuscripts

By N.M. Cedeño

A number of the stories sitting in files on my computer were written years ago, some over ten years ago, and have never been published. At times, when cleaning up my laptop, I’ve been tempted to delete some of these old stories, but I restrain myself.

Don’t move those files to trash!

Most of these old manuscripts fall into three categories. The first category consists of early writing efforts that reflect my learning process. These stories are not publication-worthy, but the ideas aren’t all bad and may warrant revisiting. The second category contains stories that could be publishable, but still need work. These stories need revision to be ready for submission or publication, but aren’t finished because I haven’t found a solution to whatever needs fixing. The last category consists of stories that are finished, but that haven’t been published even after being submitted multiple times. These manuscripts tend to be stand-alone short stories because I usually self-publish the ones in my Bad Vibes Removal Services paranormal mystery series.

Instead of deleting these unsuccessful works, I hold onto them because I know someday I may determine how to fix the unfinished ones or I may see a call for submissions or a new market that fits the finished pieces.

For example, earlier this year I discovered a call for cozy mysteries was coming, and I knew I had an old story that might fit the guidelines. The piece was a Christmas mystery set during an ice storm with all the suspects trapped together. The first draft was written in 2011 or earlier. Around 2018, I reviewed the story, updated it, and tweaked the characters, giving them more depth than they’d had in the first draft. I also changed the ending several times before I declared the manuscript done and started submitting it to markets. It was rejected eight times.

from Pixabay

As I reread the story while considering whether it fit the new call for submissions, I changed one or two lines and double-checked the editing. Then, I submitted the story, and it was accepted for publication by Black Cat Mystery Magazine. The story will come out next year, but I don’t have a date yet. More details will be coming on this one later.

Another one of my stories, a science fiction crime piece entitled “The Wrong Side of History” that features a 130-year-old politician being blackmailed over the political stances he held in his youth, was first written in 2015 or 2016. This story was finished long ago and ready for publication. I held off submitting it anywhere, at first, because it didn’t quite fit any of the publication niches I could find. The story was set in a future, post-apocalyptic society that handled a number of problematic social issues differently than we do today. Those issues include topics that are politically divisive. For a brief time, the thought of being “canceled” also held me back from submitting the story.

Eventually, I decided not submitting the story out of fear of offending someone was cowardly and exactly matched the form of self-censorship described by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451. I began submitting the story to magazines. Nine times the story was rejected. The rejections weren’t surprising since the story didn’t completely fit the niches available and because some magazines will shy away from difficult issues in stories.

After Dinner Conversation October 2021

Then, I found another market for the story, a magazine called After Dinner Conversation that specifically features short fiction that includes ethical and philosophical issues. After nine rejections, having the tenth response call the story a wonderful piece that the editor would love to publish was reason to get up and dance. It was nice to know that I was right. The story was ready for publication. I simply needed to find the right niche for it. And so the “Wrong Side of History” is now available for pre-order in the October issue of After Dinner Conversation.

And that is why I don’t delete “unsuccessful” old manuscripts. Sometimes they only need a few changes to be successful. Other times, they just need to find the right editor at the right magazine.

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is currently working on a paranormal mystery series called Bad Vibes Removal Services. Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter. Find out more at nmcedeno.com.