Short Stories Again?

I have always loved short stories. Reading them. Writing them. I wrote some of my first short stories in high school, and I had an encouraging teacher who saw I had some modest talent for them. I filled notebook after notebook with short stories, most of them what today we call fan fiction, but my teacher said all that mattered was I was writing.

In college my first publication of a short story was in the college literary magazine, one of the first non-English majors included. I spent a lot of time sending bad sci-fi stories to renowned sci-fi magazines like Analog or Asimov’s Science Fiction or Weird Tales, and I got a lot of rejections. Discouraging, yes, but I never stopped writing “my stories” as my father referred to them.

It was the placement of a short story in a contest back in 1999 that earned me my first book contract, a now out-of-print collection entitled Rarely Well-Behaved, published in 2000. (Out of print, but I have plenty of author copies available!) A change in positions at work meant little time for my own writing, but I still had notebooks that filled up with short stories. Even after my first attempt at a novel–which eventually became End Times, book one of A Perfect Hatred–I realized the manuscript was a collection of unconnected scenes that were actually short stories. Probably why it took more than 20 years for A Perfect Hatred to be ready to publish.

Retirement from Uncle Sam gave me the time to focus on my novels, and when Spy Flash II: A Collection of Espionage Short Fiction published in 2016, I put short stories aside and concentrated on finalizing the novel A War of Deception for publication. I didn’t have time for short stories.

Then, three years ago, the annual writing workshop I attend, Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop, introduced something “new”: a generative workshop. Instead of critiquing something already written, we’d generate something in the workshop from prompts based on selected short stories we’d read. Led by the consummate short-story writer, Dan Mueller, that workshop made me remember I loved writing short stories.

For National Novel Writing Month in 2018, I wrote 50,000+ words of short stories.

What Does That Have to do With The Moscow Rules?

In researching my espionage novels, I was well aware of The Moscow Rules, an informal, unofficial set of protocols to keep the KGB or the Stasi from identifying western spies in eastern Europe.

I was also reaching the limit for works about my two main characters, Alexei Bukharin and Mai Fisher. I was aging them in real time, so by 2018 Alexei was 75, and Mai was 60. Their adventurous days were behind them. Alexei was fully retired, and Mai had become the head of The Directorate. Not terribly exciting to write about Alexei puttering about in the kitchen or in his woodworking shop or Mai essentially being a bureaucrat.

I created a new character and fleshed her out somewhat in that 2018 rough draft from NaNoWriMo.

By the end of the 2018 NaNoWriMo, I had 12 to 15 decent first drafts of short stories, but then I noticed several of those stories were connected by plot, and I pulled them out, intending to work them up into a novella but ended up instead with the novel Love Death, published in February of this year.

I also realized I must have been channeling The Moscow Rules when writing that 2018 rough draft, but now it had holes in it after I removed the stories that became Love Death. So, I wrote some more short stories to fill those gaps, specifically keeping The Moscow Rules in mind. By 2019, I had a manuscript I thought would be ready for publication in 2020.

That is until former CIA case officers Tony and Jonna Mendez published a nonfiction book in 2020 titled…

Yep, The Moscow Rules.

No way I could compete with that, and even if I did, it might seem I was trying to glom onto their best-selling success.

I put my version of The Moscow Rules aside.

Gotta Love Those Epiphanies

When my marketing consultant suggested I spend some time marketing my backlist, which, as I said above, were collections of short stories, I took a new look at Spy Flash, which was a collection of flash fiction espionage stories, and Spy Flash II, four full-length short stories inspired by current events in 2016.

And it hit me: Spy Flash III: The Moscow Rules.

I could keep the original title, The Moscow Rules, but with making it part of an existing series, I could distinguish it from the Mendez book.

So, there we have it. Coming July 10, 2021, Spy Flash III: The Moscow Rules, and it’s available for preorder (at a special, really low price). Spy Flash I and II are also on sale to celebrate the launch of Spy Flash III. You can find all three books HERE.

And I’ll still be filling notebooks with short stories. Who knows? Maybe a Spy Flash IV is lurking out there in the future.