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Bruce Arthurs on “Beks and the Second Note”

Bruce Arthurs is a writer in the mystery, science-fiction, and fantasy genres across several different mediums, including television and, occasionally, poetry. Here he talks about his story “Beks and the Second Note” from the December issue—his first to appear in a mystery-specific publication.

In “Beks and the Second Note” the takeaway quote is this:

I thought about why I was a detective, about wanting to understand the why of people’s stories, not just the what.”

I’m not a detective, but that question—Why do people do the things they do?—has been a puzzle my entire life. It’s a common question, one almost everyone asks at some point, or at lots of points, in their lives. Why do good people make bad choices? Why do bad people sometimes make good choices?

In the universe inside my head, I’m writing this wonderful script where everyone in the world behaves rationally and understandably; everyone makes sense. In the real world outside my head, everyone keeps ad-libbing. It’s terribly frustrating.

Writing fiction is one way I deal with that frustration. In a story, the writer is in control of characters and events and motivations. It can help to make sense of, and deal with, real life.

“Beks and the Second Note” arose from a stew of news items from recent years: police shootings of black men; economic hardship and homelessness; the increasing presence of surveillance technology; the legalization of concealed carry in many states and the myth of the Good Guy With A Gun. All this simmered in the back of my mind for months until that “Ah-ha!” moment when the potential for a story fell into place.

And the oddly-named Bok Beks seemed the right character to tell that story. It’s not his first appearance; Bok first appeared over a decade ago in a very-small-press chapbook-sized anthology of stories about radioactive monkeys. (Yes, really. Small press can get very weird.) He has a pretty extensive backstory in my head, and I’m hoping future work will occasionally return to reveal more of Bok’s own story and the choices he’s made. But that probably involves a lot more simmering on my brain’s back burner.

My scattershot bibliography has mostly been in the science fiction and fantasy genres, a reflection of my primary reading over the years. The first book I remember reading, at age six, was Todd Ruthven’s Space Cat. But mystery and detective fiction has always been a close second (the Encyclopedia Brown stories are another memory of early reading), and almost every story I’ve written has fallen into one genre or the other. And occasionally, as with “Clues,” the episode I wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation, something falls solidly into both genres.

But I’m pleased as Punch to break into Alfred Hitchcock’s with “Beks and the Second Note.” It’s my first sale to a specifically-mystery market, and it’s especially satisfying to make it to one of the most important markets for short mystery fiction.

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60 Is the New . . . (December 2016)

Editing a magazine is all about novelty—the next issue, the new stories, the new authors. One of the nice things about a significant anniversary is the occasion to pause and reflect. As we notch our sixtieth year, we thought it would be fun to invite some other voices that have long been associated with the magazine, contributors and a few staffers, to reflect on AHMM in this month’s special feature (The Case File).

But it’s the stories and authors that are the magazine’s raison d’être, and this celebratory issue is also a fine representation of AHMM’s recent decades. We are delighted to welcome Lawrence Block back to our pages with “Whatever It Takes”; Mr. Block first published a story in AHMM in 1963. And we are also delighted to welcome Bruce Arthurs, who makes his AHMM debut this month with “Beks and the Second Note.” And in between those extremes, we have new stories from other writers who have long associations with the magazine: John C. Boland (first AHMM story in 1976); Kristine Kathryn Rusch (1989); David Edgerley Gates (1991); Kathy Lynn Emerson (2001); and Stephen Ross (2010).

I wish I had the room to list the hundreds of authors who have graced AHMM’s pages with stories that have delighted and horrified and intrigued our readers for 60 years. We are grateful to them all.

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