Monday, July 1, 2019

Guns + Tacos: New Anthology Series from Down & Out Books

I've known Michael Bracken for several years now, ever since he bought and published the first short story I ever (a) had published and (b) received payment for. We've kept in touch since (check out his blog at CrimeFictionWriter.Com), and it's been great watching Michael achieve steady sales with short fiction, and you should for sure check out his work. Michael knows how to spin a crime tale like nobody else, and I'm really hoping he finds the audience he deserves with a new effort from Down & Out Books called Guns + Tacos.

Guns + Tacos has a terrific concept. It's a series of novellas that take place in Chicago, and all feature a taco truck that sells more than tacos. If you've guess the truck also sells guns, you're right. Michael and some of today's hottest crime fiction writers contributed to the first "season" and you can buy the books individually, or subscribe to the set. It's great to see Down & Out Books, a terrific publisher, by the way, try new and exciting ways to get crime fiction to the public.

Michael agreed to sit down at our favorite hole in the wall Mexican place in Waco, TX (which, he once joked, stands for We Ain't Comin' Out) and share a few words on the project.

You're going to like this one....

BRIAN DRAKE: Guns + Tacos has an interesting concept. Tell us how the idea of a series of books linked by a taco truck came about.

MICHAEL BRACKEN: Trey R. Barker wrote a story for The Eyes of Texas, an anthology of private eye stories set in Texas that I edited for Down & Out Books (due out this fall). While corresponding about it, we learned that we had several friends in common.

So, my wife Temple and I met Trey and his wife Kathy for lunch at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida, last year. Trey is a native Texan living and working as a peace officer in Illinois while Temple and I are long-time Texas residents. I ordered tacos for lunch and the conversation, as it does for Texans daring to eat tacos anywhere outside of Texas, the conversation turned to my food choice. And, somehow, guns. At some point during our conversation, Trey said his two favorite things were guns and tacos.

A little later, the subject came up again and my wife suggested that guns and tacos sounded like a good premise for an anthology. Over the course of the day, Trey and I batted around the idea, and what started as an offhand comment grew into a concept we thought we could have fun with.

That evening Trey and I found ourselves on the veranda of the Vinoy with Down & Out Books publisher Eric Campbell and a revolving group of editors and writers associated in one way or another with D&O, and we pitched the idea. As everyone else chimed it, the idea morphed a bit, becoming a series of novellas rather than a traditional anthology, and this is how we ultimately described the series:

“There’s a taco truck in Chicago known among a certain segment of the population for its daily specials. Late at night and during the wee hours of the morning, it isn’t the food selection that attracts customers, it’s the illegal weapons available with the special order. Each episode of Guns + Tacos features the story of one Chicagoland resident who visits the taco truck seeking a solution to life’s problems, a solution that always comes in a to-go bag.”

We gave contributors a few specific instructions: The stories must be set in Chicago and its suburbs, protagonists of the stories must acquire a weapon from the taco truck, and the weapon must play an important role in their stories. Beyond that, any crime fiction sub-genre was acceptable, and the six stories in the first season cover a variety of crime fiction sub-genres.

BD: What inspired the sales plan of a subscription, both print and digital?

MB:One of the most important contributors to our discussion on the Vanoy’s veranda was Frank Zafiro. The first season of his novella anthology series A Grifter’s Song was scheduled for release the first six months of this year, and Eric asked if Guns + Tacos could be turned into a novella anthology series (rather than a traditional anthology) to plug into the last six months of 2019. Of course, we said it could, and during the rest of Bouchercon, Trey and I refined the idea and made a list of potential contributors. Frank sent us a copy of his original proposal for A Grifter’s Song and we modeled our formal proposal for Guns + Tacos on Frank’s proposal.

A novella anthology series is the literary equivalent of a Netflix series, with a new episode dropping once a month during the six month-season. Readers can purchase individual episodes, but subscribers get the entire season, which is released initially as ebooks. At the end of the season, all of the stories are compiled into a pair of paperback books, which the subscribers also get. Subscribers also receive a bonus story.

So, the first season of Guns + Tacos launched July 1 with a story from Gary Phillips, and new episodes will be released each month through December.

One key difference between Guns + Tacos is that A Grifter’s Song has a two-season series arc, but Guns + Tacos is open-ended, could last several seasons if readership interest is strong, and we’ve already been renewed for, and are hard at work on putting together, the second season.

BD: What can you tell us about some of the stories included in the set?

MB: The first season includes:

Tacos de Cazuela con Smith & Wesson by Gary Phillips,
Three Brisket Tacos and a Sig Sauer by Michael Bracken,
A Gyro and a Glock by Frank Zafiro,
Three Chalupas, Rice, Soda and a Kimber .45 by Trey R. Barker,
Some Churros and El Burro by William Dylan Powell, and
A Beretta, Burritos and Bears by James A. Hearn

Phillips’s story has a light science-fictiony feel, involving an ER doctor used to dealing with the physical and psychological trauma of gunshot wounds who obtains a handgun. Mine is a femme fatale story involving bank robbery and an ex-con torn between two women. Zafiro’s story deals with the choices a drug addict is forced to make, while Barker’s dives into the dark side of the internet. Powell’s story involves a drug cartel and Hearn’s is about a man framed for a crime and how he seeks revenge.

BD: What inspired your own story, “Three Brisket Tacos & a SIG-Sauer”?

MB: I went a little over the top, telling the story of an ex-con who falls back in with the woman who initially enticed him into a life of crime and who bailed on him when he was caught. He finds himself torn between continuing a life of crime with her or going straight with the neighbor he’s fallen for after his release.

BD: It's exciting to see publishers experimenting with stories and distribution plans. What challenges did you meet trying to get the series out in the chosen fashion?

MB: Our biggest challenge as editors was turning everything around quickly enough to have the series ready to launch in July. Bouchercon was in September, and Trey and I had to find six writers who liked the concept and could write novellas within a few months. I faced an additional challenge, as one of the writers, because novellas are two to three times longer than my usual short story lengths, and I didn’t know, when I wrote the first few words of my story, if my idea had enough meat to justify the length. Luckily, most of the other challenges fell to the publisher.

BD: You've said many times, in many venues, that you despise the word "got" and encourage writers to use a word that isn't so lazy. (Full disclosure: I caught myself using "got" in my intro, and quickly found a better word. You taught me well!) Did any of the series contributors dare to use the word "got" in their story? And if so, how did you dispose of the bodies?

MB: A few did, and I excised what I could without too much bloodletting.

BD: I'm really excited about this project, and really hope it brings you a wider audience, Michael. How do we find Guns + Tacos?

MB: Subscribe to the first season at

To purchase the first story:

At Amazon:

At Barnes & Noble:

At Smashwords: