A Writer’s Year – 2020

A Writer’s Year – 2020

BGers in 2019 – seems like a LONG time ago

And so 2020 comes, mercifully, to an end. We all dealt with issues that impacted our lives – beyond just ‘The Pandemic.’ In January, my wife and I separated. I also left my job of twelve years. December brought a dissolution to start the month, and a hard drive failure to finish it (and no, even though I’ve had two of them fail before, I still didn’t adequately back things up – I’m working on fixing that). For much of 2020, the Pandemic was actually my fourth-biggest daily concern. What a year!

But as you read this, 52 Monday mornings have come and gone, and my byline was there every week. With literally every single part of my life turned upside down, I didn’t miss a deadline. I managed to run A (Black) Gat in the Hand for the third straight year. With some help from various talented friends, we’re up to 68 installments. (Black) Gat is something of an adopted child here at the World Fantasy Award-winning Black Gate, but I think it’s a great addition to the world of hardboiled commentary. I can pretty much guarantee it will be back in 2021.

Discovering Robert E. Howard, and Hither Came Conan, were outstanding series’ in which I gathered a bunch of friends, old and new, to share their expertise and comments, on Robert E. Howard topics. In late 2019, I had started recruiting folks for a similar series featuring the novels of my all-time favorite writer: John D. MacDonald (REH is number two).

But then my home and work life exploded like a nuclear bomb (January really was an apocalyptic month), and that project fell by the wayside. Like those movie projects which are set to go, then hit a major road bump and simply never recover (like DiCaprio’s Travis McGee project), I don’t know if I’ll get that back on track. But I’d still like to. I think that John MacD is one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century – in any genre.

And after that series was queued up and ready to go, the plan was for another group-REH series. Hither Came Conan was going to be succeeded by Flintlocks & Rapiers: Solomon Kane. Another gathering of knowledgeable REH folks were going to each be assigned a Kane story, and ruminate on what was good (and maybe a little not-so-good). But, as mentioned above, 2020 didn’t follow the script.

With my personal 2021 looking a lot less seismic, I’m weighing that project for Black Gate. The Kane Canon is chock full of interesting elements. It’s sword and sorcery. And it’s fantastic; if not exactly ‘fantasy.’ It’s REH doing it his way. I think I might be able to get this one at least underway in 2021. I want to highlight Kane (I’m a bigger Kane, than Kull, fan).

My never-ending quest to build up Norbert Davis continued, as I wrote a new introduction to Part One of a Davis short story anthology coming from Steeger Books. I’ll be doing one for Part Two, as well. And though the hard drive fail is a problem, I’m working on another Davis introduction for Steeger. He’s on my Hardboiled Mt. Rushmore, and I’m promoting him throughout the year.

I lost work on a series about the Marvel Conan comic. I’m hoping to recover that, as some of it was pretty good.

I often joke that I have a lot of capital ‘W’ writer friends – largely through my Black Gate work. And I self-deprecatingly refer to myself with a lower case ‘w’ as a writer. But I think I moved into the capital letter category in 2020. I didn’t miss a weekly deadline here at BG. And in the spring, I did something I’m really pleased with. The day that the State of Ohio (I live in Columbus) delayed the Primary Election, I went home from my temp job (part of that professional upheaval), and I wrote.

Those of you who actually read my stuff at Black Gate know that I am a HUGE Nero Wolfe fan. It’s my favorite series. I aspire to succeed Robert Goldsborough as the official continuator of Nero Wolfe. And while I’m almost always modest about my writing, I think I do Wolfe and Archie as well as anybody outside of Stout himself (still working on plotting).

Wolfe always votes. It’s one of the few activities he consistently leaves his house for (getting a haircut is another). On March 17 this year, it was delayed here. Ohio was six days from the start of its first stay-at-home order. I just felt, inside, ‘something important.’ So, I wrote a scene, transposing that delay in the Primary, to NYC. And about Wolfe and Archie on that day. It’s almost 1,500 words, and I’ll include it in next week’s post.

I know – not centered. Just a meme thing I did

But a few days later, I started a new series. I started writing about what life would be like for Archie, in modern-times, if he were stuck in the Brownstone with Wolfe, under a Stay at Home order. Those of you who know what a king-sized Grump Wolfe is, know that this is a fun premise. So every day, be it during lunch at my temp job, or after work at home (which wasn’t actually my house – I didn’t live there – and never will again – anymore), I wrote an entry for Archie’s journal. He kept notes on his day during the Pandemic.

And for a little over a month, I wrote about a thousand words EVERY day, and posted it to the Nero Wolfe FB group page. Writing about Archie dealing with a world turned upside down, helped me deal with my own. With every aspect of my life a wreck (I was estranged from my son, who I love more than anything in the world), I clung to my writing. Some folks in the group told me it was good. That I sounded just like Rex Stout. And that was great to hear. And others said they looked forward to reading it every evening. And a few said it helped them deal with the Pandemic. That having new Wolfe and Archie made their day a little better. With my world a total disaster, THAT made me smile inside. To me, I’d finally become a real Writer, like the friends I admired.

I wrote about 45,000 words before finally setting it aside. And I have links below to the first dozen or so entries, which I reposted here at Black Gate. Go ahead and give them a read. Especially if you are a Wolfe fan. And you should be!

I’m probably more proud of Stay at Home, than anything I’ve ever written. I’m pondering what to do with it as a collection. And it absolutely convinced me I can finish the Wolfe novel (30,000 words) I’ve been working on for a while now. And the short stories I’ve started, but not finished. I can write Wolfe and Archie. And I can do it well enough to make somebody’s day better. And that helps my day.

So, in 2021, I’m going to continue talking about things I like, at Black Gate. I jump-started a new BG column, Steamed, which will talk about video games I play (mostly through Steam, obviously). Primarily older ones, as I only buy sale and cheaper titles. But they’re still worth talking about. I played Conan Exiles the most this year. But the last few months, it’s been Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition. The Pandemic killed my Gaming Group gatherings. But we’ve been using Discord, and a NWN Persisent World, to game together. And it’s been a BLAST!

I’m going to try and do another Black Gate World Headquarters post – those are a ton of fun. As I mentioned, A (Black) Gat in the Hand, and hopefully the Kane series, will hit in 2021. There’s always a The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes post or two in the mix.

And I’m going to write some Wolfe. Correction – I’m going to finish some Wolfe.

Three months of unemployment, and I found a good job (actually, one which I had before), during a Global Pandemic. I’ve got a nice apartment with all 2,000ish of my books out and shelved, which didn’t even happen in my house. Working at home, I’m surrounded by a plethora of them all day. I have partial custody of my son and we’re rebuilding our relationship. I’m a committed Christian, and I believe God provides – if in His way, not mine.

2021 isn’t going to be a breeze for any of us, but I do think, weathered and toughened by 2020, it’s going to be a little easier, at the least. We are conditioned to The New Normal, and we are resilient. It’s still gonna suck in ways it didn’t Way back in 2019. But we’re going to put our heads down and plow forward. I hope readers continue to find something at Black Gate that makes the day a little better for them. I’ll do my part. And maybe I’ll hit the mark once in awhile. And I’ll keep bringing in more talented folks than myself, to help with that.

We’ve got this. Black Gate is a community: The contributors and the readers. And Steven H Silver is the odd uncle at the holiday gathering. 🙂 Leave comments on posts. I can assure you that columnists LOVE interacting with commenters. It tells us that somebody is interested in what we had to say. And it fosters conversation on a topic that, clearly, the columnists likes. Comments mean more to me than hits on a post.

And if you’ve got an idea for an essay, contact John O’Neill. I emailed him the idea for a regular mystery column. Almost seven years later, I may be the kid they keep hidden away in the basement when company comes over, but I’m still on board (I continually outwit the firewall). You just might end up being a Black Gate columnist yourself. Sure, the benefits are bad, but the pay is worse…

Hang in there. Read, write, and be kind to each other. And keep swinging by Black Gate every Monday morning to see what I’m rambling on about. I’ve covered mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, Humphrey Bogart, and even the Beach Boys. You never know what you’re gonna get.

“Bryne!” just bellowed through the speaker tube. I need to hike up the 105 floors to the boss’ office. That’s after I get up to the surface level, of course. The Great One doesn’t waste electricity on the staff dumbwaiter….err, elevator…, on Sundays.

“Aren’t you here yet?” followed, before I could even reply. Good thing I’m about done with tomorrow morning’s post.

Happy New Year, Black Gate friends and family.

Nero Wolfe’s  Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 1 and 2
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 3 and 4
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 5, 6, and 7
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 8, 9, and 10
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 11, 12, and 13

Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ was a regular Monday morning hardboiled pulp column from May through December, 2018 and again from August through December, 2019. It returned in June, 2020.

His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate  from March, 2014 through March, 2017 (still making an occasional return appearance!).

He organized ‘Hither Came Conan,’ as well as Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series.

He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes. That’s also the name of his podcast.

He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV,  V, VI and XXI.

He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.

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Seth Lindberg

Hi Bob. I second your quest for less-seismic journeys. Sorry 2020 sucked as it did. I’ve enjoyed your posts here and on Facebook, especially call out to video and board games. Cheers to you, a fellow Ohioan and W/writer.

John O'Neill

Hitting every Monday deadline this year was an incredible accomplishment, Bob. It’s a huge endeavor in a normal year, but with everything you had to deal with, it was practically superhuman.

You bring an enormous amount to BLACK GATE, and I’m proud to showcase your work every Monday. Looking forward to another 52 weeks of Bob Byrne columns in 2021.

John ONeill

Also — since you don’t identify the handsome gentlemen in your photo at the top, I thought I’d do it here. From left to right:

John O’Neill
Steven H Silver
Bob Byrne
Rich Horton

Taken at Windycon in Chicago, 2019.

Aonghus Fallon

I’ve always enjoyed your columns, Bob – and furthermore, found your Nero Wolfe pieces genuinely funny. Keep it up!

Jason M Waltz

Wonderful post, Bob. Stellar job, my friend.

Fletcher Vredenburgh

I don’t know how you did it, but it’s been impressive. Here’s to 2021 being a better year, sir!


whoa, a fellow columbusite… well i am in dublin, but close enough. love your columns, love that you have introduced me to some great detectives to read and hope for another great year of columns.

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