Hard Sentences: Crime Fiction Inspired by Alcatraz

idle hands

Update 9/1/16 – Submissions Are Closed [cell door slams]

Update 10/3/16 – Cover Reveal! [scroll to the bottom]

Writers! Some new hotness:

So after visiting Alcatraz a couple times since I’ve moved to California, I had a brainstorm… Over 5,000 tourists visit the Rock EVERY DAY. And they have a gift shop on the island with a book section and some bush-league, self-published prison books, including some “theme” collections no one would look twice at in a bookstore, but I’ve seen these tourists snatch it all up like popcorn.
So… I called up their book buyer, stopped by their gift shops, and I pitched the idea of an anthology of Alcatraz-themed crime fiction, and hot damn, they’re interested. I got a title and everything:

HARD SENTENCES: Crime Fiction Inspired by Alcatraz

I’m working with Broken River Books, who will be publishing it, and brought in San Francisco Bay Area bruiser Joe Clifford (of December Boys fame) to help edit this thing. More solid info soon, but it’s definitely real money to the writers, and just think about that foot traffic! 5,000 people A DAY. Do 5,000 people walk through a bookstore everyday? I doubt it. Maybe, I didn’t look it up, but who cares.
So start thinking Alcatraz thoughts, and I’ll have more concrete details and a link to some specifics (more details in the comments below, too). Got some big names already. How big? So big some of ’em ain’t even on Facebook! But some of you, watch your emails, and the rest, if you think you got the juice, start scribbling, Submissions will be open at: hardsentences@gmail.com, so send your best Alcatraz stories there. Please paste your story into the body of your email. Pay will be pro and semi-pro rates, based on length of story and level of new hotness.

Right now, I’m most interested in stories around 2,000 to 3,000 words on the following topics, though your prison muse might take you in other directions, of course:

  • The early military incarnation of the prison during the Civil War
  • The boat that ferried prisoners back and forth (it was called the “Warden Johnston”)
  • The June 1962 escape and surrounding mystery involving Frank Morris and Clarence and John Anglin (stocked up on these stories right now, maybe try something else?)
  • Anything from the guards’ POV
  • The movies, like The Rock, Escape from Alcatraz, Birdman of Alcatraz, Point Blank, The Enforcer, etc.
  • The 1969 to 1970 Native American occupation of the island
  • Civilian life on Alcatraz Island and its cohabitation with the active prison (families lived in “Building #64,” where they had their own bowling alley, convenience store, and soda fountain)
  • A Contemporary crime tale involving the current Alcatraz tour
  • Stories involving the following famous prisoners:
    Al Capone (taken, no more Capone, please)
    Robert Franklin Stroud (the “Birdman” of Alcatraz)
    George “Machine Gun” Kelly
    Bumpy Johnson
    Rafael Cancel Miranda (a member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party who attacked the United States Capitol building in 1954)
    Mickey Cohen
    Arthur R. “Doc” Barker
    James “Whitey” Bulger (update: Whitey is taken! No more Whitey stories, please. We’re bulging with Bulger)
    Alvin “Creepy” Karpis (Creepy might already be taken, too, by someone extra creepy)
    …or any of the other 1,567 prisoners.

And here’s some ideas I had this week that I want someone to write instead, because I’m “just editing this damn thing”:

  • A story about Johnny Cash recording a concert album at Alcatraz and something going terribly wrong, so they never release it. Keep in mind Alcatraz closed five years before he started doing his famous Folsom Prison and San Quentin albums, but that’s what makes this so irresistible. What if Alcatraz was his first botched, riot-causing attempt? (this topic is heating up, so move fast but aim true)
  • A story about their oddly swanky mess hall menu. (somebody might be working on this, so competition is fierce)
  • A story inspired by that Russian guy in the news squeezing out through the food slot of his prison cell. He’d have to squeeze through the bars though because Alcatraz didn’t have food slots in solitary. And solitary in Alcatraz also had a double door airlock-like situation, and a 19-day limit before prisoners had to be removed from solitary, which would be a fun challenge for anyone trying to escape those cells, and even more of a challenge for someone trying to write about it (fair warning – somebody is already working on this, and they may have worked on actual human bodies before)
  • A story about someone ducking out of the Alcatraz tour and expecting to find all the strange landscapes and ridiculous fire-breathing machinery seen in Michael Bay’s The Rock and… I don’t know where this one would go but it would sure be fun to write.

Keep in mind that we’re talking “crime” in a more general sense here, as well, since crime is pretty much inherent in the Alcatraz concept anyway. So the stories essentially have room to do anything related to Alcatraz Island. So these submissions can be a kissing cousin to history or fact but not bound by it. We’re getting a lot of stories that are rigid historical profiles, which can work, but remember you can loosen up and go nuts, too. Okay, get typing, I’ll be reading your stuff all summer, so send your best and brightest. For now, the soft deadline is September 1st, but subject to change depending on how fast the book fills up.

So stay tuned, I got three big projects this summer. This is number one.

dave jail

This just in, our cover reveal! Incredible art by illustrator Joel Vollmer. Get ready (but remember, lights out at 9:30)…

Lights out at 9:30


  1. Joe Rigo

    I’m liking this!

  2. Jennifer

    Love this idea and have a story to submit…where can I send it?
    Thank you.


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