ST. PETERSBURG ― As the Tampa Bay Times book critic for 14 years, Colette Bancroft estimates that she has reviewed more than 2,000 titles. Not all have been good.
So Bancroft was a bit worried when she published her first fictional short story, The Bite, in the anthology book Tampa Bay Noir.
“I wondered if someone out there would use this as an opportunity for revenge,” she said with a laugh. “So far, that hasn’t happened.”
On Monday, Bancroft learned her short story won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award. Named for the crime fiction writer, the award is presented annually by the Mystery Writers of America for the best short story by a previously unpublished American author.
“It is strange to win an award for a previously unpublished author because I have put out so many stories as a journalist,” she said. “But this was the first fiction I published.”
The Bite, set in the 1960s in the Tampa neighborhood of Rattlesnake where Bancroft was raised, is about a 12-year-old girl “observing terrible things going on,” Bancroft said. “She doesn’t understand what is going on, but sort of does. It is a dark story.”
It is a tale that the 68-year-old Bancroft said had been “hanging around in her brain for a while,” yet she had not written fiction since her days as a college student at the University of South Florida and the University of Florida.
Then she was approached by Akashic Books about editing Tampa Bay Noir, a collection of short stories by crime writers who either live or have lived in the Tampa Bay area. Those 15 writers include Michael Connelly, Lori Roy, Tim Dorsey, Sterling Watson, Lisa Unger, Sarah Gerard, Ladee Hubbard and Ace Atkins.
“When I signed the contract to edit the anthology, I was given the option of writing a story or not writing a story. It was up to me,” Bancroft said. “I sent it in and said, ‘Use it if you want, don’t if you don’t.’ They liked it.”
Bancroft had long wanted to delve into fiction, but said her job as a book critic often discouraged her.
“Anytime I think I have an idea for a novel,” she laughed, “I realize I have already read one about that.”