Showing posts with label Floyd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Floyd. Show all posts

07 October 2017

Writing for the Record


by John M. Floyd



Like many of my fellow writers, I've had my share of unusual experiences. I once had three stories in four months in AHMM (the March, May, and June 1999 issues); I once did a signing at a flea market, right in there among the T-shirts and yard ornaments and velvet paintings; I've twice had stories in Woman's World that listed someone else's byline; I've published poems in places like Volcano Quarterly and Appalling Limericks; one of my short stories was rejected twelve times before it finally sold; I've had stories published in Braille and on audiotape and translated into Russian; and I once drove 150 miles to do a library presentation where only two people showed up (and both of them worked for the library). Etc., etc., etc.

But something happened recently that was even stranger than any of those. A writer friend from Los Angeles named Eric Guignard, who has also edited several anthologies I've appeared in, contacted me with information about an opportunity. He began his email with "There's this little project I stumbled across that you might be interested in . . ."

The project was an attempt by a publisher in South Africa to--again, in Eric's words--"create the biggest book of short stories ever for The Guiness Book of World Records."

Here's the deal:

CEA Greatest Anthology Written, published by Celenic Earth Publications, will include 111 original short stories, each between 3000 and 8000 words, written by 111 different authors around the world. The book is an attempt at a Guiness World Record for the most authors contributing to a single volume of short fiction.

Shaun M. Jooste, a writer/publisher from Cape Town, South Africa, began working on the project in April. He applied to Guiness World Records, challenged the existing record of 50 writers, and stated that he could double that number in an anthology that he would then publish. After GWR granted him permission for the attempt and sent him a truckload of requirements and guidelines, Shaun put out a call for contributors, read all the submissions, and categorized them by genre. The book will then be "authenticated and verified" according to specifications by Guiness. To attain World Record status, 1000 copies of the book must be printed and at least 500 print copies and 500 e-book copies must be sold. (For anyone who's interested, it is available now for pre-order here and will also be sold via Amazon.)


The anthology, which will be about 600 pages, will feature authors from South Africa, the United Kingdom, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hungary, Nigeria, Mexico, Bolivia, and Switzerland. The main genres included are mystery/crime, fantasy, science fiction, horror, and romance (with about 2% children's, 4% LGBT, and 4% historical).

Eric and I received word last month that our stories will be included. Mine, which is called "The Tenth Floor," is a 4000-word fantasy tale about a teenager who buys an artifact from a pawn shop as a gift for his grandmother and then finds that it's also a portal to another world. Not a mystery, but it contains several plot twists, and one of my favorite endings. And the timing of the anthology call was perfect: when I found out about the opportunity, this story was already completed and sitting here in my to-be-submitted stack.

Everything about this project is a little unusual--including the five-page contract I received a few weeks ago. It stated that authors will retain reprint rights but will not be offered royalties; their payment will be the permanent inclusion of their names in The Guiness Book of World Records. I decided I could live with that.

Eric, a Bram Stoker Award winner, agrees. In fact he told me that inclusion in Guiness World Records has always been one of his bucket-list items. I had honestly never thought about it--but now that it's a probability, I'm pretty excited.

Maybe if I talk about that at one of our libraries, more than two bored employees will show up.

Or maybe not.





30 September 2017

Black Cats and Roosters



by John M. Floyd



Robert Lopresti mentioned here at SleuthSayers a few weeks ago that he enjoys reading behind-the-scenes reports about the writing of short stories. Where authors get their ideas, where they find their characters, how they come up with titles, how/why they construct plots in a certain way. And Art Taylor's column yesterday featured some of those stories-within-the-stories from the current Anthony Award nominees.

I agree with Rob, and Art too--I think that kind of thing is fascinating. Because of that (and because I couldn't think of anything else to write about, for today), I decided to post a "look-inside" view of my short story "Rooster Creek," which appears in the current, and debut, issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine.

First, a word about that issue. One of the thrills, for me, of being included there was the fact that just about every author in the story lineup is a friend of mine. I've always especially enjoyed reading stories written by people I already know, and this was a chance for me to do a lot of that. I'd like to take this opportunity to once again thank John Betancourt and Carla Coupe of Wildside Press for allowing me a spot at the table with such talented writers.


Story time

"Rooster Creek" is a 7500-word tale that combines three genres: western, mystery, and (to a lesser degree) romance. That was an easy choice for me, since (1) I've always been crazy about westerns, probably because I grew up watching so many on primetime TV; (2) I'm sappy enough to like a good love story; and (3) one of the job requirements of working in the SleuthSayers asylum is a fondness for anything with an element of mystery/suspense.

Here's a quick description of my story: After the death of her mother, twentysomething Katie Harrison is traveling cross-country by stagecoach to live with her older sister, and stops along the way to visit her childhood home. She runs into a multitude of problems, including the theft of her cash and luggage, and is forced to remain at the remote homestead as a servant to its current owners, Maureen and Jesse Carter, until she can earn enough in wages to continue her passage west. At the core of the story is a mystery: the Carters' former housemaid has disappeared, and Katie soon suspects that she's been murdered. With the help of two unlikely allies--a giant black handyman named Booley Jones and a traveling firearms-salesman named Clay Wallace--Katie burrows deeper into the strange lives of her employers/captors, and she eventually winds up alone and fighting for her life.

Structurewise, I decided early on that this story needed to be "framed" such that it begins very near the end then flashes back to the beginning and tells the story in the past. The action then builds to the point where the reader left off, and the climax and conclusion follow shortly afterward. This nonlinear approach--the first scene is sort of a glimpse-into-the-future prologue--doesn't always work, but when it does, I think it can make for more effective storytelling. I hope that's what I accomplished here.


Getting started

Having said that, here are the opening paragraphs of the story:


Katie Harrison swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and looked out at the greenish-brown plains and hills stretching away to the horizon. Sparrows flitted and chirped in the branches overhead, and even in the dappled shade the midday sun was warm on her shoulders. But Katie barely heard the birds, barely felt the heat.

Underneath her feet, the chair shifted an inch, and her heart lurched. She winced as the noose tightened around her neck. The fingernails of her bound hands bit into her palms, behind her back. Then the wobbly chair on which she stood stabilized and she let herself breathe again. Above her, although she couldn't see it, the rope was looped over the limb of an oak that had once supported a wooden swing that she'd played on as a child, twenty years ago.

Ten feet away and to her left, a silent and stonefaced woman with red hair sat and watched from a second chair. Beside the redheaded woman stood a huge black man in a battered hat and bib overalls. His face, usually relaxed and peaceful, had a pained look. Katie had met both of them only a month earlier, after she'd trudged empty-handed and muddy all the way up the wagon-rutted road from the town of Perdition. Only a month. In one sense, the time had passed quickly; in another, it seemed like years since she stopped down off the stagecoach from Lincoln Wells and asked the old fellow behind the counter in the stage office where she could hire a buggy to take her up the old north road.

Ain't much out that way, he had said to her, hunched over his paperwork.

I know, she'd replied. That's where I grew up.



And then we hop back to a scene with her in the stagecoach office, and the real adventure begins there.


Plot and characters

Another point, about the structure of this story. As in most novels and screenplays and in some longer short-stories, a lot of elements of the mythic-structure/heroic-journey model apply here. First, in Act 1, there's the heroine's usual and uncomplicated life, then a "disturbance" that upsets the routine (in this case, her inability to rent transportation to get her where she wants to go), then an unexpected encounter (with a young boy who needs her help) which delays her acceptance of the "call to adventure," and finally her eventual crossing-the-threshold transition into unfamiliar and threatening territory. Act 2 features the appearance of mentors and allies (a kindly hired hand and a traveling gun salesman), several run-ins with evil forces, steadily rising action, and finally a crisis/setback that paves the way for the climax. Then, in Act 3, there's the final confrontation between the heroine and the villain and the heroine's later return, as an older and wiser person, to her everyday, pre-adventure life. The old hero's-journey template still works.
I knew before I started writing "Rooster Creek" that I wanted the protagonist to be a strong-willed young woman, which is a little unusual for me, and it turned out later that the main antagonist was a woman as well, which was a lot unusual for me. But it seemed to fit, and the more I got into writing about the villain the more I could see her and hear her. I even had the villain always speaking of herself in the third person, which (as fellow SleuthSayer Janice Law and I discussed, when we talked about this), made her seem not only weird but even more sinister. These crazy little extra "quirks" can be the difference, I've found, between a merely okay character and a really vivid character. Janet Hutchings told me a couple of years ago that one reason she bought one of my mysteries for EQMM was that my main female character was seven feet tall. But that--literally--is another story.

The hired hand in this piece, Booley Jones, is a composite of a number of folks I knew, growing up in small-town Mississippi, and the same is true for some of the other characters. As for detailed descriptions of the players, I never do much of that. I can see these people clearly in my imagination as I'm writing about them, but I think it's important that the reader be allowed the freedom to also imagine what they look like. Stephen King once said, in his book On Writing, "I'd rather let the reader supply the faces, the builds, and the clothing as well." I'm no Stephen King, but I think that's good advice.


Entitlement

One more thing. The title of this story was a result of my not being able to decide on a satisfactory title even after the writing was finished. I tried using embedded phrases, characters' names, double meanings. and just about every other technique, and when nothing worked, I came up with the name of a geographical feature instead--Rooster Creek--and went back and set the house and farm and most of the action alongside its willow-shaded banks. Sometimes simple is best.

And that's the story of my story. If you read it, I hope you'll like it, and even if you don't read it (or don't like it), be sure to read the other stories in the magazine. John and Carla have put together a great debut issue.

Long live Black Cat Mystery Magazine.




16 September 2017

A Trivial Pursuit


by John M. Floyd



Yes, I know: there are a lot of productive things I could and should be doing right now, instead of writing a trivial post about trivia. But, as I've confessed in the past, I love little-known facts about fiction and those who create or portray it.

So, for the next few minutes, I challenge you to forget about the stock market and North Korea and politics and global warming and take a look at these worthless little tidbits about movies and novels and actors and writers. Since they surprised me when I learned about them, I hope they (or at least some of them) might surprise you as well.


- Ian Fleming wrote the children's book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

- Jack Kerouac typed the novel On the Road on one continuous roll of paper 120 feet long.

- Dooley Wilson (Sam, in Casablanca) didn't know how to play the piano.

- Dr. Seuss wasn't a doctor, of any kind.

- Harriet Beecher Stowe lived next door to Mark Twain in Hartford, Connecticut.

- The names of the policeman and the cab driver in It's a Wonderful Life were Bert and Ernie.

- Both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were extras in Field of Dreams.

- Between 1982 and 1984, Nora Roberts wrote 23 novels.

- The announcer who replaced Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer (played by Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam) was Pat Sajak.

- Mel Brooks wrote the lyrics to the theme from Blazing Saddles.

- Steve Buscemi is a former NYC firefighter.

- The final Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, was nominated for eleven Oscars and won all of them.

- Before writing The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown was a pop singer. One of his solo albums was called Angels and Demons.

- In Raiders of the Lost Ark, a drawing of R2D2 and C3PO appears on a column in the Well of Souls.

- The novel Catch-22 was originally titled Catch-18.

- Robert Louis Stevenson burned stories based on readers' informal responses, Leo Tolstoy's son rescued the manuscript of War and Peace from the ditch where Tolstoy had thrown it, and Tabitha King pulled the discarded manuscript of Carrie from Stephen King's wastebasket.

- James Arness (Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke) and Peter Graves (Jim Phelps of Mission: Impossible) were brothers.

- William Atherton, who played the obnoxious TV reporter in Die Hard and Die Hard 2, sang the "What'll I Do?" theme song during the opening credits of the 1974 (Robert Redford/Mia Farrow) version of The Great Gatsby.

- "Goldeneye" was Ian Fleming's name for the Jamaican beach house where he wrote all the James Bond novels. Sting later used the same desk to write the song "Every Breath You Take."

- One of the voices of E.T. was that of Debra Winger.

- Clint Eastwood composed the main theme ("Claudia's Theme") for Unforgiven.


- Tom Wolfe, who was six-foot-six, preferred to write standing up, using the top of his refrigerator for a desk.

- In The Abyss, many of the underwater scenes were actually filmed in smoky air, using fake bubbles.

- Olivia Newton-John's grandfather, Max Born, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954.

- Both Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie dictated their novels. (Though ESG typed his earliest work.)

- To make some of the spacecraft seem larger in the movie Alien, director Ridley Scott filmed his own two children outfitted in miniature space suits.

- Rowan Atkinson has a master's degree in Electrical Engineering.

- Singer Tex Ritter ("Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin'," from High Noon) was actor John Ritter's father.

- Actor/director Anthony Hopkins composed the music for the movie Slipstream (2007).

- Clyde Barrow once wrote a letter to Henry Ford (it's on display at the Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan) praising the V-8 Ford as a getaway car.

- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first book written using the typewriter.

- Clint Eastwood did all his own mountain climbing--no stuntmen--in The Eiger Sanction.

- Most of the cast and crew of The African Queen got sick from the water. Only Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston were unaffected because they drank only whiskey.

- Evelyn Waugh's first wife's name was Evelyn.

- Tom Hanks is a descendant of Abe Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.

- The first U.S. paperback edition of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale was published with the title You Asked for It.

- Michael Myers's mask in Halloween was a two-dollar Captain Kirk mask, slightly altered and painted white.

- Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew novels, was really a pseudonym for a team of several different writers.

- Hoyt Axton (the father in The Black Stallion) wrote "Heartbreak Hotel."

- Melissa McCarthy and Jenny McCarthy are first cousins.

- The original title of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. It was reversed when Newman decided to take the role of Butch rather than Sundance.

- The same author (Larry McMurtry) wrote Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment.

- Frank Oz was the voice of Yoda, the Cookie Monster, and Miss Piggy.

- Mickey Spillane ordered 50,000 copies of his 1952 novel Kiss Me, Deadly to be destroyed when the comma was left out of the title.

- Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller's girlfriend) has had two fathers-in-law: Sean Connery and Jim Henson.

- Director John Carpenter composed the music for most of his movies.

- Noah Webster was T. S. Eliot's great-uncle.

- Ian Fleming got the name for his fictional spy from a book he owned called Birds of the West Indies, by James Bond.

- The charcoal sketch of Kate Winslet in Titanic was actually drawn by director James Cameron.

- Tommy Lee Jones and Al Gore were roommates at Harvard.

- J. K. Rowling came up with the names for the houses at Hogwarts while on a plane. She jotted the names down on a barf bag.

- The keypad on the laboratory's door lock in Moonraker plays the five-note theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

- Author Sidney Sheldon created the TV series I Dream of Jeannie and The Patty Duke Show, and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

- When the kid in Home Alone 2 walks into the Plaza Hotel, the person he asks for directions is Donald Trump.

- Tom Clancy was part owner of the Baltimore Orioles.

- Cormac McCarthy wrote with the same typewriter for more than fifty years. When it broke, he auctioned it off for more than $250,000 (to donate to charity).

- In World War II, Roald Dahl was a fighter pilot, Donald Pleasance was a POW, Christopher Lee was an undercover agent for British Inteligence, and Charles Durning was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.

- When a hurricane hit the set during filming of Jurassic Park, the pilot who choppered the crew to safety was the man who had played Indiana Jones's pilot, Jock, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

- The top three most-read books in the world are The Holy Bible, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, and the Harry Potter series.

- In The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, Fleming was played by Sean Connery's son Jason.

- Actor Sam Shepard wrote 44 plays; one of them won him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979.

- The roles of both John McClane in Die Hard and Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry were first offered to Frank Sinatra.

- When J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, she typed three separate copies of the manuscript because she couldn't afford copying fees.

- Samuel L. Jackson's Pulp Fiction quote from Ezekiel was originally written for Harvey Keitel's character in From Dusk to Dawn.

- Chocolate syrup was used as blood in Psycho's shower scene; it was also used as the Tin Man's oil in The Wizard of Oz.

- Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was eighteen, and it was published when she was twenty.

- Mystery writer John Sandford, a.k.a. John Camp, won a Pulitzer for Non-Deadline Feature Writing in 1986 for articles about the life of a Minnesota farming family.

- Of his 70-plus film roles, Gregory Peck played a villain only twice (I think), in Duel in the Sun and The Boys From Brazil.

- Dolph Lundgren has a master's degree in Chemical Engineering.

- In the UK, Fifty Shades of Grey is the best-selling book of all time.

- George Lucas had a dog named Indiana.

- Robert Duvall had a bit part as Steve McQueen's cab driver in the movie Bullitt.

- The Salvation (2014) was a Western filmed in South Africa, with a Danish director and actors from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, the U.S., and England.

- Haley Joe Osment, the boy who "saw dead people" in The Sixth Sense, played Forrest Gump's son five years earlier.

- Tippi Hedren (The Birds) is the mother of Melanie Griffith and the grandmother of Dakota Johnson.

- Kurt Vonnegut managed America's first Saab dealership.

- Denzel Washington and Jeff Goldblum both played thugs in 1974's Death Wish.

- As a child, Roald Dahl--the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--was a taste-tester for Cadbury's chocolate.

- Nathaneal West's 1939 novel The Day of the Locust features a character named Homer Simpson.

- In High Plains Drifter, one of the headstones in the cemetery was inscribed with the name Sergio Leone.

- Married (at one time or another): Geena Davis/Jeff Goldblum, Rachel Weisz/Daniel Craig, Calista Flockhart/Harrison Ford, Marlo Thomas/Phil Donahue, Rita Hayworth/Orson Welles, Uma Thurman/Gary Oldman, Dyan Cannon/Cary Grant, Lorraine Bracco/Edward James Olmos, Catherine Keener/Delmot Mulroney, Mia Farrow/Frank Sinatra, Christie Brinkley/Billy Joel, Barbara Streisand/Elliott Gould, Brooke Shields/Andre Agassi, Lisa Marie Presley/Nicolas Cage, Mary Steenbergen/Malcolm McDowell, Isabella Rosselini/Martin Scorcese, Madonna/Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller/Will Arnett, Michelle Phillips/Dennis Hopper, Mimi Rogers/Tom Cruise, Helen Hunt/Hank Azaria, Drew Barrymore/Tom Green, Katherine Ross/Sam Elliott, Scarlett Johanssen/Ryan Reynolds.

-Dated (at one time or another): Helen Mirren/Liam Neeson, Anjelica Huston/Jack Nicholson. Sarah Jessica Parker/Robert Downey Jr., Courtney Cox/Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg/Frank Langella, Carrie Fisher/Paul Simon, Jeanne Tripplehorn/Ben Stiller, Meryl Streep/John Cazale.

- Barbie in Toy Story 3 is voiced by Jodi Benson, who also voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

- Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 to make and has grossed $210 million; Deep Throat cost around $25,000 and grossed $600 million; John Carter cost $350 million and lost $200 million.

- Mickey Spillane was at one time the author of seven of the ten best-selling novels in history.

- Sean Connery wore a toupee in all of his James Bond movies.


And maybe the most valuable and surprising piece of trivia of all:

- Katy Perry's cat's name is Kitty Purry.

(Don't ever say I didn't give you the inside info.)


Can you think of any crazy and lesser-known movie/novel/actor/author facts? Inquiring minds want to know . . .




02 September 2017

A Summer Plot


by John M. Floyd



Question: What do you call a gathering of writers? It can't be a school (that's taken), or a murder or a pride or a gaggle (also taken). Of all the suggestions of collective nouns I've seen, I prefer a plot. It has a nice ring to it, I think: a plot of writers. Not that it makes sense or anything--actually I just needed a good title for this column.


The gathering I'm referring to is one I attended two weeks ago, on Saturday, August 19: the third annual Mississippi Book Festival, held here in Jackson on the grounds of the State Capitol. A plot of several thousand writers (and readers) gathered there from nine a.m. until five p.m., in the blazing sun and stifling humidity of a southern summer, to attend author panels and signings and to buy books and--as our Baptist brethren like to say--to "fellowship." And fellowship we did, all day long and into the night, when our annual "literary lawn party" moved to another site several miles north.

The only official indication we have of this year's total crowd-size is the number of people who attended the forty-or-so panels held in several indoor and air-conditioned venues on and around the grounds, and I'm told that was around 6500--though there were certainly many other folks who came to the event and did not choose to attend a panel. As for me, I was stationed for most of the day at an outdoor and un-air-conditioned venue: the twelve-by-twelve-foot tent assigned to my publisher (Joe Lee, of Dogwood Press) and his four authors--Randy Pierce, Valerie Winn, Susan Cushman, and myself--along with stacks and boxes of our books. A couple of us played hooky long enough to participate in signings and panels throughout the day, but it was still a little crowded there. And really, really hot. But we saw a lot of old friends, met some new ones, and sold a few books as well.


My panel was one of the very last of the day, at four p.m., and although we four panelists and our moderator were sweaty and exhausted by then, so was our audience, so we all managed to get through the hour and have a good time. The panel, called "Voices of Home," was held in one of the rooms inside the Capitol, and--a quick plug, here--it's an impressive building, as are the grounds surrounding it. Especially this year, since we've had such a wet summer and everything is, for a change, as lush and green as a rainforest.

We who took part in the festival were extremely fortunate to have several nationally-known authors and publishers in attendance--Ron Rash, Greg Iles, Otto Penzler, Tom Franklin, Richard Ford, etc.--and even though Saturday's schedule was too hectic to allow much visiting, there were a couple of pre-event functions on Friday night that gave everybody time to get together and chat and catch up a bit. These were held at the home of Eudora Welty and at the historic Old Capitol Museum, and included panelists, sponsors, and guests.


I posted a similar SleuthSayers column at this same time last year, following our 2016 event, and I'll ask the same question again. Do you, as writers and readers, have annual local/regional book festivals like the one I've described? I know of several states that do. If so, have you attended or participated, and did you find it enjoyable? I think most of you will agree that getting together with others in the literary world, regardless of where or how, is usually fun for everyone. Even when the temperature and humidity are both well above ninety.

I asked Otto Penzler if he had expected it to be this hot down here. Gracious as always, he said, "Sure--I love the south." And then gulped about a gallon of water.

Excuse me while I go turn up the A/C.









05 August 2017

Who Put the B in the BSP?


by John M. Floyd



Here's the question of the day, for all you writers out there: How Blatant should Self-Promotion be?

Consider this definition, found at the Oxford Learner's Dictionaries site:
Blatant self-promotion is the activity of making people notice you and your abilities, especially in a way that annoys other people.

Everyone knows what the key word is, in that sentence. And nobody wants to be annoying. The sad thing is, I think many of us are annoying without realizing it--and somehow that's even worse. Most of us grow weary of having people show us their grandchildren's (or their cats' and dogs' ) photos on their cell phones, but we can't imagine how anyone could grow weary of seeing ours. This isn't quite the same as the blinders we wear regarding self-promotion, but it comes close.

These days, it's an unpleasant fact of life that we authors, whether self-published or not, are expected to do a certain amount of marketing, of both ourselves and our product. Otherwise, unless we're famous to begin with, no one except friends and family are going to know who we are or what we've done. I understand that. We're told constantly that we need a "platform," and a plan for spreading the word, whether it's via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, websites, interviews, signings, speaking engagements, or all of the above. But the question is, how much of that can you do before you go overboard, and become an embarrassment to yourself and to friends and family?


How much is too much?

One thing that makes self-promotion appealing, at least to the self-promoter, is that talking or writing about yourself isn't all that hard. You know yourself and your accomplishments, better than anybody else does. Whether you can be objective about it is another matter, but the truth is, something like a blog post about your latest project is pretty darn easy to do--it doesn't require any research or any real work. So, do I do that, now and then? Sure I do. But nobody, including my mother, wants to hear too much about me, or to hear about me all the time. (Well, maybe Mom does, but she's the only one.)

I think the answer--and it seems to be the answer to a lot of life's problems--is moderation. Of course we should try to get our names out there, and put our best foot forward in things like bios, cover letters, press releases, etc. But I think that process has to be grounded in some measure  of common sense. Nobody wants to get emails every day from the same person, asking for five-star reviews and "likes" and visits to author websites and votes for best-novel-cover contests. I mean, Sweet Jumpin' Jiminy.

By the way, I am not innocent of BSP crimes. After all, my post here at SleuthSayers a week ago was a discussion of several of my own stories that appeared in recent publications. I guess all of us do that kind of thing occasionally--some more than others. As Brother Dave Gardner once said, of a traveling preacher who made a whistle stop in Irondale, Alabama, and was addressing the crowd: "He said, 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,' and BLAP that rock hit him."

Bios and egos

BSP can take many forms. A writer's bio that goes on and on and on can make a reader's stomach cramp and his eyes glaze over, and there's even a school of thought that says the longer the printed bio, the less the writer has actually accomplished--the wannabe author just writes more words about less important things. Even the automatic signature you place at the end of your emails can be too much. Twenty lines of text following your name and listing all your publications and awards and nominations and third-place wins in contests might be overdoing it just a bit. In fact, it might be eighteen or nineteen lines too long.
Same thing goes for booksignings. I'm not saying it's a good idea to sit there at the signing table and stare at prospective buyers like a frog on a log, but it's also not good to call out to passersby like a snake-oil salesman at the county fair or chase them down and pester them with questions. As a customer, I have often strolled over to chat with an author, especially one who smiles and makes eye contact, and I have often (maybe too often) bought his or her book as a result--but I will probably never buy anything from an author who eagerly blurts "Hey, do you like reading mysteries? You'll like this one. Come over here and take a look." Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like to feel that the buy/no-buy decision is my own to make, without a lot of arm-twisting. Whether it's a book or a pair of shoes or a bag of peanuts.

I do try to post my upcoming booksignings on Facebook, mainly because my publisher (who's much smarter than I am, on these matters) has encouraged me to, and also because I know that it has occasionally steered folks to the bookstore on the day I'm there. I don't think that kind of thing is being too pushy; I think it makes sense. But some of the all-out blitzes people do on social media, especially regarding book launches, can get out of hand. All of you know what I mean. There's a fine line there, between aggressive and excessive, and I'm thinking (and hoping) that most of us know where to draw that line and not to leap over it.

What do you think?

Author and editor Ramona DeFelice Long said, at her blog, that writers should keep Goldilocks in mind and do what feels right.

But what does feel right? Do too little, you're shy or lazy. Do too much, you're obnoxious. You're either a wallflower that nobody knows or an insurance salesman that nobody wants to know.

What's your response to this? How do you, as a writer, try to do what's required without being overwhelming? What are your personal "rules"? Also, what makes you, as a potential buyer of a piece of fiction, uncomfortable or annoyed? When does SP become BSP?

By the way, do you like reading mysteries? Have I got a deal for you . . .

Just kidding.







29 July 2017

Four Stories


by John M. Floyd



July has been a busy month for me, in terms of the SleuthSayers blog--it has five weekends, so it was my duty to post three columns, on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Saturdays. For this last assignment, I thought it might be fitting (and, yes, easy) to talk about four of my short mystery stories that appeared in publications with a July 2017 issue date. Three of them were in magazines, one in an anthology.

Hitched with the team

First, I was fortunate enough to be featured alongside three of my fellow SleuthSayers--R.T. Lawton, O'Neil De Noux, and Steve Liskow--and two of my old friends--Joe D'Agnese and Robert Mangeot--in the July/August 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (which actually went on sale last month). My story there, called "Trail's End," is the first of a new series featuring rural sheriff Ray Douglas and his lawyer/mystery-writer friend Jennifer Parker. The two of them are in sort of an on-again-off-again relationship and, not surprisingly, wind up in the middle of a murder investigation on their way back from a trip to New Orleans.

NOTE 1: After finishing several drafts of this story, I was having a hard time coming up with a suitable title, so I changed the plot around a little, placed the murder scene at a motel, put it at the end of a road at the edge of a swamp in the middle of nowhere, and named the motel the Trail's End.

NOTE 2: Someone recently asked me why the women in my stories are usually smarter than the men. I replied that I try to write fiction that comes close to the way things are in real life.

One more thing about this story. An old friend from my hometown named Cheryl Grubbs told me a couple of years ago that she hoped I would one day use her as a character in one of my creations. As fate would have it, Sheriff Douglas's deputy in this story is named Cheryl Grubbs. And by the way, the second installment in the series has been purchased by AHMM and will appear sometime in the coming months, so Deputy Grubbs will be back again then. Cheryl, if you're reading this, I hope you'll like her.

The book thief

My second July story, "The Rare Book Case," also came out in late June, but appeared in Woman's World's July 3 issue--WW copies go on sale almost two weeks before the issue date--and is an installment in my series about retired schoolteacher Angela Potts and her former student Sheriff Charles "Chunky" Jones. Most of the stories in that series were written for Woman's World, but other Angela/Chunky adventures have appeared in Amazon Shorts, Flash Bang MysteriesRocking Chairs and Afternoon Tales, and my short-story collection Fifty Mysteries: The Angela Files.

This one is set on the Fourth of July, and involves the theft of a rare first-edition novel from a locked case at Abner Smith's bookstore. The thief, long gone now, was seen by one of the store's customers but not by the owner, and when the sheriff is summoned certain things in the customer's description of the suspect don't seem to add up. Fortunately the bossy Ms. Potts--who as usual is on the scene even though she probably shouldn't be--is especially good at that kind of math, and saves the (Independence) day.

Maintaining law and daughter

My third story of the month, in the Summer 2017 issue of B.J. Bourg's Flash Bang Mysteries, is a new episode in a series I've been writing for a long time, featuring Sheriff Lucy Valentine and her mother Frances. Fran usually helps her daughter solve mysteries (whether Lucy wants her to or not), but her main goal is to get Sheriff Valentine married so Fran can become a grandmother, a mission that has so far been unsuccessful. Other stories about these two, which I've named the "Law & Daughter" series, have appeared in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Mysterical-E, Woman's World, Futures, Mouth Full of Bullets, Seeds, Kings River Life, my short-story collection Dreamland, and several anthologies.

This story in Flash Bang is called "Ace in the Hole," and involves the gangland kidnapping of a guy named Ace McGee, who seems to be destined for a late-night burial in a pit at a construction site. Working with Fran and Lucy to try to keep Ace alive and above ground is teenaged genius Donna Fairley, which is also the maiden name of one of my old IBM co-workers. (Warning to my family, friends, and acquaintances: you guys have a way of showing up as characters in my stories, so you better be nice to me . . .)

A neo kind of noir

The last of my July-dated publications, "The Sandman," is a standalone story included in the anthology Noir at the Salad Bar, from Level Best Books. (Actually this isn't the last one, but until just before time for this column to post, I thought it was. My fifth publication with a current date, a story called "Crow Mountain" in Strand Magazine, is described below. Hang on . . .)

"The Sandman" is possibly the most intense of the stories I'm discussing here, but I still tried to plug a bit of humor in. The title refers to a character named Sanderford, and the plot involves a couple of underworld loan-sharks who target the owner of a local bar. This mystery is more of a howdunit than a whodunit, with a few twists thrown in (I can't seem to resist that), and was great fun to write.

I'm especially honored to have been featured in this book alongside friends Michael Bracken and Alan Orloff. Noir at the Salad Bar was released on July 18.

Getting lucky at WW

I also have another Woman's World story, called "Mr. Unlucky" out right now, but its issue date is August 7 so I'm not counting it as one of my July stories. (That issue appeared at our Kroger store on July 27, so I picked it up yesterday along with a jug of milk and a loaf of bread. Seriously.) This was my 89th story to be published in Woman's World, and in recent weeks I've sold them #90 and #91. So far, 82 of those have been installments in my Angela-and-the-Sheriff series.

"Mr. Unlucky" is a whodunit about a robbery at a local furniture store, and involves a mysterious note on which is written the name of an old TV show and movie called Mr. Lucky. I'm a certified, card-carrying movie addict, so anytime I can work something cinematic into one of my stories, it makes it even more fun to write. Upcoming is a Labor Day story scheduled for the September 4 WW issue (on sale August 24) and a murder mystery in the September 18 issue.

Breaking news . . .

I only just found out that I also have a story in the current (June-Sep 2017) issue of Strand Magazine, just released. Yes, as I said, I know that makes five stories rather than four, but instead of changing the title of this post at the last minute, I figured I'd tack this onto the end. The story is "Crow Mountain," about a fisherman who encounters an escaped convict deep in the woods, and what happens as a result. If you pick up this issue, I hope you'll like the tale--it's a little different. And I'm proud to have been featured alongside one of my longtime heroes, Max Allan Collins.


Anyhow, that's my midsummer report. (You might notice I didn't mention my rejections, which are many.) If any of you have recent--or not-so-recent--successes to announce (publications, acceptances, completions, etc., of either shorts or novels), please let me know via the comments section below. Everybody likes hearing that kind of news.



Speaking of fortunate events, today is our wedding anniversary. Carolyn and I were married 45 years ago in a galaxy far, far away (Oklahoma), and tonight most of our kids and grandchildren will be here at our house for dinner. I can't think of a better way to celebrate.

Familywise AND writingwise, I wish all of you the best.








15 July 2017

Nick Mason: A New Kind of Hero


by John M. Floyd




Back when Leigh, Rob, Janice, and I were writing weekly columns for the Criminal Brief blog, I did a post about mystery writer Steve Hamilton (here's a link). I had met Steve at a writers' conference a couple of years earlier and shortly afterward became hooked on his series about reluctant private investigator Alex McKnight.


That blog piece was eight years ago. At that time Steve had written seven McKnights and one standalone novel, Night Work. He has since produced three more McKnight novels, a second standalone called The Lock Artist, and the first two books in a series about ex-con Nick Mason.

Backstory

One reason I was so intrigued by Steve Hamilton when I met him is that he was (at that time) an employee of IBM--and so was I, for thirty years. I'm not saying there aren't a lot of IBM folks running around out there, but there aren't a lot of them who are also mystery writers. Anyhow, Steve showed several of us at the conference a short film that had just been adapted from one of his stories, and I've been a devoted fan ever since. I've now read all ten of the McKnight novels--which are set, by the way, in the real town of Paradise, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula--and also both of his standalone books. And a few weeks ago I finished the second novel in his new series. The main thing to report, about that, is that Steve Hamilton's fiction is every bit as strong now as it was in his very first book (A Cold Day in Paradise, which won the Edgar Award). Keeping up that kind of quality, as we all know, is not always the case. Most authors--especially crime novelists, for some reason--can't continue to entertain/captivate their audience, or at least not at the same level, after a dozen books or so.

Another thing about Steve: he's a genuinely nice guy, friendly and down-to-earth and helpful to other writers. He's certainly been kind to me.

The new series

I've already mentioned the fact that I liked all the McKnight installments and the two non-series books, Night Work and The Lock Artist (the latter won Steve yet another Edgar). But I'm really excited about his latest two novels, The Second Life of Nick Mason and Exit Strategy. Both are set in Chicago, and feature the most interesting protagonist I've seen in a long time.

Nick Mason (no, he's not a brickmason, and no relation to Perry) is a career criminal. An ex-convict, in fact, who gets out of prison on a fluke and finds himself in a position almost bad as the one he left. On the one hand, he's now a free man, but on the other, he belongs to the guy who arranged his release. "Mobility," in his benefactor's own words, "is not freedom." Nick is still in a prison of sorts, and lives at the beck and call of someone who, if not strictly and promptly obeyed, will kill not only Nick but his wife and daughter as well.

This "second life" that Nick Mason has been granted (seldom has there been a more appropriate title for a novel) is what drives this series. The first book introduces the character and his dilemma, and the next one--Exit Strategy--continues the nightmare but puts forth the slim hope that Nick can somehow get out of the impossible situation Fate has handed him. Both novels feature fascinating characters, pulse-pounding action, and plenty of plot twists.

In the words of others . . .

Here are some excerpts from recent reviews of The Second Life of Nick Mason:

"A fine premise, a vibrant setting, a charismatic anti-hero . . . It's a tight, gripping book about a man hellbent on reinventing himself against long odds."--The New York Times

"Whatever he writes, I'll read. Steve Hamilton's that good."--Lee Child

"Steve Hamilton amazes me. Every time I think he's going to zig, he zags."--Michael Connelly

"The novel more than lives up to its hype."--The Chicago Tribune

"Trust Stephen King. This book is the real deal."--Stephen King

A killer like Keller

Maybe the most surprising thing about this series is that Steve Hamilton--like Lawrence Block, in his Keller novels--somehow makes the reader care about an extremely unlikely hero. Nick Mason has a good heart, but he's still a hired assassin. And here we are, cheering him on. I plan to do the same with future installments in this series.

Breaking news: The first of the Nick Mason novels will be a major movie soon, and a recent podcast featuring an interview with Steve can be found at Wrong Place, Right Crime.  (Click on July 3: Steve Hamilton. Hint, hint: I'll be featured there on July 17, so tune in for that one too.)

That's my pitch for today. Again, the novels are The Second Life of Nick Mason and Exit Strategy. I hope you'll read them, and the Alex McKnight series as well. In other words, spend a few cold days in Paradise.

And to Steve, if you read this . . . keep up the good work.




01 July 2017

Mags and Anthos


by John M. Floyd




The other day R.T. Lawton and I were e-chatting about the new issue of AHMM--this isn't the first time he and I have been fortunate enough to be featured together in those pages--and we got onto the subject of submitting stories to mystery magazines and anthologies. And it occurred to me, also not for the first time, that these days I seem to be focusing as much on anthologies as on magazines.

Names and titles

There are probably several reasons for that. One: There aren't a lot of mystery magazine markets to submit stories to, lately. The longtimers are AHMM, EQMM, The Strand, Woman's World (they publish one mystery and one romance in each issue), and electronic zines like Mysterical-E and Over My Dead Body. (Am I leaving anyone out?) More recently, we also have Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, BJ Bourg's Flash Bang Mysteries, the upcoming Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and a few others.

And there seem to be more anthologies out there now than there were in the past. Either that, or I'm now more aware of them. Besides regulars like the annual MWA antho, the Bouchercon antho, etc., there are a lot of anthologies from places like Down & Out Books and Level Best Books. As has been mentioned before at this blog, there are some excellent websites (Ralan.com and Sandra Seamans's My Little Corner are two that come to mind) that allow writers to stay up to date on which anthos are out there and which are issuing calls for submissions. Occasionally I've been lucky enough to be asked to contribute a story to an upcoming anthology--and I have yet to turn one of those invitations down.

NOTE: This discussion does not include the annual "best-of" anthologies like Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, etc.

Assets and liabilities

What are the advantages of magazines over anthologies, and vice versa? Well, for one thing, the leading magazines usually give a writer more exposure and (sometimes) higher pay than an anthology. Also, since some of the magazines have been in place for a long time, most mystery writers are already familiar with the kind of submissions those publications want and don't want.


Another point: When you publish in a well-known magazine, whether it's print or online, your story will probably be in their archives forever, like an episode in a TV series. Magazines, like newspapers, are periodicals; an anthology is more of a one-time event, there and then gone, and its individual stories are possibly not as easily retrievable in the future. The flip side of that argument, of course, is that anthologies give the aspiring writer the chance to have his or her work appear in a "real" book, and sometimes alongside big-name authors.

Another item on the plus side of the ledger for anthologies is the fact that, in some cases at least, the response time for stories submitted to anthos is less than for stories submitted to magazines. Also, you might face less competition that you would at the leading magazines, because of the often-tight submission windows for anthologies. Some writers don't find out about these "calls" until it's too late, and even if they do, there might not be enough time for them to write or re-vamp a suitable story. Besides, most anthologies are themed, and that alone can thin the herd. If you can't write (or find in your inventory) a story that fits the theme, you're out of luck.

There are at least three things that I've heard about anthologies that are sometimes considered to be advantages, but aren't. One: Anthos are more likely to accept reprints. Well, some are, and some are not. There are a number of magazines, especially e-zines, that will consider reprints as well. Two: Anthologies, since they sometimes pay via royalties, are a better financial opportunity for the writer. Untrue. As mentioned earlier, this depends solely on the publication--and on how well the book sells. Three: An anthology's editor is often a fellow author, and might be a friend or acquaintance and therefore more apt to squeeze your story in. That's certainly possible--but I consider myself a friend to several magazine editors, and I assure you that doesn't guarantee publication. The best editors, regardless of the kind of market they oversee, are more interested in acquiring quality stories than granting their buddies a free pass.

Questions and answers

I haven't gone back and studied the statistics, but I suspect that I now submit about the same number of stories to anthologies as to magazines. My question for you short-story writers is, how about you? Do you actively search out antho submission calls? Are you ever invited to submit? Do you usually stick to the tried-and-true magazines instead? Do you ever target non-mystery magazines with your crime stories? Do you use either of the market-listing sites I mentioned, and maybe some others also? What has your success rate been, for both magazines and anthologies?


One market we haven't talked about is collections of your own short stories. Have any of you tried publishing collections of your shorts, either at big or small traditional presses? Any successes there? If so, did those books consist mostly of your reprints or of your original stories? Has anyone self-published a collection, maybe via Amazon? Any experiences you'd be willing to share with the class?

Thanks in advance. And meanwhile, keep writing!



17 June 2017

Talk/Don't Talk


by John M. Floyd



Everybody seems to like dialogue. It can do a lot of things for a story, writingwise: advance the plot, deepen characterization, "show" rather than "tell," improve the pacing, etc. Besides, its just fun to read. I think it was Lawrence Block who said nothing engages a reader like listening to the people in a story talking things over.

It's also fun to write. And it's easier to write, I think, than plain old description and exposition, because when my characters speak I can hear them in my head.
Enrolling in discourse

The truth is, most of my short stories are heavy on dialogue. I've even begun a few of them with the intention of writing the whole thing in nothing but dialogue. One such story, "Careers," was published in AHMM years ago and another, "Doctor's Orders," at Amazon Shorts--the first was 1000 words in length, the second 6000--and I can still remember the fun I had writing those. It'll probably be no surprise to you when I say that many of my favorite genre writers--Harlan Coben, Joe Lansdale, Nelson DeMille, Stephen King, Lee Child, Greg Iles, Janet Evanovich, Steve Hamilton, Carl Hiaasen, Robert B. Parker, Jack Ritchie, Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake--are/were absolute wizards in the use of dialogue.

Some movies that are almost all-dialogue come to mind: Sleuth, Twelve Angry Men, The Hateful Eight, Proof, The Breakfast Club, and Glengarry Glen Ross, to name only a few. Several of these were originally plays, which makes sense.

BUT . . .

(You knew there had to be a but in there somewhere, right?)

. . . there are also some well-known stories that don't include much--or any--dialogue.

Personally, I've only created a few (none of them well-known) that are seriously short on dialogue. One of my stories, "Bennigan's Key," a 5000-worder published a few years ago in The Strand Magazine, has no dialogue at all. But since it was prose, I was at least able to use unspoken thoughts (sometimes called "internal monologue"). The same could be said about Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire."

The sound of silence

In movies, the no-dialogue approach is harder to pull off. After all, a screenwriter can't tell you what the characters are thinking. He or she has only two ways to convey information to the audience: action and speech. And if no one's speaking . . .

Even so, here are some excellent films that contain little or no dialogue: Life of Pi, Quest for Fire, The Bear, Cast Away, GravityAll Is Lost, The Revenant, Apocalypto, Walkabout, and The Gods Must Be Crazy.

One of those--All is Lost, a 2013 film with Robert Redford as a lone seaman who battles the elements--contains only one spoken word: a common and graphic expletive, uttered after a frustrating setback. And despite the fact that nothing else is said during its almost-two-hour run, the movie manages to hold the attention of the audience throughout. An impressive feat.

NOTE: It occurred to me only after jotting down those little-or-no-dialogue movies that all ten of them involve characters who spend the whole story walking around (or running around or floating around) in the Great Outdoors. I suppose a lot needs to be happening around them, to have any kind of interesting plotline.

Speaking your mind

Can you think of other movies, or stories or novels, that tell the entire tale using no dialogue? If you're a writer, have you published anything written that way? How hard was that to do? Have you written any plays, or other kinds of fiction, that use almost nothing but dialogue? If you had to pick one of the two extremes--all or none--which would you prefer?

"Let's hear it for a lot of talking," Dialogue Dude says.

Quiet Dude makes no reply . . .






03 June 2017

Zoning Out


by John M. Floyd



All of us have heard of it, and all of us have experienced it, from time to time (but never enough, it seems). It's special and wonderful and elusive--and no, it's not fame or fortune. What am I talking about?

It's something I've often heard called the Hot Zone, or just the Zone. It's a feeling, or a state of mind, that we as writers are sometimes able to achieve, and when we're reached it our ideas seem to blossom and the words seem to flow and the whole world just seems right. When we're in the Zone we're invincible, unstoppable; we can do no wrong. Author Carolyn Wheat once said, "Getting to that state, and staying there for as long as possible, is the key to writing success."


I used to play a lot of golf, and even though I'm weary of sports analogies, I can still recall the warm and weird "feeling" that came with the confidence of sometimes knowing, during a swing, that the ball was going to go exactly where I wanted it to go. (That feeling was rare, and many of the balls I hit have never been found--but when the sensation was there, it was exhilarating.) The same thing happens occasionally during other activities, including some of my writing sessions.

But I was serious when I said it's elusive. Ariel Gore observed, in her book How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead, "Where do I go to write a story? I don't. I just sit here, waiting and waiting and waiting till the story begins to come to me. Then I sit very, very, very still and try not to scare it off. If I grab at it, it might run under the sofa and hide."

John Simmons, in a piece he wrote for Writers & Artists, said, ". . . When I'm in that zone, I'm not always aware of it. It's a wonderful feeing when you realise afterwards that you've been there. I think it's part of the addiction of being a writer."

More quotes:

"An athlete has her training schedule, the date of the event stamped in her mind, the excitement of the crowded stadium to trigger her best. An actor has his script, his rehearsals and, when it matters, the glare of the lighted stage. The writer has nothing. Hence all the mad little rituals we hear about, having to use a 4H pencil, a Moleskine notebook, having to be in a particular spot, in a certain room, at exactly this time of day, drinking this kind of tea, smoking this brand of cigarette. All desperate attempts to propitiate inspiration, to have ordinariness and originality somehow intersect." -- Tim Parks, "The Writer's Zone."

"The runner's zone is a situation that occurs when you have run for a long time, and your body finds a 'place' where it hits its peak performance. Your body synchronizes your breaths and moves more efficiently. When a writer gets in the zone, inspiration, imagination, posture, keyboard command, focus and concentration, and even the perfect amount of emotion all settle in, making us type much faster, make fewer mistakes, automatically correct the mistakes we do make, and essentially enter a supercharged writing mode." -- Scott Kuttner, "How to Find the Writing Zone and Stay There"

It even got mentioned in the current crime novel I'm reading (Home, by Harlan Coben). The book's protagonist, former NBA star Myron Bolitar, is watching his nephew play basketball in Myron's old high-school gym, and Coben says, "You could see it right away. The greatness. Myron studied his nephew's face and saw that look of what they called 'being in the zone,' focused yet relaxed, on edge yet laid back, whatever terminology you wanted to use, but really it could all be summed up in one word. Home. When Mickey was on the court, like his uncle before him, he was home."

The big question, then, is how do we writers ensure that we reach this mystical place, often and regularly? Well, everybody has different ideas about that. Peter Shallard, in his article "Psychological Tips for Getting in the Writing Zone," said, "Hardly anyone knows how to get in the zone to produce top quality written material. This is about having the state of creativity (or productivity, or whatever is relevant) on tap . . . ready to go, whenever you need it."

Z marks the spot

So how DO we find our way into the Zone? As always, most treasure maps are false, or at least misleading. I've found that some of the "hints" we're given in how-to-write books are maddeningly vague: clear your head, breathe deeply, meditate, find your rhythm, leave your troubles behind, etc. That kind of advice is no help to me--or, I suspect, to anyone else. Of course we need to clear our heads of everything except writing, in order to do our best work. But how?

The following is one of those "do as I say" lists, rather than "do as I do," since I don't seem to be able to make myself obey these rules. But a lot of my writing friends swear that these are the things they do to increase their chances to reach (and frolic in) the flowery meadows and bubbling fountains of the Writing Zone.

1. Write in the same place every day.

This could be the desk in your home office, a recliner in your den, a chair on your sun deck, a swing in your back yard, or anyplace that just feels "right" and comfortable. But let's face it, most writers have schedules that make this hard to do, at least for any length of time. For some, it might be a seat on the commuter train to the office and back. Whatever works.

2. Write at the same time every day.

This is another rule that, for many of us, might or might not be possible. If your daily routine allows it, I can see that it could help. And I've heard that the time should be early in the day rather than late, because our minds are fresher before facing all our daily non-writing problems. Again, if you can do this, fine. Since I'm a night-owl anyhow, most of my fiction is produced in the wee hours (the midnight zone?)--but I don't assign myself a time slot. I can, and do, write pretty much anytime, and anyplace.

3. Surround yourself with encouraging/inspiring sounds.

Many writers say they require a certain kind of music during their writing sessions; others prefer a busy public place with people-noises, like a coffeeshop or the food court in the mall--or a city park with the soothing sounds of birds and traffic and laughing children. I even know writers who use white-noise machines or tapes of rain on the roof or of seagulls and the surf. What I prefer, like Simon and Garfunkel, is the sound of silence. I'm not a solitary person, usually: I like to have things going on around me. But when I write, I want it quiet.


Game analysis and zone defense

If I had to assign percentages, I'd guess that at least half my writer buddies make a sincere attempt to follow the three rules I mentioned. And I say More power to 'em--if that helps, do it. If I did it, I might create better stories, or at least create them faster. But we all have our own methods, and I've been fortunate enough to somehow reach that strange and hypnotic plateau pretty regularly without knowing for sure how I got there.

What do you do, to maximize your writing efficiency/productivity? Is this "zone" state of mind something that happens to you often, or seldom? Do you write in the same location every day? Same time(s)? Do you listen to classical music while you work? Jazz? Rock? Country? The sounds of nature? The Mystic Moods Orchestra?

To each his own.



And by the way, sincere congratulations to my old friend and fellow SleuthSayer O'Neil De Noux, for being nominated earlier this week for a Shamus. Well done!!







20 May 2017

Genre-Hopping and Conclusion-Jumping



by John M. Floyd



In one of the forums (fora? fori?) that I regularly read online, members have been reporting their writing goals for 2017, and whether their year-to-date progress is meeting their expectations. After all, we're almost halfway done. As for me, I'm not much of a goal-setter (or goalkeeper), but those discussions have made me, for a change, take a look at my own writing output.

Non-vital statistics

So far this year, I've had 14 short stories published and I have 12 accepted and upcoming. They cover several genres, but it's skewed heavily toward crime stories. Twenty of those twenty-six are mystery stories, two are westerns, two are fantasy, one's horror, and one's romance. The interesting thing is that even those descriptions are misleading, since all six of my non-mystery sales still involve some degree of crime and/or deception. So I suppose they're "mixed-genre" stories: western/mystery, fantasy/mystery, etc.
I don't think that's unusual. Most of the writers I know genre-hop from time to time (it's the only kind of exercise I really enjoy), and I suppose there are pluses and minuses involved. Yes, it helps to be consistent and market your fiction to a specific audience and "establish a brand"--but it's also fun to dabble in more than one kind of writing. Some of my favorite novels, movies, and stories are hybrids. The Princess Bride was a romance/adventure/comedy/fantasy, To Kill a Mockingbird was a mystery/literary/Southern/coming-of-age/courtroom drama, and one reviewer called The Man From Snowy River a romantic Australian western.

What always surprises me is that most readers, and some writers, don't buy into the widely-accepted definition of "mystery" fiction. As has been said many times at this blog, a short story or a novel can be considered a mystery if a crime is central to the plot. That's enough to get you into a mystery magazine or onto the mystery shelves in the bookstore. And some definitions are even broader: it's a mystery if the story contains even the threat or the implication of a crime. Even so, many reviewers of the well-known "best-of" mystery anthologies always complain because an included story was not what they consider to be a mystery. The conclusion to which they have jumped is that it has to be a traditional mystery, and that the identity of the villain must be kept secret until the ending. It doesn't. Mysteries don't have to be whodunits. They can be howdunits, or whydunits, or howcatchems. Or howtheygotawaywithits.

A juggling act

Back to the subject at hand. I recently saw an online piece by author Nathan Bransford, who pointed out that genre-hopping is not always the best move. He says, and rightly so, that switching from one genre to another usually works best after a writer has already achieved a certain level of success and recognition. In another piece, author Kimberley Grabas seems to agree: "Ideally, the 'wise' course of action is to specialize. To conquer your niche first. Then branch out (if you wish) after you've gained some mastery in one area and have developed a sizable following around that genre." Sure, John Grisham wrote A Painted HouseBleachersPlaying for PizzaSkipping Christmas, etc., none of which had anything to do with crime or courtrooms--but he's John Grisham.

I should mention here that some authors are incredibly good at switch-hitting. Who would believe, unless he/she knew already, that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was written by Ian Fleming, or Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry? Think about it: "3:10 to Yuma" was Elmore Leonard, Exit to Eden was Anne Rice, and Deliverance was poet James Dickey. And by the way, if you've not read the short story "The Last Rung on the Ladder" by Stephen King, I urge you to search it out (it was included in his collection Night Shift). It contains no horror or any kind of creepiness, and is one of the best "literary" stories I've read. It'll bring tears to your eyes.

Longs and shorts

Here's another point: I think genre-hopping is far easier for short-story writers than for novelists. Maybe the establishment of a brand isn't as important for shorties; we work on a much smaller stage and with a smaller potential audience. Also, we shorts writers obviously produce a lot more individual pieces than novelists do (unless maybe you're Stephen King), so wandering off the beaten path now and then isn't as serious a matter as it might be to a novelist or to a novelists's fan base. In any case, I've found that mixing and/or jumping from one genre to another makes the writing process a lot more fun. At least for me.
What do you think? Do you stick to one genre or pingpong between them? If you haven't tried writing/publishing in more than one genre, do you ever plan to? If you have, do you think it's hurt your sales or your ability to reach and keep readers? Do you think the don't-genre-hop "rule" applies more to novels than to shorts? Do you like to write and read "mixed-genre" fiction that combines one or more in the same story--or do you prefer your drinks undiluted and your colors primary? Again, I don't mind hybrids--which probably makes sense. I'm pretty mixed-up anyway.

To each his own.





06 May 2017

Two out of Fifteen–So Far

 Family Fortnight +  Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the eight in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!
by John M. Floyd

I've enjoyed reading, over the past week, about the families of my fellow SleuthSayers, and especially about the talent (and love of) writing that exists among their family members.

As for my own crew, here's some background. Our immediate family has now grown to 15, not counting my mother, and it's a number that doesn't sound all that big until we all get together (usually every June for a summer outing and every Christmas for a one-to-two-week gathering at our home in Mississippi). Then it's quickly obvious how much larger and younger and louder our group has become.


For anyone who's interested, my wife Carolyn and I have three grown kids and seven blue-eyed grandchildren. Our son Michael is a chemical engineer with DuPont in Parkersburg, West Virginia; he and his wife Jennifer (also a chem. e. and currently a stay-at-home mom) have three children: Lily (11), Anna (9), and Gabriel (6). David, our second son, is a physician at St. Dominic's Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi; he and his wife Jamie (also a doctor, and currently a stay-at-home mother and aerobics instructor) have two kids: Charlie (9) and Susannah (7). Karen, our youngest child, is also a stay-at-home mom, and a former music teacher at a local elementary school; she and her husband Collin Berger (a computer technician) live in Pearl, Mississippi, and have two kiddos: Richard (4) and Julia (1). My wife and I feel extremely fortunate that we have two of our three children and four of our seven grandkids living nearby and that we're able to have all fifteen of our family together at least twice a year. (We're also thankful for FaceTime--as we used to be for Skype.)

I'm always reminded, any time I think of family, of two old sayings. One is "The offspring done sprung higher than them they sprung off of" (which in my case is certainly true) and the other is "By the time the rich man has enough money to afford children, the fool has enough kids to support him." I especially like that second one. Now, if they'll only support me . . .

As for writers and writing--so far, although several of our brood have done some technical and professional writing, only one (besides me) has shown much interest in creating fiction. That's our granddaughter Susannah--on the left in the photo below, taken last Christmas--who'll be eight years old next month. She's an avid reader, especially of series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and likes to write fantasy stories and tales that involve animals of any kind. (Her people-doctor parents already suspect that they might be raising a veterinarian.) Currently Susannah is collaborating with a school friend, and together they've written several stories that I think have turned out really well. At that age I was probably still trying to learn how to tie my shoes.


So that's it, for the Floyds. One final point: although not many of us are writers, I'm very pleased to say that all of us--even my mom, who's 90--are readers.

That's the important thing. Right?