29 September 2012

Mystery Week

by John M. Floyd

Our home, at the moment, is a bachelor pad.  Yes, it's true that I am married and have been for forty years--but my wife's out of town for a couple weeks, and I've been left to my own devices.  As of this writing, it's been ten days since her departure, and so far I have (1) read most of a novel and a dozen short stories, (2) written a story of my own, (3) watched five movies and a lot of series-on-DVD, and (4) consumed nine TV dinners and two lunch specials at a nearby pizza place.  What I haven't done is wash many clothes or dishes, but hey, I haven't yet had to use a lot--and besides, I've got several more days before the boss returns and does an inspection.

The best thing about all this couch-potatoish activity is that most of it has fallen into the mystery/suspense category.


The short stories I've read this week were actually re-read, from two of my favorite collections: Little Boxes of Bewilderment by Jack Ritchie and Small Felonies by Bill Pronzini.  Bewilderment features thirty-one mysteries by one of the true masters of the short story, and Felonies contains fifty (count 'em, fifty) mystery short-shorts.  Every tale in both books is delightful, and some are brilliant.

The novel I've been reading is also a re-read, and even though it's not a mystery it includes a hearseload of suspense and mayhem.  It's Stephen King's Wizard and Glass--I'm giving it and Wolves of the Calla a second go-round because I recently finished his fairly new The Wind Through the Keyhole, which is positioned between W&G and WOTC in the Dark Tower series.  (Dale, I am once more on the path of the Beam, thankee-sai.)  For those of you who are not familiar with Roland of Gilead and his In-World adventures, Wizard and Glass is--like all of King's novels--well-written and packed with action, although it's a strange kind of action: the novel might be best categorized as a fantasy/Western/romance.  And I was pleased to find that revisiting it has been as much fun as reading it the first time was, years ago.

At the top of my to-be-read stockpile of novels are A Wanted Man by Lee Child and Winter of the World by Ken Follett.  I bought both of them the other day and will get to them as soon as I finish my return to the King.


My movie and TV viewing this past week has also been mostly mystery/crime/suspense: Man on a Ledge, Lockout, Get the Gringo, HeadhuntersSafe House, and the second season of HBO's Boardwalk Empire.  Sadly, none of these are what I would call top-notch except for Boardwalk and (if you don't mind subtitles) Headhunters.  Just for the heck of it, I also re-watched the pilot episode of Lost--probably the only network series of the last ten years that I've really enjoyed.

Lest I mislead you, though, the movies I've mentioned were viewed not in a proper theater but in my home theater, and from the comforting depths of my recliner--and all of them (the TV shows as well) either arrived in a red Netflix envelope or were streamed in via Apple TV.  Give me those conveniences and a snack and my remote and my pair of wireless headphones, and I'm a kid in a candy store.

Next up in my movie queue are Touch of Evil, A Kiss Before Dying, and the U.S. (2011) version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.


The short story I wrote this past week is a 3200-word mystery called "Secrets: A Ferry Tale."  It's sort of a Strangers on a Train kind of story with a different mode of transportation.  It's also the first piece of fiction I've ever written whose title has included a colon--but the truth is, I couldn't decide between the two titles and this was a way to use both.  (I've always been more devious than smart.)

Like so many of my shorts, the rough draft for this one happened fast, within a couple of hours, and then I spent the next two days rewriting it.  I wish I could do as some of my writer friends do, and pop stories out of the oven fully baked, but with me it just never works that way.  My babies are usually ugly, so I do a lot more rewriting than writing.  The good thing is, the revision stage doesn't bother me; I'm one of those crazy people who actually enjoy the act of trying to polish a story until it shines.

I also sold another mystery to Woman's World and came up with ideas for two more--those are not yet written down, but they're fully formed in my head and awaiting birth.  Now that "Secrets" is finished and languishing on my hard drive, I'll type the two short-shorts up in the next few days and start the editing process.

I'll also start the housecleaning and dishwashing process.  Before the return of my better half I'll probably even make the bed, water the plants, and mow the lawn.  (I might be crazy, but I ain't stupid.)

Now what did I do with that remote . . . ?


  1. The good news is every time I read John's lists, my own expand. The bad news is my lists keep growing faster than I read. The good news is I can't die until I finish my list.

  2. Okay, John, I have two questions:
    (1) Do you keep the two new stories in your head without notes until you have time to write them down? (2) Are you sleeping on one side or in the middle of the bed?

  3. Leigh, that IS good news. I'll plan to make my lists longer and longer.

    Liz, in the case of short stories (not novels), yes, I keep the "outlines" in my head until I type 'em out. Besides, they'll change a bit anyway, once they're put into real words. With novels, I do a lot of notes and detailed outlines beforehand--not because I want to but because I have to.

    And yes, I'm still on my side of the bed--the other side's covered with books and candy-bar wrappers. Just kiddin' . . .

  4. Glad you are back following the beam, John!

    Pat and I are saving Winter of the World to listen to, courtesy of Audible. It should get us to and from the midwest at Christmas and then down to the Gulf Shore and back when we retreat from D.C. in February. Nothing like a Ken Follett book for long drives!

    On another subject, is anyone else just a little troubled by the darker tone to Boardwalk Empire this year?

  5. John, I don't know how you do it--I consider myself productive if I come up with a plot a month!

    Glad that you are enjoying yourself, but remember not to act like it when the boss returns.

  6. Man, I wish I could write that fast. That part of your piece seems relevant to my column coming up this Wednesday.

    I don't have time or inclination to reread these days, but if I did LITTLE BOXES OF BEWILDERMENT would be near the top of the pile. Jack Ritchie was the master of the comic short.

  7. Dale, I've been crazy about Ken Follett ever since Eye of the Needle. As for Boardwalk, I haven't yet seen any of the current season--but I seem to love all HBO series. (I still find it hard to believe that Steve Buscemi can be cast in a leading role, but here it really works.)

    David, the downside of coming up with all these plots is that I wander around in a dream world half the time.

  8. Rob, I'm always surprised at how few of my writer friends are familiar with Jack Ritchie. What a fantastic writer he was.

    For several years I had an agent who handled my short stories--the same agent who had represented Ritchie, long ago--and when I signed on with him (1997 or so) he mailed me all of Ritchie's short-story collections and told me to read every word. I learned some great lessons from them.

  9. Another sale to WW! Fantastic. You are closing in on the half century mark. Champagne time!

    As for the house, I would recommend that you contact a maid service before the better half returns. Money well spent.

  10. Congratulations, you prolific temporary bachelor. I agree with Herschel - maid service and, perhaps, your very own dumpster...

  11. No worries, Herschel and Eve--I can be a great housekeeper/housecleaner when a deadline looms. Not a single sock will be hanging from a lampshade by the time the inspector arrives.


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