Showing posts with label Best American Mystery Stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Best American Mystery Stories. Show all posts

17 April 2018

Editing, TV Style


by Lawrence Maddox

Paul here: 

Please make sure to scroll to the end (but I know you will ’cause you’ll have read the whole piece by Larry 😊), to see my announcement about SleuthSayers, the Derringers and other awards.

My pal Lawrence Maddox's background is in editing for various television shows, including Santa Clarita Diet, Raising Hope, and many more. His crime fiction has appeared in the anthologies 44 Caliber Funk and Orange County Noir. Larry scripted the Hong Kong kickboxing flick Raw Target and the indie musical Open House. His debut novella Fast Bang Booze (Shotgun Honey) debuted last month. 

I thought it might be interesting to see how Larry applied his visual editing background to his prose writing. So take it away, Larry:

***

“They want to publish Fast Bang Booze, but you’ll have to turn it into a novella. That’s twenty-five thousand words,” Gary Phillips said. “And they want it in the next couple weeks,” he added dubiously.

This was a great opportunity for me, but I wondered if I could cut my novel nearly in half without turning it into something I wouldn’t be proud of. At the time I was also working substantial hours editing a TV show, not to mention raising a family. Time would be tight. If I had any chance at coming out on top of this, I knew I ‘d have to fall back on a set of skills I’d been honing for years—maybe I could apply my skills as a television editor to the editing of my novel..

As a network TV editor, I’m tasked with building an episode scene-by-scene, following the script as I pick the angles and performances that best tell the story. I’ve worked in just about every genre, but my bread-and-butter are half hour single-camera comedies. They’re the hardest. They don’t just tell a story, they also tickle the funny bone (or try to). My shows (single-camera comedies) don’t have laugh tracks that tell you when the show is funny. I’m happy about that, too. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on multi-camera shows (I’m currently introducing my eight-year old to The Munsters—she loves it), and many of them still shine, decades later. But as I got older, I found that laugh tracks seemed 1984-ish, especially when the writing was clearly mediocre. It’s like Big Brother is telling you, “Everyone else thinks this crap is funny, why aren’t you laughing too?” Single camera comedies don’t have the crutch of the laugh track.

The shows I edit are like carefully constructed mini-movies with three acts and multiple jokes per page. There are no pauses for live audience laughter. You know it’s funny because you’re not searching for your remote control in that pesky crevice in the couch. And humor moves. Pace is king and that’s something I definitely applied to my novella: pace—keep it moving.

While the show is being shot, usually over the course of five days, I’m putting it together. It’s like assembling a massive jigsaw puzzle where every piece talks and reacts and forgets what their lines are. I’m not supposed to cut any dialogue when I’m doing the initial edit of the show, called the Editor’s Cut. I’m often dying to, but I get why I can’t. Those words represent big bucks, as well as hard fought battles in the writer’s room. Showrunners (writers usually) who are the main creative forces behind TV shows—don’t even like director’s taking dialogue out when it’s their turn to take a whack at their episode. When directors do their pass through the show after I turn over my cut, they inevitably turn to me in the edit room and ask, “Is the showrunner okay if I chop out dialogue to help get my episode to time?” I will usually respond, “Sure, if you don’t mind not getting hired back.” Then we carry on as if the conversation never happened, all dialogue left untouched, the auteur theory a burning, distant ember.  In TV, the writer is king and queen. Directors are hired guns who need to tread carefully where all things script-related are concerned or they could end up being “one-and-done.”

When the director leaves after their DGA-enforced two days with the editor are over, the showrunner finishes up with their own notes, as well as with notes from the studio and the network. If they don’t like what the director did in the editing room, they’ll often use the Editor’s Cut as their basis.  Now is the time when the elephant in the room takes a seat on the couch behind the Avid (the prevalent non-linear editing system used in TV and film), and begins to tap his Rolex. It’s get-the-show-to-time time. I should mention that many cable and streaming shows are a lot more loosey goosey with running times. While cutting Santa Clarita Diet, getting episodes to time is rarely an issue. I get to concentrate on the fun stuff, like the lovely and talented Drew Barrymore eating people.

Getting a show to time is the Jason Voorhees of network postproduction, the looming obstacle that faces every editor, over and over again. For a half-hour single camera comedy, “getting to time” means making sure an episode comes in at twenty-one and a half minutes. This timing differs from network to network, but not by much. The pilot I’m currently editing can’t come in over twenty-one minutes and twenty-two seconds. Episodes can come in a little shorter, but not a frame over. Remember at the beginning I told you that I start this process by building an episode scene by scene, closely following the script? What if that script is, say, thirty-two pages? At the minute-per-page standard calculation, we’re talking a thirty-two minute first cut. That’s ten whopping minutes—one third of the show—that needs to come out. That’s not editing, that’s liposuction.  And I don’t have all day. At this stage, they’ve already started filming my next episode. That means I’m back in dailies (shot footage), starting the process all over again. I’m finishing one episode and starting another. I have to act quickly.

My showrunner will come up with many of the trims, but they’re even busier than I am. They have to monitor what’s happening on set and in the writer’s room. Egos have to be massaged. Often, showrunners depend on the editor to come up with ways to take the time out of the episode without hurting it. So, when I’m in this position with my own fiction I ask myself the exact same questions I do when taking the excess baggage out of the shows I’m editing. Is this redundant? Do I have to keep this character beat or is this ground covered elsewhere? Have I over-stayed my welcome in this scene? TV editing has taught me the joys of being callous and bloodthirsty. Ruthlessness is called for. Babies are going to be killed. The editing room floor will be awash in punch lines and exposition, as will the outtakes in my novel, hopefully more of the latter than the former.

The through-line of the episode’s A-story should remain unscathed, which is also how I approach my prose. In TV editing I’ve had to be adept at juggling all the story lines as the episode shrinks. Many a B-story has been the victim of a subplot-ectomy in the service of getting an episode to time. When I did my Novella pass through Fast Bang Booze, I lost an entire B story (actually, it was more like a D-story) and no one was the wiser. It made the main story even stronger.

A pilot is the first episode in a proposed TV series. If the pilot doesn’t go well, the series is scrapped and the pilot never sees the light of day. The scripts for pilots inevitably come in over thirty pages, and cutting them down to time are high-pressure situations. The big fear is losing elements about the main character(s) that everyone loves. I’ve learned that this stage is an opportunity to refine the characters and make sure they are consistent. The pilot for Suburgatory had a lot of first person narration. As we whittled it down, the narration was re-written and improved until it was sharp as a one frame splice. Less really was more.

I have to see the big picture and also travel through an episode line by line. Every word is scrutinized in dialogue, and much of it is boiled down editorially to the bare bones. Excess verbiage is jettisoned, word-by-word, until the dialogue flies. I do this when I’m editing my own work. And when I’m done, the leanest, meanest version of the episode is infinitely better than its former self.

So when Gary threw down the novel-to-novella gauntlet, I didn’t freak out. I put on my edit room goggles and did what I do. Except this time, I was ruthless and mean for me, not for a network.  And it worked. I was amazed with how well it worked.

I should add that the original publisher I was writing for went belly up, but Eric Campbell and Ron Phillips of Down and Out Books and Shotgun Honey snatched up Fast Bang Booze, and it debuted March 23rd. If you’d like to see my criminal take on my under-the-gun profession, check out my story “Smotherage,” an extra bonus found at the back of my novella that details the pressure cooker world of editing TV pilots, and “Hot Moviola,” in the anthology 44 Caliber Funk (Moonstone), is about an editor caught in a world of intrigue in 1974 LA.

Keep on cutting!

***

Thanks for stopping by, Larry. Good luck with the book! And you can find Larry’s book here: Down & Out Books and Amazon.

***

And now for the usual BSP:

SleuthSayers Cleans Up:

Derringer Nominations have come out: (https://shortmystery.blogspot.com/2018/04/2018-derringer-award-finalists.html ). I want to congratulate all the finalists, including SleuthSayers’ own Elizabeth Zelvin "Flash Point,” from A Twist of Noir (March 20, 2017) and Robert Lopresti, “The Cop Who Liked Gilbert and Sullivan," from Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #23, editor: Marvin Kaye, Wildside Press (October 2017).

My story “Windward” is also nominated in the novelette category, from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks, Down & Out Books (January 2017).

But the truly mind-blowing thing is that 4 stories from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea have been nominated: Mine, Andy McAleer’s, Matt Coyle’s and Robert Randisi’s. I’m truly amazed and honored for such a great showing from a terrific book. And many thanks to the Short Mystery Fiction Society:

Available at Amazon and Down & Out Books

And another SleuthSayers’ story, Art Taylor’s “A Necessary Ingredient” is nominated for an Agatha. SleuthSayer John Floyd’s “Gun Work” and my story “Windward” have been chosen for inclusion in The Best American Mysteries of 2018 by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler. – And I want to thank all of the authors who contributed stories to Coast to Coast. – So, like I said, mind blowing. And I’m thrilled to be part of it on various levels.

***

My Shamus-winning novel, White Heat, is being reissued in May by Down & Out Books. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.  Release date is May 21, 2018:


Check out my website: www.PaulDMarks.com

24 May 2017

Otto Penzler


by David Edgerley Gates

A nice piece about Otto Penzler just appeared in Atlas Obscura, an introduction and an appreciation, written by Dan Nosowitz. I personally don't think Otto can be celebrated too much. He himself might graciously suggest otherwise, but the rest of us, no. Credit where credit is due.

(I don't pretend to be impartial. Otto's long-listed me a number of times for Best American Mystery Stories, and I've made the cut in three of them, always in good company.)



I'm fairly confident the Mysterious Bookshop wasn't the first bookstore to focus exclusively on mysteries, but it's now the longest-running. There have been a lot of changes to the book biz since 1979, and brick-and-mortar have taken much of the hit. Mysterious keeps the faith.

Mysterious Press has been around since 1975. Sold to Warner, under the Hachette umbrella, later bought back by Otto and moved to Grove Atlantic. He used his own name for an imprint starting at Macmillan, ending up at Houghton Mifflin. Eric Ambler and Isaac Asimov, Len Deighton, James Ellroy, Patricia Highsmith, Ross Thomas, Don Westlake.


Best American Mystery Stories, beginning in 1997. The first guest editor was Robert Parker. Followed by, among others, Sue Grafton, Larry Block, Westlake, Ellroy, Nelson DeMille, Carl Hiassen, Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Laura Lippman. The anthology's a benchmark, and the contributors number both brand names and newbies.

Otto puts his money where his mouth is. As an editor, as a publisher, as a bookseller and a book buyer. He doth make love to this employment. He knows everybody. Otto's enthusiasm - for writers, for books, for vigorous opinions - is actually his job description. He gets to share his own consuming passion, and I think he's added a room to the house. not that we had anything to be embarrassed about.



This is in aid of saying, if you don't know the guy, or didn't know of him, make his acquaintance in this profile. Otto Penzler has been carrying water for the mystery and thriller community for quite a while now, and had himself a good time doing it. None of us are the poorer.

17 December 2016

Twenty Years of B.A.M.S.



by John M. Floyd



I'm not much of a goal-setter, in my writing. Like all of us, I try to do a good job of writing stories and submitting them to markets--but beyond that, I don't feel there's much I can do. If something gets published, great. If something good happens after it's published (awards, other recognition, etc.), that's icing on the cake, and I'm honored and grateful if/when it does. But that's out of my control.

Having said that, I think there are certain things that most mystery writers have on their bucket lists. One might be to win an Edgar, or even to be nominated. Or to win other writing awards, or to have a story picked up for a film. If you're a writer of short mysteries, an additional dream might be to appear in the annual MWA anthology or an Akashic noir anthology.

I've been fortunate enough to grab a few of these golden rings, as have most of you. One of my fantasies was realized last year, when I had a story chosen for The Best American Mystery Stories 2015.

The B.A.M.S. file

I would guess that almost all of us have looked through volumes of Best American Mystery Stories at one time or another. For those who might be interested, here's a quick overview of the series, and the procedure by which the included authors are selected.

The B. A. M. S. anthologies began in 1997 and have always been published by Houghton Mifflin (later Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In his introduction to the debut edition, series editor Otto Penzler explained that he identified and read all the mysteries published during the previous calendar year--1996--and chose the best fifty, which he then turned over to a guest editor. That editor, Robert B. Parker in this case, selected what he thought were the best twenty stories for the publication; the remaining thirty were listed in a close-but-no-cigar honor roll in the back of the book, called "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 1996." This process has been continued every year since. Those lucky enough to be in the "top 20" are notified, early in the year, that their stories will be featured in the book. Contracts are then sent out, the writers are paid, and the anthology is published in the fall.

Where does Otto go to find all this original fiction? "The most fruitful sources," he said in the B.A.M.S. 1997 intro, "are the mystery specialty magazines, small literary journals, popular consumer publications, and an unusually bountiful crop from anthologies containing all or some original work." Apparently the field consisted of around 500 stories at first, and has now expanded to become 3,000 to 5,000 stories a year. His colleague Michele Slung apparently does most of the initial culling, and is, according to Otto, "the fastest and smartest reader I have ever known."

The names of all the guest editors can be found in the opening pages of every edition, but they're so impressive I'll list them here as well:

1997 - Robert B. Parker
1998 - Sue Grafton
1999 - Ed McBain
2000 - Donald Westlake
2001 - Lawrence Block
2002 - James Ellroy
2003 - Michael Connelly
2004 - Nelson DeMille
2005 - Joyce Carol Oates
2006 - Scott Turow
2007 - Carl Hiaasen
2008 - George Pelecanos
2009 - Jeffery Deaver
2010 - Lee Child
2011 - Harlan Coben
2012 - Robert Crais
2013 - Lisa Scottoline
2014 - Laura Lippman
2015 - James Patterson
2016 - Elizabeth George

20/50 vision

As I mentioned earlier, the stories featured in the anthology are the top twenty of the year, chosen by the guest editor. Those named in the Distinguished Mysteries list in the back of the book are the runners-up, the "rest" of the top fifty that were originally chosen by Otto Penzler.

I restated that because most folks don't know about it--including, until recently, me. At the 2012 Bouchercon I had the opportunity to meet Lee Child, one of my favorite authors. I remember saying to him (babbling, probably), "I saw that one of my stories was listed as "distinguished" in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010 . . . and, well, since you were guest editor that year, I'd like to thank you for that honor." He said something kind and gracious and we both went on our way. What I didn't realize at the time was that my story was in the "distinguished" list because it was one of the fifty that Otto had selected, not one of the final twenty that Child chose. What I'd done, essentially, was thank him for not picking my story to be in the book. Good grief.

An SS/B.A.M.S. history

From looking at my own editions of the series, snooping on the Internet, and pestering my fellow mystery writers for information I couldn't find elsewhere, I have created the following unscientific report of current and former SleuthSayers who have wound up either in Best American Mystery Stories or named in its "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories" list. Please forgive me, and correct me, if I've overlooked anyone.

year       included in book (top 20)              named in "distinguished" list (the rest of the top 50)

1997 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1998 ----Janice Law--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1999 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2000 ----David Edgerley Gates-------------------John Floyd----------------------------------------------------
2001 ----------------------------------------------------David Edgerley Gates-------------------------------------
2002 ----David Edgerley Gates-------------------R.T. Lawton---------------------------------------------------
2003 ----O'Neil De Noux--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2004 ----------------------------------------------------O'Neil De Noux, David Edgerley Gates----------------
2005 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2006 ----------------------------------------------------O'Neil De Noux-----------------------------------------
2007 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2008 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2009 -----------------------------------------------------Dixon Hill-------------------------------------------------
2010 -----------------------------------------------------Art Taylor, John Floyd-----------------------------------
2011 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2012 -----------------------------------------------------Eve Fisher, Janice Law, John Floyd--------------------
2013 -----O'Neil De Noux, David E. Gates-----Janice Law, B.K. Stevens-----------------------------------
2014 -----------------------------------------------------David Dean, Elizabeth Zelvin--------------------------
2015 -----John Floyd---------------------------------David E. Gates, Rob Lopresti, Art Taylor--------------
2016 -----Rob Lopresti, Art Taylor-----------------David E. Gates, R.T. Lawton, John Floyd--------------

Observations

Here are some things I found interesting about the above chart:

- As you can see, not one but TWO SleuthSayers have stories that made it to the top 20 and into the book this year: Rob Lopresti and Art Taylor. Both are tremendously deserving of the honor, and--not surprisingly--neither of them is a stranger to the limelight. Both have been recognized with multiple awards and honors over the past several years.

(Art Taylor and I seem to have a strange connection: This year, when he made it into the book, I made the "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories" list; the year I managed to get in, he was in the "distinguished" list; and one year both he and I had stories listed as "distinguished." In other words, I always root for Art all the more, because if he's involved I seem to have a better chance of sneaking somewhere into the picture as well.)

- For the first 18 years of the series (before the 2015 edition of B.A.M.S.), only three SleuthSayers had stories featured in the book (top 20): David Edgerley Gates three times (2000, 2002, and 2013), O'Neil De Noux twice (2003 and 2013), and Janice Law once (1998). And only recently have two SleuthSayers been in the top 20 in the same year--O'Neil and David in 2013 and Rob and Art in 2016.

- When you combine the SSers included in the book and those named in the "distinguished" list, David Edgerley Gates has made the top 50 an astounding seven times (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2013, 2015, 2016), I've made it five times (2000, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016), O'Neil four (2003, 2004, 2006, 2013), Janice three (1998, 2012, 2013), Art three (2000, 2015, 2016), R.T. twice (2002, 2016), Rob twice (2015, 2016), and Dixon Hill, Eve Fisher, Bonnie Stevens, David Dean, and Liz Zelvin once each.

- David Edgerley Gates's stories were either included or named in the "distinguished" list in four out of five consecutive editions (2000-2004) and in another three out of four (2013-2016). Also, O'Neil De Noux's stories were either included or distinguished in three out of four consecutive years (2003-2006). A lot of fine stories over short stretches of time.

- In only six years out of B.A.M.S.'s 20-year history have no SleuthSayers been included in either the anthology or the "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories" list--but in one of those no-SS years (1997) Criminal Briefer Melodie Johnson Howe was featured in the book, and in another year (2011) CBer Angela Zeman appeared in the "distinguished" list. And by the way, Angela was also included in the book in 2004 and Criminal Brief founder James Lincoln Warren made the "distinguished" list in 2010. (I couldn't resist mentioning those colleagues; Criminal Brief was the forerunner to SleuthSayers, and Rob, Leigh, Janice, and I were all CBers in a previous life.)

- In the before-I-forget department: Frequent SS guest-blogger Michael Bracken was named to the "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories" list in 2005.
That's my take on Best American Mystery Stories and its connection with our blog. If nothing else, it might steer you to some SleuthSayers' stories in the old volumes you might already have on your bookshelves. (In the course of putting this column together, I wound up going back and reading a lot of them.) May ALL of us be represented often in B.A.M.S.'s pages in the future.

Many thanks to Otto Penzler, to his assistant(s) and his guest editors, and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, not only for providing us with outstanding reading material but for giving some of us the opportunity, and the great honor, to be a part of the series.

Here's to another twenty years!