The title of my column sounds like I'm talking about days, doesn't it--or maybe types of ribs or chicken. What I'm referring to are the stories we fiction writers dream up, put on paper, submit to markets, and (occasionally) get published. Their sizes vary from flash to novella-length, and their moods are everything from Walter Mitty to "The Lottery." For some reason, many of my writer friends these days (not necessarily my mystery-writer friends) seem to produce long and/or grim, somber stories--but others have focused on short, funny pieces. Still others bounce around from short to long and from easygoing to profound, dabbling a little in everything and specializing in nothing. I'm one of those people. As Joe Friday would say, deadpan of course, "That's my job."
Several days ago I received a pleasant surprise: I sold my 75th story to Woman's World. All the stories for that magazine--whether they're mysteries or romances--are both short and lighthearted. But the crazy thing is, most of the stories I've sold over the past few years have been neither short nor light. They're been longer, usually 4000 to 8000 words, and more serious. One of mine that's coming up this year in Akashic Books' Noir series is around ten thousand words, and heavy in mood as well as weight.
Why do I dream up stories that are so different from each other? I truly don't know. Maybe I suffer from the same thing as one of my old friends: he could never seem to hold a job, and his excuse was that he just never found one he was comfortable with. Maybe I'm still trying to figure out what I'm good at. (Besides ending half the sentences in my paragraphs with prepositions.)
Also, I think that fiddling around with different lengths and different subject matter keeps the whole writing process from becoming boring. I like knowing that I can finish a thousand-word, low-key, down-home, Aunt-Maude-and-Uncle-Billy kind of story one day, and the next day begin one about serial killers and mean streets and SWAT teams that might run fifty pages or more. It gives me a delicious sense of freedom.
When asked by the students in my classes, I usually say that I write in different genres. I also point out, though, that I've written far more mystery/crime/suspense stories than anything else. I think the reason is that I prefer reading that kind of story. But I also occasionally read Western or SF or horror or literary fiction, and I've written some of that as well. Once more, the variety makes it more fun for me, and keeps me from getting stuck (at least too deeply stuck) in a rut.
What I usually don't like is knowing that I have to write a particular kind of story. That mostly happens on the rare occasions when I'm fortunate enough to be invited to send a story to a genre-specific or themed anthology. Producing those kinds of stories isn't as easy for me as it seems to be for others. My ideas usually come unbidden, out of nowhere, and the resulting stories take shape on their own; they might result in a science fiction tale of 500 words or a Western of 2500 or a young-adult fantasy/adventure story of 5000 (which I just finished writing, and submitted yesterday). Plus, I'm not fond of externally-imposed deadlines--or, for that matter, deadlines of any kind. Don't get me wrong, though. When an opportunity presents itself, especially via a personal invitation from an editor, I'll do it. I'm always grateful, and I try to consider it a challenge rather than a chore, and I do my best to contribute a worthy entry.
The first of those "create-a-story-to-these-specs" projects happened to me ten years ago, and wound up being a lot of fun. An editor/publisher from Georgia named Tony Burton put together a 49-story antho called Seven by Seven, which consisted of seven different authors writing seven stories each about the Seven Deadly Sins. As I told Tony at the time, the only thing I remembered about the Seven Deadly Sins was the movie starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman--but I dutifully did my research and wrote my seven stories, as did the other six participants, one of whom was our own former SleuthSayer Deborah Elliott-Upton, and the book turned out well and sold well. Even if it hadn't, I would've been pleased, because I had a great time and met friends like Deborah and B.J. Bourg and Frank Zafiro and Gary Hoffman, friends I still keep in touch with. But--again--I'm usually more comfortable coming up with my own ideas for stories.
How do the rest of you feel, about this kind of thing? Do you gravitate toward shorter or longer pieces? Is your subject matter usually lighthearted or serious? Do you consciously inject a bit of humor into your fiction regardless of its length? Do you like to have some outside incentive to kick off your story ideas, or do they come to you quietly in the night? Do you regularly seek out "themed" anthologies to submit to? Do you write in one genre and stick to it, or branch out occasionally into others? Do you think it's better to specialize and develop a "brand"? Inquiring minds want to know.
Unfortunately, my SleuthSayers columns tend to run longer rather than shorter, so it's time to wrap this one up.
I wish you short workdays, long vacations, light hearts, dark chocolate, and good writing.
30 January 2016
05 May 2015
|Los Angeles City Hall - 2013, Photo by Michael J Fromholtz|
In its heyday, MGM’s slogan was more stars than there are in heaven. Well, there’s one movie location that’s starred in just about as many movies or TV shows as there are stars in heaven, Los Angeles’ City Hall.
From the time it was built in 1928 until today it can be seen in dozens, maybe hundreds, of movies and TV shows, including many crime films. One of my favorites is as the Daily Planet building in the 1950s TV series The Adventures of Superman with George Reeves.
Besides the exterior, the interior rotunda, as well as hallways, offices and the council chambers, have all been used in many movies/TV shows as well.
George E. Cryer, LA’s 43rd mayor, urged the residents of the city to build "a monument to the enterprise and progressiveness of the people of Los Angeles. Let us build a City Hall that will be a credit to the metropolis of the great West.”
LA’s new city hall was completed in 1928, with dedication on April 26th of that year. It has 32 floors and is 454 feet tall. The concrete used is made of sand that comes from each of California’s fifty eight counties and the water to mix it from each of the twenty-one Spanish missions in the state. Until 1964, it was the tallest building in LA, via the city charter.
Supposedly it made its film debut shortly after it was completed in Lon Chaney’s While the City Sleeps. And it’s been a star ever since.
Not only has it played itself in movies, but it’s doubled for the Vatican and New York City, and for a municipal building in San Francisco. In Flags of Our Fathers, director Clint Eastwood doubled up, using one side of City Hall for a building in Baltimore. He used a different side of the building for a scene of a rally in a different part of the country.
It even makes an appearance in the video games, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto V and LA Noire, and others.
Since 1940 it has appeared on the LAPD’s badges. There’s even a scene in the 1960s version of Dragnet where a police officer from another state admires Joe Friday’s LAPD badge.
In 2006, there were about 50 shoots at LA’s city hall. Everything from movies to commercials to TV shows, causing workers to dodge the lights, cameras and action.
Here are some shots from various movies and TV shows “starring” Los Angeles City Hall.
War of the Worlds (1953) – in this one city hall was blown to smithereens by invading Martians – well, okay, they blew up a miniature of it:
The Black Dahlia
LA’s City Hall – interiors and/or exteriors – has also appeared in:
- Adam 12
- Another 48 Hours (1982)
- Atlas Shrugged, Part I
- Barton Fink
- Beverly Hills Cop
- Black Dahlia, the (2006)
- Bodyguard, The (1992)
- Cagney and Lacy and Kojak had it filling in for New York City
- Changeling (2008)
- Chinatown had a scene with Jack Nicholson in the council chamber.
- Crash (2005)
- D.O.A. (1950 – the good version of this story) – one of my favorite noir films and imho the ultimate in “high concept”
- Die Hard 2 (1988)
- Dragnet – where it played police headquarters
- Eraser (1996)
- Escape from LA
- Evan Almighty
- Eye for an Eye (1996)
- Get Outta Town (1959)
- Internal Affairs (1990)
- Jimmy Hoffa Story, The – where it played the US capitol
- LA Confidential
- LA Law
- Liar Liar (1997)
- Mildred Pierce – the 1945 Michael Curtiz/Joan Crawford version
- Mission Impossible (TV show) (1972)
- Mission Impossible III
- Naked Gun, The
- Nancy Drew
- National Treasure: Book of Secrets
- Perry Mason
- Ricochet (1991)
- Rockford Files, The
- Straight from the Shoulder (1936)
- Thorn Birds, The – doubling for the Vatican
- Usual Suspects, The – substituting for a NY police station
- West Wing, The
- XXX: State of the Union
Hope to you see at the California Crime Writers Conference
(http://ccwconference.org ). June 6th and 7th.
I’ll be on the Thrills and Chills (Crafting the Thriller and Suspense Novel) panel, Saturday at 10:30am, along with Laurie Stevens (M), Doug Lyle, Diana Gould and Craig Buck.
And please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my soon-to-be-updated website PaulDMarks.com
Subscribe to my Newsletter: http://www.pauldmarks.com/subscribe.htm