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

20 November 2021

Who Chose the Prose for Those Anthos?


  

I think I've mentioned, here at SleuthSayers, the fact that I've been submitting almost as many short stories to anthologies as I have to magazines these past couple of years. (Reminder: a collection is a group of stories written by the same author; an anthology is a group of stories written be different authors.) And the more stories I've sent to anthologies, the more I have come to appreciate the knowledge and professionalism of the folks who edit those books. I've done it myself only once, fifteen years ago. I had a great time with it, met some fine writers, made long-lasting friends in the process, and--I hope--produced a good anthology. But I haven't done it since. It's hard work, a lot harder than writing. 

As sort of a nod and vote of thanks to those editors, here's a list I put together of some of the recent anthologies I've been published in and the people who steered those ships.

NOTE 1: All these are within the past couple of years, except for those edited by folks with whom I've worked several times--in those cases I've listed multiple projects from the past.

NOTE 2: I've shortened some of the anthology titles, when possible (apologies to those editors). But the list is long enough as it is.




Editor                                                          Anthology


Josh Pachter          Only the Good Die Young (Untreed Reads, 2021)

                               The Great Filling Station Holdup (Down & Out Books, 2021)

                               The Beat of Black Wings (Untreed Reads, 2020)


Cameron Trost        The Black Beacon Book of Mystery (Black Beacon Books, 2020)


Abigail Linhardt       Winter's Vindication (SummerStorm Press, 2021)


Eric Guignard          Professor Charlatan Bardot's Travel Anthology (Dark Moon Books, 2021)

                                Pop the Clutch (Dark Moon Books, 2019)

                                Horror Library, Vol. 6 (Farolight Publishing, 2017)

                                After Death (Dark Moon Books, 2013)


Donna Carrick         A Grave Diagnosis (Carrick Publishing, 2020)


Lyn Worthen            Cozy Villages of Death (Independently published, 2020)


Michael Bracken      Jukes and Tonks (with Gary Phillips, Down & Out Books, 2020)

                                 The Eyes of Texas (Down & Out Books, 2019)


Otto Penzler             Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021 (with Lee Child, Mysterious Press, 2021)

                                 Best American Mystery Stories 2020 (with C. J. Box, HMH, 2020)

                                 Best American Mystery Stories 2018 (with Louise Penny, HMH, 2018)

                                 Best American Mystery Stories 2015 (with James Patterson, HMH, 2015) 


Verena Rose/Harriette Sackler/Shawn Reilly Simmons              Masthead (Level Best Books, 2020)

                                                                                                     Landfall (Level Best Books, 2018)


Greg Herren            Florida Happens (Bouchercon anthology, Three Rooms Press, 2018)

                                Blood on the Bayou (Boucheron anthology, Down & Out Books, 2016)


Rick Ollerman         Denim, Diamonds, and Death (Bouchercon anthology, Down & Out Books, 2019)


J. K. Larkin             Pets on the Prowl (Red Penguin Books, 2021)

                               Stand Out II: Best of the Red Penguin Collection (Red Penguin Books, 2021)

                               Behind Closed Doors (Red Penguin Books, 2021)

                               Heart Full of Love (Red Penguin Books, 2021)

                               What Lies Beyond (Red Penguin Books, 2020)

                               'Tis the Season (Red Penguin Books, 2020)

                               A Trip for the Books (Red Penguin Books, 2020)


Judy Tucker/Lottie Boggan        Mad Dogs and Moonshine (Queen's Hill Press, 2008)

                                                   Fireflies in Fruit Jars (Queen's Hill Press, 2007)


Sandra Murphy          Peace, Love, & Crime (Untreed Reads, 2020)

                                   A Murder of Crows (Darkhouse Books, 2019)


Philip Levin               Rocking Chairs and Afternoon Tales (Doctor's Dream Publishing, 2012)

                                  Magnolia Blossoms and Afternoon Tales (AWOC Publishing, 2010)

                                  Sweet Tea and Afternoon Tales (AWOC Publishing, 2009)


Barb Goffman           Crime Travel (Wildside Press, 2019)


Andrew MacRae       Mid-Century Murder (Darkhouse Books, 2020)

                                  Sancuary (Darkhouse Books, 2018)

                                  We've Been Trumped (Darkhouse Books, 2016)


Johnny Lowe            What Would Elvis Think? (Clinton Ink-Slingers, 2019)


Theresa Halverson/Sarah Faxon             Released (No Bad Books Press, 2021)


Judy Penz Sheluk       Moonlight & Misadventure (Superior Shores Press, 2021)

                                    Heartbreaks & Half-Truths (Superior Shores Press, 2020)


Jake Devlin                 BOULD Awards Anthology (Independently published, 2021)

                                    BOULD Awards Anthology (Independently published, 2020)


Patricia Gaddis/Alexandra Pollock        Mini-Mysteries Digest (Heinrich-Bauer, 2021)


John Connor                Crimeucopia: The Cosy Nostra (Murderous Ink Press, 2021)

                                     Crimeucopia: Dead Man's Hand (Murderous Ink Press, 2021)

                                     Crimeucopia: As in Funny Ha-Ha (Murderous Ink Press, 2021)

                                     Crimeucopia: The I's Have It (Murderous Ink Press, 2021)


Tony Burton                Ten for Ten (Wolfmont Publishing, 2008)

                                    Crime and Suspense I (Wolfmont Publishing, 2007)

                                    The Seven Deadly Sins (Wolfmont Publishing, 2007)


Owen Litwin                The Odds Are Against Us (Liberty Island Media, 2019)


Sarah E. Glen             Mardi Gras Mysteries (Mystery and Horror LLC, 2021)




Some of the above editors (Barb, Michael, Rick, Lyn, Judy Tucker, etc.) have also edited magazines and other projects that contained my creations, and I've found these folks to be just as able and helpful at that as they were with the anthologies. A good editor is a godsend in this crazy business, and I thank them all sincerely.

Questions: Have any of you worked with the editors I've mentioned? Do you have stories in any of their upcoming anthologies? How about other editors, and if so, what were your experiences? Have you edited anthologies yourself? Also, what are some of the more "different" anthologies, themewise, to have featured your work? Please let me know in the comments section below. (If you're interested, here's an earlier SleuthSayers post that discusses themed anthos.)

Meanwhile, keep writing those stories--for anthologies, magazines, collections, and whatever other markets you might find. Good luck with them all!


 


06 November 2021

Hooked on Crime(ucopia)


  

It's not often that a publisher produces crime anthologies one after the other in a very short period of time. One did, though, this year: John Connor, at the England-based Murderous Ink Press. I found out about them this spring via a routine Google search for mystery anthology calls, and wound up submitting a story for the third in their series of Crimeucopia editions--The Cosy Nostra. They responded with an acceptance, and the publication of the atho was as prompt as the acceptance had been. Since then, they have published five more books, and there'll probably be another one upcoming before the editor, who's had some health problems, suspends publication for six months.

As it turns out, I have partners in Crimeucopia: the work of some of my fellow SleuthSayers has appeared in the pages of these anthologies. Stories written by Eve Fisher and Michael Bracken were featured in We're All Animals Under the Sun; stories by Eve and me appeared in The Cosy Nostra, and stories by me have been published in three more since then: Dead Man's Hand, As in Funny Ha-Ha or Just Peculiar, and The I's Have It. If I've left any SSers out, please let me know in the comments section below and I'll update this post to include your names.

Here's a complete list of (I think) all the Crimeucopia anthologies this year:

The Lady Thrillers, Feb 2021 -- 16 crime stories by women authors

We're All Animals Under the Sun, March 2021 -- 18 stories of motivations, actions, and reactions

The Cosy Nostra, June 2021 -- 17 mostly-cozy crime stories

Dead Man's Hand, July 2021 -- five western novellas

As in Funny Ha-Ha, or Just Peculiar, July 2021 -- 21 humorous or odd (or both) stories

Careless Love, Sep 2021 -- 15 affairs of the heart

The I's Have It, Oct 2021 -- 12 detective/private-eye tales (and a mucho-cool bookcover)

It's Always Raining in Noir City, Nov 2021 -- 16 noir stories

Tales from the Back Porch, coming in Dec 2021 or Jan 2022  


Have any of you read these? If so, please let me know what you think. By the way, many of my writer friends besides Eve and Michael have been published there as well (or soon will be), including Jim Doherty, Adam Meyer, Joan Leotta, Judy Penz Sheluk, Robert Petyo, Bern Sy Moss, M. C. Tuggle, Jan Christensen, Brandon Barrows, and Wil A. Emerson.

I must mention here that John Connor has been great to work with, and I've also been pleased with all the stories I've read in the three paperback Crimeucopias that I have on my shelf (I've not yet received my author copy of The I's Have It). I think Eve and Michael would agree with me there, and I'm sure I can speak for all of us in wishing John a speedy recovery. I hope there'll be more Murderous Ink crime anthologies to come.

I'm also hoping we'll continue to see more books of this kind by other publishers as well. If so, good luck to all of us in getting our stories into them. Keep writing!

Back again in two weeks . . .





30 October 2021

Movie Firsts



I am, and have always been, fascinated by movies. Al kinds of movies, although I mostly like mystery/crime and westerns--a result, probably, of growing up in the fifties and sixties, when you couldn't turn on a TV without seeing a detective or a cowboy. But I'll watch almost anything. The other night when one of our sons and his son were visiting, we ordered pizzas and watched an old DVD of Aliens (possibly the best sequel in movie history, along with Godfather II)--and I loved it as much as the first time I saw it, in a theater in Atlanta 35 years ago. And over the past month I've re-watched The Big Lebowski, Jaws, The Birds, Rudy, The Guns of Navarone, and The Princess Bride, all of which are in a galaxy far, far away from mysteries and westerns.

I also love facts about movies, some of them pretty obscure. We got to talking, during our kid-and-grandkid movie night last week, about which movies were the first to do this or the first to feature that, and I of course felt compelled to sit down later and try to put together a list. I mean, somebody has to, right? You can't just pass up a topic like that.

So . . . here are some cinematic "firsts."

NOTE: These are only those firsts that I found particularly interesting. For example, I don't much care what movie was the first to open in Saudi Arabia or to use IMAX 12-channel sound, but I do care what movie was the first to show a killer shark or time travel or a flushing toilet. Call this a low-tech, unsophisticated list.


First movie -- Roundhay Garden Scene, director Louis Le Prince, 1888

First U.S. movie -- Monkeyshines, William Kennedy Dickson and William Heise, 1889

First comedy -- The Waterer Watered, 1895

First horror movie -- House of the Devil, 1896 (a short silent film)

First Shakespeare adaptation -- King John, 1899

First Sherlock Holmes movie -- Sherlock Holmes Baffled, 1900 (produced to be viewed on coin-operated machines)

First science fiction movie -- A Trip to the Moon, 1902

First western -- The Great Train Robbery, 1903

First feature film -- The Story of the Kelly Gang, 1906

First Hollywood movie -- In Old California, director D.W. Griffith, 1910

First big-budget Hollywood epic -- Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith, 1915

First sequel -- Fall of a Nation, Thomas Dixon, Jr., 1916

First remake -- The Squaw Man, Cecil B. DeMille, 1918 (the original was in 1914)

First movie with a twist ending -- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920

First time-travel movie -- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, 1921

First movie to cost $ 1 million -- Foolish Wives, 1922

First Hitchcock movie -- Always Tell Your Wife, 1923

First "talkie" -- The Jazz Singer, 1927

First movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture -- Wings, William A. Wellman, 1927

First musical -- The Broadway Melody, 1929

First movie to show a television set -- Elstree Calling, Alfred Hitchcock, 1930

First western to win Best Picture -- Cimarron, 1930

First movie shown on TV -- The Crooked Circle, 1933

First romantic comedy to win Best Picture -- It Happened One Night, 1934 (also the first movie to show a bride leaving her fiancé at the altar)

First Disney movie -- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937

First movie to use the Wilhelm scream -- Distant Drums, 1941 (I'm thinking this might be a SleuthSayers post in the near future)

First 3-D feature film -- Robinson Crusoe, 1947

First movie to offer profit-sharing for its star -- Winchester '73, 1950 (James Stewart)

First to mention the word "pizza" -- The Band Wagon, 1953

First to use a rock song in a soundtrack -- Blackboard Jungle, 1955 ("Rock Around the Clock")

First to feature a man-eating shark -- The Sharkfighters, 1956

First to show an interracial kiss -- Island in the Sun, 1957

First to show a flushing toilet -- Psycho, 1960

First to use the fake phone prefix "555" -- Panic in the Year Zero, 1962

First to show a GPS device -- Goldfinger, 1964

First to show a karate fight scene -- The Manchurian Candidate, 1964

First to show a post-credit scene -- The Silencers. 1966

First to drop the F-bomb -- I'll Never Forget What's 'Is Name, 1967 (second bombing: M*A*S*H, 1970)

First G-rated movie to win Best Picture -- Oliver!, 1969

First (and only) X-rated movie to win Best Picture -- Midnight Cowboy, 1970 (this was of course an early rating system; MC would currently be a mild R)

First R-rated movie to win Best Picture -- The French Connection, 1971

First movie to show a condom -- Carnal Knowledge, 1971

First sequel to win Best Picture -- The Godfather Part II, 1974

First movie to make $ 100 million -- Jaws, 1975

First movie shot entirely by natural candlelight -- Barry Lyndon, 1975

First to be released on VHS -- The Young Teacher, 1976

First to list the entire crew in the closing credits -- Star Wars, 1977 (also the first to make $ 400 million) 

First big-budget superhero film -- Superman, 1978

First movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch -- The Blues Brothers, 1980

First movie made for a cable network -- The Terry Fox Story, 1983 (HBO)

First PG-13 movie -- Red Dawn, 1984

First movie to show a cell phone -- Lethal Weapon, 1987

First to sell a million copies on home video -- Dirty Dancing, 1887

First NC-17 movie -- Henry and June, 1990

First (and only) horror movie to win Best Picture -- The Silence of the Lambs, 1991 (this is what the record books say, but I don't agree that it's a horror movie)

First movie to show virtual reality -- The Lawnmower Man, 1992

First to cost $ 100 million -- True Lies, 1994

First feature film to be made entirely using CGI -- Toy Story, 1995

First movie to cost $ 200 million (and to make $ 1 billion) -- Titanic, 1997

First movie released on DVD -- Twister, 1997

First to make $ 100 million in its opening weekend -- Spider-Man, 2002

First to use motion capture for all actors -- The Polar Express, 2004

First to show on-screen texting -- Sex Drive, 2008

First to make $ 2 billion -- Avatar, 2009

First (and only) science fiction movie to win Best Picture -- The Shape of Water, 2017

First non-English-language movie to win Best Picture -- Parasite, 2019 (South Korean)

First movie to open nationwide since the start of the pandemic -- Unhinged, 2020

First to make $ 100 million since start of the pandemic -- A Quiet Place Part II, 2021

  


I learned a few things in coming up with this list, and found I was badly mistaken about a few. Can you think of some firsts that I missed? First Chuck Norris Shakespeare adaptation? First Whoopi Goldberg western? Seriously, let me know in the comments section.

Next time, back to mystery writing--thanks for indulging me.

See you in a week!


16 October 2021

Mystery Magazine


  

Some of you are probably thinking, You left out part of the title. Did you mean Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, or Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, or Black Cat MM, or Sherlock Holmes MM, etc.? Nope, the title's right. Mystery Magazine is the former Mystery Weekly Magazine, which--as most of you know by now--recently renamed itself and thus clarified things a bit, since it's published once a month.


Let me begin by saying that Mystery Magazine (new name or not) is an excellent publication, based in Canada and published by Chuck Carter, and in my opinion it has become one of the half-dozen leading short-fiction mystery markets. It usually features from eight to ten short stories and one interactive "solve-it-yourself" mystery in every monthly issue, it recently raised its pay rates, it pays on acceptance, it responds quickly to submissions, its covers and layouts always look good, and editor Kerry Carter is kind and competent and professional in every way. Another thing that might be interesting to writers is that after submission MM provides a monitoring link that allows you to see how many stories are ahead of yours in their to-be-read queue. The magazine's only drawback is that they don't provide a free author's copy of the issue your story appears in, but to me that's overridden by the fact that they pay so promptly, often on the same day the acceptance email appears.

Another thing to like about Mystery Magazine is that they are receptive to cross-genre stories. By that I mean writers can include the occasional fantasy, science fiction, horror, or Western ingredient along with the mystery/crime element. To give you an idea of how much that open-minded policy has helped me, here are some quick summaries of my stories at MM/MW so far: 


A gambling addict is pursued by murderous loan sharks. A mystery, but mostly a chase story. ("Merrill's Run," Jan 2017) 

A mix of crime and fantasy involving a missing teenager, a thunderstorm, and travel between dimensions. ("Lightning," Sep 2018) 

A lonely blind woman is targeted by a killer. Just a crime/suspense story with nothing cross-genre going on. ("Rachel's Place," Dec 2019)    

Two brothers in the depression-era south--one of whom has visions of future events--try to protect their alcoholic father from old enemies. ("The Barlow Boys," Nov 2020) 

A former combat soldier stumbles upon a bank robbery and is aided by a woman with paranormal powers. ("Charlie's War," Dec 2020) 

A combination Western/mystery/coming-of-age tale with a minor woo-woo element. ("Wanted," Feb 2021)  

A straight crime story set in the cottonfields of northwest Mississippi. ("The Delta Princess," Sep 2021)  

An offbeat mystery/fantasy featuring occasional small crimes. ("The King's Island," Oct 2021)   

A Western about a small town terrorized by a pair of killers. Obvious genre-mixing here, including a tiny bit of otherworldliness. ("Bad Times at Big Rock," upcoming)  


My point is, only a third of these stories were strictly mystery/crime/suspense. The others all had various shades of paint mixed into the genre can--and those stories probably wouldn't even have been considered at some of the other respected mystery markets. I still write mostly straight and undiluted mystery/crime plots and I will continue doing that, but when I do feel the urge to create a cross-genre story, Mystery Magazine is always on my mind as a possible home for it.

One last thing. I'm not alone in my fondness for this magazine. Many of my fellow SleuthSayers have had stories published in MM as well, before and after its name change: R.T. Lawton, Michael Bracken, Eve Fisher, Robert Lopresti, Steve Liskow, Robert Mangeot, Joseph D'Agnese, Elizabeth Zelvin, Melodie Campbell, the late Paul D. Marks and B.K. Stevens, and probably others I'm leaving out.

What are your thoughts, writers and readers, about Mystery Magazine? Have you read it? Enjoyed it? Written for it?

Here's hoping they stay around for a long time.




02 October 2021

Guest Post: Lines That Won't Let Go


  

My longtime friend Judy Penz Sheluk wears and has worn many literary hats: novelist, short-story author, former journalist, former magazine editor, and--especially appropriate for today's column--anthology publisher and editor. Her three Superior Shores Press mystery athologies are all excellent and have been well received, in spite of my connection to each one: I contributed a cover blurb to the first and short stories to the second and third. The most recent of the three books--Moonlight & Misadventure--is the subject of today's guest post.

So . . . please join me in welcoming Judy to SleuthSayers!

--John Floyd


                                                            Lines That Won't Let Go

                                                                by Judy Penz Sheluk

Much has been written about first and last lines, and both are certainly of the utmost importance. But as the publisher and editor of the Superior Shores Anthologies, they aren't necessarily the ones that "seal the deal" for me when I move a submission into the "Yes" pile. Rather, it's those "lines that won't let go," the ones that catch me off-guard or break the tension with a touch of humor. 

While time and space don't permit me to list them all, each of the 20 stories in Moonlight & Misadventure have at least one such magical moment. Here are a few of my favorites:


"Crown Jewel," Joseph S. Walker

Two years ago, Keenan brought a woman he'd seen a few times home and took her to a spare bedroom converted into an audiophile's dream, the walls lined with racks of records, the turntable hooked up to an exquisitely balanced sound system. He showed her the three bins filled with copies of the White Album, each lovingly sheathed in its protective plastic sleeve. She pulled one out at random, turned it over in her hands, and looked at him in utter confusion.

"Don't they have this on CD?" she'd asked. "It would save a lot of room."

That was the last time he saw her.


"Cereus Thinking," Tracy Falenwolfe

No one ever spent time behind the bathhouse because it smelled awful. My grandparents had started telling the campers the sulfur smell came from decaying grasses along the beach, but I knew it was because the septic system was failing, the same way I knew dryer number four would never be fixed, grass would never get planted, and no one who stayed at Manatee Playground would ever see a manatee.


"The Promotion," Billy Houston

Pete looked around in the drawers of Gavin's desk until he found what he wanted. A half-empty pack of cigarettes. There were some matches in the same drawer, and he took those, too. For a moment, he considered going outside, but then lit a cigarette anyway. He'd just killed a man; smoking indoors didn't seem like a big deal anymore.


"My Night with the Duke of Edinburgh," Susan Daly

I took refuge in my glass of Northern Spirit Rye. Granted, I was two months short of twenty-one, but our little group had no use for such arbitrary, state-imposed nonsense. A person could either hold their liquor, or they couldn't.


"Not a Cruel Man," Buzz Dixon

The agent represented a sparkling young singer who'd just landed a starring role in a Disney movie. The producer's modus operandi was to find young, struggling talent, seduce them, dig them deeper and deeper into his own peculiar kinks, document that progression with Polaroids, then leech off their careers. A lot of what the producer liked would result in serious jail time for all involved. In the case of the agent's client, she'd never again be regarded as sweet and wholesome, much less virginal.


"Reunions," John M. Floyd

Larry's previous misgivings felt silly to him. He suddenly said, without thinking, "I hope things work out. With your friend and his wife, I mean."

Roger nodded, looking sad. "I hope so too. If it doesn't--and if I ever found out for sure she's cheating on him . . ."

The man's tone sent another little ripple up Larry's spine. He cleared his throat and said, "What would you do?"

"I don't know." Roger reached down to pat the bulge of the gun under his jacket. "If I met the guy, and if I had this at the time . . . I'm just not sure."


And sometimes it's just a single sentence:

"Scavenger Hunt," Michael A. Clark

It was a good night to hunt for a lost atomic bomb.


About the book: Whether it's vintage Hollywood, the Florida everglades, the Atlantic City boardwalk, or a farmhouse in Western Canada, the twenty authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of "moonlight and misadventure" in their own inimitable style where only one thing is assured: Waxing, waning, gibbous, or full, the moon is always there, illuminating things better left in the dark.

Featuring stories by K.L. Abrahamson, Sharon Hart Addy, C.W. Blackwell, Clark Boyd, M.H. Callway, Michael A. Clark, Susan Daly, Buzz Dixon, Jeanne DuBois, Elizabeth Elwood, Tracy Falenwolfe, Kate Fellowes, John M. Floyd, Billy Houston, Bethany Maines, Judy Penz Sheluk, KM Rockwood, Joseph S. Walker, Robert Weibezahl, and Susan Jane Wright.


About the editor: A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including The Best Laid Plans, Heartbreaks & Half-truths, and Moonlight & Misadventure, which she also edited.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the South Simcoe Arts Council, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Chair on the Board of Directors.


Find the book here.




18 September 2021

Ten Years at SS


  

As you know from my friend Brian Thornton's post yesterday, we Sayers of Sleuth have been at it for ten years now. None of us who started the blog, way back then, knew if it would work or not, and if it would be even half as successful and as enjoyable (to us) as its predecessor, Criminal Brief, had been. All we knew for sure is that we had a good group and we all loved mystery fiction. (By the way, Brian, thanks for the kind words.)

Since I was chosen by my SleuthSayers co-conspirators to "kick off" our new blog with the first column on September 17, 2011, I've been asked to write today about what the blog has meant to me over this past decade (plus one day). The request caught me by surprise, because the anniversary caught me by surprise. Until then, I'd never thought much about how long we've been doing this. Most of the thinking I've done about the blog was probably along the lines of How in the world will I come up with something to write about for my next post?

There have been a lot of them. FYI for those of you who don't read us: I post a SleuthSayers column every first, third, and fifth Saturday, whether I have anything meaningful to say or not--and when I totaled them up the other day (not counting "guest posts" done by my writer friends), it came to 258 columns. Most of those have been on the subject of short mystery stories because that's what I write most. Others were about novels, some were about movies, and some were my random thoughts about the mystery genre or the writing life or the writing process. Looking back over the posts, I found that a surprising number were about style--punctuation, grammar, spelling, capitalization, abbreviation, sentence construction, paragraph construction, word choice, word usage, etc. The kinds of things that I hated during high school English classes but that I now realize are vitally important. At least if you want to get published regularly.

Some of the columns I most enjoyed writing: "Deja Vu All Over Again," about "writing tight"; "The Washed and the Unwashed," about literary fiction vs. genre fiction; Crime (and Other) Scenes," about favorite movies; and "Candy Is Dandy," about the late Ogden Nash.

As for what the blog has meant to me as a writer, here are a few things (besides our fantastic salary) that come to mind:

I've made friends who are now dear to me. Some only online, but many face-to-face as well. At every Bouchercon I've attended I've run into fellow SleuthSayers and "commenters," and when we meet in person it's as if we've known each other for years. Which we have, in a way, because of many, many blog posts, emails, and Facebook messages. I won't name names here because I would certainly miss someone, but you know who you are--and I will always treasure your friendship.

I've learned a lot about the craft of writing. The folks who post and guest-post at SleuthSayers read and write all kinds of fiction, not just mysteries, and many of them have great tips about how to create effective short stories and novels. Some of this stuff you can't find in the style manuals and the how-to books.

I've found out about new markets to target for my stories, as well as helpful facts about publications I was already familiar with. Some of these markets are not well known, and even if they are, the insider information is sometimes the kind they don't include in their submission guidelines.

I've discovered stories, books, and movies I would otherwise never have read or watched. All of us like to pass along recommendations based on what we've enjoyed or learned from, and when you hear these suggestions from those whose opinions you've come to trust, it makes a difference.

I've been forced to write to a deadline. When you know you have to produce an article of around 1000 words at least once every couple weeks, it keeps the writing muscles working. It's nothing like the pressure of a daily-newspaper deadline, but it's still something you're expected to create and deliver on time, and it means you can't just take long breaks from writing. I think that kind of discipline also helps in producing fiction, and is one of the reasons I've been able to turn out so many short stories.

In addition to all these things, I've had a chance to tell others about my own writing. Often that means giving them a behind-the-scenes view of my stories, and sharing whatever information I've picked up about the writing and marketing of those stories. That usually leads to a discussion, and I usually wind up learning more than I'm trying to teach. The bottom line: To be able to reach and swap views with a large number of readers and fellow writers on a regular basis is a rare opportunity, and as a member of SleuthSayers I have that.

In closing, I'd like to thank a few folks. One is James Lincoln Warren, who was the Head Fred at our Criminal Brief blog (without CB there would've been no SleuthSayers) and who was kind enough to recruit me to write the Saturday columns there, back in 2007. JLW, you might not be running the factory anymore, but you're still my hero. Special thanks also to my old friends and SS colleagues Leigh Lundin and Robert Lopresti for putting up with my foolishness and my stupid questions for ten years (fourteen, actually) and to all the other SleuthSayers as well, present and former. If you look at that list, you'll see that it includes some of the best mystery writers anywhere.

I can sense that Velma, our longtime and bossy assistant/receptionist/first-sergeant, is rolling her eyes and signaling me to wind this up, so I will. My final and most important thank-you is to our faithful readers. Your friendship and loyalty is much appreciated by us all.

I hope you'll stay with us for ten more years.





04 September 2021

Two September Stories


  

No, they're not set in September. One takes place in August and the other in a month that I suppose could've been September, but a time of year was never stated (just that it was hurricane season). What both stories have in common with September is that they were both published on the first day of this month, in two different magazines.


One of the stories is "Friends," in the Sep/Oct issue of The Saturday Evening Post. It isn't a mystery story, although crime is included in the plot. "Friends" is mostly a leisurely conversation between two longtime buddies, one of them a fisherman and one an ex-con, sitting together on the beach of a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico following a tropical storm that wasn't quite a hurricane. The idea for the story came from no more than the fact that I once did a lot of that when I was stationed for six months on the Gulf Coast, in the Air Force. Just sitting on the sand and staring out at the water. I have great memories of that. And how can a few ideas NOT roll into shore when you do that, even if the waves are imaginary?

I think the most different thing about this story, for me, is that it probably comes closer to that vague term "literary" than most stories I write. I wanted to focus more on the complicated relationship between these two friends--and on some details of the setting--rather than on the plot. It's also a pretty short story, around 2500 words. That's not only short for the Post, it's shorter than most of the stories I write these days. It contains only those two characters and only one scene, though there are some things that happen off-screen. The supporting cast is made up of a woman they both know, who's only mentioned in their dialogue, and a truckload of guys who stop and talk with them for a minute about post-disaster cleanup work.


The other story, "The Delta Princess," is in the September issue of Mystery Weekly. As you might suspect with a market like that, it is a mystery, and is firmly centered around a crime--in this case a multi-step, Mission Impossible-like theft of money from the safe of a wealthy landowner. It's long, around 7000 words, and includes a lot of scenes and characters and locations, although the main setting is the cottonfields of the Mississippi Delta. (Write what you know, right?)

The thing I'll always remember most about this story is the idea that triggered it. I've often mentioned, at this blog and elsewhere, that I usually start first with a plot idea and only then create my characters. It was the same with this story, except that the plot began with something my wife said to me, about her sewing.

A little background, here. My wife Carolyn loves to sew. Always has. Not quilting or embroidery or tatting, but sewing. One room of our house is even called The Sewing Room, a mysterious place I usually avoid because I understand absolutely nothing about what goes on in there. Some of what comes out of there, though, are things I can relate to, like dress shirts that actually fit me and bathrobes that are so comfortable I could live in them 24/7 and coats and jackets that not only look good but keep me toasty warm even on the coldest outings. I'm not fond of cold weather.

Anyhow, my point is, she likes sewing the way I like writing--it's relaxing and satisfying to her--and one day I overheard her talking to a friend on the phone about a sewing technique involving something called water-soluble thread. When I asked her about it afterward, she said she occasionally uses it to test out patterns to see if certain things will work and fit the way she expects them to. When the test run (using a stitch called basting, with a long a, as in tasting) is finished, she just applies water to the seams in the fabric, and--presto!--the thread dissolves. It actually disappears, and fast, and the sample garment literally falls apart. Then she can start over and sew it with real thread because she now knows it's right.

I of course didn't hear the rest of what she was telling me. I was too busy thinking WhoaI see a story there. From that point on, all I had to do was come up with a situation where a devious person--a devious seamstress, in this instance--would use that disappearing thread to evil advantage. And all of you know the process: once the seed's been sown, it's not that hard to put together (weave, maybe?) the rest of the tale. The result was "The Delta Princess," a title that I think I can promise will not mean what you might think it means. As one of the characters says, "Sounds like a riverboat." It's not. 

And that's my pitch, about two stories published on the same day--far different from each other in terms of length, genre, mood, complexity, and the magazines that bought them. But both were fun to write. 

If you have occasion to read one or both, I hope you'll like it (or them). Please let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I need more fodder for the idea machine. Where'd my wife go . . . ?


21 August 2021

Surviving in a Woman's World


This is a topic I've covered before here at SleuthSayers, and even at the Criminal Brief blog before that, because writing stories for the weekly magazine Woman's World seems to be one of the things I'm often asked about, at meetings, signings, conferences, etc. With all the ups and downs in the publishing universe, WW has somehow kept a big circulation over the years, and the part of the magazine I'm most interested in--its short mystery stories--still has a lot of readers.

The occasion for my writing this post today is that I recently sold my 120th story to Woman's World. Not a usual milestone, I know, but since I have no idea how long this lucky streak will last, I decided not to try to wait until 150 or 200 or something equally round.

Also, for those interested in writing for WW, some things about the magazine have changed since my recent columns on this subject, so I'll try to cover those, along with a summary of WW's content preferences, regarding their short mysteries. And I'll include some story statistics, in case that helps.

First, the changes

Over the years, there have been a lot of adjustments to things like story length, format, and payment for the stories in Woman's World. When I first started submitting to them in 1999 (via snailmail) the maximum wordcount for their mini-mysteries was 1000 and the wordcount for the romance stories was 1500. Eventually the romances went down to 1000 words and then to 800, where it remains today. The mysteries went down from 1000 words to its current max of 700, BUT the last two dozen or so mysteries I've sold them have been even less than that; those stories were all between 500 and 600 words each, which is what the editor seems to prefer. (Don't blame me if you write a 550-word story and they reject it--but that length has worked for me.)

The format of the mystery stories is the biggest change, though this happened a long time ago and you probably know about it already. My first mysteries for WW were traditional stories with regular beginnings, middles, and endings, like the romances--but in 2004 the head fred at the magazine, whoever that was at the time, decided to go to an interactive format in which the reader is invited to solve the puzzle. In fact, the mysteries now don't include the solutions at all; there's a separate "solution box" at the end of each story, which usually appears printed upside down on the same page. Note: the wordcount of your manuscript should include both the text of the story (not the title and byline) and the text in the solution box. Also note: the romances have not changed format. They're still traditional short stories, which many feel are easier to write than the solve-it-yourself format of the mysteries. I don't agree. I think the romances are harder to write and harder to sell, but that's just me.

As for payment, the romance stories once paid a flat rate of $1000 each (thankfully, the only two romances I've sold them were in that era), but that payment has since been lowered to $800 and then to (I believe) $720. That's not as big a reduction as it sounds, when you consider that the required wordcount is now only around half what it used to be--so the payment per word has actually increased. Payment for mysteries was once $500 each, and remained so for many years, but was recently lowered to $450. Still almost a dollar a word, though, so it's hard to complain.

The final change I'll mention is that WW now has a different fiction editor than the last time I visited this subject. The first editor I really knew and worked with was Johnene Granger, who held that position for a long time and was one of the most capable and professional editors I've ever known. After Johnene retired Patricia Riddle Gaddis--also a wonderful editor--took over, and recently the reins were passed to Alexandra Pollock. Alex and her colleague Maggie Dillard have been great to work with as well.

My WW statistics:


Number of mysteries: 118 

Number of romances: 2


Series stories: 112

Standalones: 8


Titles changed by the editor (aargh): 59

Titles unchanged (yay!): 61


Third-person stories: 119

First-person stories: 1


Past-tense stories: 120

Present-tense stories: 0


Female protagonist's POV: 37 stories

Male protag's POV (male member of a male/female team): 82 stories

Villain's POV: 1 story


Multiple protagonists (team): 98 stories

Single protags (for standalones, or when the other partner is sick, out of town, etc.): 22 stories


Whodunits: 33

Howcatchems: 85

(N/A for the two romances)


Single villain: 114 stories

Multiple villains: 4 stories

(N/A for the two romances)


Stories in which the good guys win: 115

Bad guys win: 3

(N/A for the two romances)


Stories involving murder: 25

Robbery/burglary: 72

Other crimes: 21

(N/A for the two romances)


Stories changed at editor's request: 9

Stories accepted unchanged: 111


Local/familiar settings: 113

Other settings: 7


Holiday-based stories: 10

Regular stories: 110


1999: 3 stories published

2000-2009: 28

2010-2019: 80

2020-2021: 9

WW mystery hints & tips

NOTE: These are mine, not the magazine's.

  1. Don't go over the max wordcount.
  2. Use a lot of dialogue.
  3. Don't include sex, excessive violence, or strong language. Aim for PG, or light PG-13.
  4. Use humor whenever possible.
  5. Include a female protagonist. If on a team, she should either be there or assisting from afar.
  6. Include a crime--not just the hint or threat of a crime.
  7. Your mystery does not have to involve a murder and it does not have to be a whodunit.
  8. You do not have to have three suspects. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that you do.
  9. Avoid religion, politics, and anything controversial.
  10. Avoid technical jargon.
  11. Don't put pets in jeopardy.
  12. Play fair with the clues.
  13. Make the good guys win in the end.
  14. Use domestic/familiar settings, not international/exotic.
  15. Keep the solutions short. WW sometimes edits mine to be longer, but they start out short.

This column started out short, too. I know this was a lot of info and a lot of numbers, but the requirements set by Woman's World are a bit different from most of the stories we write. FYI, I don't submit as many mini-mysteries as I used to--I write mostly longer now--but the short-short ones are still fun now and then, and WW remains a good market. If any of this helps any of you to sell a story to them, I'm thrilled.

Let me know!

07 August 2021

What the Characters Do


  

Some writers have told me they don't give much thought to the plot of a story. They say they just come up with great characters and then give them something to do. Well, here's the thing: What they do is the plot.

Building Blocks

Putting together a story always starts with an idea. As mentioned before at this blog, these ideas can come from anywhere and can be anything from a beacon that lights up the entire story in your head, all at once, to a tiny spark that you use as kindling to build on. And most writers say those ideas, big or small, begin with either a character, a plot, a setting, or a theme.

My writing process always starts with a plot. The first thing I picture is what's happening, and once I have that firmly in my head I start thinking about characters, locations, etc. I don't do it that way because it's the best way--it might not be the best way. I do it because that's the way my mind works. As I said in the first paragraph, a lot of writers seem to start with interesting characters and only then come up with what the characters do. I start with something that has to be done, and only then plug in the characters that I need to make it happen. That's probably the reason I write genre stories instead of literary stories. Stephen King once said that literary fiction is about extraordinary people doing ordinary things, and genre fiction is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I relate better to ordinary people and I like imagining wild situations to put them in. 


Story vs. Plot

Years ago, I read a good discussion about the difference between story and plot--I think it was by Ronald Tobias, in his book 20 Master Plots. If I'm right about who said it, he said something to this effect: A story is a series of related events. His example: The king died and the queen died. (Not a great story, but it's still a story because it meets the requirements.) Then he said a plot is a sequence of related events that introduces an element of tension or anticipation or suspense. Example: The king died, and the queen died of grief. Or the king died and the queen spit on his grave. Or the king died and the queen rushed to Lancelot's quarters. (I'm not only paraphrasing, here, I'm inventing my own examples--but you get the drift.) 

Another example of a story: Susan drove to Walmart, bought a wheelbarrow, and drove home. A plot: Susan drove to Walmart, bought a wheelbarrow, drove home, and buried Jack's body in the back pasture. A plot needs to be something that grabs the reader's interest. 

And yes, I know: short stories don't have to have plots. A vignette, a slice-of-life, a character sketch--none of those have plots, but they still qualify as short stories. An often-used example of a plotless story is Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River." Beautiful description and interesting symbolism, but mostly it's an account of a sportsman going through the motions of camping, fishing, cooking what he's caught, etc., and nothing really happens. It's still a story, and a famous one at that, but I think the best stories do have strong plots. Even when I'm reading and not writing, I find myself focusing mainly on the plot. I understand that the characters have to be good and effective and interesting in order to have a quality story, yes, but what I often seem to remember most is the plot.

Closer to home . . .

What are these plots that pop into my own head? As examples, here are mini-synopses for some of my stories published so far this year. If you've read any of my recent creations, some of these might ring a bell. Or not.


A man fleeing from loan sharks gets help from a female alligator-hunter

Two friends attempt to steal from a small-town business that's secretly connected to the mob

A fortune-teller in a New Orleans voodoo shop discovers a customer planning a robbery

A woman's scheme to murder her husband takes a wrong (and explosive) turn

A pool hall in Alaska is the scene of a showdown between townspeople and a trio of killers

In a raging storm, an outlaw happens upon a family in the high plains of west Texas

A new employee at an accounting firm meets a mysterious stranger in the elevator

A farmer wakes up to dreams of terrifying creatures in his cornfield

A veteran con-man's efforts to trick a young lady have unexpected results

A Mississippi sheriff helps his ex-lawyer girlfriend reclaim a stolen inheritance

A legendary gunfighter sides with a prospector and his sister against evil claimjumpers

Two amateur thieves in southern Italy battle an unexpected enemy

The maid for a recently deceased elderly lady becomes the prime suspect in her murder

A hitman walks into a local honky-tonk and hits the wrong man

A small-town sheriff tries to find the prankster who poisoned the mayor's punch

An inmate being transported to a new prison escapes--and interrupts a robbery in progress

A man on the run from the mafia is trapped in the restroom of a neighborhood bar

Members of a movie club help catch a thief at a local soup kitchen

Mob bosses and hitmen show up in a small southern town

A visiting police chief assists D.C. cops in solving an art-theft case

the search for a killer leads a sheriff and his former schoolteacher to a roadside cafe

An anonymous riddler provides the only clue to the robbery of a local Homeowner's Association

A police chief and her sister track two scammers who've emptied a woman's bank accounts

A Bigfoot hoaxster winds up in the middle of a crooked and deadly real-estate scheme

A politician and a gambler in southern Texas find themselves in a desperate situation

A boy receives otherworldly messages in a suburban mailbox

Two strangers who met on a plane flight meet again under far different circumstances

The kidnapping of a prominent businesswoman goes wrong, in almost every way

A wealthy rancher and his mistress plan to bomb a train in the Arizona desert

A year after a nuclear attack, a peaceful settlement must fight an army of armed scavengers

A unknown assistant helps the law solve a case of boat theft

An Old West private eye faces his past when hired to find a cattleman's missing daughter


I'm not saying these are great or ideal plots, but they worked, in terms of getting sold--and if any of them happen to serve as a prompt or catalyst for your own plot ideas, so much the better. (What does their subject matter say about me and my mental health? Let's not go into that.)

Most of these plots are mysteries, and when I listed them in this post I was a little surprised by how many of the mystery/crime stories involve a theft, a kidnapping, etc., instead of a murder. Also, relatively few of the mysteries were whodunits--they were more howdunits or whydunits or howcatchems.


Questions

What's your storytelling process, with regard to first ideas? Do you usually start with a character? A plot? A scene or setting? A theme? Are your plots usually short? Long? Simple? Complex? Twisty? Lighthearted? Violent? What are some of your recent plots?

Whatever they are and however you create them, I think plots are all-important. To me, they're what makes stories fun to read . . . and fun to write.

Let me know what you think.



31 July 2021

Stories, Slightly Used


  

While trying to come up with a topic for today, I re-read Michael Bracken's post earlier this month about reprints, and was reminded what a big part those recycled stories have played in both his and my short-fiction marketing in recent years. So (this isn't the first time I've looked to Michael for writing ideas) I thought I'd post a few memories of my own experiences with regard to previously published stories. NOTE: I think "previously published stories" is to "reprints" what "pre-owned vehicles" is to "used cars." It's probably just supposed to sound better. (I still prefer to say "reprints.")

I didn't realize, when I first started writing for publication in 1994, that you could resell stories that had already been published. But the more I wrote and published and the more how-to-write books I read, I came to discover what an important thing reselling stories was, to the writers of short fiction--and that it's one of the big advantages short stories have over novels. I actually did a SleuthSayers post on the whys and wherefores of reprints last year, but it was more instructional than anything else, and I didn't use any examples. So, today, I'll point out some real experiences.


The Same Old Story

The first short story I re-sold was called "A Thousand Words"--and its length was, coincidentally, about 1000 words. It was a mystery story about a bank robbery, one I'd first published in a literary magazine called Pleiades in January 1995. The reprint appeared in the March/April 1996 issue of Dogwood Tales Magazine, a truly interesting and kind-to-their-writers publication. Like so many, DTM put all four feet in the air after a few years, but I wound up selling them three more stories before that happened. I can't remember how much I was paid for the reprinted story, but I'm sure it was less than I'd earned from the original at Pleiades. Still, reselling it got an older and idle story out of its hammock and out into the world again, and I recall receiving some positive feedback about it from readers. (Not that it matters, but I later sold "A Thousand Words" six more times, here and there.)

More reprints followed, because many of those first stories I sold were now past the "rights-revert-to-the-authors" date and also because I learned to start actively seeking out reprint markets. Over the next several years I sold dozens of them, to both anthologies and magazines. I'm not certain how many stories went to each, but I would suspect a larger percentage ended up in anthologies--especially in recent years. Generally speaking, anthologies seem more likely than magazines to consider previously published work. Then again, some anthos demand only original stories, so always read the guidelines before submitting.

By the way, I am no minor thief: I'm stealing not only Michael's idea but also a couple of his bullet items, as follows:


Most Often-Reprinted Story

The short story I've sold the most times is a 1200-word humorous Western called "Saving Mrs. Hapwell." I'm not sure why it's the one that landed in the most places, but I suspect it might be because it's (1) very short, (2) it's funny, and (3) it's almost all dialogue--three things that can sometimes add to a story's marketability. That story has been published in:

Dogwood Tales Magazine, March/April 1997 issue

Mystery Time, Spring/Summer 2000

Desert Voices, December 2004

Taj Mahal Review, December 2005

Crime & Suspense E-zine, February 2006

Rainbow's End and Other Stories (collection), October 2006

Crime & Suspense I anthology April 2007 

Kings River Life, May 2020

and will appear a ninth time in the Crimeucopia anthology As in Funny Ha-Ha in August 2021.


Most Prestigious Reprints

The reprints I suppose I'm most proud of weren't sales at all; they were out-of-the-blue selections for annual anthologies:

"Molly's Plan" from Strand Magazine, reprinted in Best American Mystery Stories 2015

"Gun Work," from the Coast to Coast: Private Eyes anthology, in BAMS 2018

"Rhonda and Clyde" from Black Cat Mystery Magazine, in BAMS 2020

"Biloxi Bound" from Strand Magazine, upcoming in Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021


Another Target for "Used Stories"

The three primary markets for short-story reprints are the same as the three primary markets for short stories: magazines, anthologies, and collections of your own work. I've now had seven collections published of my mystery stories--the first seven were by Dogwood Press, a small, traditional publisher that has no connection to the old Dogwood Tales Magazine. Those books of my own stories are:

Rainbow's End -- 30 stories, all of which were reprints

Midnight -- 30 stories, all reprints

Clockwork -- 40 stories, all reprints

Deception -- 30 stories, 93% reprints, 7% original stories

Fifty Mysteries -- 50 stories, 46% reprints, 54% new stories

Dreamland -- 30 stories, 93% reprints

The Barrens -- 30 stories, 93% reprints

An eighth collection is upcoming, from VKN Publishing in Moscow. They're creating a bilingual book containing five of the ten stories I've published in the print edition of The Saturday Evening Post, with those stories featured in English side-by-side with their Russian translations. As stated, all five of those stories will be reprints. 


Bottom Line

As Michael said in his column, the main thing to keep in mind regarding future reprints is: retain the rights to your stories whenever possible. If you've granted "all rights" to whoever publishes a story, that story is no longer yours and cannot be resold. The other thing to remember is to then be on the constant lookout for markets where you might take published stories that are gathering dust and put them to work again. 

Question to my fellow writers: What are some of your experiences, both positive and negative, regarding the marketing of your previously pubbed stories? I would suspect your adventures would be more interesting than mine.


Now . . . I wonder how long I'll need to wait before I reprint this column . . .



17 July 2021

Voices from the Past


  

Years ago, back when you could watch network TV without endangering your brain cells, there was a series of United Airlines commercials I especially remember. One of the two reasons they made an impression was their background music, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," which I love, and the other was the voice of the always-unseen narrator. The first time I saw one of them and heard it I knew that voice was familiar--but after repeated viewings I still couldn't figure out whose it was. (No Google or Alexa around in those days.) Finally it came to me. See if you recognize the voice--it starts at about the halfway point in this one-minute commercial from the late '80s.

For some reason I thought about that the other day, and it triggered other memories of overhearing movie or TV dialogue from another room and thinking, I know that voice. Part of that's probably due to the fact that I watch so many movies, but part of it's also because certain voices are just unique--so recognizable that hearing them for only a few seconds can tell you who's speaking.

That got personal a few months ago, when I'd plugged in a Netflix DVD of the James Franco film As I Lay Dying and walked into the kitchen in the middle of the movie to get a snack. As I was heaping ice cream into a bowl I heard a voice so surprising it made me stop in mid-scoop. I hurried back to the TV to see that one of the actors was an old friend from my IBM days named Jim Ritchie--we worked together for years--and who has a voice unlike any other in the world. (Jim also played Matthew McConaughey's father-in-law in A Time to Kill many years ago, but I hadn't realized he had a part in this movie as well.) I later played that scene for my wife after telling her not to look at the screen, and when she heard it she too gasped and said, "Is that Jim Ritchie?" If you want to hear Jim's voice for yourself, here's one of his recent videos.

We as writers understand that physical voices aren't as important to our work as they are in some of the performing arts, unless maybe we're doing a reading or an interview or a podcast. What we produce (thank goodness) is usually intended to be read, not heard. But in the TV or movie business, a distinctive voice is an asset. I can think of several actors like Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Tommy Lee Jones, Rosie O'Donnell, Gary Cooper, Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson, Kathleen Turner, Alan Rickman, and others, whose voices also tend to fit in with the characters they play. And some--Bernadette Peters, L.Q. Jones, Fran Drescher, Strother Martin, Steve Landesberg, Jennifer Tilly, Lorraine Bracco, R. Lee Ermey, Holly Hunter, G.D. Spradlin, etc.--whose voices are certainly unique but maybe not immediately familiar to the general public.  

You know, of course, where all this is leading. It's leading to a question.

In your opinion, who are the actors and actresses with the most recognizable voices?

 

My picks:


Katherine Hepburn

Lee Marvin

James Earl Jones

Lauren Bacall

Jack Nicholson

Henry Fonda

Steve Buscemi

Cary Grant

John Wayne

Kirk Douglas

Suzanne Pleshette

Humphrey Bogart

Morgan Freeman

Michael Caine

Samuel L. Jackson

Christopher Walken

Audrey Hepburn

Jimmy Stewart

Jeff Goldblum

Al Pacino

Burt Lancaster

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Sam Elliott

Rosanne Barr

Sean Connery


I think I could identify any of those people after ten seconds of listening to them speak.

As you can see from my honest but unscientific list, a voice doesn't necessarily have to be pleasant to be distinctive or easy to recognize. So my second question is, Which actors'/actresses' voices do you LIKE the most?


 My top-twenty choices of voices:


Morgan Freeman

Billy Bob Thornton

Judi Dench

Katherine Ross

J. K. Simmons

James Earl Jones

Patrick Stewart

Jane Seymour

Dennis Haysbert

Emma Thompson

Gerald McRaney

Sam Elliott

Melanie Griffith

Diana Rigg

Ben Johnson

Lee Marvin

Kim Dickens

Barbara Bel Geddes

Powers Boothe

Gregory Peck


Why do I enjoy hearing these folks' voices? I'm not sure. If I had to give reasons, I guess some of them--Freeman, Thornton, McRaney, Dickens--bring back good memories of my southern childhood, and some are soothing and relaxing, and some have a foreign accent that I like . . . and some are just interesting. I think my all-time favorite voice is that of Lee Marvin.

  

A closing note: I always found it fascinating that the voices of brothers James Arness (Gunsmoke) and Peter Graves (Mission: Impossible) sounded exactly alike. If you're not old enough to remember those guys, take my word for it.

 

Here's another video I saw on YouTube the other night, on this familiar-voice subject. It's part of an episode of the updated game show To Tell The Truth (one of those many remakes that are sometimes fun and sometimes irritating).

 

And FYI: If you didn't recognize his voice, the narrator in the aforementioned United Airlines commercial was Gene Hackman.


See you in two weeks.



03 July 2021

Hope to Hear from You Soon


  

If you write and sell short fiction, there are three steps you have to take, over and over again: (1) write the story, (2) send it off, and (3) wait for a reply. That third task is the only one you can't control, and often seems to be the hardest.


No one likes to wait a long time to hear back from a story submission. I mean, you've created a masterpiece and you're ready to share it with the reading world, right NOW, and here you sit, waiting for months for some editor to decide if it's worthy. The final insult is that in some cases the best publications can take the longest time to respond. What's an impatient writer to do?

The simple answer: Don't send stories to those publications. Send only to those that respond promptly.

The problem is, that doesn't work for me. I want some of my stories to be featured occasionally in those long-responding publications. So my answer is, submit to them anyway. Send the stories off and wait, like everyone else. But meanwhile, also send stories to places that don't take so long. As in most things in life, it's a balancing act.

In the case of markets for mystery short stories, which ones take the longest to respond? Which are the quickest? Here are my thoughts on that, based on my own experience, for a few of what I consider to be prime markets in terms of quality and/or compensation.


Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine -- Editor Janet Hutchings usually responds to my submissions fairly quickly. It might be a rejection note and it might be an acceptance (I'll let you guess which I get most often), but either way, I usually know within three months, and sometimes two or less. One of my acceptances came after four months, so maybe longer can be a good sign--has anyone else noticed that, or was this a fluke? FYI, payment for accepted EQMM stories is pleasingly prompt, but it might be months before your story is published.

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine -- Linda Landrigan makes no secret of the fact that it takes her a long time to respond to story submissions. For me, that's usually been around eleven months, for both rejections and acceptances. A few of my stories have been accepted after a shorter time, and a few have taken a full year--but eleven months seems to be about right. Do I still send stories to AHMM, despite the long wait time? I sure do--and so do a lot of other writers. (The thrill and satisfaction of an AH acceptance is enough to outweigh the delay.) Also, be aware that AHMM, like EQMM, usually has a backlog such that publication might not happen for many months.

Strand Magazine -- Andrew Gulli is not known for responding right away to submissions, and in fact he sometimes never responds unless he wants to buy the story. When he does want a story, he usually tells you right away, within a few weeks. I have to agree with those who say it can be frustrating to never hear back from a submission--but remember, if you don't like that policy, don't submit a story. I choose to submit to them anyway. If a story's accepted, great, and if it's not, I write them a polite withdrawal note after several months and then send the story elsewhere. On the plus side, my accepted stories at the Strand have usually been published right away, in the next issue.

Black Cat Mystery Magazine -- Editor Michael Bracken often makes all this a bit easier by announcing when he'll be open to new submissions. When the window is open, I've found that he's fairly prompt in responding, and payment is prompt as well. It can sometimes take awhile until your accepted story is published--most magazines plan way ahead, on this kind of thing--but it's worth the wait. Something else I should mention: BCMM, like most of the others I've listed here, seems to be a popular source of award-nominated and "best-of-the-year"-selected stories.

Mystery Weekly -- Kerry Carter is another who responds quickly, and there's the added benefit of having a submission status link that can tell you how many stories are ahead of yours in the reading queue. My response time there, for both acceptances and rejections, has usually been less than three weeks, but--once again--publication of accepted stories can take a while.

Woman's World -- Editor Alexandra Pollock still publishes mini-mysteries (they call them Solve-It-Yourself mysteries now), and although I don't submit to WW as much as I used to, I still send them stories from time to time. In my experience, they either respond after a few weeks or they (like the Strand) don't respond at all, and if I haven't heard from them in three months I send a withdrawal note, after which I change the "format" of the story and submit it elsewhere. Again, I don't complain about their no-response policy--that's just the way the mop flops. If you don't like it, don't send them anything. But be aware that when they do accept a story, payment is quick and generous (for a mystery, it's $450 for less than 600 words) and publication comes soon afterward, usually within a couple of months.

 

Remember, don't take the above observations as fact. I think they're good indicators of recent response times, but they're all based on my own stories to these markets--and besides, I suspect those wait times could change at any point. What are your experiences, with the short stories you've submitted to these and other markets? If you would, let me know in the comments section.

 

Meanwhile, do what I do. I'm not the most patient person in the world, but when I send a story out, I then try to forget about it and work instead on writing and submitting more stories. That's the best way I know to relieve response-time stress. And when you do get a reply, may your answer be a contract and not a rejection.

That's the best medicine of all.