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

07 September 2019

LOST in Africa


by John M. Floyd


I love reading novels and watching movies--sometimes I wonder which I enjoy most. And what's really fun is reading a novel and then seeing the movie adaptation. Usually the book is better than the movie (The Hobbitt, Dune, Bonfire of the Vanities, The Stand), sometimes the movie's better than the book (The Godfather, Dances With Wolves, The Graduate, Forrest Gump), and occasionally--not often--they both turn out great (To Kill a Mockingbird, Lonesome Dove, Deliverance, The Green Mile, Mystic River, Eye of the Needle, Goldfinger, The Silence of the Lambs).

I recently re-read a novel I'd discovered in high school, and then re-watched its movie adaptation, which I'd seen in college. The book is The Sands of Kalahari, and the movie (with a relocated "the") is Sands of the Kalahari. It's another of those rarities that, despite the title change, came across well on both the page and the screen.

I've always thought some of the best movies are adapted from novellas--The Shawshank Redemption (from Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption), Apocalypse Now (from Heart of Darkness), Stand by Me (from The Body), and so on--because a novella's length tends to correspond more to a 90- to 120-minute film. Short stories have to be embellished, novels have to be condensed, but novellas are aa a good fit. That theory seems to hold true for Kalahari. Most sources refer to it as a novel, but it's a short one--my ratty old hardcover copy is only 192 pages. Probably because of that, the film version was able to stick pretty close to the book's storyline.

Quick facts: The novel The Sands of Kalahari was written by William Mulvihill and published in 1960; the movie Sands of the Kalahari, released in 1965, was directed by Cy Endfield and starred Stuart Whitman, Stanley Baker, and Susannah York. Trivia: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were originally scheduled for two of those leading roles.

Here's the basic plot. When a private aircraft crashes in the vast Kalahari Desert of southern Africa, the six survivors--five men and a woman--are left in a place where few humans have ever set foot. They finally stumble onto a barren valley of cliffs and caves and manage to locate enough food and water to keep them going. Their only companions in the valley are bands of curious and sometimes-savage baboons, and the six soon realize that no one's coming to rescue them. As the pilot of their ill-faeted plane sets off alone across the wasteland to try to find help and the other five hole up in a cave and try to keep from starving, one of them decides to improve his odds of survival by eliminating the rest of the men in the group. To say more would give away some great twists and revelations, so I'll stop there.


I can't help seeing some similarities to the TV series Lost, here. A diverse group of travelers find themselves stranded and on their own in an unfamiliar and dangerous place, and have to deal with (1) their harsh environment, (2) each other, (3) their own faults and fears and insecurities, and (4) the deadly beasts that live in and around their new home. Along with love and friendship and heroism there's plenty of danger, despair, lust, jealousy, betrayals, illness, violence, racism, etc., and--as we writers well know-- the more levels of conflict there are, the better the story.

This is a good one. I've now read the novel three times and seen the movie at least five or six times, and it never seems to get old.

The next time you have an urge for a wilderness survival tale, give one or both versions of this story a try. And if you do read it or see it, let me know what you think. Meanwhile, may all your flights be safe and your adventures baboon-free.

Keep up the good writing.






31 August 2019

A Guide in a Strange Land


by John M. Floyd



That's what a good agent can be. And if you don't believe publishing is a strange land, you probably haven't been wandering around in it very long.

I'll start this discussion with four questions and answers:

1. What kind of writing do I do more than any other?
    Short stories.

2. Do I have a literary agent? 
    Yes.

3. Has my agent sold any short stories for me? 
    Yes.

4. Do most short-story writers need an agent?
    No.

Number four doesn't make sense, right? If an agent can help you market your short stories, why shouldn't you try to find one to represent you?

The answer has two parts: First, very few agents (including my own) specialize in short stories. There's not a lot of money to be made writing shorts--and 15% of not a lot is even less. Second, most short-story writers can easily find and approach story publishers (magazines, anthologies, etc.) on their own. There's no need for a middleman.

Getting there from a different direction

So why do I have an agent? That's pretty simple. I acquired an agent to try to market my novels. I've written three novels, two of which are out with my agent now; I think they're pretty good and he does too--but they haven't sold. I suspect that's more my fault than his, but that's another matter. Meanwhile, my current novel agent wound up selling some of my short stories to places that I would've had trouble finding and approaching, and that's been a good thing--but, again, I wouldn't have had those stories represented at all if I hadn't already had that agent for my novels.

Bottom line is, I've wound up making some money for my agent from my shorts, and he's wound up making some for me--but I have a feeling those short-story successes wouldn't have been enough to entice him to take me on as a client. We already had a relationship, he saw some potential places to send my stories that I didn't know about, and as a result I've sold stories that helped both of us (me more than him).


My background

I've actually had three agents in the 25 years I've been writing. The first was one of those rare folks who DID represent mostly short-story writers. I found out about him from a fellow writer back in the late '90s, queried the agent, got a response that he'd like to see some of my work, and he eventually signed me on. Over the next several years he sold some stories for me and I learned a LOT from him--about writing, editing, and publishing--so I considered our relationship a positive experience all the way around. He was an elderly gentleman and died in 1999, and I then inherited agent #2 because he had been the junior partner of agent #1.

That second agent I kept for a few years, but he made it clear that he specialized in novels only. He helped me to make my first novel better and was truly excited about it, but alas, it never sold and we eventually parted company. I'm the one who asked to end our relationship, but I also suspect he wasn't sorry to see me go. After a certain point we both knew we were probably wasting each other's time.

My current situation

My third and present agent was also suggested to me via another writer, several years ago. This agent too represents mostly novels, and despite his enthusiasm for the two novels I have with him now, both of us know my passion is short stories. Like many of my writer friends, I tend to write more shorts than anything else, and like a very few of my writer friends (R.T. Lawton is one) I write almost ONLY shorts. I simply love 'em.

So, you might be asking yourself, are those few short story sales that my agent handles enough for me to want to stay on at that agency, and for him to want to keep me on? Until recently, yes, that was enough, for me and for him--and then something else happened, early this year, to make me even happier that I'm still under his tent. I was contacted by a producer in L.A. who had seen one of my published stories and was interested in optioning it for film. I referred him immediately to my agent, who handled all the negotiations--some of them complicated--and we finally signed the contracts in June. He was so helpful I will always be confident that I received a much better deal by not trying to handle everything on my own. He didn't find the project, but he efficiently steered the ship on my behalf once the project presented itself.

More questions

As you can see from all the above, I'm not the best person to try to discuss whether most writers should seek out literary agents. I've seen only one end of things, from the POV of a short-story writer and a so-far-unsuccessful novel writer. Do any of you other shorts writers have agents? For those of you who write novels, what's your opinion? Must you have an agent to get the best deal? Should you try to secure an agent before ever looking for a publisher? Should you forget the whole traditional-publishing thing and self-publish via Amazon? Have any of you used an agent to option stories or novels for film? Does anyone out there have an agent who deals only in shorts? Bermudas? Boxers?

I welcome all your comments and insights. And whether you choose to comment or not, keep writing, keep submitting, and keep publishing, whatever route you take to get there.

See you again in one week.




17 August 2019

The Best of the Bad Guys


by John M. Floyd



I think it's interesting how often actors say, in interviews, that they love playing villains--and that the more evil the role, the more fun they have. Also interesting is that there are a handful of actors who have never, in their film careers, played true villains--Tom Selleck, James Garner, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Paul Newman, Mel Gibson, Jackie Chan, Charlton Heston, Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood, Cary Grant--and there are others, like Gregory Peck, Andy Griffith, Kevin Costner, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, James Stewart, etc., who did play villains and just weren't very convincing. Part of that, I guess, is the image we viewers already have of those actors as "good guys."

But we're not talking, today, about good guys. They're no fun anyway. The question is, who are the best (scariest, most evil, most believable) movie villains?

First, the disclaimers:

Not included are SF/fantasy villains, horrror villains, superheroes villains, or cartoon villains: Lord Voldermort, Darth Vader, Lex Luthor, The Terminator, Freddie Kreuger, Kylo Ren, Jack Torrance, Catwoman, HAL 9000, The Joker, Scar, Biff Tannen, Cruella de Vil, Pennywise the Clown, Michael Myers, Regan McNeil (while possessed), Bellatrix Lastrange, Wile E. Coyote, Agent Smith, The Wicked Witch of the West, etc.

I also didn't include Michael ad Vito Corleone, Bonnie and Clyde, Butch and Sundance, Keyser Soze, and others who might be villainous but we still wind up rooting for. In the following list, we're talking about truly bad people.

Not that it matters, but I've ranked them from least scary/least evil (50) to scariest/most evil (1). In my opinion only.

So here's my list.



50. Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) -- Mutiny on the Bounty
49. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) -- Goldfinger
48. Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) -- Unforgiven 
47. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) -- On Her Majesty;s Secret Service
46. Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) -- Tombstone 
45. Calvera (Eli Wallach) -- The Magnificent Seven
44. Vincent Vega (John Travolta) -- Pulp Fiction
43. Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) -- The Devil Wears Prada
42. Bill Strannix (Tommy Lee Jones) -- Under Siege
41. Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury) -- The Manchurian Candidate
40. Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) -- It's a Wonderful Life
39. Nitti (Billy Drago) -- The Untouchables
38. Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) -- Rebecca
37. Private Detective Loren Visser (M. Emmett Walsh) -- Blood Simple
36. Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) -- All About Eve
35. Bill "Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day Lewis) -- Gangs of New York
34. Elliott Marston (Alan Rickman) -- Quigley Down Under
33. Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) -- Kill Bill
32. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) -- Fight Club
31. Noah Cross (John Huston) -- Chinatown
30. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) -- Double Indemnity
29. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) -- Blue Velvet
28. Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) -- Platoon
27. Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) -- Night of the Hunter
26. Dr. Szell (Laurence Olivier) -- Marathon Man
25. Roat (Alan Arkin) -- Wait Until Dark
24, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) -- Scarface
23. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) -- Wall Street
22. Liberty Vallance (Lee Marvin) -- The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance
21. Frank (Henry Fonda) -- Once Upton a Time in the West
20. Tommy Devito (Joe Pesci) -- Goodfellas
19. Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) -- Taxi Driver
18. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) -- Die Hard
17. Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) -- Training Day
16. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) -- Psycho
15. Colonel Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz) -- Inglorious Basterds
14. Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb (Ted Levine) -- The Silence of the Lambs
13. Max Cady (Robert DeNiro) -- Cape Fear (remake)
12. Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) -- Misery
11. Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) -- Gladiator
10. Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) -- Fatal Attraction
9.  John Doe (Kevn Spacey) -- Seven
8.  Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) -- Shane
7.  Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken) -- True Romance
6.  Serial Killer (Andy Robinson) -- Dirty Harry 
5.  Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison) -- The Green Mile
4.  Amos Goethe (Ralph Fiennes) -- Schindler's List
3.  Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) -- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
2.  Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) -- The Silence of the Lambs
1.  Anton Chighur (Javier Bardem) -- No Country for Old Men


Runners-up? There are a bunch. Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in From Russia With Love, Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) in Mommie Dearest, Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) in Split and Glass, Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) in Gone Girl, Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) in The Shawshank Redemption, Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) in White Heat, Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? -- and so on and so on.

It surprised me, as I searched back through movies I'd watched, how many times certain actors' names showed up as villains. And they weren't the ones I would've expected, like Willem Dafoe, Danny Trejo, Tim Roth, Jack Palance, John Malkovich, Christopher Lee, Billy Drago, Ian McShane, etc.--guys who look like villains. Instead, they were names like Kevin Spacey, Glenn Close, Alan Rickman, Powers Boothe, Robert DeNiro, Gary Oldman, and Christopher Walken. (Okay, I take that back: Christopher Walken does look villainous.)

The really surprising thing I found was that a few actors who almost always played "good guys" were extremely convincing as bad guys as well: Denzel in Training Day, Angela Lansbury in Manchurian Candidate, Meryl in Devil Wears Prada, Michael Douglas in Wall Street, Olivier in Marathon Man, Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West. Doesn't seem to happen often.

Now . . . Who'd I leave out? Who'd I miss the mark on? Who are some of your picks?



Next time I'll try to get back to writing about writing.

See you then.




03 August 2019

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Very Long Titles


by John M. Floyd



I've always been fascinated by titles. It's usually a case of Whoa, what a great title, and then Why couldn't I have thought of one like that? And, thankfully less often, What was the author thinking?--I could've done better than that. The truth is, the titles of movies, novels, and stories come in all categories--good, bad, and ugly.

The good

I think some are so well done they're worth mentioning: The Guns of Navarone, Atlas Shrugged, The Eagle Has Landed, The High and the Mighty, The Caine Mutiny, Watership Down, To Kill a Mockingbird, "The Tin Star," Something Wicked This Way Comes, Jurassic Park, Lonesome Dove, The Grapes of Wrath, The Silence of the Lambs, Blazing Saddles, The Princess Bride, The Maltese Falcon, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, "The Gift of the Magi," Ben-Hur, Sands of the Kalahari, Dances With Wolves, East of Eden, Back to the Future, A Fish Called Wanda, The Seven-Year Itch, Our Man Flint, The Usual Suspects, An Officer and a Gentleman, The Gypsy Moths, No Country for Old Men, The Sand Pebbles, Fail-Safe, Gone With the Wind, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and so on. The one thing all these have in common is that they are unique--each is one of a kind.

An aside, here. I also love the way some authors of fiction have used their titles almost as marketing trademarks: Janet Evanovich's numbers: One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly; James Patterson's nursery rhymes: Jack and Jill, Three Blind Mice, Along Came a Spider; Sue Grafton's alphabet: A Is for Alibi, B Is for Burglar, C Is for Corpse; Martha Grimes's English pubs: The Old Silent, The Dirty Duck, Jerusalem Inn; John D. MacDonald's colors: The Green Ripper, The Deep Blue Good-by, A Purple Place for Dying; Robert Ludlum's three-word titles: The Bourne Identity, The Matarese Circle, The Rhinemann Exchange; James Michener's one-word titles: Centennial, Chesapeake, Hawaii; John Sandford's "prey" titles: Night Prey, Winter Prey, Mind Prey; etc.

Does length matter?

A question I've often heard writers ask is, "Does my title need to be short?" Or, in other words, "Is a long title a disadvantage?" I don't know the answer. Looking back at my own short stories, I've found that almost all my titles are short--between one and three words. But I don't remember making a conscious effort to keep them short. I just try to come up with something appropriate and--if possible--intriguing. I'm not always successful at that, but I try. And I love titles that turn out to have double meanings, or meanings that are revealed only in the course of the story. Like my one-to-three-word titles, I have far too many four-word titles to list, but here are some of mine that are five words or more: ""On the Road With Mary Jo," "The Red-Eye to Boston," "A Nice Little Place in the Country," "Debbie and Bernie and Belle," "The Moon and Marcie Wade," "Take the Money and Ron," "The Early Death of Pinto Bishop," "Turn Right at the Light," "A Message for Private Kirby," "Can You Hear Me Now?" "The Browns and the Grays," "A Surprise for Digger Wade."

One thing that I find interesting is that there are a LOT of movie and novel titles that are long--some of them extremely long. And some of those titles are surprisingly good. Another thing that's interesting, at least to me, is that some of the longest titles aren't that hard to remember; they're just long. In fact I can recall some titles that aren't very long but are hard to remember, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, etc.

Title contenders

As you might've expected, I've put together a list of some very long movie titles. They're in no particular order, but my favorites are at the top of the list. As you also might've expected, some of the titles farther down the line are bad and some are ugly. I'll leave it to you to decide which are which.

Note: Only titles of eight words or more are included. (I hated to leave out It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and, yes, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but I had to draw the line somewhere.) I also didn't include any documentary titles or any titles containing colons, parentheses, or "or." Examples:
- Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- Shoot First and Pray You Live (Because Luck Has Nothing to Do With It)
- Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
- Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, or How I Flew From London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes

Here, then, after my lame disclaimers, is my lineup:



A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain (1995)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Seeking a Friend at the End of the World (2012)

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995)

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)

At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991)

Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)

Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (1971)

Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forgive Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969)

The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989)

Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mom's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad (1967)

Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God . . . Be Back by Five (1998)

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996)

Quackster Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970)

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972)

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968)

To Woo Fong, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)

The Ranger, the Cook, and the Hole in the Sky (1995)

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest (2002)

A Quiet Little Neighborhood, a Perfect Little Murder (1990)

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (2011)

The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993)

It's Better to Be Wanted for Murder Than Not to Be Wanted at All (2003)

I Could Never Have Sex With a Man Who Had Such Little Regard for My Husband (1973)

The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957)

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1991)

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013)

Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973)

What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love (2013)

The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charente Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (1967)

The Fable of the Kid Who Shifted His Ideals to Golf and Finally Became a Baseball Fan and Took the Only Known Cure (1916)

What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer's Body? (1972)

The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Super Bad About It (2010)

I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meathook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney (1993)

You Gotta Walk It If You Like to Talk It or You'll Lost That Beat (1971)

The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Green Grasshopper and the Vampire Lady From Outer Space (1965)

The Heart of a Lady as Pure as a Full Moon Over the Place of Medical Salvation (1955)

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)



Since I've neglected them so far, here are some long-titled novels and children's books:


Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, Matt Bell

Grab Onto Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way, Bryan Charles

The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship, Charles Bukowski

The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It, Lisa Shanahan

The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow Into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, Edgardo Vega Yunque

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon

And to My Nephew Albert I Leave the Island What I Won Off Fatty Hagan in a Poker Game, David Forrest

Sheila Devine Is Dead and Living in New York, Gail Parent

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List, Janette Rallison

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judie Viorst

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente


Okay, back to the movies

The best (in my opinion) one-word movie titles: Vertigo, Giant, Shane, Fargo, Goldfinger, Tombstone, M*A*S*H, Goodfellas, Unforgiven, Psycho, Nashville, Crash, Rocky, Papillon, Casino, Platoon, Holes, Ghostbusters, Splash, Memento, Twister, Witness, Deliverance, Seabiscuit, Chinatown, Sideways, Titanic, Hondo, Flashdance, Poltergeist, Network, Spartacus, Jaws, Signs, Aliens, Misery, Casablanca.

And, last AND least, some two-letter and one-letter titles: Pi, Go, RV, It, Up, If . . ., F/X, I. Q., Da, E.T., M, G, W., Z, O, $.




Had enough of this? Good, because those are all I can think of. As always, please let me know of any I've missed, and maybe some of the titles of your own stories and novels. Do your titles tend to be long or short--or does it matter? Do you have any that are very long or very short?

I'll close with the longest movie title of them all (I think). Brace yourself:

Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh-Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead, Part 2 (1991).


Don't you wish you'd thought of that one?






06 July 2019

Apocalypse Soon


by John M. Floyd



One of the first things I learned as a beginning writer was that good stories must have conflict. In fact, the more conflict, the better. Maybe that's the reason I prefer writing mystery/crime stories. When the characters in a story have broken--or are breaking, or are planning to break--the law, one level of conflict is already there. It's built-in. And I need all the help I can get.

The same could be said of stories whose plot involves a countdown of some kind. In that case, the built-in ingredient is suspense. It could take many forms: the timer on a bomb, a deadline set by a killer or kidnapper, a runaway train, an upcoming trial date, a clock ticking down to high noon, etc. Or the relentless approach of something final and terrible--an asteroid, a missile strike, a plague, an alien attack--that will put an end to all of us.

This line of thinking of course led me to all those end-of-the-world movies I've seen, and forced me to--how could I resist?--pick out what I thought were the best and worst. So in case anyone besides me likes this kind of thing (doubtful, I know), I've put together a list of my twelve favorite global-disaster-is-coming films. Sometimes doomsday is averted, sometimes it happens as scheduled. You'll have to watch them to find out; no spoilers in this report.

NOTE: I did not include movies set mostly after an apocalypse--and there are plenty of those: The Road, The Day After, Night of the Comet, War of the Worlds, The Book of Eli, 28 Days Later, Children of Men, The Day After Tomorrow, Zombieland, Waterworld, 2012, Dawn of the Dead, Daybreakers, and so on. Even the Mad Max and Hunger Games-style movies could fit into that post-cataclysm group. Unlike those, the movies in my list are set in the time leading up to the event, and therefore populated with characters in the normal world who must somehow deal with the knowledge of impending doom. They aren't the walking dead, at least not yet. They're just regular folks who are fully functional but soon to be in deep bandini.

Anyway, here's my list of the dozen ultimate-catastrophe movies that I enjoyed most, from silly to serious, from action-packed to slow and thoughtful. I liked them all, but the first ones are my
favorites.



1. Melancholia (2011) -- Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland. Definitely a slow-paced, navel-gazing story. Two sisters try to work out their problems with each other as a newly-discovered planet heads toward a collision with Earth.

2. Deep Impact (1998) -- Morgan Freeman, Tea Leoni, Elijah Wood. This time it's an asteroid on its way to do us in. The President tries to save a select few; the rest are on their own.

3. Fail-Safe (1964) -- Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau. American bombers are en route to Moscow and the Russians are set to retaliate, but the attack was a mistake--and now it can't be stopped.

4. Dr. Strangelove (1964) -- Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden. Sellers plays three different roles, and once again the threat is nuclear holocaust. The only comedy, if you can call it that, in the list.

5. Take Shelter (2011) -- Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain. A young father who has visions of a coming apocalypse takes steps to try to protect his family.

6. The Mist (2007) -- Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden. A group of shoppers huddle inside a supermarket after a botched government experiment unleashes a spreading mist that contains bloodthirsty creatures. One of the better Stephen King adaptations.

7. On the Beach (1959) -- Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire. Most of the world has blown itself up, and the so-far unaffected Australians are now in the path of a deadly and slow-moving (like the plot) cloud of radiation.

8. Miracle Mile (1988) -- Anthony Edwards, Mare Winningham. A young man accidentally hears a phone call telling him nuclear missiles will strike his city in seventy minutes.

9. Seeking a Friend at the End of the World (2012). Steve Carell, Keira Knightley. As another asteroid nears Earth (screenwriters are fond of asteroids), a lonely man goes on a road trip to find his high-school sweetheart.

10. These Final Hours (2013) -- Jessica De Gouw, Nathan Phillips. On the Last Day, an Australian man makes his way across a chaotic town to help a little girl reunite with her father.

11. Last Night (1998) -- Sandra Oh, Don McKellar. With the end of the world six hours away, several unusual people decide to face their fate together.

12. Armageddon (1998) -- Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton. As yet another asteroid (?!?) makes its fiery way toward Earth, NASA recruits a team of misfits to try to save the world.

Runners-up: Independence Day (1996) and The Rapture (1991).




What do you think? Have you seen all, or any, of these? If so, do you agree? Disagree? Do you have any movies to add to the list? (I intentionally left out a few: The Day the Earth Caught Fire, When Worlds Collide, etc.) Do you even like this kind of movie?

If you don't, no worries. It's not the end of the world.




29 June 2019

Am I Saying It Right?


by John M. Floyd



A couple of months ago I posted a column here at SleuthSayers about a book I'd discovered called Dreyer's English, written by Random House executive Benjamin Dreyer. That book offered what I thought were great tips on literary style, with sections on how to use, capitalize, and spell certain difficult words. As a stylebook, what it of course didn't offer was advice on how to pronounce those words. But . . . I have since discovered some other resources, including a bunch of YouTube videos and a delightful book by Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras called You're Saying It Wrong. And I found that I was indeed often saying things wrong. (Which was nothing new, for me; I can remember when I first learned that calliope and Penelope weren't KALLY-ope and PENNA-lope. (I think that was last week.)

Anyhow, the following are some examples I've stumbled onto, of how to pronounce--and how not to pronounce--certain words. I've even included a few people and place names. I hope you might be as surprised as I was, by some of these:



forte -- It's pronounced FORT. Not fore-TAY.

pathos -- PAY-thoss. Not PATH-oss.

comptroller -- con-TROLL-er. Not COMP-troll-er.

Porsche -- POR-sha. Not PORSH.

dais -- DAY-is or DYE-is.

Gillian Flynn -- GILL-ee-an (with a hard G). Not JILL-ee-an.

J. K. Rowling -- ROE-ling (rhymes with GO). Not ROW-ling (rhymes with COW).

Jodi Picoult -- PEE-ko.

O'Neil De Noux -- da-NEW.

Leigh Lundin -- lun-DEEN. Not LUN-din.

Brendan Dubois -- du-BOYS. Not du-BWAH.

Herschel Cozine -- KO-zyne. Not KO-zeen.

Andrew Gulli -- GOO-lee. Not GULL-ee.

Dr. Seuss -- SOYSS (rhymes with voice). Not SOOS.

often -- AWF-un. Not AWF-tun.

segue -- SEG-way.

banal -- ba-NAL. Not BAY-nul.

kibosh -- KYE-bosh. Not ki-BOSH.

nuclear -- NOOK-lee-ur. Not NOOK-yew-ler.

chimera -- ky-MEE-rah. Not ka-MERR-ah.

alumnae -- ah-LUM-nee. Not ah-LUM-nay.

Celtic -- KEL-tick. (Unless it's a Boston basketball team.)

Hermes -- AIR-mez.

Christian Lacroix -- luh-KWAH.

Yves Saint-Laurent -- eev sahn-LOR-un.

espresso -- ess-PRESS-o. Not ex-PRESS-o.

salmon -- SAM-un. Not SAL-mun. (This one I knew.)

almond -- AH-mund. Not AHL-mund. (This one I didn't.)

electoral -- e-LECK-toe-ral. Not e-leck-TOE-ral.

Pete Buttigieg -- BOOT-ah-judge.

lambast -- lam-BAYSTE. Not lam-BAST.

hegemony -- heh-JEM-ah-nee. (As in hegemony cricket.)

Seamus -- SHAY-mus.

Siobhan -- shih-VAWN.

biegnet -- ben-YAY.

oeuvre -- OOV-ruh.

Charlize Theron -- THERE-in.

Gal Godot -- gah-DOTE. Not gah-DOE or gah-DOT.

Jake Gyllenhaal -- yee-len-HAY-la.

John Huston -- HEWS-tun, Not HUSS-ton.

Houston Street, in NYC -- HOUSE-tun. Not HEWS-tun.

Qatar -- GUT-tar.

Oaxaca -- wa-HAH-ka.

Cairo, Illinois -- KAY-ro. Not KYE-ro.

Versailles, Kentucky -- ver-SAYLES. Not ver-SYE.

Louisville, Kentucky -- LOO-ah-vul. Certainly not LEWIS-vul.

Kissimmee, Florida -- ka-SIMM-ee. Not KISS-ah-mee.

Lake Tohopekaliga, Florida -- lake TO-ho. (According to locals, the pekaliga is silent.)

Peabody, Massachusetts -- PEE-buh-dee (Almost like puberty.)

Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan -- soo saint ma-REE.

Pierre, South Dakota -- PEER. Not pee-EHR.

Terre Haute, Indiana -- terra-HOTE.

Biloxi, Mississippi -- ba-LUCK-see. Not ba-LOCK-see.

Arkansas River -- ar-KAN-sas in Kansas, AR-kan-saw in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Pago Pago -- PANG-o PANG-o.

Curacao -- KURE-ah-sow. (What the vet does for a female pig.)

St. Lucia -- LOO-shah.

Worcester -- WOO-ster.

Leicester -- LESS-ter.

boatswain -- BOSS-un.

forecastle -- FOKE-sul.

gunwale -- GUNN-el.

quay -- KEE.

Nguyen -- WEN.

Joaquin -- wah-KEEN.

gyro -- YEE-ro. Not JYE-ro.

plethora -- PLETH-o-rah. Not pleh-THOR-ah.



To tell you the truth, the words I most want to pronounce correctly are the people and place names. I can't remember ever using "oeuvre" or "plethora" in a conversation, and I hope I never feel the urge to. But if I ever meet Nikolaj Coster-Waldau or win a trip to Phuket, Thailand, I'd rather not say something that makes me sound like an idiot (or gets me arrested).

NOTE 1: From Leigh Lundin: The THERE-in for Charlize Theron was suggested by her agent, but the TH is actually a hard T, as in Thomas. The name is probably Afrikaans, and would be pronounced something like T'rawn, where the first vowel is barely heard and the H not at all.  (Thanks, Leigh! My reply: It's almost like Game of Therons, but not quite. THERE-in lies the difference.)

NOTE 2: The pronunciation shown above for Jake Gyllenhaal's name is the way he says it, but almost everyone else--even interviewers--seems to say GILL-en-hall. The burden folks with uncommon names have to bear.

What are some of your most difficult words to pronounce? What are some that you hate to hear others mispronounce? Do you have one of those names that make strangers blink when they see it written, or that could be said several different ways? (My wife's sister married a Schnegelberger, so this is familiar ground.) And how many of you live in or near cities or towns or counties with names that might not be pronounced the way they look? Inquiring travelers want to know.

(Any time this subject comes up, I'm reminded of a joke I heard about a lady who stopped for an ice-cream cone in my hometown of Kosciusko, Mississippi. "I'm not from here," she told the girl behind the counter. "How do you pronounce the name of this place?" The girl, speaking very slowly and carefully, said, "Dai-ree Queen." And yes, I know, you've probably heard that one before.)

Quick note: In your future endeavors, may all your references to creative techniques like onomatopoeia and synecdoche and chiaroscuro be written and never spoken. It's just easier that way. And let's not even think about medical terms.

I'll leave you with one of my own poems on this topic, which is (unfortunately) a good indicator of my literary talents. It's called "Incontinent Consonants":


I never seem to understand
Our neighbors overseas;
A city named Vrnjyzkryleszka
Makes me say. "Oh, please."

The problem is pronunciation,
Not mere nouns and verbs;
Hawaiians should delete some vowels
And give them to the Serbs.


(Eat your heart out, Carl Sandburg.)

See you next Saturday.







15 June 2019

Anthology Psychology


by John M. Floyd



I've often told my writing students that there are three markets for short fiction: magazines, anthologies, and collections. (You can also self-publish stories one at a time, if you need a fourth option.) Most of my shorts are targeted to magazines, but lately I've seen more and more routed toward anthologies, either via invitation or via an open call. And most anthologies are themed in that they feature tales that have something in common.

This common ground can be almost anything, from location to genre to time period. Here are some of the anthologies I've had stories in, along with their themes:



- the seven deadly sins -- Seven by Seven (Wolfmont Publishing, 2006)

- the afterlife -- After Death (Dark Moon Press, 2013)

- Texas -- The Eyes of Texas (Down & Out Books, upcoming)

- New England -- Landfall (Level Best Books, 2018)

- natural disasters -- Quakes and Storms (Lake Fossil Press, 2005)

- travel -- Passport to Murder (Down & Out Books, 2017)

- the moon -- Under the Full Moon's Light (Owl Hollow Press, 2018)

- the South -- Fireflies in Fruit Jars (Queen's Hill Press, 2007), Mad Dogs and Moonshine (Queen's Hill, 2008), Sweet Tea and Afternoon Tales (AWOC Publishing, 2009), Magnolia Blossoms and Afternoon Tales (AWOC, 2010), Rocking Chairs and Afternoon Tales (Doctor's Dreams Publishing, 2012)

- time travel -- Crime Travel (Wildside Press, upcoming)

safe havens -- Sanctuary (Darkhouse Books, 2018)

- private investigators -- Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (Down & Out Books, 2017)

Joni Mitchell songs -- The Beat of Black Wings (upcoming)

- Florida -- Florida Happens (Three Rooms Press, 2018)

- the 1950s -- Pop the Clutch (Dark Moon Books, 2019), Mid-Cantury Murder (Darkhouse Books, upcoming)

flash fiction -- Short Tales (2006)

- politics -- We've Been Trumped (Darkhouse Books, 2016)

Mississippi -- Mississippi Noir (Akashic Books, 2016), What Would Elvis Think? (Clinton Ink-Slingers, 2019)

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

- romance -- Meet Cute (Indiegogo, 2017)

- mystery -- Short Attention Span Mysteries (Kerlak Publishing, 2005), Crime and Suspense I (Wolfmont Publishing, 2007), Mouth Full of Bullets (Best of, 2007), Ten for Ten (Wolfmont Publishing, 2008), A Criminal Brief Christmas anthology (Criminal Enterprises Press, 2009), Trust and Treachery (Dark Quest Books, 2014), Flash and Bang (Untreed Reads Publishing, 2015), The Best American Mystery Stories (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015 and 2018)

- science fiction -- Visions VII: Universe (Lillicat Publishers, 2017)

- fantasy -- Children of the Sky (Schreyer Ink Publishing, 2018), Freakshow (Copper Pen Press, upcoming), Voices and Visions (Cyberwit Publishing, upcoming)

- food and drink -- Noir at the Salad Bar (Level Best Books, 2017)

- Louisiana -- Blood on the Bayou (Down & Out Books, 2016)

- the military -- The Odds Are Against Us (Liberty Island Media, 2019)

- the ten commandments -- Thou Shalt Not (Dark Cloud Press, 2006)



I suspect some of these titles were familiar to you, since I've been lucky enough to share space with many of you in these books. And I hope seeing them might remind you, as it reminds me, of just how you went about satisfying whatever theme each of them required.

Tailor-made

Writing a story to match a theme can be fun, but it can also be hard, at least for me. I know a few writers who love themed anthologies because writing to a particular subject is challenging and inspiring to them. Others find it difficult, and prefer sticking to their own story ideas. Occasionally I've stumbled onto a submission call for an anthology whose theme perfectly matches a story I've already written, which makes the process easier. That doesn't happen a lot.

Marketingwise, one good thing about anthologies is that they're sometimes receptive to reprints (some actually prefer reprints). Another is that--if you do have a story that fits the theme--the usually-short submission window can mean less competition. But there are two downsides to anthologies. One is that the pay can be less than what you might get from a magazine, and the other is that anthologies--unless they're widely-published best-of-the-year anthos--often get limited exposure.

A team effort

Another thing about anthologies. Depending on the project, one can often feel a definite bond with the other contributors. An example of that, for me, was the 49-story anthology Seven by Seven, edited by Tony Burton of Wolfmont Publishing in Georgia. Tony chose seven authors from seven different states to write seven stories each about the Seven Deadly Sins. My participation in 7x7 led to treasured and longtime friendships with the editor and with several of the other writers (Deborah Elliott-Upton, BJ Bourg, Frank Scalise, and Gary Hoffman). Probably because the project happened fairly early in our writing careers and included so many stories by only seven authors, I think all of us had great fun and learned a lot as well.

The latest anthology featuring one of my stories is a book called What Would Elvis Think?: Mississippi Stories. The common thread is that each tale must be set in a town in Elvis's birth state. It was edited by a friend and former student of mine, Johnny Lowe, and is being released today, June 15. One reason I'm pleased to have been included in this project is that 16 of the 22 other contributors are also friends of mine. Most of us plan to be at Lemuria Books here in Jackson for the launch signing this afternoon at two o'clock. If you're reading this on your phone and you happen to be down this way today, stop in.

Questions

What percentage of the stories you write are submitted to anthologies, rather than to magazines? What kind of payment do you usually receive (flat rate, royalty, pat on the back)? Do you tend to try anthologies first, or try them only after a magazine has rejected a story? Do you enjoy writing to a particular theme? Do you find it difficult (as I do)? Are most of your antho stories reprints, or originals? Are you often invited to contribute a story, or do you usually submit as a response to an open call?

Meanwhile, whether you're targeting your stories to magazines OR anthologies, I wish you luck. May the submission gods (another name for editors) favor you with hundred-watt smiles, all the way to the bank.

See you in two weeks.




01 June 2019

A H8ful Play


by John M. Floyd


I just finished writing a mystery/western short story which is set almost entirely on a stagecoach in Arizona in the early 1900s. To get a little extra inspiration, I first re-watched a movie by Quentin Tarantino called The Hateful Eight. It's nothing like my story, but some of that movie takes place on a stagecoach, and I wanted to see it again anyway.


The Hateful Eight (2015) is sometimes listed as The H8ful Eight, and one poster subtitles it "The 8th Film by Quentin Tarantino." (The first seven were, if you count only feature films and if you count the two Kill Bill installments as one movie: Reservoir DogsPulp FictionJackie BrownKill BillDeath ProofInglorious Basterds, and Django Unchained.) I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, except maybe Death Proof, and even it had its moments--but let me say, before going any further, that you might not agree with me about the quality of these movies. A lot of folks don't. What I think you might agree with me about, though, is that they're all incredibly entertaining. And if a film is entertaining enough, I have found that I can forgive almost anything else about it. (How else could I love Blazing Saddles?)

Bottom line is, The Hateful Eight is a thrill ride, a violent, outrageous, fast-moving, wonderfully-cast, beautifully-filmed movie that could easily have been a stage play instead. Some might say it IS a stage play. The plot is completely driven by dialogue, throughout, and almost the entire film is shot in one location: a way station on a stagecoach line. There are a few scenes that take place outside the station, before and during a blizzard, but those scenes mostly involve the stagecoach in which most of the characters arrive. As usual, Tarantino plays around a little with the timeline, but in a good way.

He also uses several actors that have appeared in his previous films--Sam Jackson, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell--and the rest of the cast includes longtime favorites of mine like Bruce Dern and Jennifer Jason Leigh. In case you're wondering (I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat), the Eight are:


1. The Bounty Hunter -- Samuel L. Jackson
2. The Hangman -- Kurt Russell
3. The Confederate -- Bruce Dern
4. The Sheriff -- Walton Goggins
5  The Mexican -- Demian Bichir
6. The Little Man -- Tim Roth
7. The Cow Puncher -- Michael Madsen
8. The Prisoner -- Jennifer Jason Leigh

I'll let you match the faces to the names. NOTE: If you don't recognize the name Demian Bichir, you're not alone. I think he's probably best known as Mary-Louise Parker's love interest (and the mayor of Tijuana) in the Showtime series Weeds, which I really liked. If you still don't recognize him, you're still not alone, but I assure you he does a great job in this movie. Channing Tatum is also featured in a key role, but doesn't have much in the way of lines or screen time, which probably explains why it's not The Hateful Nine.

The main thing I wanted to say is that I think I learned several things, as a writer, from watching this movie multiple times. One was that the structure is almost perfect, and involves some really explosive and unexpected plot reversals. I always admire that. Another is the fact that, as I've said, well-written dialogue can indeed be enough to completely carry a film, start to finish. Not a play; a feature film. (And this is almost a three-hour-long feature film). A lot happens and a lot of folks get shot or otherwise dispatched in the course of the story, but the action is minimal compared to the dialogue. Once again, whatever you might think of Tarantino as a director (my wife wouldn't watch one of his movies if you handcuffed her to the theater seat), the characters in this film are fantastic, and are defined almost totally by what they say to each other.

They're also hateful. But I can forgive that.




18 May 2019

East Texas Tales, Part 2


by John M. Floyd



Have you ever discovered an author whose novels and stories you like so much you want to find and read everything he or she has written? I've found a few. Looking at the bookshelves in my home office, I can see just about every published piece of fiction by Carl Hiaasen, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Michael Crichton, Nevada Barr, Larry McMurtry, Nelson DeMille, Greg Iles, Thomas Harris, Stephen King, Arthur Hailey, Martin Cruz Smith, James Michener, John Grisham, and Ken Follett--and I have almost everything written by several others: Robert B. Parker, Colleen McCullough, John Sandford, Fredric Brown, Tom Clancy, Janet Evanovich, Dick Francis, Tom Wolfe, Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard, Frederick Forsyth, Lawrence Block, Scott Turow, and . . . Joe R. Lansdale.

I wrote a post about Joe Lansdale here at SleuthSayers four years ago, called "East Texas Tales," and talked about some of his books that I especially enjoyed. At the time I posted that column, though, I had not yet read most of the novels in his Hap and Leonard series, I had not yet seen any of the movie/TV adaptations of his work, and I had not yet met Lansdale himself. I've now done all three of those things, and my respect for him has continued to grow.

Pulpwood fiction

I can't remember where I first heard that term, but I recently found a blog called Pulpwood Fiction, and it defines PWF as "good old-fashioned noirish pulp fiction with a Southern twist." I think that's a good summary of the kind of stories Joe Lansdale writes. Most of his tales are set in rural eastern Texas, in and around the fictional town of LaBorde. My absolute favorite novels of his are standalones like The Bottoms (an Edgar Award winner), Edge of Dark Water, and The Thicket, but I also love his series of novels featuring Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, two of the toughest and most interesting characters in modern crime fiction.


Without going into great detail, let me just say that Hap is a white, straight, liberal redneck who doesn't like violence and Leonard is a gay black Republican war veteran who doesn't like much of anything except Dr Pepper and vanilla cookies. These two have been best friends since childhood, and despite their mostly-good intentions and Hap's dislike of firearms they regularly wind up in deep trouble and have to shoot their way out.

So far, two feature films have been made from Lansdale's writing: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) with Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis and Cold in July (2014) with Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Johnson. Both movies are worth watching--and Bubba Ho-Tep is hilarious. There's also a Sundance TV series called Hap and Leonard, starring James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams. I've watched two of the three seasons of H&L and I'm about to start the third. Like his words on the page, Lansdale's movies and TV episodes are smart, funny, and action-packed.

Reading list

For those who might be interested, here's a fairly extensive Lansdale bibliography:

Standalone novels:

The Nightrunners (1987)
Cold in July (1989)
Freezer Burn (1999)
The Big Blow (2000)
The Bottoms (2000)
A Fine Dark Line (2002)
Sunset and Sawdust (2004)
Lost Echoes (2007)
All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky (2011)
Edge of Dark Water (2012)
The Thicket (2013)
Black Hat Jack (2014)
Paradise Sky (2015)

Hap Collins and Leonard Pine mysteries:

Savage Season (1990)
Mucho Mojo (1994)
The Two-Bear Mambo (1995)
Bad Chili (1997)
Rumble Tumble (1998)
Captains Outrageous (2001)
Vanilla Ride (2009)
Devil Red (2011)
Honky Tonk Samurai (2016)
Rusty Puppy (2017)
Jackrabbit Smile (2018)
The Elephant of Surprise (2019)

Short-story collections:

High Cotton (2000)
Bumper Crop (2004)
Mad Dog Summer (2004)
Hap and Leonard (2016)

I've left out a few items, but the ones listed above I can vouch for because I've read them and I have them lined up right here on my (groaning) shelves.

Coming up soon: the movie version of The Thicket, to be directed by Elliott Lester and starring Peter Dinklage.

I can't wait.




04 May 2019

Bad News and Good News


by John M. Floyd



Last Saturday I conducted a one-day writing workshop in Richardson, Texas, for the North Dallas
chapter of Sisters in Crime. (I had a great time, and I sincerely thank Pam McWilliams and Barbara Spencer for showing me and my wife such a warm welcome.) The agenda included a two-hour session on "Writing Short Stories" in the morning and another on "Marketing Short Stories" that afternoon. I received and addressed a LOT of questions, especially in that second session, when we talked about dealing with editors.

As I told the group, it's been my experience that most short-story editors are professional, friendly, and easy to work with. Granted, these "dealings" are sometimes short, if I get a rejection letter--but even then, they disappoint me in a nice and encouraging way. When they do accept and publish a story I've submitted, they generally pay me on time and present my work in a way that makes me proud.

Flying blind

The real test of dealing with editors comes during that murky area that's not quite a rejection and not quite an acceptance, when editors ask me to change something in one of my submissions. That situation always reminds me of the following joke:

"This is your pilot speaking--I have bad news and I have good news. The bad news is, we're lost. The good news is, we're making damn good time."

Here, the outlook is a little better than in that announcement. The bad news is "we haven't accepted your story yet" and the good news is "we haven't rejected it yet either." And it doesn't happen often--these days editors seem more likely to give you a definite yes or a definite no, with no middle ground. When they do ask for revisions, I usually go through two phases: the first is a stubborn tendency to wonder how they could have the gall to question something I've worked so hard to create, and the second is a gradual realization that those requested changes are often logical and justified. Sometimes they do make the story better. And even when they don't, well, the editors are driving this train, and if I want to ride along I probably need to salute and obey orders.

The fact that these requests for revision don't happen a lot is one reason we as writers need to be careful to make each story as perfect as we can make it before submitting. Editors would rather not go to the trouble of asking for changes, so if the story doesn't work as written, it'll probably just be rejected outright. In this "buyer's market" there are plenty of other submissions out there that might not require any tweaking at all.

Can you spell "compromise"?

There's a silver lining, to all this: If and when I'm asked by an editor to make changes and resubmit, I can be pretty confident that if I do it, the story will be accepted. This has happened to me dozens of times over the years, and in every single case, my changes have resulted in an acceptance. Sometimes the revisions are small (style issues) and sometimes they're extensive (involving a character, or a scene, or a plot point), but I'm always fairly sure that if I accept their suggestions and do what I'm told, they'll buy the story. I realize a lot of writers are headstrong about this kind of thing and will argue about or even refuse most suggested edits, and while I admire their willingness to stand up for what they believe, I maintain that if they would bend a little and secure the sale and the paycheck, they'd be better off. Later, if and when they submit the story elsewhere as a reprint, they can always change it right back to the way they had it in the first place. (I've done that very thing, many times.)

As for examples of revision requests, I was once asked to change an ending such that the resolution was more clear, and another time I was asked to cut back a bit on the length of the opening so the real action in the story happened sooner--and it would've been hard to argue with either of those requests. Some revisions, though, are hard to swallow. Years ago an editor objected to my use of the sentence "Susan cut her eyes at him." She said, "Is that a Southern expression?" I told her I didn't know if was a Southern expression or not, but I agreed to change it. It became "Susan glanced at him," and the editor was happy. When I sold that story again, Susan--sneaky young lady that she was--went right back to cutting her eyes.

Most suggested revisions are truly minor, like inserting or removing a comma or deleting a "that" or changing a semicolon to a period. I always accept those without any fuss; what does it really matter? For some reason, the print edition of The Saturday Evening Post prefers using actual numbers in phrases like "20 feet" or "30 minutes" rather than spelling them out ("twenty feet," "thirty minutes"), and they always ask me to change those in my manuscripts. I might not agree, but it's also not my magazine and they're paying me for my story, so I happily let them do it the way they like.

Q & A

What do the rest of you think, about all this? What's the hardest, or maybe the silliest, change that you've been asked to make, in a submitted manuscript? Do you usually feel such changes help the story, or not? How hard a line are you willing to take to defend your choices? Do those revisions usually result in a sale?

One last observation. I think I've mentioned before, at this blog, that after the first submission I ever made to The Strand Magazine, the editor phoned me, introduced himself, and said his staff liked my story but they had never heard of the type of poison I used to do away with one of the characters, and that I might need to change it. (I think it was something derived from the yellow osceola blossoms of East Africa, or some such thing.) Anyhow, he asked me where I'd found out about that poison. I told him I made it up. After an extremely long and (on my part) nervous pause, he said, "Okay." And they printed the story without any changes. As I believe I have also said before, publishing is an inexact science.

Maybe that's one of the things that makes it fun.


20 April 2019

Please Consider the Attached Story . . .


by John M. Floyd




A lot has changed, in the 25 years I've been submitting short fiction for publcation. The best thing, I suppose, is that almost all manuscripts are now sent electronically, and the worst is that it seems there are fewer short-story markets out there to submit to. Everything considered, I think we writers still have it better now than we did in 1994.

One of the things about marketing short stories, though, has remained the same: our need for the submission guidelines--also called writers' guidelines--of whatever publication we target.


The not-so-thrilling days of yesteryear

For those of you who weren't around, or who don't remember, this was the way short-story writers once obtained submission guidelines:

1. Find a publication you want to submit to
2. Write a letter to them, requesting guidelines
3. Snailmail it to them, along with an SASE
4. Wait a couple of weeks
5. Receive the guidelines via return mail

This reply usually contained a list of requirements about story formatting and content. Sometimes the guidelines were short and sweet, maybe a three-fold brochure; others were long and detailed. I remember requesting and receiving the guidelines for Weird Tales (I think I still have them)--and they were four printed pages, single-spaced.

(Oddly enough, the more detailed the guidelines, the better off you usually were, because there were always those who didn't bother to read them. Those who did--and who followed the instructions--had a definite advantage over the competition.)


Fast-forward to (how's that for a cliche?) the Present Day

Now, obviously, we can locate guidelines merely by accessing the publication's website and clicking on the "submissions" page. Here are some typical pieces of info we might find there:

- wordcount requirements
- font requirements (usually TNR, sometimes Courier or others)
- spacing requirements (single or double)
- editor's name (for the cover letter)
- preferred file type (usually .doc or .rtf)
- whether reprints are considered
- submission deadline (if an anthology)
- genre and theme requirements, if any
- submission type (email, snailmail, website submission box, etc.)
- payment information


Occasionally there'll be further requirements:

- the character(s) you should use to indicate a scene break (usually # or ***)
- what you should put in the header of each page
- what you should type at the end of your story (END, THE END, -30-, etc.)
- what you should use for a dash (hyphens, em dash, etc.)
- whether you should underline or italicize to indicate emphasis
- what you should put in the subject line (if email)

Nitpicky, you say? Maybe so. But they're the buyers and we're the sellers, so they have the right to make the rules. (It's good to be da king.)


Their wish is my command

One quick story, on that subject. I once received guidelines that included this: "Staple your manuscript in the upper righthand corner." That confused me a bit. Guidelines NEVER tell you to staple a manuscript; one of the first things I learned was to always use a paper clip--or if the story was more than 25 pages, a butterfly clip. But I did what they said, and I sold them a story. The obvious question: Why would they put such a strange request in their official guidelines? Was the entire editorial staff left-handed?

I never found out for sure, but I suspect they did it as a test. The writers who complied proved that they could do what they were told. Those who didn't comply proved that they couldn't or wouldn't follow directions, or hadn't even bothered to check the guidelines at all.

I saw an old poster the other day of Mr. T saying, "I pity the fool who doesn't read the submission guidelines." Me too.


Random points

I know what you're thinking. If you submit stories only to large and respectable publications, you don't need to worry much about guidelines for style and formatting. Just do the standard stuff: double-space, Times New Roman, one-inch margins all around, indent every paragraph, etc. Right?

Not necessarily. To use just a couple of examples, AHMM and EQMM still prefer underlining rather than italics, and they also prefer a centered pound-sign to indicate scene breaks. And BJ Bourg at Flash Bang Mysteries likes single-spacing and using two adjacent hyphens instead of an em dash. Small things, yes, but you want to format your manuscript exactly the way the editor wants it.

Another thing: Woman's World has several times changed their maximum wordcount. Romances were once 1500 words and mysteries 1000. Those were lowered years ago to 800 and 700, respectively, and recently the mystery max was lowered again, to 600 or so. Requirements sometimes change when the editors change, so you can't rely on old guidelines.


Resources

This is probably a good place to mention Shunn's Proper Manuscript Format, because in their guidelines many publications still point writers to that site and to the sample manuscript page shown there. I don't follow that model the way I once did--I now always use TNR and em dashes and italics and one space after a period unless told otherwise--but Shunn's is still considered by many to be the industry standard.

Last but not least: I'm not sure I could get by without my friend Sandra Seamans's My Little Corner website. It's a great place to find anthology calls and writers' guidelines for publications in many different genres. I check her site at least several times a week, and as a result I've sold a lot of stories to markets I probably wouldn't even have known about otherwise.

That's my pitch for today. Good luck and good hunting! May the odds be ever in your favor.






06 April 2019

Dreyer's English


by John M. Floyd



The other day I discovered, while piddling around on Amazon, a book called Dreyer's English--An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. At first I didn't pay it much attention--I already own a lot of books about language and style. Some are worthwhile and some are not.

Then I remembered my wife telling me about a recent NPR interview with the author, Benjamin Dreyer, who is vice president, executive managing editor, and copy chief of Random House. I looked up the broadcast online and listened to it, and that made up my mind. This book sounded different from most of the others. I ordered it, received it in two days, and read it in one evening. (The book is no small, stick-it-in-your-pocket volume like The Elements of Style; it's almost 300 pages.)


As it turned out, it was delightful. Or as close to it as that subject can be. Literary style--grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, paragraph structure, word choice, word usage--can be a dry (Dreyer?) topic. But this book was not only informative, it was fun.

Here are just a few of the (mostly paraphrased) pointers and observations I found interesting in Dreyer's English.



- You don't always have to precede a sentence-ending "too" with a comma. It's okay to write "Me too."

- Feel free to end a sentence shaped like a question with a period instead of a question mark. It makes a statement, doesn't it.

- Always use the series (or serial, or Oxford) comma. You know this already, but the second comma in "red, white, and blue" is the series comma. Its use can prevent the following disasters:

Dreyer's example: Highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector. (Which implies that Mandela might've been older than we thought, and had an odd hobby.)

My example: Attending the party were two hookers, Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer. (Which implies two people instead of four.)

- Limit your use of words like very, rather, really, quite, just, pretty, and surely.

- Ignore the Big Three grammar/style "rules":
1. Never Begin a Sentence with And or But
2. Never Split an Infinitive
3. Never End a Sentence with a Preposition

(I happily break them all the time, but it's good to hear an expert say it's okay.)

- Never use an apostrophe to pluralize a word. This also holds true for abbreviations: CDs, ATMs, IDs, SASEs.

- When a possessive apostrophe is used with a word ending in "s," put another "s" after the apostrophe. (Strunk and White agree with this.) Mr. Jones's tractor, Colonel Sanders's recipe, the boss's wife.

- If the title of a work starts with "The," include it in a possessive construction:

Incorrect: Carson McCullers's Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Correct: Carson McCullers's The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

If you don't follow this rule, you could end up with something like this:

James Joyce's Dead
(Which Dreyer says sounds more like a tragic headline.)

- Cut back on exclamation points. He says, "Some writers recommend that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points per book; others insist that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points in a lifetime."

- Always use a comma if there's any question of clarity.

His example: In June Truman's secretary of state flew to Moscow.
My example: In time travel will become less frustrating.

- Hyphenate multiple-word adjectives:

first-rate movie
fifth-floor apartment
all-you-can-eat buffet

- Merge prefixes with main words hyphenlessly:

antiwar
extracurricular
hyperactive
interdepartmental
preexisiting

(Unless such a combination looks confusing or awkward, like recreate or coworker.)

- Don't use "hissed" if what is spoken contains no "s" sounds. "Take your hand off me, you brute," she hissed.

- A tip for recognizing passive voice vs. active voice: If you can append "by zombies" to the end of a sentence, you've written a sentence in the passive voice. The floor was swept (by zombies).

- "Blond" is an adjective: He has blond hair; she has blond hair. Both "blond" and "blonde" are nouns: A man with blond hair is a blond; a woman with blond hair is a blonde.

Examples of our evolving language:

"light bulb" became "light-bulb" and then "lightbulb"
"Web site" became "Web-site" and then "website"

- Dreyer's view on internal monologue (or what he calls "articulated rumination"):

In the old days, authors said: "What is to become of me?" Estelle thought.
This eventually became: What is to become of me? Estelle thought.
And now we're more likely to see: What is to become of me? Estelle thought.

A final piece of advice:

- Sometimes it's better to just reword a sentence than to struggle with what's right or wrong or politically correct.

His example:
Instead of saying "It is I who am late" or "It is I who is late," say "I'm late."

My example:
Instead of saying "Everyone take their seats" or "Everyone take his seat" or "Everyone take his/her seat" or Everyone take his or her seat," say "Sit down."




Some of his advice I didn't agree with. I prefer a.m. and p.m., he prefers A.M. and P.M.; he prefers "mind-racking" to "mind-wracking"; he doesn't like the word actually and I wouldn't be able to live without my actuallys, etc. (But my wife was kind enough to remind me that he works for Random House and my major was electrical engineering, so . . .)

The book also clarifies dozens of often-misused words and phrases: breach/breech, continual/continuous, discreet/discrete, everyday/every day, evoke/invoke, loath/loathe, mantel/mantle, onboard/on board, peak/peek/pique, underway/under way, workout/work out

And it lists (as a sort of bonus) many often-misspelled or mispunctuated people names, place names, and brand names. A few examples: Anjelica Huston, Katharine Hepburn, Ann-Margret, T.S. Eliot, Nicolas Cage, Bleecker Street, Caesars Palace, Fontainebleau, Savile Row, Dr Pepper, Froot Loops, JCPenney, Plexiglas, Reddi Wip



To sum all this up, I haven't enjoyed a book about language this much since Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and that was sixteen years ago.

Give Dreyer's English a try.