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

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.







30 March 2019

A Short Line at the Movies


by John M. Floyd



I have often heard that the writers of novels and short stories should be able to sum up their stories in one sentence. For the writers, such a mini-synopsis can be a way to make sure their plot works, and has a central and manageable theme. For editors/publishers/agents, it can tell them something about the story before they start reading it (and help them decide whether they want to read it). When this is done for a movie, it's sometimes called a logline. Examples:

- A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors in other apartments.
- Man-eating shark terrorizes New England coast.
- Unemployed actor poses as a female in order to find work.
- An army captain is sent on a mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel.

tagline is a little different. Movie taglines are short phrases that set the mood for a film and serve as a "teaser" to pique the interest of viewers. I've most often seen these on posters and DVD boxes.


Some titles are so wordy they could serve as their own taglines--Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, etc.--and some are so extra-long and descriptive a tagline following it would seem silly. Examples: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? and (my favorite long title) Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?

Okay, I'm rambling. The thing about taglines is, some are informative, others are just funny, and a few have become so familiar you know right away which movies they're "tagging":

- Love means never having to say you're sorry.
- They call me Mister Tibbs.
- What we've got here is . . . failure to communicate.
- An offer you can't refuse.
- Who ya gonna call?
- A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .
- You'll never go in the water again.

I think it's interesting that the first five of those seven taglines were pieces of dialogue straight from the films--and the sixth was written on the screen when the movie started. That's usually not the case. Most often, a tagline is just a clever, catchy, humorous phrase dreamed up by the marketing folks to try to get you into the theater. (Note that I said "catchy," not necessarily "grammatically correct." That tagline for Jaws sounds as if it's telling you not to pee in the pool.)

Catchy or not, here are some of the best taglines I can remember. See if you can match each one with its movie. The answers are below. I think you'll know the first ten--after that, they get harder.


1. An adventure 65 million years in the making.
2. Check in. Relax. Take a shower.
3. To enter the mind of a killer, she must challenge the mind of a madman.
4. He's having the worst day of his life. Over and over.
5. I see dead people.
6. He is afraid. He is alone. He is three million light-years from home.
7. Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond.
8. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water . . .
9. You'll believe a man can fly.
10. There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They're looking for one.
11. The mob is tough, but it's nothing like show business.
12. They're young, they're in love, and they kill people.
13. A man went looking for America, and couldn't find it anywhere.
14. A nervous romance.
15. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
16. You don't assign him to murder cases. You just turn him loose.
17. Relive the best seven years of your college education.
18. If they hear you, they hunt you.
19. He's the only kid ever to get in trouble before he was born.
20. This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about his future.
21. Even a hit man deserves a second shot.
22. They fought like seven hundred.
23. If these two can learn to stand each other . . . the bad guys don't stand a chance.
24. Nice planet. We'll take it!
25. She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees.
26. Hell, upside down.
27. Before Sam was murdered, he told Molly he'd love and protect her forever.
28. Houston, we have a problem.
29. For anyone who has ever wished upon a star.
30. Where were you in '62?
31. The story of a man who was too proud to run.
32. You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.
33. Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.
34. Whoever wins, we lose.
35. Collide with destiny.
36. His story will touch you, even though he can't.
37. A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.
38. When he said I do, he never said what he did.
39. Her life was in their hands. Now her toe is in the mail.
40. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.
41. Get ready for rush hour.
42. Same make. Same model. New mission.
43. Never give a saga an even break.
44. The last man on Earth is not alone.
45. Three decades of life in the mafia.
46. This is the weekend they didn't play golf.
47. For Harry and Lloyd, every day is a no-brainer.
48. It will lift you up where you belong.
49. When he pours, he reigns.
50. Man has met his match. Now it's his problem.
51. He took someone else's idea and America ate it up.
52. Anyone can save the galaxy once.
53. Escape or die frying.
54. Terror has no shape.
55. She gets kidnapped. He gets killed. But it all ends up okay.
56. Infiltrate hate.
57. There are no clean getaways.
58. We are not alone.
59. And you thought Earth girls were easy.
60. A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood.
61. The true story of a real fake.
62. Today the pond. Tomorrow the world.
63. The park is gone.
64. Miracles do happen.
65. They'll never get caught. They're on a mission from God.
66. Shoot first. Sightsee later.
67. A major league love story in a minor league town.
68. One man's struggle to take it easy.
69. Invisible. Silent. Stolen.
70. Love is in the hair.
71. The Coast is toast.
72. The world will be watching.
73. The snobs against the slobs.
74. The first casualty of war is innocence.
75. What a glorious feeling.
76. His whole life was a million-to-one shot.
77. Nice guys finish last. Meet the winners.
78. Size does matter.
79. All it takes is a little confidence.
80. Trust me.
81. Eight legs, two fangs, and an attitude.
82. He rules the roads.
83. For three men, the Civil War wasn't hell. It was practice.
84. Don't let go.
85. Work sucks.
86. Five reasons to stay single.
87. A story about love at second sight.
88. They're here.
89. Go ahead . . . make his day.
90. Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?
91. Vampires. No interviews.
92. On the air. Unaware.
93. Earth. It was fun while it lasted.
94. Good cops. Bad hair.
95. Handcuffed to the girl who double-crossed him.
96. Things are about to get a little hairy.
97. The happiest sound in all the world.
98. Every journey begins with a single move.
99. Life is in their hands. Death is on their minds.
100. In space no one can hear you scream.

And the corresponding movies:

1. Jurassic Park
2. Psycho
3. The Silence of the Lambs
4. Groundhog Day
5. The Sixth Sense
6. E. T.--the Extra-Terrestrial
7. You Only Live Twice
8. Jaws 2
9. Superman
10. Finding Nemo
11. Get Shorty
12. Bonnie and Clyde
13. Easy Rider
14. Annie Hall
15. The Shining
16. Dirty Harry
17. Animal House
18. A Quiet Place
19. Back to the Future
20. The Graduate
21. Grosse Pointe Blank
22. The Magnificent Seven
23. Lethal Weapon
24. Mars Attacks!
25. Erin Brockovich
26. The Poseidon Adventure
27. Ghost
28. Apollo 13
29. Pinocchio
30. American Graffiti
31. High Noon
32. The Social Network
33. The Shawshank Redemption
34. Alien vs. Predator
35. Titanic
36. Edward Scissorhands
37. Fargo
38. True Lies
39. The Big Lebowski
40. The Forty-Year-Old Virgin
41. Speed
42. Terminator 2
43. Blazing Saddles
44. I Am Legend
45. Goodfellas
46. Deliverance
47. Dumb and Dumber
48. An Officer and a Gentleman
49. Cocktail
50. Blade Runner
51. The Founder
52. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
53. Chicken Run
54. The Blob
55. The Princess Bride
56. BlacKkKlansman
57. No Country for Old Men
58. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
59. Bad Girls From Mars
60. A Fish Called Wanda
61. Catch Me If You Can
62. Frogs
63. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
64. The Green Mile
65. The Blues Brothers
66. In Bruges
67. Bull Durham
68. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
69. The Hunt for Red October
70. There's Something About Mary
71. Volcano
72. The Hunger Games
73. Caddyshack
74. Platoon
75. Singin' in the Rain
76. Rocky
77. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
78. Godzilla
79. The Sting
80. Liar, Liar
81. Arachnophobia
82. Mad Max
83. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
84. Gravity
85. Office Space
86. Four Weddings and a Funeral
87. While You Were Sleeping
88. Poltergeist
89. Sudden Impact
90. When Harry Met Sally
91. From Dusk Till Dawn
92. The Truman Show
93. Armageddon
94. Starsky and Hutch
95. The 39 Steps
96. An American Werewolf in Paris
97. The Sound of Music
98. Searching for Bobby Fischer
99. Twelve Angry Men
100. Alien

How'd you do? (Paul Marks, David Edgerley Gates, and Lawrence Maddox, I'm figuring you guys got a lot of them right.)

Anytime I think of this kind of thing, I can't help picturing a bunch of movie folks sitting around a conference table, suggesting and rejecting and finally agreeing on just the right "teaser" to put on the poster. I think that'd be fun.

When all's said and done, though, movies--with or without taglines--are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get . . .




02 March 2019

Good Directions


By John M. Floyd



I love movies. All kinds, all genres, short or long, old or new, serious or funny, at home or in a theater. Since I don't much like reality shows or anything else on network television these days, most of what I watch are movies and bingeable TV series via Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. And I own a boatload of DVDs, so if I can't find something else I'll watch one of those again. And again.

I have also decided that there's a definite way to verify your status as a film fanatic. You know you're a hopeless movie addict if and when you choose to watch (or avoid) a movie depending on who directed it. When you start picking movies based on directors' names the same way you would pick novels or short stories based on authors' names . . . well, you're probably ready to check into the Harrison Ford Clinic.

One thing that impresses me about directors (I feel the same way about composers of music)--is that it's a job I admire and respect but would never have the talent to do, myself. I understand how authors do their work, and I can at least make a good try at that--but succesfully directing a film? My hat's off to those who can do it and do it well. I'm even one of those nerds who pay as much attention, during the Oscar telecast, to the Best Director category as I do to the others. Heaven help me.

The following is a list that seems to change from time to time, and it'd be hard to rank them because their movies are so different, but here are my 25 (probably) favorite film directors, living and deceased:


Robert Zemeckis --
Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Flight, Contact, Cast Away, Beowulf, Romancing the Stone

Steven Spielberg --
E.T., Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Duel, Lincoln, Schindler's List, Munich, Amistad, Jurassic Park

The Coen Brothers --
Fargo, Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men

Sergio Leone --
Once Upon a Time in the West; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Alfred Hitchcock --
Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Marnie, Notorious, Rope, The Birds, Rebecca, Psycho

M. Night Shyalaman --
Signs, Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, Glass, The Visit, Lady in the Water, Split, The Village

John McTiernan --
Die Hard, Medicine Man, Predator, Rollerball, Nomads, Basic, The Hunt for Red October

Quentin Tarantino --
Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, The Hateful Eight, Death Proof, Planet Terror, Jackie Brown

John Carpenter --
The Fog, Halloween, The Thing, Sin City, Vampires, Starman, Christine, Escape From New York

Martin Scorcese --
Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Departed, Gangs of New York, Mean Streets, Casino, Raging Bull

James Cameron --
Alien, The Terminator, Titanic, Avatar, The Abyss, Aliens, True Lies, Xenogenesis, Terminator 2

Ridley Scott --
Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, Hannibal, Black Rain, The Martian, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner

Frank Darabont --
The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, The Majestic, The Woman in the Room, The Green Mile

Ron Howard --
Ransom, Backdraft, A Beautiful Mind, Splash, Far and Away, Cinderella Man, Cocoon, Apollo 13

Sydney Pollack --
The Firm, Tootsie, Three Days of the Condor, Absence of Malice, Jeremiah Johnson, Out of Africa

Sam Peckinpah --
The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, The Getaway, Junior Bonner, Ride the High Country, Major Dundee

John Ford --
The Searchers, The Quiet Man, Rio Grande, Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Howard Hawks --
Hatari, Red River, Rio Bravo, To Have and Have Not, The Outlaw, Sergeant York, The Big Sleep

Mel Brooks --
Young Frankenstein, The Producers, High Anxiety, Spaceballs, Silent Movie, Blazing Saddles

Richard Donner --
Superman, The Goonies, The Omen, Ladyhawke, Maverick, Assassins, Scrooged, Lethal Weapon

Don Siegel --
Dirty Harry, The Killers, Charley Varrick, The Shootist, Madigan, Coogan's Bluff, Hell Is for Heroes

Lawrence Kasdan --
Body Heat, Silverado, Wyatt Earp, Grand Canyon, French Kiss, Dreamcatcher, The Big Chill

John Huston --
The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon, The Misfits, Key Largo, Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Sidney Lumet --
Twelve Angry Men, Network, Serpico, The Pawnbroker, Fail-Safe, The Verdict, Dog Day Afternoon

Clint Eastwood --
Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, American Sniper, The Beguiled, Pale Rider, Sully, Mystic River


The list isn't foolproof. Even geniuses (genii?) like Spielberg and Shyamalan occasionally turn out a 1941 or a Last Airbender--but not often. I'm usually pretty confident that movies made by these directors will be worthwhile, and sometimes great. (Runners-up: George Lucas, Nora Ephron, Billy Wilder, Peter Jackson, David Cronenberg, Joel Schumacher, Francis Ford Coppola)

NOTE: If you don't care much about this kind of thing, I completely understand. Not many folks do. If you do notice, and follow, certain directors, let me know who you like, and who you don't. As I said, my list changes regularly.

Meanwhile, keep watching those good movies and reading those good novels and stories. Next time I'll tackle favorite authors, and we'll be on more common ground.

As Colonel Bogey once said, have a great March.




16 February 2019

Pop the Clutch: Back to the Fifties


by John M. Floyd


Like many of you, I occasionally have a story published in an anthology. Sometimes I see a "call for submissions" and send off a story in the hope that an editor will like it, sometimes I'm invited to contribute a story, sometimes I'm fortunate enough to have one selected for a best-of-the-year anthology. However it happens, the story usually fits a "theme." Recent anthologies I've been involved with had themes that range all over the place: the military, food and drink, visions, Joni Mitchell songs, sanctuaries, Donald Trump, the full moon, Florida, New England, Texas, the South, horror, mystery, romance, and time travel.

Last month I was lucky enough to have a story published in a book that's turned out to be one of the most interesting anthologies I've seen in a while. This was one of those "write it from scratch" stories that would never have been created if not for this specific project. The book's title will explain that--it's Pop the Clutch: Thrilling Tales of Rockabilly, Monsters, and Hot Rod Horror. And yes, all those elements appear regularly in the 18 stories included. The publisher is Dark Moon Books and the editor is L.A. author Eric Guignard, who won a Bram Stoker Award in 2013 for his anthology After Death. (I was in that one too, although I suspect that my story didn't singlehandedly earn the win.)

I also suspect that one reason I found the Pop the Clutch project fascinating was its unique theme. There's just something compelling about the 1950s, whether you lived in that time period or not: jukeboxes, roller skates, film noir, Elvis, motor courts, cigarettes, sock hops, TV westerns, sideburns, coonskin caps, Hula Hoops, croquet, wheelies, flat-tops, ducktails, and so on. And when you add a dose of fantasy and horror to that already magical era . . . how could a reader not enjoy that? It's Daddy-o and the Mummy, all at once. You can be on another planet without leaving Earth.

What made me especially grateful to be included in this book is the fact that three of my literary heroes--Joe Lansdale, Bill Pronzini, and Max Allan Collins--were also invited to participate. Anytime my name winds up beside the names of folks like that in a ToC, well, my head grows by a couple of hat sizes and I dream that maybe I'm finally making something of myself, Mom. And even though I wound up enjoying, as expected, the stories those three authors produced for the book, I liked the others also.

If I had to pick half a dozen favorites, they were probably "Dr. Morrismo's InsaniTERRORium Horror Show," by Lisa Morton; "Tremble," by Kasey Lansdale and Joe R. Lansdale; "I'm With the Band," by Steve Perry, "The Prom Tree," by Yvonne Navarro; "The She-Creature," by Amelia Beamer; and "Universal Monster," by Duane Swierczynski.

My own story in the book (he announced, modestly) is "The Starlite Drive-In," a mystery/horror tale set in present-day Mississippi that winds up tied to the 1950s in a weird and otherworldly way: real creatures from old movies like Mothra and The Blob and I Was a Teenage Werewolf start turning up (and gobbling up the citizens) in the rural area near an abandoned drive-in movie theater that once screened those masterpieces--and a worn-out sheriff and his female deputy find themselves in a life-or-death battle with this army of creepy and bloodsucking critters. (If you think I didn't have a great time writing this one, well, you weren't a teenage werewolf.)
Even if you aren't old enough to have experienced the Fifties firsthand, this book will make you feel like you're there. Worst case, you'll want to put on a poodle skirt or grease your hair (hopefully not at the same time)--and best case, so help me Godzilla, you'll be inspired to re-watch some of those deliciously stupid monster movies from that era.


I must include, here, a word of thanks. First to Eric Guignard: if you happen to read this post, Eric, I'm indebted to you for bringing me aboard for yet another of your anthologies. And thanks also to those of you who buy and read this wild bunch of stories. If you like 'em half as much as I did, your time and money will have been well spent.

Let me close with some questions for my fellow short-story writers: How do you feel about anthologies? Do you send stories to anthos as often as you do to magazines? When you do, do you prefer creating a story first and then looking for a market, or trying to write to a pre-determined theme? Are most of your antho stories mysteries, or have you tried other genres (or combined genres, as I did with this one)? Are they usually submitted as a result of an invitation, or as an audition? Are most of these publications paying gigs, or for-the-love-of-it projects?

Okay, back to the dragstrip. Start your engines and hit the gas.

Where'd I put that Brylcreem . . . ?




02 February 2019

Southernisms


by John M. Floyd



For all of us, there are certain things we don't like to read in stories and novels, and things we don't like to see or hear in movies. One of those, for me, is southern dialogue that just doesn't sound right. Part of it's the accent, which is almost never believable (unless spoken by Billy Bob Thornton, who sounds exactly like my next-door neighbor)--and part of it's the writing.


Here are some examples of the way people speak in my area, which is pretty much the middle of the Deep South. I'm not saying this holds true for, say, San Antonio or Virginia Beach or Boca Raton--but it's true for Mississippi, and if you write a story or novel or screenplay set in these parts, well, here's the skinny:



- A large stream is a creek. We don't say crick, even though Hollywood thinks we do.

- A carbonated beverage is not a soda or a soft drink or a pop. It's a Coke. Even if it's really a Pepsi or a Sprite. ("Let's go get a Coke.")

- Most people, especially old folks, don't press buttons or push buttons, they mash buttons. ("Mash zero to get the operator.")

- The noon meal is dinner, not lunch. The evening meal is supper. This rule, like some of the others, gets diluted a bit the closer you get to a city.

- You don't run in sneakers, or even in running shoes or jogging shoes. They're tennis shoes.

- When you pray together before a meal, you "say the blessing."

- If you're fixin' to do something, you're getting ready to do it. ("I'm fixin' to go to town.")

- A fellow is not a fell-o. He's a fella. Also, yellow is yella and an arrow's an arra and a window's a winda.

- Garden beans that grow close to the ground (rather than on poles) are bunch beans, not bush beans, no matter what the label says. And pole beans are pole beans.

- Vegetable gardens aren't called vegetable gardens. They're just gardens.

- Flower gardens aren't called flower gardens, or gardens. They're just flowers.

- You don't say or write "Ms." with a lady's first name. It's Miss Mary, never Ms. Mary, even if she's married and has ten kids. It's a familiarity, like Miss Ellie in Dallas.

- When you say you'll be there "directly," it means you'll be there soon.

- "Don't be ugly," doesn't mean what it sounds like. It means "Be nice."

- "Once in a blue moon" means almost never.

- "Bless your heart" is used in a lot of ways, mostly to soften an insult. ("Bless his heart, he probably couldn't find his butt with both hands and a map.")

- You don't chuck something out the window. You chunk it out.

- "Hey" is used more than hello or hi or any other greeting, even when relayed: "Say hey to your mama for me."

- When you hug someone, you "hug her neck." This can also be a relayed greeting: "Hug her neck for me."

- When someone passes out, usually from the heat, he "done fell out." There's even a shortened version: "I heard Miss Sally DFOed."

- If you clear a field of briars and bushes and underbrush, you bush-hog it. You don't brush-hog it. This comes from the name of the rotary mower you use to do it.

- If something's really good it makes you want to "slap ya mama." (I have no idea where that came from.)

- Pajamas are pa-JOMMas (rhymes with Bahamas), not pa-JAMMas.

- "Carry me" means "take me" or "transport me." ("Can you carry me to work tomorrow?")

- Pecans are pronounced pa-CONNs, not PEE-canns. Though in some parts of the south (the Carolinas, maybe?) this doesn't hold true.

- Dogs are dawgs, not dahhgs; on is own, not ahhn; route is rowt, not root; either is EE-ther, not EYE-ther; oil is AW-ul (two syllables), not AW-ee-ul (three syllables); and school is SKOOL (one syllable), not SKOO-wul (two syllables). We try to cut back on those unhealthy syllables whenever possible.

- Yankees are folks who live north of the Mason-Dixon--and sometimes folks who live anywhere north of where you live, no matter where you live.

- "Y'all" is always used to address more than one person--never a single person--except in certain parts of the south and in all movies made by Yankees.

- If you look really tired, you've been "rode hard and put up wet."

- Other common southern expressions: slow as molasses, just fine and dandy, happy as a dead hog in the sunshine, gimme some sugar (kiss me), hissy fit, conniption fit, and Little Miss Priss (a young lady acting too big for her britches).

The only other things I can think of are the pronunciations of place names. Biloxi is bi-LUCK-see, not bi-LOCK-see; Grenada (city and county) is gra-NAY-da, not gra-NAH-da; Kosciusko (where I went to high school) is kozzy-ESS-ko, not the Polish koz-SHOOS-ko; Amite is a-MITT, not a-MIGHT; and Yazoo (city, county, and river) is YAZZ-oo, not YOZZ-oo; Pass Christian is Pass kris-chee-ANN, not Pass KRIS-chee-un; Shuqualak is SHOO-ka-lock; and Gautier is go-SHAY. The mispronunciation of these, especially by new TV weathercasters, is a mortal sin, and might get you transferred to Point Barrow, Alaska.

As for places outside my state but still nearby, New Orleans is new-WOLL-uns, not new-or-LEENS; Thibodaux, Louisiana, is TIB-a-doe; Natchitoches, Louisiana, is NACK-a-tosh; Kissimmee, Florida, is ka-SIM-mee, not KISS-a-mee (or gimme some sugar); Nacogdoches, Texas, is nack-a-DOE-chez; Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas is WASH-i-tah; Arab, Alabama, is AY-rab; Dacula, Georgia, is dah-KEW-lah; and Milan, Tennessee, is MY-lin. At least that's the way I've always heard them pronounced.



NOTE 1: Please inform me of any corrections to my above rules of southern speech, because--once again--I know some of them vary depending on where you live. Seriously, though, if you asked the owner of a grocery store here for pee-cans, he'd probably point and say "Down the hall to the left."

NOTE 2: I have my own views about which states make up the south, and in mine, the area's a lot smaller than the one shown here:



A question for those of you from other parts of the country: Do you have pet peeves involving accents and pronunciations and expressions? What are some of your "regionalisms?" Does it bother you when, in the movies, somebody who lives in Minnesota talks like a Georgia hillbilly, or an Indian scout in the 1880s has a Brooklyn accent, or a native of Boston says he's going to park the car instead of pahhk the cah? Let me know.

Meanwhile, I do declare, I'm finally through. We done plowed this field and it's time to rest the mule. Y'all say hey to your families for me and hug their necks. I'll be back directly.