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

05 January 2019

Short Memories: 2018 in Review


by John M. Floyd



Happy New Year! I realize I'm a little late, and that the new year's almost a week old now--but since it's my duty here at the SleuthSayers office to post a column every first, third, and fifth Saturday, and since December had five Saturdays, well, here I am again, and I'm finding that I'm not yet in a 2019 frame of mind.

Looking back, 2018 had its ups and downs, but on the literary front things held pretty steady. Readingwise, I consumed several good novels: Past Tense, Lee Child; The Reckoning, John Grisham; Bluff, Michael Kardos; The Outsider, Stephen King; Gravesend, William Boyle; Escape to the Biltmore, Patricia Gaddis; Blind Spot, Reed Farrell Coleman; Give-A-Damn Jones, Bill Pronzini; Elevation, Stephen King; and eleven books in the Hap & Leonard series by Joe R. Lansdale (I really like Joe Lansdale). Writingwise, I produced no novels of my own, just more short stories--and, as I did at the beginning of last year, I've put together some statistics on those.


The 2018 story board

According to my hi-tech method of recordkeeping (a three-ring binder I rescued from the office trashcan when I retired from IBM years ago), I had 32 stories published in magazines and anthologies this past year and 30 more appeared in a collection from my publisher Joe Lee, of Dogwood Press, in October. And if you're interested in short-story markets--especially mystery markets--I've also noted the publications that these stories appeared in. Here's my list:


"Scavenger Hunt"--Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018 issue
"Lights Out"--Flash Bang Mysteries, Jan 2018
"Molly's Plan" (translation)--Inostrannaya Literatura, Jan 2018
"Two in the Bush"--Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Issue #2. 2018
"While You Were Out"--Flash Bang Mysteries, Spring 2018
"True Colors"--Kings River Life, April 14, 2018
"Mockingbird Thief"--Woman's World, April 18, 2018
"Cornbread Cookoff"--Woman's World, May 21, 2018
"Fun and Games"--Woman's World, June 11, 2018
"Runaway Bouquet"--Woman's World, June 25, 2018
"A Musical Clue"--Flash Bang Mysteries, Summer 2018
"Too Good to Be True"--Woman's World, July 16. 2018
"Diversions"--Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Issue #3, 2018
"The Blue Delta"--Sanctuary anthology, Darkhouse Books, July 2018
"Foreverglow"--The Strand Magazine, June-Oct 2018
"Easy as Pie"--Woman's World, August 8, 2018
"Lucy's Gold"--Saddlebag Dispatches, Spring/Summer 2018
"The Winslow Tunnel"--Bewildering Stories (serialized, Issues 767-768), 2018
"According to Luke"--Children of the Sky anthology, Aug 2018
"Home Delivery"--Woman's World, Aug 20, 2018
"The Music of Angels"--The Saturday Evening Post, Sep/Oct 2018
"Lightning"--Mystery Weekly, Sep 2018
"Frontier Justice"--Florida Happens (Bouchercon anthology), Sep 2018
"Half-Baked Plan"--Woman's World, Oct 1, 2018
"Gun Work"--The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, Oct 2, 2018
"Ye Olde Crime Scene"--Flash Bang Mysteries, Fall 2018
"Lucifer"--Under the Full Moon's Light anthology, Owl Hollow Press, Oct 2018
"Lucian's Cadillac"--The Strand Magazine, Oct 2018-Jan 2019
"Getting Out Alive"--Landfall anthology, Level Best Books, Nov 2018
"Cracking the Code"--Woman's World, Nov 19, 2018
"Annabelle"--Deep South Magazine, Nov 2018
"Disorganized Crime"--Woman's World, Nov 26, 2018

And . . .

The Barrens--a hardcover collection released Oct 30, 2018, by Dogwood Press. It includes two of my original stories ("Dawson's Curse" and "The Barrens") and 28 of my previously published stories.


NOTE: I also had two stories published in December--"On the Road With Mary Jo" in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and "Poetic Justice" in Woman's World--but I didn't count them here because the issue dates are Jan/Feb 2019 (EQMM) and January 7, 2019 (WW).


Behind-the-scenes numbers

Of my 62 stories that were published in 2018, 19 appeared in print magazines, 6 in print anthologies, 7 in online publications, and 30 in the collection mentioned above. Of the 32 stories published outside the collection, 28 went to paying markets, 24 to repeat markets, and 8 to new markets. One was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories and all the rest were unsolicited submissions. Genrewise, one story was a western, one was science fiction, one was fantasy, one was a romance, and 28 were mysteries (although some were cross-genre--mystery/western, mystery/fantasy, mystery/romance, etc.). Of those 32, 25 were original stories and 7 were reprints. As for settings, 17 took place in my home state of Mississippi and 15 were set elsewhere, and 16 were installments in a series (five different series, actually) and 16 were standalone stories. POVwise, 29 were third-person and 3 were first-person. Finally, 14 of the stories were less than 1000 words, 9 were between 1000 and 4000, and 9 were more than 4000.

As of this moment, 15 other stories have been accepted and will be published shortly and 36 more have been submitted and are sitting in various to-be-read queues and slush piles, awaiting a decision.

In the "alas and alack" department, I also received 28 rejections last year, from 17 different markets. Sad but true.


Questions

To any writer friends who might still be reading this post, how was 2018 for you? Did you sell a novel or a collection or a short story, or have one (or more) published? What great stories/novels did you read? Do you write an ongoing series, in either novels or stories? Do you have specific writing projects in progress, or upcoming in 2019? If you're a short-story writer, did you try to target only markets that pay professional rates?

Also, and selfishly: Do any of you know about mystery markets that I'm overlooking? As always, I try to check Sandra Seamans's wonderful blog My Little Corner regularly to find targets for my submissions. If you don't use that resource, you should!




That's it for this column, and for my literary memories of 2018. Best of luck to all of you, and may this new year be your best ever!







29 December 2018

Grand (?) Openings


by John M. Floyd



Earlier this month my old (or maybe I should say long-time) friend O'Neil De Noux wrote an interesting column here at SleuthSayers about his best, worst, and favorite opening lines of stories and novels that he himself has written. That set me to thinking: since I admire O'Neil and since one of the best things a writer can do is try to copy other writers he admires . . .

Here are some opening lines of my own short stories, lines that might not be grand but that I hope are at least--how should I put it?--effective.


First, a quick note. I've always heard that ideal openings should (1) introduce your lead character and/or (2) establish the setting (time, place) and/or (3) introduce conflict. A fourth goal is to make the reader curious about what might happen next. I tried to do some of those things in these openings:


Jason Plumm lay on the beach for five hours before he was found.
--"The Blue Wolf," AHMM, Feb 2000

All things considered, Jerry thought, it wasn't a bad day to die.
--"The Last Sunset," Listen Magazine, Dec 2005

Ed Parrott was cleaning his gun by the campfire, a hundred yards south of the herd, when the stranger stepped from the shadows.
--"The Pony Creek Gang," Reader's Break, Vol. VII, 1998

"If he's sick," O'Neal said, "maybe he'll die on his own."
--"Flu Season," The Norwegian American, Nov 2016

The dead woman lay in a pecan orchard fifty yards from the road.
--"Oversight," Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Winter 2003

Terry Gibbs could remember a thousand unpleasant duties in the course of his twelve years on the police force.
--"200 Feet," Strand Magazine, Feb-May 2014

The two brothers lived together in the city at the end of the valley at the foot of the great blue mountains.
--"Custom Design," Lines in the Sand, May/June 1994

Lou Rosewood stepped into the laboratory, closed the door behind him, and locked it.
--"A Place in History," T-Zero, July 2003

I met Jenny Bartlett two days ago, when she rang my doorbell at six in the morning.
--"Rainbow's End," Woman's World, July 27, 1999

At first Eddie thought he'd been carjacked.
--"Wheels of Fortune," Heist Magazine, April 2002

Joe Higby stomped into the ice cream shop, leaned his axe against the wall, and took a seat at the counter.
--"In the Wee Hours," Over My Dead Body, April 2012

"Is he still out there?" Patty asked.
--"Knights of the Court," Red Herring Mystery Magazine, Vol. 3, #3.5, 1996

The bank stood on the west end of Palmetto Street, an old and gray lump of a building in an old and gray part of town.
--"Molly's Plan," Strand Magazine, June-Sep 2014

It was quiet at the edge of the woods.
--"The Blue Delta," Blood on the Bayou (Bouchercon anthology), Sep 2016

"What I can't figure out," Nate said, as he lay in the dirt behind a clump of cactus near Rosie Hapwell's house, "is why you married that idiot in the first place."
--"Saving Mrs. Hapwell," Dogwood Tales Magazine, March/April 1997

Two dozen people stood in a group around the hanging tree.
--"Sand Hill," Gathering Storm Magazine, April 2017

Hank Stegall saw her as soon as she stepped out of the building.
--"Ladies of the North," Phoebe, Spring/Fall 2002

Ames and his driver sat in the black Lincoln outside Ross Vardeman's apartment building, in a parking space as far as they could get from a streetlight.
--"Watched," Untreed Reads, Oct 2011

Around nine a.m., Billy Roland saw the water tower and the first cluster of buildings in the distance, steered his rented Ford to the shoulder of the road, and stopped.
--"Saving Grace," The Saturday Evening Post, July/Aug 2015

"Driver?" the senator's wife said. "Where exactly are we?"
--"Driver," Strand Magazine, Feb-May 2015

Angela Potts noticed, as she plopped down on the park bench beside Sheriff Jones, that he looked grumpy--but that was nothing unusual.
--"Picture This," Woman's World, July 22, 2013

At 8:40 on a clear Friday night in July, Jesse Pratt escaped from Crow Mountain State Penitentiary, stole a pickup from the staff parking lot, and promptly drove it into a lake some fifty yards away.
--"Weekend Getaway," Pages of Stories, Summer 2010

George Tate had fed his cousin's livestock and was trudging back from the barn when he heard the woman scream.
--"Tomboy," Prairie Times, Nov 2010

The scariest day of my life--and the most wonderful--happened when I was ten years old.
--"The Winslow Tunnel," Amazon Shorts, March 2006

Dave Cotten sat on his back porch with a .38 revolver in his lap, staring at nothing in particular.
--"Blackjack Road," Strand Magazine, June-Sep 2012

The old man was popping the last of the breakfast biscuits into his mouth when the door crashed open.
--"Newton's Law," Western Digest, Oct 1998

Milo Stinson thought it would be quiet in the jungle.
--"Two in the Bush," Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Issue #2, 2018

The car was waiting in the alley, with Eddie Stark at the wheel and half a dozen cigarette butts littering the pavement below the driver's-side door.
--"Frontier Justice," Florida Happens (Bouchercon anthology), Sep 2018

Charlie Hunter sat stiff and cramped in the fake leather chair in his back office, watching the clock on the paneled wall.
--"Hunters," AHMM, May 2014

"So if he dies," Niles said, "I get everything. Right?"
--"Silent Partner," Crimestalker Casebook, Spring 2004

Amos Garrett had switched off his dashboard radio, ejected Willie Nelson, and plugged in Tammy Wynette when he looked up and saw the little white car pulled over on the grassy shoulder of the road just ahead.
--"Crow's Nest," EQMM, upcoming in 2019

Susan Weeks had never seen a monster before.
--"The Wading Pool," Spinetingler Magazine, 2006


I know, I probably included about twenty too many of these. But hang in there--here are some more, from writers a bit more famous and talented than I am, that I think are among the best opening lines ever:


We were about to give up and call it a night when someone dropped the girl off the bridge.
--Darker Than Amber, John D. MacDonald

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.
--The Gunslinger, Stephen King

The last camel collapsed at noon.
--The Key to Rebecca, Ken Follett

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.
--"The Short Happy Life of Francis McComber," Ernest Hemingway

I'm pretty much fucked.
--The Martian, Andy Weir

Every time they got a call from the leper hospital to pick up a body, Jack Delaney would feel himself coming down with the flu or something.
--Bandits, Elmore Leonard

The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida.
--"A Good Man Is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor

The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.
--Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Tom Franklin

What was the worst thing you've ever done?
--Ghost Story, Peter Straub

At the stroke of eleven on a cool April night, a woman named Joey Perrone went overboard from the luxury deck of the cruise liner Sun Duchess.
--Skinny Dip, Carl Hiaasen

You better not never tell nobody but God.
--The Color Purple, Alice Walker

I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex downs, and nearly stepped on him.
--The Beekeeper's Apprentice, Laurie R. King

There was a desert wind blowing that night.
--"Red Wind," Raymond Chandler

I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer's headless body in the trunk, and all the time I'm thinking I should've put some plastic down.
--Gun Monkeys, Victor Gischler

He rode into our valley in the summer of '89.
--Shane, Jack Schaefer


Remember any of those? I love 'em. To wind this up, here's something I found in Secret Windows, Stephen King's often-overlooked, 400-page book of essays on writing. The chapter about story and novel openings that hook the reader is called "Great Hookers I Have Known," and King says the granddaddy of all hookers is this one:

"In the beginning, God created heaven and earth."


It's hard to top that.



15 December 2018

A Series Conversation


by John M. Floyd



Today's column is about reading and writing. On the reading side, I've lately found myself reading more novels than short stories, for some reason, and more standalone novels than series installments. Some novel series, though, are close to my heart, and when I discover new ones that I enjoy, I usually buy every book in the series and consume them like a chain-smoker, lighting another from the butt of the one I just finished and forging ahead until I'm done. Sort of like watching those maddeningly addictive Netflix and Amazon Prime series. (I just started on the latest season of Westworld.)


The reading list

Not that it matters, but here are twenty of my absolute favorite novel series:

1. character: John Corey -- author: Nelson DeMille
Plum Island, The Lion's Game, Night Fall, Wild Fire, The Lion, The Panther, etc.

2. Jack Reacher -- Lee Child
Killing Ground, Die Trying, Trip Wire, The Visitor, Echo Burning, Without Fail, Persuader, The Enemy, One Shot, etc.

3. Hap Collins and Leonard Pine -- Joe R. Lansdale
Savage Season, Mucho Mojo, The Two-Bear Mambo, Bad Chili, Rumble Tumble, Captains Outrageous, Vanilla Ride, etc.

4. Gus McCrea and Woodrow Call -- Larry McMurtry
Dead Man's Walk, Comanche Moon, Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo

5. Hannibal Lecter -- Thomas Harris
Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Hannibal Rising

6. Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch -- Robert B. Parker (and successor Robert Knott)
Appaloosa, Resolution, Brimstone, Blue-Eyed Devil, Ironhorse, Bull River, The Bridge, Blackjack, etc.

7. Roland Deschain (the Dark Tower series) -- Stephen King
The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizards and Glass, etc.

8. Penn Cage -- Greg Iles
The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, The Devil's Punchbowl, Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree, etc.

9. Arkady Renko -- Martin Cruz Smith
Gorky Park, Polar Star, Red Square, Havana Bay, Wolves Eat Dogs, Stalin's Ghost, etc.

10. Anna Pigeon -- Nevada Barr
Track of the Cat, A Superior Death, Ill Wind, Firestorm, Endangered Species, Blind Descent, etc.

11. Spenser -- Robert B. Parker (and successor Ace Atkins)
The Godwulf Manuscript, God Save the Child, Mortal Stakes, Promised Land, The Judas Goat, etc.

12. Stephanie Plum -- Janet Evanovich
One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, Four to Score, High Five, Hot Six, etc.

13. Myron Bolitar -- Harlan Coben
Deal Breaker, Drop Shot, Fade Away, Back Spin, One False Move, The Final Detail, etc.

14. Jason Bourne -- Robert Ludlum
The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum

15. Jesse Stone -- Robert B. Parker (and successors Michael Brandman and Reed Farrell Coleman)
Night Passage, Trouble in Paradise, Death in Paradise, Stone Cold, Sea Change, High Profile, etc.

16. Lucas Davenport -- John Sandford
Rules of Prey, Shadow Prey, Eyes of Prey, Silent Prey, Winter Prey, Night Prey, Mind Prey, etc.

17. Dave Robicheaux -- James Lee Burke
The Neon Rain, Heaven's Prisoners, Black Cherry Blues, A Morning for Flamingos, A Stained White Radiance, etc.

18. Alex Cross -- James Patterson
Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls, Jack and Jill, Cat and Mouse, Pop Goes the Weasel, Roses Are Red, etc.

19. Katniss Everdeen -- Susanne Collins
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay

20. Travis McGee -- John D. MacDonald
The Deep Blue Good-by, Nightmare in Pink, A Purple Place for Dying, The Quick Red Fox, A Deadly Shade of Gold, etc.

NOTE: I didn't like all the film adaptations of these series--some were great and some were disasters--but that's another matter, and a post for another day.

And yes, I left out Rowling, Connelly, Chandler, Hammett, Christie, Doyle, Clancy, le Carre, McBain, Forsyth, Larsson, Wouk, Paretsky, Wambaugh, Westlake, Leonard, Tolkien, Follett, and many, many others whose series novels I've truly enjoyed. But I had to stop somewhere.


The writing list

Meanwhile, on the writing side of things--and on a much smaller scale, in both wordcount and dollarbillcount--I have tried to use what I've learned about series and series characters to write five different series of my own short stories. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Angela Potts and Charles "Chunky" Jones

This series is about a bossy retired schoolteacher and a guy she taught in the fifth grade, a lazy and not-too-bright kid who grew up to be the lazy and not-too-bright sheriff of their small southern town. She enjoys helping him with cases, correcting his grammar in front of his deputies, and stealing goodies from the candy jar in his office. Most of these stories have been published in Woman's World magazine.

2. Fran and Lucy Valentine (the "Law and Daughter" series)

In this series of stories, former teacher Frances Valentine feels it's her duty to help her happily unmarried daughter Lucy, who's a sheriff, (1) solve crimes and (2) find a husband. One of these appeared in Woman's World several years ago, but most have been published in Flash Bang Mysteries, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Mysterical-E, and Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine.

3. Private investigator Will Parker

This Old West series stars a former gunfighter/Pinkerton agent who now works for a PI firm run by his brother in San Francisco. The first story in this series, "Redemption," appeared in a 2013 collection of my mystery stories called Deception; the second story, "Gun Work," was chosen for the anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes From Sea to Shining Sea (Down and Out Books) and was later selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories 2018. (By the way, this might not qualify as a series, since it so far consists of one story and its sequel. But I do plan to write more of them.)

4. Katie and Anna Rogers

This series features accountant Katie Rogers and her younger sister Anna. Since Anna's a police chief, they of course team up to solve crimes in their small town. (Do you see a trend, here?) Woman's World published the first installment of these a few weeks ago and the second and third stories have been accepted and will appear within the next month or so. Several more are in the queue and awaiting a decision.

5. Sheriff Ray Douglas

This is a series about Raymond Kirk Douglas, the practical and easy-going sheriff of Pine County, Mississippi, and his super-smart girlfriend Jennifer Parker. The first two of these stories, "Trail's End" and "Scavenger Hunt," were published in AHMM in 2017 and 2018. The third and fourth installments, "Going the Distance" and "Quarterback Sneak," have been accepted by AHMM and are upcoming, and the fifth and sixth installments are finished and sitting in AH's to-be-read queue.


Pluses/minuses

Advantages of writing a series (at least to me):

- Series installments are sometimes easier to sell. When writers, readers, and editors are familiar with a certain set of characters, those stories are a known quantity, and less of a financial risk for the publication.

- Series stories can be less work for the writer. When and if characters and their setting become well known, less time has to be spent on things like backstory and description. A writer can get the reader quickly into the plot.

Disadvantages of writing a series:

- If the publication that's running one of your series decides to reject the latest installment that you've submitted, that story will need major renovation (and possible demolition and rebuilding) before it can be sent to a different market.

- Publications that have successfully featured one of your series might be reluctant to have you write a non-series story for them.

Questions

For those of you who are authors of novels and/or shorts, do you prefer writing standalones or writing series? Which have been more profitable for you? Which is more fun? Have you ever had pressure from an editor, publisher, or agent to stick to one or the other? Of series stories and standalones, which do you most enjoy reading? What are some of your favorite book or story series?

And that's it. Keep writing--and have a great Christmas!




01 December 2018

Two Strand Stories: Behind the Scenes


by John M. Floyd



I always find something to like about SleuthSayers posts, whether they stick to the subjects of mysteries and writing or veer off into something else--but some of those I've enjoyed the most are the ones where an author talks in detail about specific stories or novels he or she has written. Sort of an insider's view.

With that in mind--and hoping others might feel the same--I'd like to look at two of my recent stories, one of them in the previous issue of The Strand Magazine and the other in the current issue.

A quick peek

The first story, "Foreverglow" (original title "The Foreverglow Case"), appeared in The Strand's June-Oct issue. It's the story of a regular and not-overly-bright guy who meets and falls for a young lady who, as it turns out, has what she feels is a brilliant plan to steal a fortune in diamond jewelry from the store where she's employed. They manage to work together to pull off the heist--but what happens next was not in their original plan.

The second story, "Lucian's Cadillac," appears in the current (Oct-Jan) issue, which they're calling the Twentieth Anniversary Collector's Issue. It's a tale about three lifelong but unlikely friends--a genius, a "little person," and an ex-football player--who happen to witness a double murder. They testify against the killer, and later wind up on his payback list when he escapes from the state prison. It's sort of a High Noon/Cape Fear kind of story, with three over-the-hill seniors as the targets of revenge.

What's interesting, to me, about these two stories is what I found when I started comparing them. At first glance, they have a lot in common. Here are a few of the

Similarities:

- Both stories have protagonists with common, everyday lives and jobs. I find myself doing this a lot. Heroes don't have to be superheroes.

- Both are about 2500 words in length. This is actually a little short for Strand stories; I think the guidelines still say between 2K and 6K.

- Both are mysteries. This just means a crime is central to the plot.

- Both have characters who are romantically attracted to each other. The two thieves in the first story, and the viewpoint character and a female sheriff in the second. A romantic element, even if minor, can add a level of interest and/or conflict.

- Both are told in past tense. (I probably shouldn't have listed this, since all my stories are past tense. But it is a similarity.)

- Both are standalone stories. One of the two could conceivably become a series, but I have no plans in that direction.

- Both, except for some violence, have family-friendly content. Hell no, the priest and the Republican senator are NOT having an affair.

- Both are set in the present day, and in fairly small and unnamed towns. In one of the stories I mentioned that Atlanta was nearby, but otherwise I didn't see a need to use real, it's-on-the-map locations.

Both have only a few named characters but a LOT of dialogue. (One story has two speaking roles, the other has three.)

- Both include major plot reversals. I find this hard to resist when I write, because it's the kind of thing I like to encounter myself in the stories and novels I read.


But . . . here are some things about those stories that aren't alike at all.


Differences:

- In one story, the protagonists willfully break the law; in the other they don't. Asking the reader to root for the bad guys doesn't always work--but sometimes it does (Get Shorty, The Godfather, Butch Cassidy, etc.).

- One is written in third person, the other in first person. This wasn't even a conscious decision on my part--it just seemed the right way to tell these particular stories.

- One has several different scenes; the other has no scene breaks at all. A factor here is that in one story the action includes different places at different times, and in the other story everything happens at the same location--a neighborhood bar owned by the protagonist--in the space of only an hour or so.

- In one, the romantic element drives the story; in the other it's incidental. What can I say?--Love is mysterious.

One's a heist story; the other's a tale of revenge and survival. As a result, one of the stories has no specific named antagonist, while the other does.

- In one story, the characters are fairly "average"; in the other there'a a lot of diversity. The group of close friends in the second story includes a brilliant scholar, a dwarf, and an overweight former linebacker. Plus a lady sheriff.

- One contains no violence; the other does. This makes sense because one's a try-to-escape-without-getting-caught story, and the other's life-or-death, do-whatever-you-must-to-stay-alive.

- In one, the main characters are young; in the other they're old. The ages, here, are appropriate to the plot: the jewelry thieves are confident but inexperienced, and the three old men facing a deadly enemy are experienced enough not to be confident--besides being physically challenged.

- One has a surprise ending; the other does not. Although I hope both endings are satisfying.


So the two stories have many things in common, including some style/structure elements, but they're vastly different. I think that's to be expected with my stories, and probably with yours as well. If they're too much alike--even those that are "series" installments--they'll be boring to write and boring to read. This applies to novels as well as shorts.

Advice and opinions

For you writers out there, how different from each other are the stories you create? Are most told in the same viewpoint? Do most have the same kind of geographical setting? The same time period? The same tense? The same length? Complex plots? Happy endings? Surprise endings? How about the amount of dialogue? Violence? Sex? Profanity? Humor? Is there any one thing that you find yourself always including, or always avoiding?

Here's some sage advice from Elmore Leonard, and supposedly from Alfred Hitchcock as well: Leave out the parts that people skip.

Easier said than done.








17 November 2018

Strike Up the Band: Stories and Music


by John M. Floyd



As a movie lover and a music lover, I've always been intrigued by scores and soundtracks. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the movies I like to watch over and over again are the ones that have what I think is good music. Maybe it's not of vital importance, but it sure helps. Italian director Sergio Leone once said, "It is the music that elevates a movie to greatness."


Masters and commanders

Like many of you, when I walk into a bookstore or go to Amazon.com, I find myself looking first for books by writers I'm already familiar with, writers I know I'll like reading. For me it's novelists like Nelson DeMille, Joe Lansdale, Carl Hiaasen, Greg Iles, Martin Cruz Smith, Lee Child, Nevada Barr, Stephen King, and several others. I have such confidence in those authors I know I'll probably enjoy whatever they write.

It's almost the same with film directors. There are some I like and respect, and when I see one of their names beside a movie, I'll usually watch it. Scorsese, Spielberg, Hitchcock, Carpenter, Joel and Ethan Coen, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, J. J. Abrams, Richard Donner, Frank Darabont, John McTiernan, and--believe it or not--Quentin Tarantino. Sometimes I'm disappointed, but not usually. I'm also especially fond of some composers: John Barry, John Williams, Carter Burwell, James Newton Howard, James Horner, Lalo Schifrin, Mancini, Zimmer, Herrmann, Morricone, Goldsmith, etc., etc.

Creative teamwork

If you're strange enough to be interested in that kind of thing, I'm sure you've noticed that some--if not most--directors choose to work with the same composers, again and again. And because I honestly couldn't think of anything else to write about today . . . here's a list of sixty of those collaborations, along with some of their resulting movies.

First, my top-ten favorite director/composer combinations:


1. Steven Spielberg / John Williams -- E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

2. Sergio Leone / Ennio Morricone -- A Fistful of Dollars; A Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Once Upon a Time in the West; Once Upon a Time in America

3. Robert Zemeckis / Alan Silvestri -- Forrest Gump, Romancing the Stone, Contact, The Polar Express, Cast Away, Back to the Future

4. Alfred Hitchcock / Bernard Herrmann -- Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Wrong Man, Torn Curtain, Marnie, Psycho

5. David Lean / Maurice Jarre -- Doctor Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter, Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India

6. Blake Edwards / Henry Mancini -- The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Peter Gunn, 10, The Great Race, Days of Wine and Roses

7. John Carpenter / John Carpenter -- Escape From New York. Dark Star, The Fog, Vampires, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween

8. M. Night Shyamalan / James Newton Howard -- Signs, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Lady in the Water, The Village

9. The Coen Brothers / Carter Burwell -- The Big Lebowski, Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, True Grit, Miller's Crossing, Fargo

10. Ron Howard / James Horner -- Apollo 13, Cocoon, Willow, Ransom, The Missing, A Beautiful 
Mind

If you're not fed up with all this by now, here are fifty more director/composer teams that might be familiar:

Tim Burton / Danny Elfman -- Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish, Beetlejuice, Batman
Michael Curtiz / Max Steiner -- Virginia City, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Mildred Pierce, Casablanca
Alfred Hitchcock / Dmitri Tiomkin -- Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder
Frank Capra / Dmitri Tiomkin -- It's a Wonderful Life, Lost Horizon, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Howard Hawks / Dmitri Tiomkin -- Red River, Only Angels Have Wings, Rio Bravo
Joel Shumacher / James Newton Howard -- Falling Down, Flatliners, Dying Young
Lawrence Kasdan / James Newton Howard -- Wyatt Earp, Grand Canyon, French Kiss, Mumford
John Huston / Alex North -- The Misfits, Under the Volcano, Prizzi's Honor
Sam Peckinpah / Jerry Fielding -- The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, The Getaway
James Cameron / James Horner -- Avatar, Titanic, Aliens
Edward Zwick / James Horner -- Glory, Legends of the Fall, Courage Under Fire
Sydney Pollack / Dave Grusin -- Three Days of the Condor, Absence of Malice, The Firm, Tootsie
Stanley Cramer / Ernest Gold -- On the Beach, Inherit the Wind, Ship of Fools
Tony Scott / Hans Zimmer -- Days of Thunder, True Romance, The Fan, Crimson Tide
Christopher Nolan / Hans Zimmer -- The Dark Knight, Inception, The Man of Steel, Dunkirk
Ron Howard / Hans Zimmer -- Backdraft, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, Inferno
Ridley Scott / Hans Zimmer -- Thelma and Louise, Hannibal, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator
Penny Marshall / Hans Zimmer -- A League of Their Own, Renaissance Man, The Preacher's Wife
Gary Marshall / John Debney -- The Princess Diaries, Valentine's Day, Raising Helen
Paul Mazursky / Bill Conti -- An Unmarried Woman, Blume in Love, Harry and Tonto
John G. Avildson / Bill Conti -- Rocky, The Karate Kid, Lean on Me, 8 Seconds
Clint Eastwood / Lennie Neihaus -- Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven
Peter Jackson / Howard Shore -- the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbitt trilogy
David Cronenberg / Howard Shore -- The Fly, Crash, A History of Violence
Martin Scorcese / Howard Shore -- Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo
Martin Scorcese / Elmer Bernstein -- The Grifters, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence
Robert Mulligan / Elmer Bernstein -- To Kill a Mockingbird, Love With the Proper Stranger
Evan Reitman / Elmer Bernstein -- Ghostbusters, Stripes, Animal House
George Roy Hill / Elmer Bernstein -- Hawaii, Slap Shot, Funny Farm. Thoroughly Modern Millie
J. J. Abrams / Michael Giacchino -- Lost, Fringe, Alias, Star Trek, Super 8
Billy Wilder / Andre Previn -- Irma La Douce; Kiss Me, Stupid; The Fortune Cookie
Billy Wilder / Miklos Rozsa -- Double Indemnity, Five Graves to Cairo, The Lost Weekend
Don Siegel / Lalo Schifrin -- Dirty Harry, Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Charley Varrick
Kenneth Branagh / Patrick Doyle -- Hamlet, Henry V, Sleuth, Dead Again
Mel Brooks / John Morris -- Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Young Frankenstein
Cameron Crowe / Nancy Wilson -- Almost Famous, Elizabethtown, Jerry Maguire
John Milius / Basil Poledouris -- Red Dawn, Flight of the Intruder, Conan the Barbarian
Franklin J. Schaffner / Jerry Goldsmith -- Planet of the Apes, Patton, Lionheart, Papillon
Joe Dante / Jerry Goldsmith -- Gremlins, The Burbs, Innerspace
Robert Aldrich / Frank De Vol -- The Flight of the Phoenix, The Longest Yard, The Dirty Dozen
Bryan Singer / John Ottman -- The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns, Jack the Giant Slayer
Mark Rydell / John Williams -- The Reivers, The Cowboys, The River, Cinderella Liberty
Oliver Stone / John Williams -- JFK, Nixon, Born on the Fourth of July
Irwin Allen / John Williams -- The Towering Inferno. Lost in Space, The Poseidon Adventure
George Lucas / John Williams -- Star Wars episodes I, II, III, and IV
Sam Mendes / Thomas Newman -- Skyfall, American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead
Steven Soderbergh / David Holmes -- Ocean's Eleven, Out of Sight, Haywire, Logan Lucky
Peter Weir / Maurice Jarre -- Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Year of Living Dangerously
Anthony Harvey / John Barry -- The Lion in Winter, They Might be Giants. The Glass Menagerie

And #50: I'm cheating here, but composer John Barry teamed with four different directors (Guy Hamilton, Terence Young. Lewis Gilbert, and John Glen) for the following James Bond scores: Goldfinger, Thunderball, From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Diamonds Are Forever, and The Man With the Golden Gun.

There are of course many other collaborations, both foreign and here at home, but these are the ones that came to mind.

Trivial matters 

In looking around for this director/composer information, I found the following little-known (to me, at least) facts:

For Sergio Leone's movies, his former schoolmate Ennio Morricone usually wrote the score first and then Leone shot the film to fit the music, rather than doing it the other way around.

Besides John Carpenter, several directors have served the double-duty of also composing the music for some of their films. Among them are Clint Eastwood and Anthony Hopkins.

When John Williams first played the Jaws theme on his piano, Spielberg burst into laughter and thought it sounded ridiculous. Two years later, Williams went through 300 versions of the five-note Close Encounters theme before Spielberg was happy.  (Mostly, though, they seem to agree: They've made 28 movies together.)

Bernard Herrmann served as "sound consultant" on Hitchcock's The Birds, which used electronic bird noises instead of music. (More on this in a minute.)

Danny Elfman composed the music for Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas AND sang Jack Skellington's singing parts.

Max Steiner composed 11 other film scores the same year he scored Gone With the Wind.

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard shared composing duties for some of The Dark Knight. Zimmer wrote the themes for the Joker, and Howard wrote the themes for Batman.

Henry Mancini composed the music for 38 movies and TV series for director Blake Edwards.

Robert Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri decided not to have any music at all during the entire time Tom Hanks was stranded on the island in Cast Away. The score begins only when the castaway sails away. (Other well-known films had no music: Rope, Fail-Safe, Dog Day Afternoon, etc.)

John Williams is the most Oscar-nominated person alive today (51 nominations). His 1977 Star Wars score remains the highest-grossing instrumental-only soundtrack of all time.

James Horner said, about his score for Titanic, "I probably wrote all the material in about three hours. The themes literally came to me in twenty minutes."



Questions

What are your favorite story/music collaborations? Do you ever choose movies based on the director, or even the composer? If so, does that ever backfire? I can think of a few big mistakes I've made, using that approach (Exorcist II, Batman & Robin, The Last Airbender, etc.). Are you a film-score fan, or does the music in a movie not matter that much to you? Do you ever find yourself humming theme music instead of "real" songs?

Wait--is that a fin I see in the water? DUMdumDUMdumDUMdum . . .





03 November 2018

How B Is Your SP?


by John M. Floyd



This past Tuesday night I attended the "launch" of The Barrens, my seventh collection of short mystery fiction, hosted by Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a fun evening, with a (thankfully) good crowd and a lot of old friends and fellow writers; I signed at five o'clock and then did a reading and Q&A. My publisher always considers the date of the Lemuria launch event to be the release date of the book, so he waited until afterward to get copies to the distributors for other area bookstores. (I did cheat a little, though: a few weeks ago Michael Bracken and I participated in the Bayou Writers Group conference in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and since this was out-of-state I was allowed to take copies of the as-yet-unreleased book along to sell at the conference. Maybe not as exciting as the early release of a new iPhone, but still . . .)

Anyhow, we had a good time at the book launch, and the whole experience reminded me how we writers not only have to write--we have to promote as well. And I'm not good at promoting. I have nine or ten more signings scheduled between now and Christmas (most of them at Books-A-Millions on weekends), and I always enjoy those because it's a chance to see old acquaintances and make new ones, as well as sell books. But arranging all this and publicizing it isn't fun, for me. On this particular occasion earlier this week, it was especially hard because my mother had passed away a little more than a week earlier, and my heart just wasn't in it. I wound up not having the time to mail out any written invitations--I sometimes do, because I have a few friends who don't like computers or social media--and ended up sending out only a few emails and Facebook messages and posting the event on my FB page a couple of days beforehand.

Spreading the word

I'm fortunate in that my great publisher handles most of the publicity and advertising, produces and furnishes my bookmarks, brochures, posters, press releases, etc., and sets up my interviews and events. He not only enjoys doing that, he has the contacts and he's extremely good at it. He's the main reason my book launch was successful. Don't get me wrong--I have the utmost admiration for fellow writers who self-publish and thus pretty much do everything themselves. But doing everything would be hard for me. I'm afraid I just don't like the "business" side (the non-writing side) of writing.


                        An unexpected sketch by my friend Bill Wilson, at my "launch" signing.



Back to the subject: My signing event the other night, and all the preparation and commotion involved, made me wonder--not for the first time--how much promotion is too much promotion? On the one hand, I owe it to my publisher, and to myself, to help make sure the word gets out and to try to make the new book as successful as possible. That's common sense, and good business. I certainly want it to be successful. On the other hand, I don't want to be a nuisance. In a world where we're bombarded daily with phone calls from telemarketers, endless commercials on TV, and newspapers so packed with advertisements it's hard to lug them into the house from the driveway--well, folks who sell things need to tread softly. And I think we probably agree that there's a fine line between being informative and being a pain in the ass.

The B word

We all joke about BSP. Everybody knows, by now, that we're not talking about the Bulgarian Socialist Party or Business Systems Providers. We use the abbreviation often, and playfully admit that our self-promotion is blatant in order to somehow lessen its aggravation--but it can still be aggravating. At best, the reader/listener welcomes the news, sometimes he sighs and endures it, and at worst he flees from the room and runs screaming down the street.

Remember, BSP is a slippery little devil. If you watch closely you can catch it sneaking its way into regular conversations and otherwise unbiased pieces of writing. Example: the first paragraph of this column, which I wrote as a sort of an introduction to today's topic, is thinly disguised BSP. So is the sketch I included, above. Look at me, everybody--I've got a new book!

But let's face it, self-promotion is necessary, at least to some degree. Not many people are fond of blowing their own horn, but even in the midst of the groaning and eye-rolling from your audience, one fact remains: if you don't blow your horn, who will? My publisher, as effective as he is, can only do so much. The rest is up to me.


Aggressive or excessive?

So here are the big questions. How much promotion do you feel comfortable doing? How far are you willing to go to ensure that your name and your product are recognized and will be successful? What part of it makes you uncomfortable? What's the right mix?

They're tough questions to answer. A lot of it depends on your personality. A shy, amateur writer will have a harder time crowing his message from the rooftops than, say, a writer who's a former salesman or politician. And on the receiving end of that, some of us have lower annoyance thresholds than others. Personally, I really want to know when new books are coming out by Stephen King and Lee Child and Joe Lansdale, etc., and from most of my writer friends. Books by other folks . . . well, I don't much care. And hearing about it too often is irritating.

Where do you set the limits, if you set them at all? When and where is self-promotion most effective? Least effective? Most and least maddening?

I'd like to find out before my next book release.








20 October 2018

Names and Pseudo-Names


by John M. Floyd



A few weeks ago I got into a familiar discussion, among writers: Should you use a pseudonym?

Here are some authors who have:


Eric Blair -- George Orwell
Ed McBain -- Evan Hunter
A. M. Barnard -- Louisa May Alcott
James D. Grant -- Lee Child
Agatha Christie -- Mary Westmacott
Samuel Clemens -- Mark Twain
Isaac Asimov -- Paul French
Stephen King -- Richard Bachman
Joseph King -- Joe Hill
Joanne (J. K.) Rowling -- Robert Galbraith
Barbara Vine -- Ruth Rendell
Davis John Moore Cornwell -- John Le Carre
Charles Dodgson -- Lewis Carroll
Nora Roberts -- J. D. Robb
Joyce Carol Oates -- Rosamond Smith
John Hughes -- Edmond Dantes
Gore Vidal -- Edgar Box
Erle Stanley Gardner -- A. A. Fair
Ruth Crowley, Eppie Lederer -- Ann Landers
Pauline Phillips, Jeanne Phillips -- Abigail Van Buren
Juliet Hulme -- Anne Perry
William Anthony Parker White -- Anthony Boucher
John Dickson Carr -- Carr Dickson
Washington Irving -- Diedrich Knickerbocker
Ray Bradbury -- Douglas Spalding
Mary Ann Evans -- George Eliot 
Jozef Korzeniowski -- Joseph Conrad
C. S. Lewis -- Clive Hamilton
Daniel Handler -- Lemony Snicket
Benjamin Franklin -- Mrs. Silence Dogood
William Sydney Porter -- O. Henry


And there's usually a story behind every pseudonym. In an old interview I saw recently, Donald Westlake said he chose the name Richard Stark for his series of Parker novels because (1) Richard Widmark was one of his favorite actors and (2) "stark" was the writing style he wanted to use for the series. (NOTE: Westlake also said he later regretted choosing the name Parker for his main character--because it kept him from ever writing "Parker parked his car.")

Other examples of that process: Western author Tom McCurley invented his Mack Curlee pseudonym by rearranging his last name, and prolific romantic-suspense writer Melanie Noto dropped the W from her maiden name (Melanie Watkins) to come up with her pseudonym Melanie Atkins.

Another writer friend of mine, Charles Wilson, said he wishes he'd chosen the pen name Wilson Charles, because all the novels written using his real name are located on the hard-to-see bottom shelves in libraries and bookstores. If he'd used Wilson Charles, his work would be shelved up there alongside the Crichtons and Cornwells and Childs and Connellys.

Those who do use pseudonyms have said the names should be carefully chosen. Once their works attain any level of success, pen names become as permanent as a tattoo.


But I still haven't talked about why a writer would--or wouldn't--need a pseudonym. Here are some pluses and minuses.


You might choose to use a pseudonym if:

1. You want to write in a genre different from your previous work. Nora Roberts, who's known for her romances, writes mysteries under the name J. D. Robb.

2. You want to hide your true identity from your family, friends, boss, etc. This might be the only way you'd consider writing erotica, or about controversial subjects.

3. You want to disguise your gender. A woman might use a man's name to write for Field & Stream, and a man might use a woman's to write for Brides & Weddings.

4. You don't want to appear too prolific. When Stephen King started out, the idea of publishing more than one novel in the same year by the same author wasn't widely accepted. Pseudonyms were, and still are, a way around that.

5. You want to collaborate with another author using the same name. Ellery Queen was of course really the writing team of Dannay and Lee; and both the Hardy Boys author Frankin W. Dixon and the Nancy Drew author Carolyn Keene were actually teams of different writers.

6. You have a real name that just wouldn't work. It'd be hard to publish if your name is John Grisham, James Bond, Eliza Doolittle, etc. Or, for that matter, Jekyl Juberkanesta.


You might choose not to use a pseudonym if:

1. You don't have any of the requirements listed in items 1-5 above.

2. You already have a reasonable-sounding name.

3. You don't want to have to double your marketing efforts.

4. You want to keep things simple.


It's worth mentioning that Larry McMurtry, who is probably best known for his western novels like Lonesome Dove, also wrote Terms of Endearment and other "literary" works, and did both under the same (his real) name. And--on a far smaller scale--I've written a boatload of stories for a women's magazine without bothering with a pseudonym. Just saying.


Questions: Do you use a pseudonym? Do you think you might, in the future? If so, why, and how was it chosen? Have you found it helpful? Do you use your real name instead?


I'll close this topic with a poem and a joke. First, the poem (which, since I'm not much of a poet, might be considered a joke as well). It's called "Altering the Ego," and appeared in the April 1999 issue of Writer's Digest.


I'll admit I've had problems
With my pseudonym;
When my book was a failure
They knew I was him--
But when I sold the sequel, 
Which did splendidly,
I couldn't make people 
Believe he was me.


Who says writing isn't a thankless profession?

Now, the joke:


John walks into a writer's meeting.
Jane asks him, "What's your pen name?"
"Paper Mate," John says.


And maybe that's the only one he needs.






06 October 2018

A Whole Town--Imagine That

by John M. Floyd



How important, one might ask (especially if one is a beginning writer), is setting? Well, most of those reading this blog know the answer. It depends on the story. For some movies, novels, shorts, etc., setting is vital; to others, not so much. Everyone seems to agree that it's usually not as all-important as other elements of fiction, which is why so much more is said and written about character and plot. But I don't want to downplay it. There's no question that an effective setting can be a huge advantage in works of fiction, and can often be the thing that makes an otherwise mediocre story good, or a good story great.

Which made me start thinking about towns and cities in fiction--and, specifically, the names of towns and cities. Some of these imaginary places are immediately familiar to readers, TV watchers, and moviegoers: Mayberry, Metropolis, Gotham City, Castle Rock, Lake Wobegon, Emerald City, Cabot Cove, and so on.

A Peyton Place to call home

Many of the western novels of the late mystery-writer Robert B. Parker (and Robert Knott, the author who continued that series after Parker's death) even have the same titles as their town-names: Appaloosa, Brimstone, Resolution, Revelation, Bull River, etc. The same is true of other titles in novels/movies/TV, like Salem's Lot, Lonesome DoveSpencerville, Desperation, Zootopia, Camelot, Silverado, Evening ShadeKnott's LandingSouth Park, Empire Falls, Pleasantville, and Twin Peaks.


I've done some of that myself, with my short stories. Sometimes I liked my town's name so much (Turtle Bay, Redemption, Sand Hill, Mythic Heights) that I already knew I also wanted to use it as a title, even before I started writing. In other cases I wrote the entire piece before ever giving a name to the town where my characters lived and worked. This happened with my story "Dentonville," which appeared in EQMM several years ago and wound up winning a Derringer Award. I wrote the story without a firm title in mind, finished the story, and only then--when I was still having trouble coming up with a suitable title--decided to call the town Dentonville, and thus gave it double duty as both a title and a setting.

Some novel/movie titles, of course, are the names of real towns and cities. Casablanca, Deadwood, Tombstone, Fargo, Nashville, Atlantic City, Rio BravoCentennial, Rome, Chicago, Philadelphia, London, Elizabethtown, Munich, Dallas, and so on. And some towns that you might think are fictional--like Little House on the Prairie's Walnut Grove or The Martian Chronicles' Green Bluff--are also real places. So that works, too. But . . .

We got trouble, right here in River City

. . . there's a certain freedom, I think, to giving your fictional characters a fictional home. For one thing, it lets you paint that town any way you like, and doesn't restrict you to the way real places are, or the way they look.

Besides, making up fictional town names is fun. Example: I'm currently reading Joe Lansdale's "Hap and Leonard" novels, in order. Hap Collins and Leonard Pine live near the imaginary town of LaBorde, Texas, but in the book I'm reading now, the fifth in the series, they're about to drive up to Hootie Hoot, Oklahoma, to help a friend of theirs get out of a jam. I doubt I'd find Hootie Hoot on Google Maps, and though I don't know for sure, I suspect Lansdale had a big smile on his face when he came up with that name. He might've laughed out loud.

Another upside to these made-up names is that if you're writing police procedurals, fictional towns have fictional police departments, which might be able to operate (within reason) a bit differently than one in a real city. The downside to dreaming up town-names instead of using real ones, of course, is that real-life cities contain real-life streets and parks and buildings and landmarks that might make your story more believable--and can also allow you (if you live there, or nearby) to "write what you know." So, as with most things in life, there are pluses and minuses to consider.

But don't consider them right now. For now, here's a list I've put together of fifty more fictional towns. Many of them you'll recognize right away, but I'm hoping some might surprise you, or maybe trigger a fond memory.



Bus stops on the make-believe map:

Maycomb, Alabama -- To Kill a Mockingbird
Haddonfield, Illinois -- Halloween
Bedford Falls -- It's a Wonderful Life
Hadleyville -- High Noon
Rock Ridge -- Blazing Saddles
Clanton, Mississippi -- A Time to Kill 
Radiator Springs -- Cars
Amity -- Jaws
Greenbow, Alabama -- Forrest Gump
West Egg, New York -- The Great Gatsby
Innisfree, Ireland -- The Quiet Man
The Capitol -- The Hunger Games
Bon Temps, Louisiana -- True Blood 
Arlen, Texas -- King of the Hill
North Fork -- The Rifleman
Santa Mira, California -- Invasion of the Body Snatchers
King's Landing -- Game of Thrones
Wolf City, Wyoming -- Cat Ballou
Perfection, Nevada -- Tremors
Mystic Falls, Virginia -- The Vampire Diaries
Dillon, Texas -- Friday Night Lights
Pawnee, Indiana -- Parks and Recreation
Cuesta Verde, California -- Poltergeist
Sparta, Mississippi -- In the Heat of the Night
Bayport -- the Hardy Boys series
River Heights -- the Nancy Drew series
Cloud City -- The Empire Strikes Back
Derry, Maine -- several Stephen King novels
Rivendell -- The Lord of the Rings
Avonlea -- Anne of Green Gables
New Caprica City -- Battlestar Galactica
Mayfield -- Leave It to Beaver
Charming, California -- Sons of Anarchy
Hogsmeade -- the Harry Potter series
Isola -- the 87th Precinct novels, Ed McBain
Kurtal, Switzerland -- Third Man on the Mountain
Collinsport, Maine -- Dark Shadows
Fairview -- Desperate Housewives
Orbit City -- The Jetsons
Pandora -- Avatar
Hooterville -- Petticoat Junction and Green Acres
Cicely, Alaska -- Northern Exposure
Hawkins, Indiana -- Stranger Things
Silver City, Mississippi -- The Ponder Heart
Sunnydale, California -- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Bedrock -- The Flintstones
Santa Teresa, California -- Sue Grafton's alphabet series
Aintry, Georgia -- Deliverance
Hill Valley, California -- Back to the Future

And my all-time favorite:

Bikini Bottom -- Spongebob Squarepants



Questions:

As a writer, what works for you? Do you usually create your own town/city names, or do you install your characters in real-life locations? As a reader, which do you prefer? Does it matter? Have you ever used the name of your fictional (or real) city as the title of your story or novel?

Or do you give a Hootie Hoot?

See you again in two weeks …

29 September 2018

Where's a Grammar Cop When You Need One?


by John M. Floyd



I doubt the Grammar Police are always pleased with me. I make a lot of mistakes, stylewise, in my fiction writing. Some of them are intentional, though--I love to splice commas, split infinitives, fragment sentences, etc.--and most of the others I try to catch and correct during the rewriting/editing phase, so overall I hope the final product wouldn't have made my late great high-school English teacher too unhappy. I also try to be lenient in forgiving some of the errors I see in the speech and writing of others.

But let's face it, there are some things about grammar, word usage, punctuation, etc., that we as educated adults really ought to know, and that we as writers are expected to know. (Newscasters are a whole different story. They should know the rules, too, but usually don't.)

After a lot of thought, a short nap, and three cinnamon rolls, I have put together a list of grammar issues that a lot of folks seem to find difficult. Some of the items that involve word choices are easy, and have a definite right-or-wrong answer. If you violate those, you probably deserve a visit by the Grammar Squad ("Hands up, bud, and step away from that keyboard!"). Other items are sort of iffy; you say tomayto and I say tomotto. On several of them I'm sure we'll disagree.

Even so . . . here's my list:



nauseated/nauseous -- They don't mean the same thing. If you're sick, you're nauseated. If you're making me sick, you're nauseous.

feeling badly about something -- It's impossible. You might feel bad about it, but feeling badly is no more correct than feeling goodly.

everyday/every day -- Everyday is a one-word adjective, and shouldn't be used any other way. "These are my everyday shoes--the ones I wear every day."

into/in to -- You get into your car and drive in to your office. Unless maybe you crash into your office. I still remember the news article I read about someone turning himself into police. A shapeshifter, maybe?

prostrate/prostate -- One's a position and one's a gland. "He's prostrate because he's having trouble with his prostate."

irregardless -- It's a useless word. It means regardless. Same goes for inflammable (which means flammable), utilize (which means use), and preplanning (which means planning).

alright/all right -- It's not all right to write alright. If there is such a word, there shouldn't be. Same thing goes for alot.

blond/blonde -- There's a lot of disagreement about this one. Yes, blond is masculine and blonde is feminine, but I prefer to use blonde as a noun and blond as an adjective. "The blonde had blond hair."

continuous/continual -- They're not the same. Continuous means uninterrupted and never stopping. Continual means often repeated, or frequently.

momentarily -- This means for a moment, as in "I was momentarily speechless." It does not mean soon. If your pilot announces, during takeoff, "We'll be in the air momentarily" . . . that's not good.

hone in -- You can't hone in on something. You home in on it, like a homing beacon.

principle/principal -- Educational principles are upheld by the principal (your "pal"). NOTE: As the person assigned to change the weekly motivational message on our high-school bulletin board, I once posted "It's not school we hate, it's the principal of the thing." I thought it was clever. The administration did not. (An unfortunately true story.)

with baited breath -- It's bated breath. Unless you've eaten a can of worms.

loath/loathe -- I'm loath to tell you how much I loathe seeing this misused.

peaked my interest -- Should be piqued.

slight of hand -- Should be sleight of hand.

If worse comes to worse -- Should be if worse comes to worst.

to all intensive purposes -- Should be to all intents and purposes.

wringer/ringer -- Why do half the writers I read say "He looked like he'd been through the ringer"? Those of us who remember old-timey washing machines prefer wringer.

wrack/rack -- Personally, it's nerve-wracking to see this written nerve-racking. But apparently either spelling is acceptable. Oh well.

comprise/compose -- Comprise means to include. Compose means to make up. According to The Elements of Style, "A zoo comprises animals, but animals compose a zoo."

convince/persuade -- Convince involves thought. Persuade involves action. "He convinced her she was wrong; he persuaded her to go home."

literally -- This means actually, not figuratively. If you say, "I literally jumped from the frying pan into the fire, " I wish you a speedy recovery.

restauranteur -- No such word. It should be restaurateur.

expresso -- Should be espresso.

1980's -- Should be 1980s.

less/fewer -- Yes, I know, we learned this as children. Even so, people get it wrong all the time. Fewer refers to units. Less refers to things that can't be counted. "I've been reading less fiction and buying fewer novels."

first come, first serve -- Should be first come, first served.

give them free reign -- Should be give them free rein.

I could care less -- I have no idea where this got started, and I couldn't care less.

compliment/complement -- To compliment is to praise. To complement is to enhance or add to. "He complimented her on the way her scarf complemented her outfit."

insure/ensure -- If money or a policy is not involved, use ensure.

affect/effect -- Affect is a verb. Effect is a noun.

data and media -- Since the form is plural, these nouns supposedly need verbs like are or were. BUT . . . when I worked for IBM, we burst into hysterical laughter anytime we heard someone say "The data are correct." I think collective nouns like this should be treated as singular, and use verbs like is or was. (And it's dayta, not datta.)


Gone With the Wind -- In a title, capitalize all words (even prepositions) that are longer than three letters.

a two bit operation -- This makes for slow, tedious reading. Hyphenating multi-word adjectives like two-bit (or multi-word) can increase the pace: one-horse town, easy-to-read book, three-alarm fire, elementary-school teacher, high-risk operation, holier-than-thou smirk. It can also prevent misunderstandings: I'm a short-story writer, not a short story writer. My five-year-old grandson is a short story writer.

a/an -- Pronunciation, not spelling, should determine which one is used: a uniform, a European vacation, an SASE, a historical site, an hour and a half.

the Internet -- Some capitalize it, some don't (especially when it's used as an adjective). I usually capitalize it.

From Noon Till Three -- The use of till (instead of until or 'til) is perfectly acceptable.

Texas/TX -- Unless you're addressing an envelope, don't use two-letter postal abbreviations for state names. Spell them out.

imply/infer -- A writer or speaker implies. A reader or listener infers.

hopefully -- This is an adverb describing hope. "The survivors listened hopefully for the sound of a search plane." It's incorrect to say "Hopefully, I'll finish this column by Saturday." (But I still say it. This is one of those rules that I happily ignore.)

i.e./e.g. -- I.e. means "that is" or "in other words." E.g. means "for example."

ironic -- A hurricane during your wedding reception isn't ironic. Getting run over by a Budweiser truck on your way to an AA meeting is ironic.

T-shirt/tee shirt -- The correct term is T-shirt. Hint: the shirt looks like a T when it's on a coat hanger.

writing time -- I prefer using a.m. and p.m., rather than AM and PM.

dialogue and fellowship -- These are nouns, not verbs. Don't say, unless you're a Baptist minister, "Come fellowship with us."

invite -- This is a verb, not a noun. Don't say, "I just received my invite to the party."

y'all/ya'll -- It's y'all. The apostrophe stands in for the missing ou in you all.

Miss Jane/Ms. Jane -- It's Miss Jane, and has nothing to do with whether she's married. The Miss along with the first name is a polite expression of familiarity, especially in the South, and is used when Ms. Doe or Mrs. Doe might sound too stiff and formal. Think "Miss Ellie" on Dallas.

italics/quotes -- Use italics for the names of novels, novellas, plays, books, movies, TV series, ships, aircraft, albums, court cases, works of art, newspapers, comic strips, and magazines. Use quotation marks for the names of poems, short stories, articles, chapters, TV episodes, and songs.

short-lived -- This deals more with speaking than writing, but short-lived should be pronounced with a long "i" as in "life," not with a short "i" as in "give." (I think James Lincoln Warren is the only person who's ever agreed with me on this, but he's a good ally to have.)

Seamus -- Another pronunciation thing. Everyone knows Sean is pronounced "Shawn," but only Irish private eyes seem to know that Seamus is pronounced "Shamus."

may/might -- May implies permission. Might implies choice. "Johnny may go to the movies" usually means his mom says it's okay. "Johnny might go to the movies" means he hasn't made up his mind.

historic/historical -- Historic means something that's famous or important. Historical just means something that happened in the past.


What's irritating is to carelessly misspeak or miswrite something even though you really know the right way to say or write it. Long ago, an English teacher (another true story) asked a question of one of my classmates, and got what she considered to be a not-specific-enough response. She looked at the offending student and said, too quickly, "I want a pacific answer." The guy replied, "Hawaii."

With regard to written mistakes, a magazine editor once told me she doesn't mind seeing an extra apostrophe in "its" or an apostrophe missing from "it's" in a manuscript--she just assumes the writer happened to type it wrong. But if she sees that same error two or three times in the same manuscript, that's a different matter. Suddenly the writer isn't careless--he's dumb. And the manuscript gets rejected.



Okay. Had enough of this? Me too. My interest may have been momentarily peaked, but I would literally be loathe to hone in on it everyday.

Irregardless, what are some of your pet peeves, about misuse of the written/spoken word? Does it make you feel badly? Continually nauseous?

Or could you care less?





15 September 2018

Life's Great Mysteries


by John M. Floyd



I recently attended an annual literary conference held on the grounds of the State Capitol Building here in Jackson, Mississippi. It was fun as always, but I'm especially glad I went because it wound up serving as my replacement for Bouchercon this year. (I underwent abdominal surgery earlier this summer, and though I'm recovering well, I opted at the last minute not to make the long road-trip to St. Petersburg. In doing so, I missed out on (1) participating in a short-story panel, (2) signing with fellow contributors to the B'con anthology, (3) receiving in person an award during the Opening Ceremonies, and (4) visiting with a legion of old friends--but, under the circumstances, I think it was the right decision. And I thank you again, Michael Bracken, for agreeing to stand in for me and accept my award in my absence.)


Instead of B'con, I ended up driving about a hundredth of that distance a few weeks ago to take part in our fourth annual Mississippi Book Festival. Almost ten thousand readers and writers braved the heat and humidity and intermittent thunderstorms to attend, and about three-fourths of those folks attended the more than forty panel discussions held throughout the day. Guests included Salman Rushdie, Karl Rove, Greg Iles, Richard Ford, and Jon Meacham.

I was on two panels, one of them "Southern Writers on Writing," because I'd contributed an essay to an anthology of the same name, and the other "Life's Great Mysteries," which I also moderated. It's this second panel I'd like to talk about today, because my three fellow panelists were indeed great mystery authors, and wrote three of the most interesting and entertaining crime novels I've read in a long time.

The first, Michael Kardos, is the author of Bluff (Mysterious Press), a thriller that Kardos has described as "a heist book disguised as a poker book disguised as a magic novel." It's the story of disgraced magician and card-trick prodigy Natalie Webb, who's been reduced to performing for local festivals and birthday parties and lives alone with her pigeons and stacks of overdue bills. She teams up with another cardsharp to try to win a fortune in a high-stakes poker game with a group of Jersey big-shots, an operation which of course doesn't go as planned. Kardos, who has also written two other novels, a short-story collection, and a textbook on writing, is an associate professor of English and the co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.

The second panelist was William Boyle, author of The Lonely Witness (Pegasus Books). Though not a sequel, this novel features as its protagonist a character introduced in Boyle's book Gravesend (which was also covered in one of Thomas Pluck's SleuthSayers columns)--and both stories are set in the depressing but fascinating Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn. A truly "literary" mystery, this novel features former convicts, wanna-be gangsters, almost-forgotten classmates, Italian and Russian mobsters, and working-class people struggling to survive. Boyle, whose work has been compared to that of Elmore Leonard, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane, is also the author of the novel Everything Is Broken and the short-story collection Death Don't Have No Mercy. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

The third panelist, Stephen Mack Jones, discussed his novel August Snow (Soho Crime), which is the first in a series featuring Snow as an ex-Detroit police officer who--after being ushered out of the force for blowing the whistle on department corruption--returns to Detroit to try to prove his worth as a member of the community. The author has described this book as a novel of second chances--for Snow, for some of his drug-dealer acquaintances, and ultimately for the battered and crumbling neighborhoods of his hometown. A Detroit native himself, Stephen Mack Jones is a poet and a playwright, and was awarded the prestigious Hammett Prize by the International Associaton of Crime Writers. His work has also been nominated for the Shamus Award, the Nero Award, and the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel.


Two of these three novelists--Mike Kardos and Bill Boyle--I already knew; Stephen Mack Jones I'd not met before. All three made my moderating job easy and kept the audience interested throughout.

I encourage you to try their books--you won't be disappointed.