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

05 June 2021

Going to Work in Shorts



Okay, not that kind of shorts.

I write, and have written, lots of different things. Articles, poems, essays, technical manuals, even some unpublished/unproduced novels and screenplays. But what I most like to write are short stories. Shorts of all lengths, as long as they're under 20,000 words: flash, short, vignette, novelette, novella, whatever. My published stories have run between 26 words and 18K words, so there's a lot of leeway. (And here's one of those for-what-it's-worth newsflashes: I've made far more money from the under-1000 word stories than from the longer ones. What was that song lyric from the '60s? "I like short shorts.")

The thing is, I'm not alone in choosing to write short instead of long. I'm sure I'm missing someone here, but I know that my friends R.T. Lawton, Barb Goffman, Joseph S. Walker, Michael Bracken, Sandra Murphy, Josh Pachter, Herschel Cozine, Art Taylor, Eve Fisher, Robert Lopresti, and Stephen D. Rogers write shorts exclusively, at least for now and for the immediate future. I think I can speak for all of them in saying we don't feel we're missing out on anything by focusing on short stories instead of novels. For me, they're just more fun to write.

Since I know "it's more fun" probably doesn't sound like a good enough reason by itself--though it actually is--here are some other things that I believe are advantages to writing short fiction:


1. A sense of completion. I can usually dream up, write, edit, and finish a short story in a matter of a few days, certainly no more than a couple of weeks. That allows me to concentrate on a single plot and a specific group of characters for a fairly short while, and then I'm done with that plot and those people and that setting. I can write THE END, and the next day I can start working on an entirely different story, maybe even in a different genre. That flexibility gives me a great feeling of freedom and satisfaction.

2. Time savings. Most novels take several months and sometimes several years to finish. Most short stories take several weeks at the most. And although I suppose this isn't exactly positive thinking, if your novel turns out to be a real stinker, you might've just wasted a LOT of time. If your short story turns out smelling like a pig sty, you've only wasted a few days or weeks. Besides, I have a tendency to get bored with my characters if I live with them too long--but for a week or two we get along just fine.

3. Resalability. Yes, I know that's not a real word--but maybe it should be. My point is, short stories, unlike novels, can be sold over and over again, so long as the market is receptive to previously published work. Reprints seldom pay as much as original stories, but sometimes they do, and besides, who's complaining?--these are stories that have already been written and published once, and maybe many times, so the work's already done. (NOTE: One instance where reprints almost always pay well is when they're selected for annual best-of anthologies. If that's not icing on the cake, I don't know what is.)

4. Practice. Writing with the tightness and economy of language required for a short story is great experience and training for other kinds of writing, whether it's fiction or non-. Also, a resume of a lot of short stories published in respected magazines or anthologies can possibly help you to later find, if that's what you want, an agent or a publisher or other writing opportunities.

5. No agent needed. If you already have a literary agent for longer work, he or she can sometimes be handy in finding short-story markets as well, and is especially helpful in the case of foreign or film deals. But if you don't already have an agent, no worries. You don't really need one, for short stories. They probably won't want to sign you anyway, if you're writing shorts exclusively.


Another thing about short stories, though I'm not sure it would qualify as an advantage, is that the middle of a short story is, well, short. Middles, you see, are hard for me. As an outliner, I like beginnings and endings--I think they're fun to plan and write. Middles, not so much. And loooooooong middles, which is always the case with a novel, are even less fun. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I find short stories more manageable and therefore easier and more enjoyable to write, from start to finish. 

NOTE: This probably goes without saying, but I happen to enjoy reading novels, and I suspect that all the short-story folks I listed above do, too. I also admire the talent it takes to write good novels. I've just found shorts to be a better fit for me. 

Now, what's the downside of writing only short stories? I can think of only one: as a short-story writer you will probably not become famous or make a zillion bucks from your writing. But here's another newsflash: neither will most novelists.

The truth is, we write because we want to, or--as I heard someone say once--because we can't not write. I think it's great fun to create these characters and situations out of thin air and to fiddle around with them until they're polished and logical and ready to send out into the world. If I'm then fortunate enough for an editor and eventual readers to like the story also--well, so much the better. And to know that I can repeat that process and that thrill again and again and again . . . yes, that's fun.

Who wouldn't want to go to work every day in shorts? It just feels good.




15 May 2021

The Road to Writing "The Road to Bellville"


One of the things I worry about during the planning stage, before sitting down and starting to write a story, is deciding which character can best tell the story.

My V of POV

At the risk of rehashing things all of us already know, let me say something about Point of View in fiction. I've always felt that the viewpoint character should be the person who's most affected by what happens in the story. This isn't necessarily the title character or even the most visible or memorable character. The person who tells the story in To Kill a Mockingbird is Scout, not Atticus. In Shane, it's the little boy. In The Great Gatsby, it's Nick Carraway. In the Sherlock Holmes tales, it's (almost always) Watson. Ideally, it's the character who learns the most from the story's outcome.

In stories (and novels and movies) where there's more than one POV character, the writer has to consider some other things too, like who'll be in the best position to build suspense and/or make the story "flow" well. This is something I ran into in my story "The Road to Bellville," in the current (Spring 2021) issue of Strand Magazine. It's a 6200-word mystery about a rural female sheriff in Florida who's transporting a young female prisoner from one jail to another, and the unexpected things they run into when they make a stop at a roadside cafe on the way. It's also a story of loyalty, deception, escape, pursuit, betrayal, courage, sacrifice, perseverance, redemption, and plenty of lowdown criminal activity.

Characters. plot, etc.

I knew, when I first started thinking about this story, that I wanted to make the sheriff the viewpoint character. She was the one in the best place to tell the story, and would also (as required) be affected the most by what happened. But the more I got into the plot, I realized I needed a multiple-viewpoint story rather than single. That automatically meant the narrative would have to be third-person rather than first-, but that was okay because third-person is a little more comfortable for me anyway if the POV character's not a male. The main thing was, I needed the extra point of view in order to describe some offscreen action that the sheriff wouldn't be in a position to see, and also to generate the tension and misdirection I needed in the middle of the plot. FYI, scenes #1 and #2 and scenes #4 and #5 in this story are from the viewpoint of the protagonist, and the middle scene is from the POV of an antagonist (the third one of the main characters).  Symmetrical, I guess, but only because it just happened to work out that way.

Note 1: I've not yet received my copy of the current Strand so I've not yet seen the published version of this story. What I've told you is based on the manuscript I submitted. (Andrew, I hope you haven't changed anything in printing the story.)

Note 2: The name of the fictional Bellville Correctional Facility for Women probably came from my recent re-watching of the movie The Road to Wellville, whose plot and setting and characters bear no resemblance at all to this story. I just liked the sound of the title.

Questions for the class. Anyone? Anyone?

If you're a writer, what are some of the things you consider when you choose the POV through which you tell a story? Which kinds of stories do you usually write in first-person and which in third? Does it matter? How often, and why, do you choose to use multiple POVs? (I've heard some writers say you should never use multiple viewpoints in a short story, which is simply not true.) How do you go about selecting your viewpoint characters? Is the process obvious, or does it require a lot of consideration? And do you ever start writing the story and then change your mind about POV in midstream and have to start over? I sometimes do, even though I call myself a planner and not a pantser.

A final word. If you happen to see and read the story I've been talking about, I hope you'll like it—and I hope these issues I puzzled over during its creation aren't noticeable.

Let me know.

01 May 2021

Stagecoaches and Starships


  

We talk a lot at this blog about mystery/crime markets and which kinds of stores might fit which publications. I especially enjoyed Joseph D'Agnese's column the other day about using well-known figures from history in his mysteries, and I think it's cool that one of those stories of his is in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Also, I liked Barb Goffman's recent post about a story based on a favorite song of hers, for Josh Patchter's new anthology Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel. The truth is, knowing which magazines/anthologies to aim for with stories of certain content can be a task in itself.

That was one of the things that worried me a bit when I submitted a Western story, "The Donovan Gang," to AHMM eleven months ago. I'd read several Westerns published there over the years, but not many, so I remember thinking that I was taking a chance in sending them one. Be aware, this isn't a contemporary story set in the West, like Hud or No Country for Old Men or Hell or High Water. This is a story set in southeast Arizona in the spring of 1907, with bandits and saloons and stagecoaches and rattlesnakes and ambushes, much like the kind of 1870s story I published last month in the March/April 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. But (also like the Post story) I had researched it quite a bit, and it included enough real people and towns and other locations that I thought it might be able to sneak its way into the more respectable category of historical fiction, which does seem to be acceptable at most mystery markets. You say tomayto, I say tomahto.  Even so, I figured it was a long shot.

That's why I was all the more pleased to find out, a few days ago, that AHMM has accepted that story for publication. It probably won't be until 2022 that it finally sees the light of day, since I have three others queued up there also, in their accepted-but-awaiting-publication bin. Still, it's something to look forward to. 

There's another short story I have out to AHMM at the moment that I'm concerned about also, because it's a crime story with a science fiction element. Like Westerns, that kind of cross-genre story seldom shows up in AH--although one of my fantasy stories did appear there several years ago. Once again, if you rely at all on Otto Penzler's oft-quoted definition of mystery fiction, any story that has a crime central to its plot can be considered a mystery regardless of what other genres might be stirred into the mix. At least in terms of qualifying for publication in mystery markets. So I couldn't resist giving it a try.

 

In case anyone's interested, the following is my fairly unimpressive track record, with regard to cross-genre stories at some of the current mystery publications:

AHMM: one fantasy and one Western (upcoming)

EQMM: no cross-genre stories

Strand Magazine: no cross-genre stories

Black Cat Mystery Magazine: two Westerns

Mystery Weekly: one Western, one SF, one fantasy

Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine: no cross-genre stories

And several others--Tough, Shotgun Honey, Mysterical-E, etc.--also have not accepted any cross-genre stories. At least from me.


Four things I should note, here:

1. The above unscientific study should not be taken as an indicator of what kinds of stories these magazines will publish. It's just an indicator of what they've published that I've written.

2. I haven't considered humor or romance in this market list or in the overall cross-genre discussion, only because regular mystery/crime stories often include humor and/or romance elements anyway. You know what I mean.

3. My two mystery/Westerns at BCMM were before Michael Bracken took over as editor. I'm not saying Michael wouldn't consider one--but I am saying the Westerns I published there were before his reign.

4. If ever in doubt about this kind of thing, it never hurts to ask the editor beforehand whether he/she would be receptive to cross-genre elements in a submission.

So far I haven't mentioned anthologies, but it's probably worth saying that mystery/crime anthologies are indeed sometimes open to cross-genre submissions. One of my stories chosen for Best American Mystery Stories a few years ago was a Western, about a private investigator in the Old West (which first appeared in Paul Marks' and Andy McAleer's anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea).


What are your views on trying cross-genre stories at the usual mystery markets? Have any of you done that? Any successes? Which publications have you found to be most receptive to stories with Western/SF/fantasy/horror elements?


Okay, time to sign off. I see that Holmes has put on his cowboy boots and is strapping himself into his jetpack, so he'll need my help.

A writer's work is never done.


P.S. (or maybe BSP.S.): April was a good month, publicationwise. I had a story in Strand Magazine (Spring issue, #63), a story in Woman's World (May 3 issue, released on April 22), a story in Only the Good Die Young (Untreed Reads), a story in Jukes & Tonks (Down & Out Books), a story in Behind Closed Doors (Red Penguin Books), a story in Black Cat Mystery & SF Ebook Club (Wildside Press), two poems in the anthology Moving Images: Poetry Inspired by Film (Bowker Publishing), and six of my WW stories in the new Mini-Mysteries Digest (Bauer Media Group). All except the poems were mysteries. 

 

P.P.S. I've not seen the list yet, but congratulations to all the 2021 Derringer winners!



17 April 2021

Choices and Changes


  

The other day, in a rare fit of office-cleaning, I found an old box of magazines containing my earliest published short stories--this was back in the mid- to late 1990s. Most of those stories, believe it or not, I still like. A few of them, not so much. The point is, the more I sorted through those publications, the more I thought about writing-related things I used to do that I don't do now, and vice versa.

Not that it matters, here are ten things that I noticed and/or remembered:


1. My stories used to be shorter. There were some long ones, too--one of my earliest, a 10,000-word story called "Midnight," remains one of my favorites--but a lot of my stories back then were between maybe 1000 and 4000 words. I've found that most of them now run between 3000 and 8000 or so, and I suspect one reason is that my recent plots seem a little more involved and complex than they used to be.

2. I rarely used first-person POV. I'm not sure why I didn't, because I'm fairly pleased with the way those few first-person stories turned out--but the fact is, for most of my early stories I used either (1) third-person limited (which is, admittedly, almost the same as first-person), (2) third-person multiple (especially when that was needed to build suspense), or, less often, (3) third-person detached (if I didn't want to get into any one person's thoughts, maybe for a surprise ending). These days I probably still use third more than first, but I do write a lot of first-person stories now, and I've found I enjoy it.

3. I didn't write "series" stories. At least not until after I'd been spinning tales for five or six years. I now write seven different series (which include more than 200 stories so far), and I've found them to be both fun and profitable. I still write far more standalones than series installments, but I think it's convenient to always have the possibility of using some well-known (at least to me) characters and settings, if they fit.

4. I wrote stories with no market in mind and only then tried to find places to submit them. Now I find myself writing more stories targeted for particular markets. This is something I think most writers do, as time passes and as they acquire more writing experience. And this kind of tailored writing doesn't make the stories any less fun to create.

5. I didn't write many stories for anthologies. Back then it was mostly magazines. One reason I write a lot for anthologies now is that I've been fortunate enough to get more antho invitations these past few years, and another is that I believe there are just more of those antho markets out there than before.

6. My settings were rarely "local." I wrote more stories set in other states or countries or far-flung fictional locations. Now, a bigger percentage of my stores are set here in the southeastern U.S. Again, I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I now write a lot of series stories, most of which have southern settings, maybe it's because I don't travel the world the way I used to, and maybe it's because I'm now too lazy to want to do a lot of research. Speaking of research, I almost never wrote historical mysteries or period pieces in my early publishing years, but I now find that I enjoy writing those as well. 

7. I used way too many semicolons. Sometimes one or more per page, and for fiction that might be too many. I don't think I used any that were grammatically incorrect, but they just popped up too often. These days I try not to use semicolons unless I think they're perfect for what's being written, and even then it's hard to find them in the toolbox. I now substitute more dashes and periods.

8. I submitted my stories very soon after finishing them--something I always told my writing students not to do. These days I try to let those completed stories sit there and cool off for a few days or maybe even weeks, and by doing so I hope I've given myself time to catch a few more errors that I would've otherwise missed. (I sometimes wonder, though, if that helps. I've found (too late) several mistakes in some of my recently published stories, mostly typos or inconsistency errors, that even managed to get past the editors and into print. But I try hard to avoid those careless mistakes.)

9. I wrote more twist-ending stories. I still like plot reversals in a story, whether at the end or in the middle, or both. But it doesn't bother me anymore if I don't include a "grabber" right at the very end.

10. I never typed stories straight into the computer. When I first started writing for publication--I used a PC then, but it was an early version, and huge--I always wrote my stories first in longhand and only later transcribed them into files on a diskette or my hard drive (a process that I sometimes called a second draft). Now I just type them in and rewrite onscreen, and when they're finished I submit them electronically. I seldom print copies of my stories at all anymore.


NOTE: I've noticed that some things about my writing have NOT changed. I still create more mystery/crime stories than anything else, I never use a pseudonym, I never write in present tense, I usually start with the plot, I try to put at least some humor into every story, I use a mix of real and fictional locations for my settings, I map my stories out in my head before I start writing, and I seldom "edit as I go"--I write a fast first draft instead and then go back and rewrite. And so forth.


The question is, do these things that I do differently mean I've learned something--or anything--about writing over the past 25 years? Have I gotten better at it? I honestly don't know. All it might mean is that I now just do some things differently. What about you? Is your process and content noticeably different now, from when you began? If so, how?


Oh. Almost forgot. The main thing that's stayed the same: I love fiction writing, absolutely love it, and I suspect I always will.


Thanks for reading my stories.



03 April 2021

From Alice to Zorro



As writers, we often talk about titles and how important they are to our stories and novels. I try hard to pick exactly the right title for what I create--all writers do--and I've occasionally used the name of a character in the title, or as the title, of a story. Sometimes that's intentional from the get-go, and sometimes it's something I decide on during the writing process.

For anyone who's interested (listen up, both of you) here are some of those character-name titles to stories that I've published or that have been accepted and are upcoming:

"The Daisy Nelson Case," "Rhonda and Clyde," "Annabelle," "The Early Death of Pinto Bishop," "What Luke Pennymore Saw," "The Moon and Marcie Wade," "Saving Mrs. Hapwell," "Charlotte in Charge," "A Message for Private Kirby," "The Pullman Case," "Frankie," "Punch and Judy," "Diamond Jim," "Sweet Caroline," "Driving Miss Lacey," "Billy the Kid," "Purple Martin," "Cash and Carrie," "The Head Fred," "Jack of All Trades," "Mugging Mrs. Jones," "Andy Get Your Gun," "Lewis and Clark," "Saving Grace," "What Happened to Lizzie Martin?," "Ex Benedict," "Byrd and Ernie," "Stealing Honey," "Remembering Tally," "On the Road with Mary Jo," "Melon CollieBaby," "Take the Money and Ron," "The Barlow Boys," "Mustang Sally," "The Real McCoy," "Debbie and Bernie and Belle," "Burying Oliver," etc.


and the following is a list of some of my story titles that are character-name possessives. (In going through my records, I was surprised to find how many times I've done that.)

"Murphy's Lawyer," "Lindy's Luck," "Molly's Plan," "Bennigan's Key," "Henry's Ford," "Denny's Mountain," "Margaret's Hero," "Clara's Helper," "Lucian's Cadillac," "Newton's Law," "Della's Cellar," "Lucy's Gold," "Eddie's Motel," "Hartmann's Case," "Merrill's Run," "Dooley's Code," "Angela's Taxi," "Rosie's Choice," "Amos' Last Words," Dawson's Curse," Button's and Bo's," "An Hour at Finley's," "Mattie's Caddie," "Walker's Hollow," "Charlie's War," "Rachel's Place," "Everybody Comes to Lucille's," "Hildy's Fortune." 


But, as Leslie Nielsen said in Airplane, that's not important right now. (And don't call me Shirley.) What is important, at least in today's column, is TV shows that used character names as their titles.

I'll build up a little to the finale. First, TV series titles that are full (two-word) names. Some of these bring back good memories for me:

Ally McBeal, Annie Oakley, Barbaby Jones, Barney Miller, Bat Masterson, Ben Casey, Casey Jones, Dan August, Daniel Boone, Ellery Queen, Hec Ramsey, Johnny Ringo, Lou Grant, Shotgun Slade, Sky King, Lizzie McGuire, Michael Shayne, Mike Hammer, Murphy Brown, Nash Bridges, Perry Mason, Peter Gunn, Ray Donovan, Robin Hood, Stoney Burke, Temple Houston, Veronica Mars, Yancy Derringer.


Next are character-name titles that apparently required a little explanation afterward:

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.; Magnum, P.I.; Marcus Welby, M.D.; O'Hara, U.S. Treasury; Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law; Quincy, M.E.; Richard Diamond, Private Detective; Trapper John, M.D.; Walker, Texas Ranger; Xena: Warrior Princess.


Next, titles that are combinations of names. The ones I could recall were either comedies or crime/drama series, and--here's what's interesting--the comedies always used first names and the dramas used last names. Here are a few: 

Cagney & Lacey, Dharma & Greg, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, Ozzie & Harriet, Rizzoli & Isles, Simon & Simon, Starsky & Hutch, Will & Grace.


And finally (drumroll . . .), one-word character titles. The more I thought about it, the more of them I remembered, and I was stunned at how many of those successful shows there were (and are). Remember these TV series?


Alice -- Linda Lavin starred as Alice Hyatt, a waitress at an Arizona diner. Based on the 1970s movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. 

Angie -- Angie Falco (Donna Pescow) was a blue-collar coffeeshop waitress in love with a pediatrician.

Banacek -- Thomas Banacek (George Peppard) was a freelance insurance investigator in Boston. 

Baretta -- Tony Baretta (Robert Blake) was a police detective who lived with his cockatoo (Fred).

Batman -- Bruce Wayne/Batman (Adam West). BAM! SPLAT!

Becker -- Dr. John Becker (Ted Danson) was a Bronx physician with little patience for his patients. 

Benson -- Benson DuBois (Robert Guillaume) was the head butler for a widowed governor. A spinoff of the series Soap.

Bosch -- Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) was an LAPD detective from the novels of Michael Connelly.

Bronco -- Bronco Layne (Ty Hardin) was a Civil War-vet drifter who often ran into famous historical figures.

Castle -- Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) was a mystery novelist who teamed up with an NYPD homicide detective to solve crimes.

Cannon -- Frank Cannon (William Conrad) was a private eye and former LAPD cop.

Cheyenne -- Cheyenne Bodie (Clint Walker) was a gentle-giant cowboy with a great theme song.

Coach -- Hayden Fox (Craig T. Nelson) was head coach of a Minnesota college football team. (This was NOT a spinoff from Cheers.)

Colombo -- Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) was a rumpled and cigar-smoking LAPD homicide detective who always wanted to know "just one more thing."

Cybill -- Cybill Sheridan (Cybill Shepherd) was a struggling/aspiring actress in her forties.

Delvecchio -- Dominick Delvecchio (Judd Hirsch) was yet another LAPD detective, studying to be a lawyer.

Destry -- Tom Destry (John Gavin) was a Western lawman in a series inspired by the James Stewart movie Destry Rides Again.

Dexter -- Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) was a bloodspatter analyst for a fictional Miami police unit.

Eischied -- Earl Eischied (Joe Don Baker) was a tough, southern NYPD Chief of Detectives. Inspired by the EXCELLENT miniseries To Kill a Cop.

Felicity -- Felicity Porter (Keri Russell) was a student at a fictional New York college.

Fish -- Phil Fish (Abe Vigoda) was an NYPD detective. Inspired by the series Barney Miller.

Flo -- Florence Castleberry (Polly Holliday) was a former waitress and proprietor of a roadhouse in Fort Worth. A spinoff from the series Alice.

Frasier -- Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) was a Seattle psychiatrist who probably needed one of his own. A spinoff from Cheers, and one of the best sitcoms ever filmed.

Galavant -- Sir Gary Galavant (Joshua Sasse) was a knight in a musical fantasy comedy series that ran for two seasons.

Gidget -- Frances "Gidget" Lawrence (Sally Field) was a surfing, boy-crazy teenager in Southern California.

Griff -- Wade Griffin (Lorne Greene) was a Los Angeles P.I. who looked suspiciously like Ben Cartwright.

Grindl -- Grindl (Imogene Coca) was a maid for a temporary employment agency.

Hannibal -- Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelson) was a forensic psychiatrist who sometimes ate his patients, and others. Based on Thomas Harris's novels.

Hawk -- John Hawk (Burt Reynolds) was a Native American detective for New York City's District Attorney's office.

Hazel -- Hazel Burke (Shirley Booth) was a live-in maid for the Baxter family. 

Hennesey -- Charles "Chick" Hennesey (Jackie Cooper) was a Navy physician stationed in San Diego.

Hondo -- Hondo Lane (Ralph Taeger) was a former Confederate officer who moved west, and didn't last long on TV. Inspired by the John Wayne movie of the same name.

House -- Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) was an offbeat physician at a fictional Princeton, New Jersey, hospital.


Hunter -- Sgt. Rick Hunter (Fred Dryer) was a shrewd Dirty Harry-like LAPD homicide cop. 

Ironside -- Robert T. Ironside (Raymond Burr) was a wheelchair-bound Chief of Police in San Francisco.

Joey -- Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) was a struggling, and eventually famous, actor in L.A. A spinoff from Friends.

Julia --  Julia Baker (Diahann Carroll) was a nurse in a doctor's office at an aerospace company.

Kojak -- Theo Kojak (Telly Savalas) was an NYPD detective fond of Tootsie Roll Pops.

Lancer --  Murdoch Lancer (Andrew Duggan) was an Old West rancher with two sons. More memorable is probably Johnny Madrid Lancer (James Stacy), one of the sons.

Longmire -- Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) was the sheriff of a fictional county in modern-day Wyoming. Based on the novels of Craig Johnson.

Longstreet -- Mike Longstreet (James Franciscus) was a blind insurance investigator in New Orleans.

Lucifer --  Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) was the Devil, who relocated from hell to L.A. to run a nightclub and (get this) do consulting work for the LAPD.

Luther -- John Luther (Idris Elba) was a Detective Chief Inspector in London.

MacGyver -- Angus MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) was an ingenious and inventive government agent and troubleshooter.

Madigan -- Dan Madigan (Richard Widmark) was a veteran police sergeant in New York. Based on the movie of the same name.

Mannix -- Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) was a corporate detective, and later private detective, based in L.A. 

Markham -- Roy Markham (Ray Milland) was a globetrotting private eye and attorney based in New York.

Marple -- Miss Jane Marple (Geraldine McEwan and, later, Julia McKenzie) was an elderly crimesolving spinster in the village of St. Mary Mead. Inspired by the Agatha Christie novels. 

Matlock -- Ben Matlock (Andy Griffith) was a folksy attorney and sort of a southern version of Perry Mason.

Maude -- Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) was a brash, outspoken woman who lived with her husband in Westchester County, New York.

Maverick -- Bret Maverick (James Garner) was a traveling and carefree gambler in the Old West.

McCloud -- Sam McCloud (Dennis Weaver) was a deputy marshal from Taos, New Mexico, on loan to the NYPD. Inspired by the Clint Eastwood movie Coogan's Bluff.

Monk -- Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) was a private detective and consultant who struggled with OCD.

Newhart -- Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) was an innkeeper in a small Vermont town. This series's final scene of its final episode is probably the best and most surprising I've ever watched.  

Nikita -- Nikita Mears (Maggie Q) was an escapee from a secret government organization who was determined to destroy it. Based on the French movie Le Femme Nikita

Petrocelli -- Tony Petrocelli (Barry Newman) was an Italian-American lawyer in the desert Southwest.

Phyllis -- Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman) was a quirky widow who moved to San Francisco with her daughter. A spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Poirot -- Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) was a British detective and former Belgian policeman based in London. Inspired by the Agatha Christie novels.

Reba -- Reba Nell Hart (Reba McEntire) was a single mother living in Houston, Texas.

Rhoda -- Rhoda Morganstern (Valerie Harper) was a young woman who moved from Minneapolis to New York City. Another spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Roseanne -- Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) was the wife and mother in a working-class family in Illinois.

Seinfeld -- Jerry Seinfeld was a fictional version of himself, in an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Serpico -- Frank Serpico (David Birney) was an NYPD detective who fought police corruption. Based on the Al Pacino movie of the same name.

Shaft -- John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) was a classy, suave New York City detective whose series ran for only a few episodes. Based on the far more successful movie.

Shane -- Shane (David Carradine) was a former gunfighter who worked as a hired hand for a rancher's widow and her son. Like Hondo, this Western series was based on a movie of the same name.

Sherlock -- Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) was . . . well, you know who he was. Based on the Conan Doyle novels.

Sugarfoot -- Tom "Sugarfoot" Brewster (Will Hutchings) was an Easterner who came west to become a lawyer.

Tarzan -- Tarzan (Ron Ely) was the well-educated Englishman who liked to run through the jungle and yodel.

Tenafly -- Harry Tenafly (James McEachin) was a former cop who left the force to become a detective for a private corporation, and was unusual in that he was a happy, middle-class family man.

Toma -- Dave Toma (Tony Musante) was a real-life detective and master of disguise.

Topper -- Cosmo Topper (Leo G. Carroll) was an L.A. bank vice-president who lived in a home occupied by the ghosts of its former residents.

Webster -- Webster Long (Emmanuel Lewis) was a five-year-old African American orphan adopted by a former NFL star and his wife. 

Zorro -- Don Diego de la Vega/Zorro (Guy Williams) was the black-caped crusader who fought the corrupt local military in 1820s California.

I suppose the lesson here, if there is one, is that if you create a fictional series, certainly for TV, maybe those one-word-character titles are the way to go. Even Lassie and Flipper and Fury, one-word non-human character titles, worked pretty well. I also found it interesting that almost half of the titles in this section were of mystery/crime shows.

I'm well aware that I've left out a lot of titles. Feel free to let me know about them, in the comments section--and about any character-name story or novel titles of your own. Do you think doing this is a good practice, or sort of an easy way to solve the choosing-a-title problem? 


Anyhow, that's that. See you in two weeks.



20 March 2021

Hitched and Posted


  


Lately some of my SleuthSayers colleagues have been discussing their recent short stories and the way they were written--either the ideas that spawned them or the genres involved or the styles used, etc.--and I've found every one of those posts fun to read. Like novels, every story is different, to both the writer and the reader, and behind-the-scenes glimpses can be interesting.

At the moment I have stories in the current issues of (I think) six magazines, but I'll talk about two of the most recent: "Friends and Neighbors" in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and "Fool's Gold" in The Saturday Evening Post.

"Friends and Neighbors" (March/April 2021 issue) is my 21st story in AHMM, and the fifth installment of a series I've been writing about Sheriff Raymond Kirk Douglas and his ex-lawyer girlfriend Jennifer Parker. In this one, which is about 3300 words, Ray is struggling with two different mysteries--one at the request of an old friend who's a police officer in another town and one involving Jennifer and a cousin who's trying to cheat her out of part of an inheritance from a recently-deceased aunt. There are no murders in this particular story, but plenty of misdeeds: thefts, break-ins, forgeries, impersonations, lies, betrayals, etc. (Welcome to small towns and dealing with relatives.)

A lot of this story is dialogue, which is always a treat for me as a writer, and it has a fairly lighthearted mood. And, like the other stories in this series, it's set in the contemporary south and written in first-person, from the viewpoint of the sheriff. A quick note, here: I write in several different genres and time periods and most often write in third-person POV (either single or multiple). Anytime I choose to use first-person, the story is usually present-day and the viewpoint character is a male. I'm not saying I would never write a first-person story that's set in the distant past and has a female protagonist, but I don't think I would feel as comfortable and confident if I did. I'm not sure I could relate closely enough to, say, a princess in medieval England to try to tell a story in only her voice. What do some of you think about that issue? Is it even an issue?

One thing I've been experimenting with, in the Ray Douglas series, is occasionally incorporating multiple mysteries into one story. Here's how that's going, so far:


Story #1 of the series, "Trail's End" (AHMM, July/Aug 2017), involves only one plot: trying to solve a murder with four different suspects. Three of them are circus performers, which might say something about my mental state when I dreamed up the story.

Story #2, "Scavenger Hunt" (AHMM, Jan/Feb 2018), is the first to include more than one mystery. This story includes three: a con-game attempt that starts things off, a department-store robbery in the middle, and a murder at the end.

Story #3, "Quarterback Sneak" (AHMM, Mar/Apr 2020), features one mystery, involving a murder disguised as a drowning and a unique way of hiding the victim's body.

Story #4, "The Daisy Nelson Case" (Down & Out: the Magazine, Dec 2020), also has only one plot--a locked-room murder mystery--but is still one of the longer stories in the series.

Story #5, "Friends and Neighbors" (AHMM, Mar/Apr 2021), includes two different mysteries, as discussed above.

Story #6, "Going the Distance" (accepted by AHMM but no pub date yet), involves only one mystery: a dead body discovered on a snowy highway.

Story #7, "The Dollhouse" (accepted by AHMM but no pub date yet), has two mysteries: a school bullying/intimidation incident and the murder of a local lawyer.

Story #8, "The POD Squad" (submitted to AHMM but no verdict yet), features three mysteries: a jewelry-store heist, the theft of a cellphone at a science fair, and a home robbery/assault.


My point is, I've had fair success lately with blending several different cases, puzzles, and plotlines into the same story, at least now and then, and making them somehow tie together. It's sort of a juggling act, but it feels right. Have any of you tried doing this?

Another story out right now is "Fool's Gold," in the March/April 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The print edition of the Post publishes six short stories a year, one in each bimonthly issue. This is my ninth story there, seven of which have been in the mystery/crime genre. (With the exception of some strictly literary magazines, I think most publications--whether they say so or not--are receptive to stories with some mystery/suspense elements. How could anyone not like those, right?)

"Fool's Gold" is a mystery only if you apply Otto Penzler's generous definition, which says (and I'm paraphrasing) that any story with a crime central to its plot can be categorized as a mystery. Truthfully, this story is more of a Western. I could say that it's historical crime fiction, which would also be true, but let's be honest: it's a story set in the Dakota Territory in the late 1870s with gunmen and horses and saloon girls and prospectors. And if a story looks like a Western and quacks like a Western, that's probably what it is.

I will also say this, though. It's one of my favorite stories ever, and one that I had a great time writing.

As for specifics, "Fool's Gold" is a standalone story of about 3800 words, it includes (again) a great deal of dialogue, and it's told in third-person limited. Part of the fun, for me, was that one of the main characters and four or five off-screen characters are real historical figures who lived in that place at that time. Fitting those people into the story was enjoyable as well as challenging, and I suspect that might've been one of the things that helped the Post decide to buy it. Maybe "historical fiction" or "period piece" was in their minds at the time, rather than "Western."

Other stories I have in current issues of magazines are "The Big Picture" in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, "Nobody's Business" in Strand Magazine, "The Daisy Nelson Case" in Down & Out, and "Twenty Minutes in Riverdale" in Pulp Modern. All these are mysteries, with others of several different genres coming up in Mystery Weekly, AHMM, St. Anthony Messenger, the Strand, Woman's World, BCMM, Sherlock Holmes MM, Hoosier Noir, and others. I also have a story, "Tourist Trap," that went up this week at Pulp Modern Flash. If you happen to come across any of these, either sooner or later, I hope you like them.

Please let me know, in the comments, if you have any stories in current or upcoming publications, and where I and our readers might look for them. And how about non-mystery markets like SF, horror, fantasy, romance, Western, and literary? Do any of you write for those, or are you considering it? 

Whatever kinds of tales you're creating and wherever they appear, congratulations to all who are writing, submitting, and publishing, and thanks to those who are reading. Keep it up!

I hope you're having as much fun as I am.