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

06 April 2024

Ups and Downs


All of us writers, if we write a lot, experience hills and valleys in terms of acceptances, publications, recognition, etc. Sometimes there are long dry spells, and at other times (metaphors be with you!), when it rains it pours.

This past week was a flood. I had six short stories, each very different from the others, published within four days, and on top of that, I found that one of my other stories was nominated for an award. All this was fun and surprising and humbling, but since there's usually some kind of balance in the universe, that probably also means no more pats on the head for me for a while.

For now, though, I'm using my momentary good fortune (flash flood?) to rescue me from the agony of figuring out what to post here at SleuthSayers today.

My recent literary cloudburst began with the announcement that I have a story in the April issue of Mystery Magazine. (Many thanks, as always, to editor Kerry Carter.) This story was different in that it was shorter than usual, around 1000 words, and was one of those Solve-It-Yourself mysteries with the puzzle up front and the "solution" appearing later. About a fourth of the stories I've had published at MM have been those interactive-format mysteries, and they're fun to write, in their own way. Joining me in this month's issue are my old buddies R.T. Lawton and Jim Doherty.

Next, I found out my mystery/western story "The Donovan Gang" was chosen by editor Barb Goffman (thanks, Barb!) to be included in the current (#135) issue of Black Cat Weekly. This story was around 4100 words, had been previously published at AHMM, and was a Derringer finalist last year. It was different for a number of reasons: (1) it was a reprint, (2) it was a western whodunit, (3) it was sort of a coming-of-age story, and (4) most everything took place in a tiny, isolated setting (the interior of a stagecoach). Like the other five stories, though, it was just "unique" enough that it was great fun to write.

My third story published in this four-day span, "A Walk in the Woods," was released as a part of the April 1 anthology Dark of the Day, a book I've known about for a long time and have been looking forward to. The anthology was edited by the wonderful Kaye George and features tales about the much-anticipated and -publicized solar eclipse that's scheduled for April 8. My story takes place near one of the northernmost U.S. locations in the eclipse's "path of totality" that stretches from southwest Texas to Maine. The story runs about 3900 words and includes three men who set out on a mountain hike in search of the ideal spot from which to view the event, and who run into a couple of deadly foreign terrorists who've just crossed the border from Canada on a mission that has nothing to do with the sun or its moon-shaded rays. Boy did I have a good time writing this one.

The other three stories came out on Wednesday, with the release of the new Storiaverse app. Two of my featured short stories, "Sorcerer" and "A Night at the Park," are original stories, the first about a scientist using his latest project in an unscientific way and the second about a couple of prison escapees in the middle of nowhere who run into a lady full of lethal surprises. My third story, "The Messenger," is a reprint of a fantasy tale about a man who meets a modern-day "genie" who offers him a choice between two strange wishes. If you've heard anything about Storia, you know it's a new approach to short fiction, using animation along with narration and sound, that began development last year. Also along with me on this ride are my longtime friends Josh Pachter, Stacy Woodson, Bill McCormick, and Michael Bracken. 

A further thrill for me was that--also on April 1--those of us in the Short Mystery Fiction Society found out which stories were finalists this year for the annual Derringer Awards, and I was extremely fortunate that my story "Last Day at the Jackrabbit" made the list. It first appeared in Strand Magazine and had already been good to me in that it was recently selected for inclusion in the upcoming Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2024. It's about a couple of locals on the run from the mob, and it's set in a roadside diner named the Jackrabbit. Half the fun of writing this one was its many mid-stream plot twists. If you read it, I hope you'll like it.

As I mentioned, this deluge of good news about several separate stories was welcome but is the kind of thing that doesn't happen to me often. Does it to you? What good things have befallen you lately, publicationwise? What good things are coming up (accepted but not yet published, finished but not yet announced, etc.) that might serve to recharge your literary batteries? Do you--like me--need that kind of occasional validation that you seem to be doing something right?

It's been said many times at this blog that self-doubt is something most writers suffer, from time to time. Personally, I've always secretly wondered if each publication might be the last one, or if the old idea-well will one day sputter and groan and run dry. So far it seems to be bubbling along, but one never knows. And then again, maybe all the publication droughts will someday go away completely, along with the publication doubts. Maybe the occasional low spots are just disguised opportunities to learn and improve. Maybe all clouds are lined with silver. 

Meanwhile, keep writing, and may many, many successes come your way!

30 March 2024

The Best Movies You've Never Heard Of


A friend once told me he thought I'd seen more movies than anyone else he'd ever known. I also seem to recall him rolling his eyes a bit when he said that. I didn't mind. I'm well aware that I spend a lot of time in fantasyland, and I also realize that even though I've enjoyed a great many of those movies, I've also seen many that were a stupendous waste of time.

My post today is about some that weren't.

An Unscientific Study

First, I should point out that my all-time favorite movies (Jaws, The Godfather, Jurassic Park, To Kill a Mockingbird, Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, L.A. Confidential, 12 Angry Men, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Silence of the Lambs, Aliens, Lonesome Dove, The Big Lebowski, etc., are some of them) aren't included in the following list. Why? Because you've probably seen them. All of those are well-known. 

I also didn't include three that I would've listed among the unknowns a few years ago--Galaxy Quest, In Bruges, and Blood Simple--because they've recently become more popular, maybe because viewers like me have tried to tell everyone about them. (If you haven't seen those, I suggest you treat yourself.)

Anyhow, here are my recommendations of movies of all genres that you might not know about but that I think are cool enough to watch many times each (the ones I consider the very best are at the top of the list):

50 Hidden Gems (and some Guilty Pleasures)

Sands of the Kalahari (1965) -- Stanley Baker, Stuart Whitman, Susannah York

The Dish (2000) -- Sam Neill, Patrick Warburton

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) -- Ethan Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Medicine Man (1992) -- Sean Connery, Lorraine Bracco

A History of Violence (2005) -- Ed Harris, William Hurt

The Spanish Prisoner (1997) -- Steve Martin, Campbell Scott

Signs (2002) -- Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix

From Noon till Three (1976) -- Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland

Always (1989) -- Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman

Wait Until Dark (1967) -- Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna

Monsters (2010) -- Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able

Suburbicon (2017) -- Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac

An Unfinished Life (2005) -- Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lopez

The Last Sunset (1961) -- Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone

Wind River (2017) -- Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Graham Greene

The Hanging Tree (1959) -- Gary Cooper, Karl Malden, George C. Scott

The Gypsy Moths (1969) -- Burt Lancaster, Gene Hackman, Deborah Kerr

The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) -- Michael Douglas, Val Kilmer

Magic (1978) -- Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret, Burgess Meredith

Ransom (1996) -- Mel Gibson, Gary Sinese, Rene Russo

Under Siege (1992) -- Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey

Third Man on the Mountain (1959) -- James MacArthur, Michael Rennie, Janet Munro

Lady in the Water (2006) -- Bryce Dallas Howard, Paul Giamatti

The Rocketeer (1991) -- Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton

Sorcerer (1977) -- Roy Scheider, Chick Martinez

Secondhand Lions (2003) -- Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, Haley Joel Osment

Shadow in the Cloud (2020) -- Chloe Grace Moretz, Taylor John Smith

Vanishing Point (1971) -- Barry Newman, Cleavon Little

Used Cars (1980) -- Kurt Russel, Jack Warden

A Life Less Ordinary (1997) -- Holly Hunter, Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz

Waterhole #3 (1967) -- James Coburn, Carroll O'Connor, Claude Akins

Brassed Off (1996) -- Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) -- Jason Robards, Stella Stevens

Fall (2022) -- Virginia Gardner, Grace Caroline Currey, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Out of Sight (1998) -- George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez

Night Moves (1975) -- Gene Hackman, Jennifer Warren, Melanie Griffith

Silver Bullet (1985) -- Gary Busey, Corey Haim, Everett McGill

While You Were Sleeping (1995) -- Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman

Idiocracy (2006) -- Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph

Stranger than Fiction (2006) -- Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman

Lockout (2012) -- Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare

Someone to Watch Over Me (1987) -- Tom Berenger, Mimi Rogers, Lorraine Bracco

Amelie (2001) -- Audrey Tautou, Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Joe vs. the Volcano (1990) -- Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges

No Way Out (1987) -- Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young

Kings of the Sun (1963) -- Yul Brynner, George Chakiris, Shirley Anne Field

Necessary Roughness (1991) -- Scott Bakula, Kathy Ireland, Evander Holyfield

Cat People (1982) -- Nastassja Kinski, John Heard, Malcolm McDowell

No Escape (2015) -- Owen Wilson, Pierce Brosnan, Lake Bell

The Blue Max (1966) -- George Peppard, Ursula Andress, James Mason

Questions for the Class

Have any of you seen these? Did you like 'em? Any additions to the list? Full disclosure, here: Also among my favorites of the well-knowns are Die HardBlazing Saddles, and Rustler's Rhapsody, so you should consider that before taking any of what I say too seriously. But thanks for indulging me.

Have fun at the movies!

16 March 2024

Plotters and Pantsers


Last Saturday my wife and I drove down to Natchez, a place I've visited many times, especially during my years with IBM, and this trip was more fun than work. I'd signed an agreement with the Mississippi Writers Guild not long ago to conduct several workshops this year on writing and selling short fiction, and this one was the first. The next session's in Jackson, in April. We had a good time.

One of the things I usually find interesting, in writer gatherings like this, are the students'/attendees' responses to the question, "Are you an outliner?" In my experience, the group is always almost equally divided on that issue, and that was the case Saturday as well. About half say they know beforehand where the story's going and how they're going to get there; the other half say they start writing with no idea of where or how the story'll end. The first half happily identifies as "outliners" or "plotters" and the other half as "seat-of-the-pantsers," which is the way they fly their story planes. (The only pantser I know who doesn't like that term is my longtime friend and writing buddy Elizabeth Zelvin. Sorry, Liz. We'll call you a non-outliner.)

As I've said before, I would never attempt to change anyone's approach, on this. I'm not even sure it's changeable. I think it boils down to which way our brains are wired, just as some of us are always late and others always early, some like the toilet paper to unroll from the top and others from the bottom, some like to squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle and others from the end, etc. Vive la difference, right?

I confess that I'm a plotter/planner/outliner. Rarely on paper, but certainly in my mind. I'm one of those structure-driven people who have to be be able to picture most of the scenes in the story beforehand, all the way to the ending. That might change a bit as I go along--it often does--but I have to know that tentative story layout before the writing starts. Does that make my stories less fun to write? Does it make the process more boring? Does it stifle my creativity (who in the hell came up with that phrase)? The answer's no. It doesn't. Instead, an outline gives me the comforting mental safety-net that I need, in order to shoulder my backpack and set out on my storytrip. If I didn't have that road map in my head, I might eventually make it to my destination, but I might not, and if I did get there, I think I'd waste a lot of time and effort on the way. That, to me, would not be fun.

NOTE: I'm not saying I don't respect the (roughly) half of my writing students and half of my writer friends who don't follow a mental or physical outline. In fact, I envy them. These carefree adventurers strap on their goggles and climb into their literary ATVs without knowing much of anything about the road ahead, and motor merrily into the unknown with big grins and flapping scarves, usually (and somehow) with good results (!!). In fact, some of the writers I most admire do it that way (!!!!). How? Don't ask me. I would still be wandering around out there someplace, running into dead ends and cursing and backtracking and rewriting. But--again--their way seems to work, and I would never try to change them. I don't even want to change them. I like their stories. 

One more thing. We're not always talking about only two groups, here. There are probably half a dozen different variations and subgroups between the two extremes. Yes, some writers do indeed have their entire story planned in great detail before starting, and they stick to it. Others have an ending firmly in mind but everything else is undecided. Others know their characters but don't yet know the storyline. Others know only the title and maybe a few opening words. Others have a fairly clear picture of how things will progress, but they don't dwell on it because they realize most of it'll change after the construction begins. And still others start with a completely blank slate, not knowing anything at all about their story except that there's probably one out there someplace, waiting to be discovered. On a scale of 10 to 1, with 10 being "I've got the whole story in my head" and 1 being "I have no idea what'll happen until I start writing," I'm probably an 8 or a 9.

By the way, I'm always early, I like the TP mounted to unroll from the top, and I squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle. 

How about you? Outliner or free-wheeler? Or somewhere in between?

02 March 2024

Howtellums: They're All Mysteries to Me


Since we at SleuthSayers are still posting about our stories in the new Murder, Neat anthology, and since my slot has rolled around again and I've already done one post about my story here . . . I thought I'd just do a different take on it today, and talk mostly about plotting.

As you probably know, many writers and readers believe all mystery stories are whodunits. That's not correct. According to most editors and publishers, a mystery story is merely one that has a crime central to its plot, or at least includes a crime. Some even say it's a mystery story if it implies that a crime is committed. If you want a real-world example, take a look sometime at the mystery fiction section in your local bookstore: the one thing those novels have in common is that they're crime stories. They're not all whodunits.

Neither is my short story, "Bourbon and Water," in the SleuthSayers anthology. It's a crime story set mostly in a bar, which was the theme we chose for the book. (It goes a bit beyond that, but I can't say more without getting into spoilers.) 

My point is, there are other kinds of dunits. Lots of mystery stories are howdunits or whydunits. The late great Elmore Leonard, a recipient of Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award, once said in an interview that he'd never written a real mystery, or at least never a whodunit. He said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that in none of his novels was the villain's identity ever kept secret from the reader until the end. Even so, I think his shorts and books were--and are--great examples of the mystery genre.

Another example: Neither of the two TV series Columbo (old) and Poker Face (recent) featured whodunits. Or howdunits, or whydunits. All those episodes were howcatchems. In every show, the viewing audience knew at the beginning of the story who the murderer was. The fun was in the rest of the hour or so, in watching the hero (or heroine, in the case of Poker Face) figure out the identity of the killer. It was a concept that worked just fine. Columbo ran for ten seasons, and (current news flash!) three episodes of Poker Face are among the five screenplays that are nominated for the 2024 Edgar in the Best Television Episode Teleplay category. It's a fantastic, well-written series.

As for me and my writing, I suspect that at least two-thirds of the mystery stories I've written and published are not whodunits. They're crime stories, period, to the degree that if you took the crime out of the plot, you'd have no story. Not that I have anything against whodunits and traditional mysteries--I like reading them and writing them, and yes, trying to figure out who the villain really is. But I also like the other kinds of mysteries, and I think the others are often more fun.

I've heard a lot of writers say they don't submit mystery stories to Woman's World because WW publishes only whodunits. Not true. I've also heard they publish only murder mysteries with at least three possible suspects in each story. Again, not true. A couple of weeks ago I sold my 130th story to WW (my 128th mystery, there), and less than half of those were whodunits. 

What about you? Considering both short stories and novels, do you mostly stick to the tried-and-true whodunits in your mystery writing? How about your reading? Do you find that you like UNtraditional mysteries just as much? Better? What's your definition of a mystery story?

I'm looking forward to seeing just how the stories in Murder, Neat fit into this discussion. (I've not yet seen a copy of the finished product.)

I guess that, for now, is a mystery.

17 February 2024

Two Dozen Writers Go into a Bar . . .


Last Tuesday was publication day for Murder Neat: A SleuthSayers Anthology, by the Level Short imprint of Level Best Books. As others this week have said, this project is close to our hearts here at SS. Discussions about it began long ago, and thanks to our two fantastic editors, our "team" anthology is finally here. 

All of us talked, mostly via emails, about everything from what the theme of the anthology should be (besides crime, which is a given) to what the title should be, and in our case the title--Murder, Neat--came from the theme: All twenty-four of these stories are set in some kind of bar, tavern, pub, dive, honkytonk, or waterhole. (Not that any of us are at all familiar with those kinds of places.)

I think one of the reasons we decided to use a drinking establishment as our linchpin was probably the same reason the creators of Cheers set their TV series in a bar. It's one of those meeting-places that attracts all kind of characters at some time or another--good, bad, simple, complex--and all of them have stories to tell.

At the beginning of my story in the anthology, which has the misleading title "Bourbon and Water" (I love double meanings), the bar is in a place yet unknown and the two characters sitting at a dark corner table--a man and a woman--are themselves a mystery. We don't know who they are or why they're there. What we do know is that the woman has had a terrifying dream about a couple who seems much like the two of them, and her dream is my story-within-a-story, the one she tells to the man.

Because of that structure, this is, in a way, one of those "framed" narratives we've discussed often at this blog, the kind of tale that starts in the present, goes someplace else (usually the past), and ends once again in the present. The difference here is that the woman's dream--her glimpse of a of a life-changing event--serves not as the primary story but as sort of a setup. The crime is revealed later.

Not that it matters, but the dream sequence is the part that first popped into my head, when I started brainstorming the story. It happens that way sometimes: the crime part of a crime story needs to be central to the plot--we are, after all, sayers of sleuth, not sooth--but the Evil That Men Do is not necessarily the first thing I think of. Also a part of all this, in the planning stages, was the "bar" theme. How could I mix the required location with a crime and a twisty plot and come up with something that makes sense? Well, that's the fun of all this, isn't it? Create characters who are (hopefully) interesting, put them some kind of unusual location, throw in some criminal activity and other life-threatening incidents--there's a BIG one in this story--and see what happens.

I hope those of you who read it will find it not only mysterious but satisfying. It was certainly satisfying to write. 

I can't wait to read the whole book.

By the way . . .

To all you loyal friends and readers who stop in to visit us here at SleuthSayers: Thank you for that. Sincerely. We have a good time here, and hope you do too.

I think you'll like the anthology.

03 February 2024

Waiting Is Another Story


This past week I got an acceptance from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, which of course made my day. (The knowledge that it'll probably be a long time until the story'll appear in print didn't dampen my mood a bit. Let loose the balloons--it's an acceptance.) I admit my insecurities: I need a pat on the head now and then, and it's always a warm feeling when an editor decides to publish something I created. 

But in the case of AHMM, I've often been asked it it's worth the wait. Sometimes it's a long one, from submission to response. 

How long? As most of us know by now, AHMM editor Linda Landrigan--one of the kindest and most professional editors I know--has said she reads every story herself. That must be a daunting task--I can't even imagine it--and for the writers who submit stories to her, it means a lengthy wait. Most of my submissions to the magazine over the past few years have taken from twelve to fourteen months to get a reply--this latest one took 410 days--and the thing is, not all of those responses were acceptances. Heaven knows, waiting an average of thirteen months only to receive a rejection can be pretty discouraging.

There's certainly no guarantee. As the old carnival guy used to say, as he chewed his cigar and showed you a raised eyebrow and three walnut shells (only one of which had a pea underneath), "You pays your money and you takes your chances." Are you willing to bet a year's time for the possibility of placing a story in a leading magazine?

I love AHMM, and I love writing stories for them, but my acceptance/rejection ratio hasn't been great there. Not for lack of trying; I started submitting stories to them (and to everyplace else) in 1994, when the wonderful Cathleen Jordan was the editor. The first one Cathleen accepted was in late 1995--I'll always remember it, a 1200-word bank-robbery story that appeared in the June '96 issue--and I've sold them 25 stories since then. Which sounds okay, at first--BUT there were a lot of rejections along the way. I don't know how many stories I've sent AHMM in thirty years to come up with those 26 acceptances, but I know it was a lot more than 26. Probably three or four times that many. I can thankfully say my success rate's better there now than it used to be--I was lucky enough to have six stories there in the past two years--but there were a lot of years when I had no stories published there.

So--again--is it worth it?

Consider the alternatives. There are at least half a dozen other mystery magazines out there right now that I think are respectable and worth our time as writers and readers. I submit stories to all of them pretty regularly, and I have been fortunate to have had stories published in all of them. And none of those magazines take as long to respond to submissions as AHMM does. Some are surprisingly fast. Should we mystery writers be sending the fruits of our writing efforts to those places, instead?


Some of my writer friends have chosen to do that. Several have said that a year or more (usually more) is just too long to tie up a good story that might've been submitted, accepted, and even published elsewhere in less time than it takes to receive a rejection from AHMM. Some of these are authors I admire a lot, and it's hard to say they're wrong.

As for me, I've decided to do both. I do submit stories to the other magazines--I think it'd be silly not to--but I also submit stories to Linda, and I plan to continue doing that. I realize the wait is long, and since I'm not as young as I used to be, I find myself more conscious of time, and of wasted time. I understand all that. And yes, my AHMM batting average isn't the best. But anytime I start thinking too hard about that, I think again about the thrill of getting an acceptance from them--and I send them another story. I can't resist it. I keep remembering the old saying that success isn't guaranteed if you try, but failure is guaranteed if you don't.

I hope their wait time decreases in the future. I'll welcome that, if it does. And I hope I'll get better at writing in the future, so I can be certain everything I send in gets accepted (ha!). But even if neither of those things happen, I plan to keep sending stories to all the mystery magazines, Hitchcock included. Why not?

What's your opinion, on this? Are you fed up with what some call unreasonable response times to submissions? Have you decided, however reluctantly, not to submit to AHMM anymore, because of that? (By the way, there are other magazines that also make you wait awhile.) Do you accept those long wait times as a necessary evil, sort of a cost of doing business? Do you compromise, and still submit to AHMM but not as often as you once did? Do you send them stories only as a last resort, stories that have been rejected several times elsewhere? (I'm not sure that's a good idea.) Either way, pro or con, please let me know in the comments. Am I--and Rob Lopresti, who's said he's also hanging in there--the only ones who've decided to hold the course?

Meanwhile, good luck with all your submissions, to any and all markets. I'll watch the sky for balloons.

Hey, nobody said this would be easy . . .

20 January 2024

Doing Its Zone Thing

Fiction writing is a strange business. Any writer will tell you that. Publishing is even stranger, but to get something published you have to write it first, so it's that pastime that interests me most. 

Picture this: the late Rod Serling, standing on a dark, spooky set, frowning with great intensity into the camera and saying, "You unlock this door with the key of imagination . . . You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into … the Writing Zone."

He actually said that, except for the next-to-last word. And in all honesty, the Writing Zone is just as odd and mysterious as the one in Serling's famous TV series. (I re-watched the whole thing again, by the way, not long ago--all 156 episodes. I think my wife's still trying to recover.)

So. What, exactly, am I talking about?

It's hard to describe. The Zone (writing, not twilight) is sort of a feeling, or a state of mind, that we fiction writers sometimes reach during the process of creating a story or novel. It's a strange sense of comfort and familiarity and satisfaction, where the ideas pop and bang in the sky like fireworks and the words flow like honey, and you think Whoa, this is fun, I can do no wrong. It doesn't happen every time you sit down to write or plan to write, but when it does, it's great. John Simmons, in a piece he wrote for Writers & Artists, said, ". . . When I'm in that zone, I'm not always aware of it. It's a wonderful feeling when you realise afterwards that you've been there. I think it's part of the addiction of being a writer."

I think so, too. It's not only a concept, it's a real place--athletes know this--and I suspect every one of you writers have felt its magic at one time or another. And when you find yourself there, in that mystical wonderland, time seems to fly. Hours can pass before you know it, and when you look back at what you've managed to accomplish during that time, it's usually good.

So the obvious question is, how do you get there? Or if you've made the trip and returned, how do you make sure you can get there again?

I've heard a lot of writers' opinions of how to "activate" the Zone, and--as you might imagine--they're all different. Some people write at the same time every day, or at the same place, or accompanied by certain sounds or external inputs. When all those conditions are met, they sit down and try to let the creative juices flow.

It's almost like an attempt to enter a hypnotic state: different things work for different subjects. Timewise, I think I ease into my Zone most often in the mornings, when my mind's fresh (or at least fresher). That's probably unfortunate for me, because I'm a night owl and always have been--but that's just the way the mop flops. And whatever time of day it is, I have to first be loose and comfortable. And warm. I don't do anything well if I'm cold. One writer friend told me she does her most productive thinking in the bathtub, which I guess is fine if you don't drop your writing pad or laptop.

Locationwise, I probably do most of my writing writing right here where I am now, in front of a desktop Mac in my little home office. Some of my non-writing writing, which I guess could be called planning, is also done in this chair but most often it's done elsewhere, in other places that I find relaxing. My recliner in the den is one, our backyard swing is another. If we lived near a beach--we don't--I would probably do most of my story-plotting there, and would be even more worthless than I am now. 

Another thing that works for me, in terms of getting lost in my story thoughts, is physical activity. I like to walk (walk, don't run, like the old Ventures song), and during long walks ideas can blossom out of nowhere, to the point that I often walk a lot further and longer than I intended. (Once again, because I'm an "outliner," much of my writing process is thinking about the story before the writing starts. I usually spend twice as much time dreaming up scenes and plotting in my head as I spend actually typing words into the computer.) I don't know if I believe everything I hear about exercise and endorphins firing up the brain cells, etc., but I do know some of my most satisfying stories were born on the walking track, which in my case are our neighborhood streets and our thankfully big back yard.

This is digressing a bit, but one thing that's not part of my writing process is assigning myself a quota (a certain number of words, pages, etc.) and making sure I meet that quota during my writing session(s). That kind of self-motivation is something I don't want or need. To me, writing is more like play than work, and I'd like to keep it that way. My opinion only.

A quick word about surroundings. Unlike most writers I know, I think and work best without background noise, or even music. It's the one time that I prefer silence. Not so for other writers: some of my author friends say they think best with a lot of bustle and noise and activity going on and a lot of people around them. One of them says she does her best plotting while sitting at a table in a busy Starbucks. Not me. Unless it's the soft sound of waves going in and out, I like it quiet. Main thing is, do whatever works.

And, having said that . . .

What works for you? Do you write in the same place every day, and/or at roughly the same time of day? Do you like music or other external sounds while you're writing? Are there any places where (or times when, or conditions under which) you can't write? Do you set quotas for yourself, and keep going until you reach them? Does that make you more productive? How do you increase your chances of finding your way to your Zone?

Author Carolyn Wheat (How to Write Killer Fiction) once said, "Getting to that state, and staying there for as long as possible, is the key to writing success."

Smart lady.

06 January 2024

Who Put the B in the BSP? (Version 2)


Today my post is an updated version of a column I wrote more than six years ago here at SleuthSayers, and the reasons I'm reviving it are (1) I've been reading a lot about this subject at other blogs and forums (fori?) over the past few weeks and (2) I couldn't think of anything else to post today.

Anyhow, I started my previous rant on this topic by asking this question: How blatant should self-promotion be?

It's a problem that I think has recently grown worse. Or maybe I just notice it more.

Before I get into all that, here's a definition I found long ago at the Oxford Learner's Dictionaries site: 

BSP (Blatant Self-Promotion) is the activity of making people notice you and your abilities, especially in a way that annoys other people.

Notice the last part of that sentence. Do I do that? I don't want to be annoying, and I doubt you do either. But both of us might be, if we're in the habit of saying or writing too much about accomplishments and our supposed literary talent. All of us grow weary of looking at cell phone photos of the dogs and cats and grandchildren of our friends and neighbors, right?--and you can be pretty sure they're weary of seeing ours. If that's true, how soon do they become tired of hearing, over and over, about our new novels and stories and accolades? Probably PDQ, that's how soon.

So, why do we do it? Why run the risk of angering or alienating the very people we hope might at some point read or buy our product?

One reason is, we writers are expected by our editors and publishers to do a certain amount of marketing and self-promotion. We're always being told we need to have some kind of "platform" for spreading the word, whether it's via social media, blogs, websites, newsletters, interviews, signings, speaking engagements, whatever. This is hard for some of us to do, but I suppose it's reasonable. It's our writing, after all; the publishers are just putting it out there for others to see. And unless we're already famous, nobody except friends and family are going to know or care one bit about what we've written. Somebody has to toot our horn, if it's going to get tooted.

Another reason is that self-promotion feels good, at least to the self-promoter. And it's easy to do. Talking or writing about ourselves doesn't require any effort or research. But the truth is, nobody--including my wife and kids, in my case--wants to hear too much of that. (Well, maybe my dear mother did, but mothers always do).          

Which brings us to the real question. How much BSP can we do before we go overboard, and become a total embarrassment to ourselves and our friends and family?

The answer, I think, is some but not a lot. In other words, moderation. All of us want to put our best feet forward when it comes to things like bios, press releases, book launches, etc., but we also need to use common sense. Nobody--and I mean NObody--wants to get emails, texts, tweets, etc., every day, or even every week, about the same story or book that you've written. Same thing goes for endless emails asking folks to write great reviews for you, or follow your stellar career, or vote for you in the best-novel-cover contest.

By the way, I am not innocent of BSP crimes. Example: My post here at SleuthSayers a week ago was an overview of what turned out to be a pretty good year of publishing my short stories. I also try to post a note on Facebook when new publications come out. I justify that by whining that a number of my friends have told me they like for me to do that. (It's true that they told me, but whether they were being truthful or just kind, I don't know.) Even so, I suspect those announcements are dancing dangerously close to the edges of BSP, and if I mistakenly notify folks about the same thing more than once, it fits firmly into that category. It's one of those cloudy areas of marketing/promotion that can leave you feeling guilty if you do it and guilty if you don't. 

I mentioned, a few paragraphs ago, author bios. Just a quick word, about that. A writer's bio that goes on and on and on can give editors and readers everything from glazed eyes to headaches to gastric distress, and I've often heard it said that the longer the printed bio, the less the writer has actually accomplished--the wannabe author just writes more words about less important things. There's some truth to that, and while I recognize that bios are important and necessary, it's also important not to let yourself get carried away. Even the automatic signature you place at the end of your emails can be too much. Twenty lines of text following your name and listing all your publications and awards and nominations and third-place wins in contests might be overdoing it a bit. In fact it might be eighteen or nineteen lines too long.

Same thing goes for booksignings. I'm not saying we should sit there like a petrified log all day, but it's even worse to call out to passersby like a carnival barker at the county fair, or to chase them down and pester them with questions like Do you read mysteries? or Looking for a good Christmas gift? (I have seen that done, several times.) Again, I think moderation is what works. Smile, make eye contact, maybe stand up and hand potential customers a bookmark or brochure as they walk by. But nobody likes being hounded into a purchase, whether it's a book or a used car or a pair of sneakers.

But I'm digressing. On the subject of day-to-day, writing-related BSP, I do try to post on social media any announcements of new publications and any upcoming signings--the publisher of my story collections, who's much smarter than I am on these matters, says that's a good idea, and I know that it has occasionally steered readers to those magazines or anthologies, or buyers to whatever event I'm appearing in. I think that kind of promotion makes sense--I just hope it isn't being too pushy. I realize some of the all-out blitzes people do on Facebook and elsewhere, especially regarding book releases, can get out of hand. There's a fine line between aggressive and excessive.

Author and editor Ramona DeFelice Long once said, at her blog, that writers should keep Goldilocks in mind and do what feels right. But what does feel right? Do too little, you're shy or lazy. Do too much, you're obnoxious. You're either a wallflower that nobody knows or you're an insurance salesman that nobody wants to know. 

What's an author to do?

That's the question of the day. What's your opinion? How do you, as a writer, try to do what's expected and required without being overbearing and insufferable? What are some of your personal "rules" and taboos and experiences? Also, what makes you, as a possible buyer of a piece of fiction, uncomfortable or annoyed? When does SP become BSP?

By the way, do you read a lot? Have you seen my new book? You haven't

Step right this way . . .

30 December 2023

2023 in Review


Another year's almost done, and I'm posting an easy-to-write column today: a look back at the stories I've published in the past twelve months. It's a task that's occasionally fun and occasionally disappointing. Sometimes editors seem to welcome me into their publications with grins and open arms, and sometimes they kick me off their doorsteps and then throw my hat after me like a frisbee. As it turned out, this was a good year, writingwise--a little better than 2022, not quite as good as 2021--and I guess I can't complain.

Here are some observations about my 2023 literary output and thought processes:


- I had 57 short stories published this year, and have 34 more in my PENDING file (accepted but not yet published). The reason that pending number sounds high is that 16 of those have been accepted for a 2024 (or early 2025) collection of my "detective" stories. 

- I wrote 25 new stories in 2023, fewer than usual, but many of those were longer stories, so maybe my typing fingers didn't know the difference.

- For the first time ever, I had almost as many stories published in anthologies as in magazines, if you count markets like Crimeucopia and Two-Minute Mini-Mysteries as anthologies. I think the reason I had more stories in anthologies than usual--even though I didn't see as many open-submission antho calls as I used to--was that (1) several anthologies chose to publish some of my reprints and (2) a good many others were invitations to submit themed stories--and I try hard to say yes to those. I don't always, but I try.

- Far more of my stories in 2023 were firmly mystery/crime than any other genre. Specifically, five of the others were Westerns--I love 'em--and four were SF/fantasy. Two more were a combination of Western and fantasy (picture the movie Cowboys and Aliens--or at least the concept behind it). One was published in an anthology called, if you can believe it, Monster Fight at the O.K. Corral. That one was a LOT of fun to write!

- Most of my magazine stories appeared in seven markets: AHMM, Strand Magazine, Mystery Magazine, Woman's World, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and Black Cat Weekly. Nothing unusual, there. But I had a story in every issue of the Strand this year, which was unusual.

- I had only three private-eye stories published in 2023, two of them in Michael Bracken-edited anthologies. (Eight more PI tales have been accepted and are awaiting publication.) Andrew McAleer and the late Paul Marks are the ones who got me started writing about private investigators, for a 2017 anthology called Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, and Michael published my first magazine private-eye story, "Mustang Sally," in 2020's Special PI Issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine. I owe a great debt to all three of those editors, because (as I realize now) that kind of story is always interesting to write; I'd just never before gotten around to trying it.


- I'm repeating myself here, but for the second year in a row, most of my original stories published were longer than what I've usually written. I've tried to put a reason to that, and I don't think there is one. The storylines that pop into my head recently just seem to take longer to tell.

- In 2023, as in the previous year, I had three stories appear in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. I was fortunate there, because that doesn't happen to me often. Over the years my AHMM stories have usually been, alas, spaced much farther apart. Two of those three this year were installments in a series. 

- Not that it matters, but since we're talking about statistics, about a fourth of my published stories this year were installments from four different mystery series. Those series feature (1) Sheriff Ray Douglas, (2) PI Tom Langford, (3) Angela Potts & Chunky Jones, and (4) Fran & Lucy Valentine. The rest of my     2023 stories were standalones. 

- Around two-thirds of my stories were in third-person POV, none were present tense, and none were set outside the U.S. And, as it turns out, only two of my stories this year were published outside the U.S.

- Three of my anthology publications in 2023 were in music-themed anthologies. In all, I think I've now published seven stories in anthos with music themes (four of those were edited by Josh Pachter), and several more have been accepted and are upcoming. Not sure why that topic has become so popular in recent years, but I admit those stories are always fun to write, and to read. (How could they not be?--For each story, you have a specific song in your head the whole time you're writing it.)

- I think about two-thirds of my this-year's stories could be called lighthearted instead of gritty. Not necessarily funny, but they didn't take themselves too seriously. Violencewise, most would probably carry the literary equivalent of a PG-13 rating, and some were PG.

- Almost three-quarters of this year's stories were set here in the South. Part of that is probably laziness. Not only am I more comfortable writing about locations I'm familiar with, they also require less research. Another part of it is that--as I mentioned--I didn't have as many Westerns published this year as I normally do. 

One thing I haven't said, here: Every magazine I mentioned also rejected at least one of my stories this year. Sad but true.


What have you noticed about the stories you've published, or submitted, or written, in 2023? Is the structure, content, genre, etc., the same as, or similar to, what you've done in the past? Any experimentation or big changes? Have you tried any new or different markets? Any success there? Please let me know, in the comments section.

Meanwhile, I hope all of you had a great Christmas, and I wish everyone a happy and successful new year, lifewise and writingwise. 

See you next Saturday . . . which IS next year.

16 December 2023

Putting Faces to Names

If you're a writer, you already know--before, during, and after your story--what your characters look like. But do you ever wonder what they'd look like in a movie or TV adaptation? And if you're a reader who likes (and yes, knows) certain characters from a novel or a story, do you eagerly anticipate seeing how they'll wind up looking on the big screen?

Sometimes those portrayals don't turn out the way we'd imagined. I once had a writer friend who was honestly worried about what her characters might look like if one of her stories ever happened to be made into a movie. (My advice to her was to file that under Needless Stress. We should all be so lucky.)

Believe it or not, I was almost that lucky a few times. One of those projects earned some modest income from options and option renewals, and another one, an indie production, actually came within several weeks of filming; locations were selected, the script was finalized, a score was composed and recorded (I still have the CD), actors and crew were ready, I'd even been told to invite friends to the set. But then the financing fell through--or so I was told--and everything stopped. The whole production packed up and went home. I learned a lot, though, from all the things that happened before that, one of those being an open casting call during which actors and actresses tried out for the parts. It was quite a thrill for me to attend the auditions and sit there and hear real people saying lines of dialogue I had written, and to put faces to the names of those characters. (Or what would've been those characters, if the project hadn't died a sudden and undignified death.)

Anyway, I got to thinking again about all this the other night, after (re)watching the first season of an Amazon Prime series called Reacher. You're probably familiar with Lee Child's character Jack Reacher--he's a huge ex-army guy, six-five and two-fifty or so, who hitchhikes around the country with no luggage except a toothbrush and spends all of his time righting wrongs. He's been portrayed in two feature films so far starring Tom Cruise, who's a great actor but stands about five foot seven, and for me he just didn't fit the part at all. Apparently I'm not the only one who felt that way, and maybe as a result of that, this streaming series features a guy I'd never heard of before--Alan Ritchson--who does look the part. The plot was okay, too, but I think the big reason the show succeeded was the casting.

Sometimes even two or three different actors are believable for the same character. I used to watch The Adventures of Superman on TV as a kid, and to me Supe was always George Reeves. Later, I also liked Christopher Reeve in Superman: The Movie (so did the judges for the Oscars, that year), and much later I liked Henry Cavill as The Man of Steel in The Man of Steel. TMoS wasn't a great movie, but Cavill--like Ritchson as Reacher--looked like he belonged in the story. Same thing happened with the different actors who have played Sherlock Holmes and The Lone Ranger and Spiderman, over the years. They were all believable to me. 

Which leads to the rest of my sermon for today. The following list, in my opinion and in no particular order, include some roles I can remember that seemed either exactly right or badly wrong, for the story:

25 Good Matches:

Dunaway and Beatty as Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Newman and Redford as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Fess Parker as Davy Crockett (1954-1956)

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter (2001-2010)

Gal Godot as Wonder Woman (2017-2020)

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne (2002-2007)

Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone (2005-2015)

Sean Connery as James Bond (1962-1971, 1983)

Michael Keaton as Batman (1989)

Morgan Freeman as Alex Cross (1997-2001)

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone (1972-1990)

Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy (1990)

Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski (1998)

Alec Baldwin as Dave Robicheaux (Heaven's Prisoners, 1996)

Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada, 2006)

Robert Duvall as Augustus McCrae (Lonesome Dove, 1989)

Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men, 2007)

Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes (Misery, 1990)

Alan Rickman as Dr. Lazarus (Galaxy Quest, 1999)*

Ed Harris as Virgil Cole (Appaloosa, 2008)

Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey (The Green Mile, 1999)

Keith Carradine as Wild Bill Hickok (Deadwood, 2004-2006)

Andre the Giant as Fezzik (The Princess Bride, 1987)

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens (Justified, 2010-2015)

*Alan Rickman was also perfect as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, Elliott Marston in Quigley Down Under, and many other roles. I miss him.

25 Not-So-Good Matches:

Kevin Costner as Robin of Locksley (Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, 1991)

Adrien Brody as Jack Driscoll (King Kong remake, 2005)

Mark Wahlberg as Spenser (Spenser Confidential, 2020)

Jamey Sheridan as Randall Flagg (The Stand, 1994)

Eriq La Salle as Lucas Davenport (Mind Prey, 1998)

Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great (Alexander, 2004)

Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau (The Pink Panther remake, 2006)

George Clooney as Batman (Batman & Robin, 1997)

Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2016)

Pierce Brosnan as Sam Carmichael (Mamma Mia!, 2008)

Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett (The Alamo remake, 2004)

Tyler Perry as Alex Cross (Alex Cross, 2012)

Cameron Diaz as Jenny Everdeane (Gangs of New York, 2002)

Adam Sandler as Paul Crewe (The Longest Yard remake, 2005)

Marlon Brando as Sakini (Teahouse of the August Moon, 1956)

James Garner as Wyatt Earp (Hour of the Gun, 1967)

Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert (Les Miserables, 2012)

Johnny Depp as Tonto (The Lone Ranger, 2013)

Dean Martin as Matt Helm (1966-1968)

Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze (Ghost Rider, 2007)

Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo (Star Wars, Episode VIII--The Last Jedi, 2017)

Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 2008)

Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates (Psycho remake, 1998)

Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi (Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1961)

John Wayne as Genghis Khan (The Conqueror, 1956)

Funny thing is, sometimes I think actors are miscast and then, later, they grow on me. At first I didn't think Robert Downey Jr. would be a good Iron Man, but I eventually accepted him. Same goes for Alan Ladd as Shane in the movie of that name; I remembered reading Jack Schaefer's novel in high school, and when I finally got around to seeing the movie, I just didn't think Ladd, who was even more vertically challenged than Tom Cruise, fit the deadly gunfighter picture I had in my head. After a while, though, I changed my mind. Other examples: Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, Daniel Craig as James Bondand Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby. I didn't like either of them at first--I kept seeing Leo as Gilbert Grape--but I came around. 

What do you think? Have you ever had characters firmly in your head after reading a story or novel and then been surprised by the person picked to play the role on screen? Which of those matchups were most disappointing to you? Which ones do you think were perfectly cast?

I must mention this, in closing. Since we're talking about casting choices, I think the best actor/character match in cinematic history was James Gandolfini in The Sopranos. Not only can I not imagine anyone else in that role, I later saw him in movies like True Romance and The Mexican and he just didn't seem at home there. To me he's Tony Soprano and always will be. If you agree, watch this.


02 December 2023

Rocks in My Socks


This post comes to you today from the Pet Peeves Department here at the SleuthSayers Building. Many of us who work at SS have occasionally posted about annoying words or phrases, usually those encountered in fiction but sometimes those we run into every day in the wild. This is one of those posts, so if you'd rather not hear someone grumble this soon after a day of thanksgiving, feel free to skip it and do something that's more fun. If you do read it, feel free to disagree with its contents. I'll probably look at this next week and disagree with it myself.

As of this moment, though, these are the current burrs under my saddle--or, as Dr. Suess might say, the rocks in my socks:

- Business terms and buzzwords like paradigm, deliverables, added value, takeaways, productivity, etc., when used in everyday speech. "Can you tell me the takeaways from To Kill a Mockingbird?" 

- Modern language in historical fiction. Words/phrases/slang like hairstyle, shenanigans, scrapbook, mommy, daddy, mesmerize, sadist, hello, hit the road, okay, rat him out, etc., have been around awhile, but they still probably aren't as old as you might think. Same thing for most fantasy fiction. "Yo, Gandalf. Whassup?"

- Data/dayta/datta. This is a pronunciation thing. I like dayta. I don't like datta. Can't help it. I also don't like asterix, nuke-ular, and expresso, but those are truly incorrect. Dayta's a personal preference.

- Alright. I like all right. I don't think alright is all right.

- A coffee, as in "I need a coffee." I prefer "I need coffee" or "I need some coffee" or "I need a cup of coffee." To me, saying you want a coffee or an iced tea is like saying you want a bread or a soup. Yes, I realize it's common usage, but it still bothers me. (Irritable Vowel Syndrome?)

- Everyday. I think everyday is an adjective, and only an adjective. "I'm wearing my everyday shoes" is right. "I wear these shoes every day" is right. "I wear my every day shoes everyday" is wrong. Same thing with words like backyard and backseat. "My backseat driver sits in the back seat" is right. So is "My backyard swing is located in my back yard." Switch those up and they're wrong.

- Setup. This one probably hurts my foot more than any of the other rocks. "The operation we set up was a setup" is right. "I setup the rooms without any help" is wrong.

- Impact used as a verb. Yes, I know that's allowed, but I think it works best as a noun. I've noticed that most news anchors and weather forecasters these days are using it as a verb because I guess they think it makes their statements stronger and more powerful. ("Garbage pickup problems impact city residents!" "Cold snap impacts the homeless!") I think affect works just as well. Maybe it's because I have medical people in my immediate family, but I always think of someone who's impacted as someone who's agonizingly constipated.

- Other nouns like dialogue and journal and fellowship used as verbs. "We need to dialogue," or "I've been journaling" or "Come to the church tonight and we'll fellowship" sounds wrong to me. I probably need to Google it (which, for some reason, sounds correct).

- The overuse of as and ing constructions in writing. Since it's not grammatically incorrect, this mistake is sometimes hard to catch in our own writing--but it's silly and amateurish. "Turning, I saw her leave. Running after her, I shouted to her as she climbed into the car. As I reached the sidewalk, she smiled as she waved goodbye. Sobbing, I walked back inside." Talk about instant rejection--that'll do it.

- Phrases like for you and I. It should be for you and me, as in for you and for me. The sad thing is, you see and hear this blunder ALL THE TIME, and from people who should know better.

I could care lessI know this phrase has been around for years, but I still haven't gotten used to it--maybe because it makes absolutely no sense. One word I have finally agreed to use is done instead of finished, but even that one took me a while to accept.

The reason why this happened is because . . . Enough said, about that. A discussion of redundancy would keep us here all day. In fact, it would keep us here all day.

- The use of then without a preceding comma. An article I saw some time ago, and I can't remember where, said that a lot of writers nowadays are doing that. Here's an example: "I waved to my neighbor then started mowing my grass." I think that's incorrect. And sure enough, I noticed last night that this has been done three times already in the new Jack Reacher novel, and I'm only forty pages in. What's up with that? I think it's correct to say either "I waved to my neighbor, then started mowing my grass" or "I waved to my neighbor and started mowing my grass." But if you do use then, I don't like leaving out that comma.

Like. I'm like, don't even get me started on this one.

- Media and data. Those words, like family or group or herd, are collective nouns that I think work best with singular verbs. I like the data is correct. I don't like the data are correct. And I dern sure don't like the datta are correct. And yes, I know that's nitpicking.

- Utilize. I think utilize is a needless word that people say to try to sound more intelligent. Use use instead. Writers often know this, so it's mostly something you hear on TV--and hearing it impacts me!

Writers saying a character crosses to the bar, the bed, the door, the kitchen sink, etc. Example: "John crossed and answered the phone." I realize we should try to use as few words as possible. but if it's necessary to say someone walks across a room I think maybe he should "walk across the room." This is a small thing--most of these are--but I see it so often I thought I'd mention it.

- You guys. Old-school or not, I don't much like referring to a mixed-gender group as you guys. A local TV reporter at a crime scene said "you guys" four times in less than a minute the other might when addressing the news team in the studio. (Full disclosure: I use the phrase occasionally myself. But I don't like myself when I do.)

- The use of Ms. with a woman's first name only. Using Miss with a first name--usually when addressing older ladies--is a sign of familiarity, especially in the south. "Hi, Miss Ellie." Married or not, politically correct or not, it's never, ever Ms. Ellie. If you want to use Ms. (or Mrs.), say Ms. Ewing.

More words/phrases I've grown achingly weary of hearing and seeing: "It is what it is," "no problem" (when did this replace "thank you"?), "stunning video," "iconic," "functionality," "let's do this!" "outside the box," "my amazing husband/wife/etc.," "give it up for," "reach out to," "got your back," "begs the question," "feeling nauseous," "at this point in time," "my journey," "it's problematic," "a sense of closure," "know what I'm sayin'?" "low-hanging fruit," yada yada. For that matter, I don't even like "yada yada." (And sportscasters are a whole 'nother story. I could possibly understand saying "w" in place of "win" if there was any reason at all to do it. Actually it takes longer to pronounce the letter "w" than it does to say the word "win.")

Other things I don't like are air-quotes, chains on eyeglasses, Botoxed lips, flat-billed baseball caps, The Bachelorette, mullets, cold weather, downer endings, present-tense writing, submission fees, head-tosses, loud cellphone conversations in public, and TV commercials urging you to "tell your health-care professional about such-and-such medication." For God's sake, if your doctor needs to be told how to treat your ailments, you need a new doctor.

The good thing about saying I dislike all these things is that the older I get, the more people will forgive me, or just disregard my opinions. ("Hey, he's old, what does he know." Usually spoken with a toss of the head.)

What are some of the annoying things in your life, and especially in the spoken or written words you hear or read? (Not necessarily wrong, but just irritating?) And yes, you can include opinion-column blog posts. The longer this one gets, it's becoming irritating to me too. If you by chance like this kind of thing, here are two of my SS posts from several years ago that talk more about irksome words/phrases, and are a little less opinionated: "Do's and Don'ts, Wills and Wont's, Part 1" and "Do's and Don'ts, Wills and Won'ts, Part 2." 

Having pointed out all these thorns in my side, I should mention that there are thankfully many things I do like, and not just my family, my house, and my friends. I like seafood, warm weather, Apple computers, lemon-icebox pie, homemade chili, Netflix, straight pool, reclining theater seats, Word Hunt, Joe Lansdale, Harry Nilsson, Cass Elliot, beaches, burritos, mystery magazines, the guitar, the piano, Yellowstone, Jeopardy, and The Sopranos. Not necessarily in that order.

And SleuthSayers. I like SleuthSayers. I hope you do, too.

On that note, next time I promise I'll be more upbeat. Until then, I can't help remembering something a colleague said to me several years ago. "I'm done with all this positive-thinking stuff," he said. "I knew it wouldn't work, and sure enough, it didn't."

Hard to argue with that.