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

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.




06 March 2021

Cover Me--I'm Going In



As if we haven't seen enough blog posts lately about how to sell our fiction . . .

My topic today is cover letters. It came to mind after a Zoom session I attended recently about marketing short stories. We discussed everything from publications to guidelines to editors to contracts, but when we got to the Q&A part, a surprising number of questions were about cover letters. I guess that makes sense: these letters are our first contact with someone who might actually publish what we've written.

Bear with me, here. I realize you probably know most of this already. But if you don't, or if--like me--you sometimes need reminding, here are some essentials about cover letters for short-story submissions.

The first thing to remember: they're not query letters. A query letter is generally sent to (1) a publisher or agent of novels or nonfiction books or (2) an editor of articles, and its purpose is to ask those gatekeepers to allow you to submit something to them for consideration. A cover letter is for short fiction, not nonfiction, and it doesn't ask the editor if he/she wants to see the finished product; it accompanies the finished product, and serves as an introduction.


Having said that, here are some do's and don'ts:


1. Always send a cover letter unless guidelines tell you not to. Think of it as a courtesy. I've submitted a lot of short stories, and I can recall only a handful that were not accompanied by a cover letter.

2. Keep it short. Usually several brief paragraphs, and certainly less than a page.

3. If it's snailmailed, use a single-spaced, business-letter format.

4. If it's emailed, use your cover letter as the body of the message. I single-space mine, with no indentions, one space between paragraphs, and a less-formal comma instead of a colon after the salutation. If you're using an online submission system, type or copy your cover letter into the submission box at the publication's website. 

5. Use the editor's name--"Dear Ms. Martin"--and not just "Dear Editor." If you don't know the name, you can usually find it under "Masthead" or "Staff" or "About Us" at the publication's site.

6. Use Mr. or Ms. before the editor's last name. If you're not certain of the gender, use the full name with no Mr. or Ms. ("Dear Lee Bennett," "Dear Pat Cooper," "Dear Chris Anderson," "Dear J.T. Brown.")

7. Don't address the editor by only her first name until she has already addressed you by your first name in correspondence OR has signed correspondence to you using only her first name. After that, feel free to use first names only. The publishing business is pretty laid-back in this regard.

8. Mention any previous contact you might've had with the editor at a conference or elsewhere, especially if she suggested you send her a manuscript.

9. Include at least two paragraphs in your letter. I think the first should say "Please consider the attached story, 'Story Name,'" or "I have attached the short story 'Story Name' for your consideration," or words to that effect, followed by something like "I hope you'll want to use it in a future issue." The second paragraph is usually a short bio listing several writing credits and awards. If you don't yet have publication credits, mention instead any kind of writing experience you do have. If you include a third paragraph, just say something like "Thank you for your time."

10. Customize your bio to fit the publication you're submitting to. For example, Asimov's probably wouldn't care that you've been published in Woman's World, and literary magazines might not be impressed with genre credits of any kind. If I send something to a lit journal, I mention previous publication in places like Writer's DigestThe Lyric, and Pleiades; if I send to mystery magazines I mention AHMM, EQMM, Strand, etc.

11. Be honest in your bio, but give it the best possible spin. If the only things you've published are two short poems in obscure magazines and a tiny essay in The Paris Review, your bio should probably say, "My previous work has appeared in several publications, including The Paris Review." Truthful without being confession-booth revealing. 

12. Don't try to be cute or witty in your cover letter, or use funky fonts.

13. If submitting via snailmail, don't use fancy stationery. In fact, regular white copy-paper is fine.

14. Don't include a synopsis of your story, or say anything at all about the story or its plot, unless instructed to in the guidelines.

15. Don't mention anyplace else that might've rejected your story, or anything anyone else has said about it (good or bad). 

16. If you don't yet have any writing credits, don't point it out. Instead say something briefly in your bio about your job or your location. Before I'd published any stories, I said something like "I'm a former Air Force captain, I live in Mississippi, and I work for IBM." Bios, at any stage of your career, shouldn't be too wordy.

17. Don't mention how thrilled you would be to see your work in print.

18. Don't ask for comments, criticism, etc.

19. Don't say anything not relevant to your submission. The editor won't care how many cats you have, or that you belong to a quilting group, or that you enjoy hiking in the mountains. (Unless that's an integral part of the story you're submitting.)

20. Don't say anything about rights unless your story's a reprint. If it is a reprint, include in the first paragraph the date of previous publication and the publication's name and issue. ("This story previously appeared in the March/April 2001 issue of AHMM.") The only exception to that is if I'm trying to sell a story that I've already had published more than once. In that case I mention only its first publication and not any subsequent publications. ("This story originally appeared in the March/April 2001 issue of AHMM.")


NOTE 1: These "rules" are not set in stone. I'm well aware that there are other ways to get the job done. But I know this works.

NOTE 2: Something I used to always include in the third paragraph of my cover letters (it's laughable, now): "I've enclosed an SASE for your reply. If my story doesn't interest you, there's no need to return the manuscript itself." Let's hear it for electronic submissions.



In closing:


Dear SleuthSayers Reader,

Please consider the above blog post, "Cover Me--I'm Going In." A modified version appeared in the May 1999 issue of Byline Magazine. I hope you can use its information in your future submissions.

Current bio: John M. Floyd is the author of mostly short stories and SleuthSayers columns. His greatest recent accomplishment is receiving his second Covid vaccination.

Thank you for your time.

Best regards,

John Floyd 

www.johnmfloyd.com




21 February 2021

A Buffett Buffet


Why get stoned when there’s rock? Stone crabs and rock shrimp, of course, boiling in sea water seasoned with Old Bay, served outside a rusted beach shack. Delicious.

Unless you’ve been living under a conch shell, you probably heard Margaritaville has a new criminal element in town. Disreputable word-slingers have been spotted skulking amongst the happy drunks at beachside bars, gathered around a piratey privateer, Josh Pachter. This disreputable lot call themselves anthologists. Book 'em, I say, in fact, it’s already booked: The Great Filling Station Holdup.

The Great Filling Station Holdup anthology colourful cover

Let’s face it. Jimmy Buffett is a damn good lyricist. If he’d migrated from Nashville to Tin Pan Alley, he’d reside among the best of Broadway songwriters.

While Buffett is known for lighthearted, cheerful tunes, scratch many a surface and you’ll reveal more serious strata. Take as example the lyrics of Margaritaville:

But there’s booze in the blender
And soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on.

Wasted away again in Margaritaville,
Searching for my lost shaker of salt.
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame,
And I know it's my own damn fault.

A reviewer at AZLyrics.com opines:

The song is about a man spending an entire season at a beach resort, enjoying carefree Caribbean lifestyle with margarita cocktails. There is some lyric confusion about words ‘Wasted away’ in the chorus of the song.

Whut? Seriously? Are we listening to the same song? You can’t hear the tone of forlorn desperation? Sir, put down the rum and step away from the bar.

While many of Buffett’s songs carry a serious secondary layer, a few like ‘Southern Cross’ will break your heart, and some of his early work is downright dark and dangerous. And I like it. But, when Josh Pachter invited me to sail the Buffett brigantine, I was immensely flattered and simultaneously panicked. What the hell could I possibly come up with? Then parts fell into place.

I find it difficult to write about myself. Talk about my work, okay, fine, but talk about me, not so easy. To deflect scrutiny, I hatched the notion of writing about my SleuthSayers colleagues and their stories appearing in Josh’s latest and greatest anthology. Good excuse. And why not include Pachter’s headlining story as well? Let’s begin.

Spending Money
Beach House on the Moon
[musiclyrics]
John Floyd



John sent me his story first, so we’ll start there. Jimmy’s song, ‘Spending Money’, is a light-hearted, whistling ditty. Part of the chorus subtly hints at skullduggery,

A little spending money, money to burn.
Money that you did not necessarily earn.

John has molded his story into a morality play. Greek playwrights could recognize the plot. Russian authors might embrace such a protagonist.

In John’s story, a hint of a pending train wreck hovers in the air, a force that can’t be stopped. The main character has an issue with honesty, a shortcoming of which a rare friend, a waitress, tries to disabuse him of his wayward ways.

To tell you more would tell you too much. I’ve read many of John’s stories and haven’t encountered one like this. Enjoy it.

Tampico Trauma
Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
[musiclyrics]
Michael Bracken



I’ve read Michael Bracken over the years, but I hadn’t absorbed what a master of atmosphere he is. From the beginning, you feel like you’ve been dropped into Tamaulipas– no, not a Taco Bell menu item, the Mexican Gulf state. In Michael’s story, you can smell aromatic herbs seasoning the broth, you can hear a touristy guitar.

Buffett’s song is barely 150 words, fewer than twenty lines. In contrast, Michael has fleshed out a complete story, a simmering plot spiced by the kind and compelling Hern├índez hermanas. I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t borrow a refrain from another song:

First you learn the native custom,
Soon a word of Spanish or two.
You know that you cannot trust them,
Cause they know they can’t trust you.

Trust me, Bracken has smuggled a lot in a small packet.

The Great Filling Station Holdup
A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean
[musiclyrics]
Josh Pachter



Josh Pachter shuttles us through the dimensions of space, time, and sound, back to a Jimmy country song. Both artists convey an old-fashioned tone, a feeling when informal policing could accomplish more than modern day school resource officers and zero-tolerance policies.

We got fifteen dollars and a can of STP,
A big ole jar of cashew nuts and a Japanese TV.
Feelin’ we’dd pulled the biggest heist of our career.
We're wanted men– we’ll strike again!
But first let’s have a beer.

Josh delivers a surprisingly gentle story. He pays considerable attention to characterization, so by the time the story wraps, you’re glad to witness a happy ending.

And for enquiring minds who want to know, he’s a damn fine editor. He’s also donating a third of the royalties to two Buffett charities, Singing for Change Charitable Foundation and Save the Manatee Club,

Truckstop Salvation
Down to Earth
[musiclyrics]
Leigh Lundin



After Josh’s invitation, I sweated, coming up with zero ideas. As the acceptance deadline approached, I feared having to decline.

One evening, my scalpel-tongued brother Glen mentioned one of his ironic descriptors– dirty, furrin’ lovin’, commie, pinko, hippie, peace queers (considerably cleaned up for our refined audience). I tossed out, “Long-haired, greasy-looking ape,” and immediately wondered where that came from.

Googling found it in a song on Jimmy Buffett’s first album, Down to Earth. The lyrics of ‘Truckstop Salvation’ hinted at an off-camera not-so-pleasant ending.

A silly ditty floated in my brain to the tune of ‘Harper Valley PTA’ (written here in awkward pentameter):

I want to tell you about a valley in Eastern Tennessee.
Good folks and bad struggle in a place called Suwannachee.
No McDonalds, no mall, no factory, no future, no pay,
Then along comes a notice from the local valley TVA.

Those in Washington know you love your rustic neighborhood,
But Congress tells you to give it up for the greater good.
Though eminent domain puts your family in a jam,
Those vacate orders on your doors mean they don’t give a dam.

Once my brain juxtaposed my brother with his Tom Petty hair and live-by-his-own-rules attitude, a Southern gothic began to sketch itself in dark, dark tones. What if Edgar Allan Poe engaged in a forbidden romance with Bobbie Gentry? You know, Deliverance without all the fun and frolic?


Those rock shrimp and stone crabs are rolling to a boil. Beer tub in the sand, nutcrackers at the ready. Pick up the hammer and tongs, have at them.

Florida’s Broward College is sponsoring the launch party. It’s virtual. It’s Zoom. It’s free. It’s 11 March, 2021 at 07:30p. Sign up here!

And yeah, the Jimmy Buffett anthology has lots of damn good stories. Don’t be a crusty crustacean, pre-order at a discount. Do it quickly– it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.