14 October 2013

A Typewriter?

by Fran Rizer

Note:  This is not the column about words that I wanted to use today, but illness has prevented me from completing it.

My divorce was final when my younger son was five years old.  I admit that freedom from marriage allowed me to do some things I hadn't done while living with a husband.  No, not what you're thinking. I used to say the major changes were that (1) I could spread my clothes out in all the closet space in the master bedroom.  (2) I no longer felt compelled to jump up to clean the kitchen after dinner--sometimes I even left the dishes in the sink until the next morning. (3) I never planned to fry another chicken.  From then on, fried chicken at my house arrived in a KFC bucket and was transferred to a serving tray.

A year or so after the divorce, my sons spent a weekend with their grandmother. When they came home, the younger one told me, "Mom, did you know that people can make fried chicken in their own kitchens?"

I'm sure there are children who would be equally impressed to learn that people used to write without computers.  I'm not talking about way back when everything was written by hand (possibly even in cursive, which is no longer considered a necessary skill for students to learn.)  I'm referring to typewriters.  Some of us remember when most authors didn't have word processors or computers.  Editing and rewriting on typewriters was a pain in the Royal you-know-what.

All of that leads to my story for today, and, yes, it's nonfiction, a true story about a real man.
I picked this as the first drawing because I love trains.  In
fact, I've written several bluegrass train songs.

Once upon a time, actually on September 21, 1921, a baby boy was born.  His parents named him Paul Smith.

The odds were against Paul.  He had severe cerebral palsy, a disability that impeded both speech and mobility.

His challenges meant that Paul spent most of his life in a Nursing Home in Roseburg, Oregon.  He taught himself to become a master chess player even though he had very little formal education.  

Paul also taught himself to type; however, his palsy made it necessary to use his left hand to steady his right hand. This made it impossible for him to strike two keys at the same time. 
I've chosen this drawing because my very first recorded
original song was "Waiting at the Station."

Because he needed both hands to press one typewriter key, Paul almost always locked the shift key and typed using only the symbols at the top of the number keys.
These characters --
@ # $ % ^ & * () _
were the only symbols he could type. 

Note the signature in the lower right corner - Typed by Paul Smith. 

The drawings in this blog were all "Typed by Paul Smith," and
created from those symbols above the numerals on typewriters.  He created hundreds of pictures.  He gave many away but kept copies of some of them.
On the left is Paul's version of the

Mona Lisa.  Below is a close-up from that picture showing how his artwork was made.  

He died June 25, 2007, and his life and work are noteworthy as well as inspiring.

Paul Smith inspires me.  If a man who couldn't speak and had to steady his spastic hands to strike one key at a time could create such works from a typewriter, surely we can accomplish our writing goals with all the bells and whistles we have on today's computers.

A question for SS readers and writers--who inspires you?

Until we meet again, take care of you!

13 October 2013

Florida News: Rich in Irony

by Leigh Lundin

I haven't been writing about Florida in recent months, not because weird stuff stopped happening here, but because the news had grown morbid and lost its humor. There's nothing funny about a grown man who ran over a young girl who'd refused him or the poor Tampa girl bullied into suicide.

But remember, this is the home of irony, where our governor, Rick Scott, who originally opposed Obamacare, still refuses to allow Affordable Care 'Navigators' into the state. The irony? Rick Scott engineered the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in our nation's history. His fines alone were $1.7-BILLION. But with the billions left over, he purchased a governorship, always for sale in Florida.

Following are a few tidbits from the Sunshine State.

Attack of the Giant Snails

For centuries, ships have brought invasive– and terribly destructive– foreign species to Florida. I personally feud with fire ants, vicious Formicidae that don't simply bite, they use acid to burn holes through the skin and kill a human when attacking en force.

Some of the most destructive plants and animals have come from hobbyists' aquariums– hydrilla, walking catfish, Asian carp, and now, straight out of 1950s scary movies… voracious snails the size of a large man's fist. Miami-Dade decided it was time to call in the dogs.

Bang-Bang, You're Suspended

The very funny Irish comedian, Dave Allen, had his index finger missing since childhood. When he was a child and played cops and robbers with his mates, chasing each other and shouting "Bang, bang!" Some of the boys challenged his stubby index finger, telling him he couldn't shoot with that. "Sure, I can," he said. "Ever hear of a snub-nose .38?"

Now comes the story of an eight-year-old Harmony boy who was playing bang-bang-shoot-em-up with his fully-loaded pretend finger pistol in this great state with the deadly Shoot First / Stand Your Ground proudly on its books.

His Osceola County school suspended him for playing bang-bang with his brother and friends, but threatening no one. As his mother pointed out, he was actually empty-handed.

Bang-bang, You're Arrested

As discussed in this column, Florida has an insane collection of gun laws ranging from the infamous Shoot First / Stand Your Ground to mandatory sentencing. More than one critic have observed that the laws were written by whites for whites and seldom work in favor of black folks.

Take the admittedly murky case of a Jacksonville mother of three, Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot to keep clear of her ex-husband. If she'd killed him, she might have defended herself with the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law, at least if she'd been white. But since she didn't kill him, the state's mandatory sentencing kicked in, subjecting her to a twenty-year prison term, which even non-supporters feel is excessive.

Now, an appeals court has sent the case back for a retrial on a technicality. Let's hope a jury finds a way to make this right. And just in case you think Florida has left its racist roots behind with all the Northerners who've immigrated, let me remind you Florida still honors the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Civil War criminal, brilliant cavalryman and possibly racially rehabilitated Nathan Bedford Forrest.


Remember Jennifer Mee, the Florida teenager who appeared on talk shows because she couldn't stop hiccupping? She hit a little hiccup of her own.  She's been sentenced to life imprisonment for masterminding a robbery and murder

iOpening: What the…?

Some people will do anything to get the latest Apple gadget. In this case, a woman walked into the Boca Raton Apple store with a strap-on device… nobody knows quite what it was. My guess it probably violated Apple's warranty, not to mention a possible law or two.

In the meantime, welcome to Florida, folks. No irony deficiency here.

12 October 2013

Writers of a Lost Art

by John M. Floyd

Well, not a lost art. Let's say an unusual art, or a rarely seen art.

What I'm referring to are loglines, and their first cousins, teasers. Neither is associated with all kinds of fiction projects, but sometimes one or the other is necessary for, and requested by, a publisher or an editor. Or, in the case of a film, a producer.

I've written about this subject before, at Criminal Brief--here's a link to the column, called "A Story in a Nutshell," from almost five years ago--so I won't go into a long spiel, here. Let me just mention that a logline is usually a one-sentence, present-tense summary of a story or novel or movie (think of it as a super-brief synopsis), and can ideally be used for the benefit of both the writer and the publisher. Examples: "An archaeologist tries to prevent the Nazis from using an ancient relic to conquer the world," or "A lawyer falls under a spell and loses his ability to lie for twenty-four hours."

Some writers say that if they create a logline before the story is begun it can help them keep the plotline "on track," and some publishers/editors/producers say they like to see such a summary as a part of the treatment or the query letter to help them evaluate (or decide whether to bother to evaluate) the work.

A teaser, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: a short description designed to generate curiosity and interest in the piece. To me, a teaser is to a logline what the inside jacket copy is to a synopsis. The purpose of teasers and jacket copy is to be enticing, period; the purpose of loglines and synopses is to be informative.

Please tease me

Rob Lopresti pointed out, in one of the comments posted to my Criminal Brief column, that a teaser is also known as "high concept," since it provides a short pitch that helps in the marketing of a project. Examples that were used in that CB piece and in the comments following it were the phrase "Die Hard on a battleship" to promote the movie Under Siege, and "High Noon on a space station" to describe the Sean Connery film Outland. If we follow that thread, a teaser for the movie The Last Samurai could probably be "Dances With Wolves in the Far East." Both films involve a guy thrown into an unfamiliar and hostile world, and learning to survive and feel at home there. The same kind of thing happens in Avatar, which is a high-tech, futuristic version of Dances With Wolves. (I've gradually come to believe that there are very few "new" plots--just rehashes of old ones.)

Teasers are even used occasionally in magazines, to introduce short stories. They're usually longer than teasers for films, and appear right after the bylines, and are furnished by either the editor or the writer. I remember that the fiction editor of Futures (later renamed Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine) often asked me to submit teasers along with my story manuscripts, especially if they were "series" mysteries. I've sometimes done that for Mysterical-E as well. Example: "When Sheriff Lucy Valentine leaves for the day, her deputy is in charge. At least until Lucy's mother arrives . . ."

Epics of miniature proportions

Anyhow, what I'd like to do today is present you with a quiz featuring yet another member of the logline/teaser family: taglines.

Taglines are the short and usually witty slogans that appear on movie posters and DVD packaging. Some are just a play on words: "The snobs against the slobs" (Caddyshack), "The coast is toast" (Volcano), "Escape or die frying" (Chicken Run). Others don't really tell you anything but they're funny: "Love is in the hair" (There's Something About Mary), "A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood" (A Fish Called Wanda), "The longer you wait, the harder it gets" (The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Still others are so familiar they've become part of our culture: "An offer you can't refuse," "Love means never having to say you're sorry," "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." The best of them, in my opinion, are the mysterious, puzzling ones that don't summarize or identify the film; they just offer a catchy hint about its content.

Here's what I mean. See if you can remember what movie each of the following fifty taglines refers to. Some are easy, but if you find others difficult, I think you'll still recognize them when you see the answers (which are included later in the column). And no peeking . . .

1. An adventure 65 million years in the making.

2. You don't assign him to murder cases. You just turn him loose.

3. This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about the future.

4. For anyone who has ever wished upon a star.

5. Her life was in their hands. Now her toe is in the mail.

6. They're here . . .

7. The first casualty of war is innocence.

8. In space no one can hear you scream.

9. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

10. A man went looking for America, and couldn't find it anywhere.

11. His whole life was a million-to-one shot.

12. The true story of a real fake.

13. She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees.

14. Check in. Relax. Take a shower.

15. For Harry and Lloyd, every day is a no-brainer.

16. You'll believe a man can fly.

17. He is afraid. He is alone. He is three million light years from home.

18. Where were you in '62?

19. Collide with destiny.

20. You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.

21. This is the weekend they didn't play golf.

22. The story of a man who was too proud to run.

23. They're young . . . they're in love . . . and they kill people.

24. Houston, we have a problem.

25. Same make. Same model. New mission.

26. He's having the worst day of his life . . . over and over.

27. To enter the mind of a killer, she must challenge the mind of a madman.

28. Work sucks.

29. Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.

30. Protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe!

31. One man's struggle to take it easy.

32. What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew, was the only someone for you?

33. The last man on Earth is not alone.

34. Life is like a box of chocolates . . . you never know what you're gonna get.

35. Handcuffed to the girl who double-crossed him.

36. He's the only kid ever to get in trouble before he was born.

37. A love caught in the fire of revolution.

38. Invisible. Silent. Stolen.

39. Who ya gonna call?

40. There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They're looking for one.

41. What a glorious feeling.

42. Can two friends sleep together and love each other in the morning?

43. Earth. Take a good look. It could be your last.

44. He had to find her . . . he had to find her.

45. They'll never get caught. They're on a mission from God.

46. For three men the Civil War wasn't hell. It was practice.

47. Nice planet. We'll take it!

48. Before Sam was murdered, he told Molly he'd love and protect her forever.

49. Three decades of life in the mafia.

50. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.


1. Jurassic Park
2. Dirty Harry
3. The Graduate
4. Pinocchio
5. The Big Lebowski
6. Poltergeist
7. Platoon
8. Alien
9. Jaws 2
10. Easy Rider
11. Rocky
12. Catch Me If You Can
13. Erin Brockovich
14. Psycho
15. Dumb and Dumber
16. Superman
17. E.T.
18. American Graffiti
19. Titanic
20. The Social Network
21. Deliverance
22. High Noon
23. Bonnie and Clyde
24. Apollo 13
25. Terminator 2
26. Groundhog Day
27. The Silence of the Lambs
28. Office Space
29. The Shawshank Redemption
30. Men in Black
31. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
32. Sleepless in Seattle
33. I Am Legend
34. Forrest Gump
35. The 39 Steps
36. Back to the Future
37. Doctor Zhivago
38. The Hunt for Red October
39. Ghostbusters
40. Finding Nemo
41. Singin' in the Rain
42. When Harry Met Sally
43. Independence Day
44. The Searchers
45. The Blues Brothers
46. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
47. Mars Attacks!
48. Ghost
49. Goodfellas
50. The Shining

And that's that. I hope you had a perfect score (but if you did I feel a little sorry for you--that means you're as addicted to the pursuit of worthless information as I am). And if you can remember some good taglines that I missed, please let me know. I'm off to the Gulf Coast today for another booksigning--no rest for the weary--but I'll be checking in here late this afternoon to see if there are others who like to read movie posters.

I think you'll be happy to know that in this spot on October 26 we'll be featuring pointers about how to effectively market what we've written, in a guest column by my old friend and prolific short-story author Michael Bracken. But for now, thanks for allowing me to indulge myself.

All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy.

11 October 2013

Crime School

The internet can be both boon and bane in modern society. Going online has become an easy method of shopping for goods, handling your banking and quickly looking up historical or reference items. All of these processes make for time savers and convenient access. But of course, for many of the "good" things in life, there can also be a dark side.

Several users of the internet like to peruse the videos on Youtube for entertainment or how-to-do-it-yourself information on repairing broken items around the house or even building a project from scratch. But, if you happen to look further, you'll find it's some of the other how-to-do-it videos that provide a crime school for junior thieves and wanna-be criminals.

For instance, let's say you use a combination lock on your bicycle when you leave it at a bike rack, or maybe you use that same lock to safe guard your personal goods in a gym locker at your favorite workout facility. Better think again. Those items are no longer safe with that combination lock. And, no, the potential thief does not need a large bolt cutter to open your lock. All he needs is a knife and a pop can. Watch this video:

Yes, it's as simple as it looks. Tried it myself on an old lock with a lost combination. Just a little practice and I opened it three times in a row. Discomforting for my peace of mind.

What's that you say, you lock your car in the garage at night and sleep soundly? Then you had better know there is another video showing criminals how to break into your garage in only six seconds, and they do it without a sledge hammer:

After watching that video, I found several which then showed how to prevent the six second break-in method. Now, my garage door mechanism has that little lever wired up so it cannot be tripped from the outside. You might want to check your own garage door opening mechanism to see if you have a potential problem.

There are also videos on how to open a car door with a tennis ball, which leads me to wonder what other how-to-commit-crimes videos are out there? It's a dark side to the internet, a training school for budding criminals.

You got thoughts on this subject?