06 April 2021

Killing Dreams One Rejection at a Time


At the time I wrote “Rejected!” in 2018, I had received 2,552 rejections. I have no idea how many more I’ve added since then, and I don’t feel brave enough to count them.

Because I now edit Black Cat Mystery Magazine for Wildside Press and various anthologies for Down & Out Books, I’ve lately been sending far more rejections than I’ve been receiving. Along the way, my attitude toward rejection has changed. I once viewed rejection as evidence of editors’ inability to recognize genius. Now I realize how small a role one’s writing ability plays in rejection.

SIXTEEN-TO-ONE ODDS

160 submissions spread over
31 days, with the greatest
number arriving on the
first and last days of the
submission window.

As I write this, the end of the submission period for Black Cat Mystery Magazine Presents Cozies—a special themed issue that follows up on last year’s private eye-themed issue—is four days in the past. I received 160 submissions and will accept approximately 10 for inclusion in the issue. As I did with the private eye issue, I may accept a few additional stories for use in non-themed issues.

Of the 160 submissions, I held 60 stories for a second reading, which means 100 have already been returned to writers. Some of these were great stories, as evidenced by their acceptance elsewhere.

BUT WHY?

There are many reasons stories didn’t make the first cut and others may not survive the second cut. Among the reasons:

Not following guidelines. I was seeking a specific subset of cozy stories, as specified in the guidelines, and I received several stories that did not fit that specific subset. Additionally, BCMM has guidelines—likes and dislikes—that apply to all submissions, and some submissions did not take those guidelines into account.

Identical protagonists. Many of the submissions had a protagonist who was a mystery writer/wanna-be mystery writer/voracious mystery reader. Because so many stories shared the same generic protagonist, few of these stories stood out.

Theatrical settings. Many of the submissions had a theatrical setting, which made me think—right or wrong—that I was seeing all the stories that didn’t make the cut for Malice Domestic 15: Mystery Most Theatrical (Wildside Press, 2020). Because so many stories shared the same setting, few of them stood out.

Before submitting a
ms. created in Word, press
the paragraph symbol on
the menu bar to examine
all the weird coding you’ve
inserted. Then clean it up.
Weird Formatting. Past experience has proven that a writer unfamiliar with the fundamentals of Microsoft Word is going to be difficult to work with. To be accepted, a manuscript with weird or inconsistent formatting must be so good that I’m willing to risk the pain I will suffer when I prepare it for publication.

All the Usual Reasons. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are important.

BUT...BUT...BUT...

The 60 stories I’m holding for a second reading have survived the initial cut. How do I decide which will make the final cut and which won’t?

I wish there were a magic formula, but there isn’t. There are, however, three key elements that play a role in the next round of cuts:

Amount of work required. The less work required to prepare a manuscript for publication, the better its odds of acceptance.

How well the stories work together. The stories selected for inclusion need to work together. Stories that don’t play well with others won’t make the cut.

Editorial taste. This is the purely subjective element of editing. Every editor has likes and dislikes that play a role in decision-making. They are not always obvious, even to the editor.

KILLING DREAMS

I remember what it was like as a new writer, sending my submissions into the void and hoping that someone, somewhere would publish something I wrote. I remember how much I appreciated the personal notes I sometimes received with my rejections, and I wondered why every editor didn’t take the time to do the same.

I now know why. There just isn’t enough time in the day to send a personalized response to every submission.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that editors aren’t trying to kill your dreams.

So, don’t let rejection stop you. Learn whatever you can from a rejection—whether it’s a form letter or a detailed personal response—and move forward.

Send your story to another market. Then write a new story and send it out.

It may be a cliche, but every rejection puts you one step closer to an acceptance. And once you have an acceptance, you’ll know that dream killers like me didn’t win.


Jukes & Tonks, co-edited with Gary Phillips, is coming April 19 from Down & Out Books. This anthology includes one dozen crime fiction short stories set in and around juke joints and honky-tonks from some of today’s hottest writers, including Trey R. Barker, Michael Bracken, Jonathan Brown, S.A. Cosby, John M. Floyd, Debra H. Goldstein, Gar Anthony Haywood, Penny Mickelbury, Gary Phillips, William Dylan Powell, Kimberly B. Richardson, and Stacy Woodson.

My story “Fading Memories” appears in Unnerving Magazine #15.



05 April 2021

Nuts Is Not A Diagnosis - Unless A Shrink Is Making A Joke


Every time I think surely everyone knows what schizophrenic means, I hear someone in a novel—or in life, for that matter—say, "I'm schizophrenic," meaning anything from, "I'm in two different minds about this," ie ambivalent, to, "Sometimes I'm like two different people," ie, metaphorically variable in mood and/or behavior. The origin of the psychiatric term, "schizophrenia" is indeed "divided mind," but the disorder today's mental health professionals diagnose as schizophrenia has nothing to do with that.

According to DSM-5, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, schizophrenia is "a severe and chronic mental disorder characterized by disturbances in thought, perception, and behavior." It comes with delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and/or "grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior." To keep it straight, remember it's a thought disorder rather than an affective or, in lay terms, emotional disorder. Before cell phones got popular, most of the people talking to themselves on buses were probably schizophrenics conversing with their auditory hallucinations. "Ideas of reference"—thinking the person on the TV is talking to you personally—is something a schizophrenic might think.

While the closest I think a person gets to what most of us think of as crazy is people with thought disorders and psychotic symptoms, such as chronic schizophrenics, many of them, even while they're being treated, don't think they're crazy. In fact, I've met many who were afraid the medications doctors gave them would make them crazy. They also thought that street drugs would make them better, a fantasy too many writers romanticize.

Now let's talk about "being two different people," or that "rare disorder," "split personality." First, it's not a rare disorder. It stopped being rare as soon as people started believing the people who reported having been sexually abused is children, which is how it usually starts. When helpless people, especially the very young, experience trauma they can't cope with or comprehend—sexual abuse and torture—they survive by dissociating. Their minds take part of them to another place, where what's happening to their bodies has nothing to do with them. This dissociation takes root and becomes a powerful coping mechanism. In extreme cases, it becomes what's now called dissociative identity disorder (formerly split personality disorder). Typically, there's a main personality who's unaware of the existence of alters, ie from a couple to dozens of personalities that coexist in the adult's mind.

Writers and, unfortunately, some therapists may romanticize the alters, wanting to grant them "freedom" rather than understanding that they are truly parts of a single person and that the therapeutic goal must be integration. While the main personality may be a competent, conventional adult with an ordinary job and a family, one alter might be a brawler, another a prostitute, another the frightened four-year-old who was molested. Not all the alters may have the same sexual orientation. Some alters may want help, others may not. But even if it's not apparent, that main personality is missing some important aspects of wholeness.

I've come in contact with DID a couple of times in the course of my career as a mental health professional. The first time, I was working in a hospital alcoholism treatment setting in which most of the medical and psychiatric team didn't "believe" in DID. The patient seeking treatment for alcoholism had been convicted for molesting his ten-year-old daughter. He said he had no recollection of doing so but believed he must have done it and was filled with remorse. He came from an extremely strict religion, community, and family. After ruling out memory loss due to drinking and working with him for a while, I suspected that he had been severely abused as a child and was suffering from DID. My guess was that an alter he was unaware of had committed the abuse.

In my online practice, a woman with a very chaotic family life came to me for therapy. My antennae went up when she signed her email with one name and paid from the Paypal account of someone with the same last name but a different first name. As she told me more about her history, she revealed she'd started an affair with an uncle at age ten, but assured me it was not abuse because they "really loved each other"—one of the fantasies with which predatory adults "seduce" children. When a pedophile successfully cons a child, it's still child molestation. At other times, she wrote letters that seemed to come from different alters, refused to take certain actions in her marriage because "it wouldn't be fair to the others," and admitted she'd been told before that she had DID, but that she didn't believe it. When she stopped coming to treatment, I emailed her, gently encouraging her to return. She wrote back, saying, "We don't need therapy." That "we" spoke volumes.

Dissociation isn't always so extreme. You've experienced it yourself if you've ever been lost in a good book or gone into road trance. Schizophrenia, on the other hand—well, if you hear Rachel Maddow say, "Leigh, that's you I'm talking to!" you may want to get yourself checked out.

04 April 2021

Florida News: Taxing Questions


Joel Greenberg
Joel Greenberg,
Tax Collector
© The Independent

You might be forgiven thinking Joel Greenberg a low-rent Jeffrey Epstein, possible purveyor of goods and services to the likes of his friend, Congressman Matt Gaetz. Greenberg was supposed to go on trial a couple of weeks ago, now rescheduled in two months (June). Long before he was arrested for numerous crimes, red flags arose.

Development of a Police State

More than county tax departments, Florida’s various Code Enforcement agencies may be the most despised bureaucracies in the Sunshine State. These are the people who fine homeowners $200 a day upon spotting a hole in a porch screen or charge $500 a day for painting one's house the wrong shade. These fines are as typical as they are capricious. Notice these penalties run ‘per day’. Code Enforcement has also charged citizens for hosting religious gatherings in their homes and flying American flags, both successfully challenged in the courts.

These ‘per day’ fines can easily exceed most criminal penalties, even mount beyond the value of the properties they target. One local man has racked up $1.9-million. But at least Code Enforcement can’t send violators to prison.

Whoops, wait. Yes, they can by criminalizing civil violations and misdemeanors. Seminole County resident Alan Davis believes Code Enforcement violates personal liberties, and he’s dedicated the better part of three decades hammering home his point… or hammering points into his home.

He’s mocked Code Enforcement, at one time planting a toilet in his yard and another time creating a giant buttocks sculpture. God love him. When ordered to remove junky items from his yard, he obliged and moved them to his roof.

Davis initially spent a year in Florida state prison where he became surprisingly popular. After serving that first term, he’s been back more than once, including a three year stretch for ‘felony littering’– on his own property.

So it’s understandable that as Code Enforcement flexed its muscles, the Florida Association of Code Enforcement (FACE) began to consider themselves junior police officers. They lobbied for the right to carry guns, wear badges, and be addressed like a professional cop. They won the right to be called ‘officer’ and they now wear heavy police-looking badges on their belts or on chains around their necks. However, they couldn’t explain why they needed sidearms whilst writing up unedged lawns and chipped paint.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

As police departments succumbed to increased militarization, local bureaucracies moved to become more police-like. In an attempt to make green eyeshades look cool, Seminole County’s newly elected tax collector purchased badges and guns for his department’s ‘officers’. The public hadn’t appreciated the enormous danger handing out driver, car, cat, and fishing licences, a high-risk job almost as hazardous as recording plat books.

After arming his tax collectors, Joel Greenburg considered his new position so ★policey★, he begged a traffic cop who pulled him over for ‘professional courtesy’ and to let him, a fellow officer off the hook.

But wait, there’s more. ‘Officer’ Greenburg stopped at least one woman in traffic by flashing his shiny, new gold badge, accusing her of speeding. Nothing came of her complaint once the lady realized Greenburg wasn’t the real deal. Professional courtesy, see.

Greenburg liked playing pretend in other ways. He directed his department to pay friends who pretended to work for him. He set up pretend companies to further syphon funds from taxpayers. He submitted false claims to receive pandemic relief. He pretended to be other people by stealing taxpayer identities and manufacturing IDs to facilitate trafficking young women.

You may have heard of Bit Coin and crypto-currency. Mr. Greenburg made arrangements to profit from it by setting up his own, money-making crypto-computer within Seminole County’s Tax Department. Crypto-coin is known for gobbling huge amounts of electricity, and he didn’t want that on his personal Duke Energy bill. Unfortunately Greenburg brought 15-watts of intelligence to a 20,000-watt problem. He miswired his server farm, causing it to set the tax office on fire, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage, which of course Mr. Greenburg didn’t pay for. Professional courtesy.

Despite mishaps, Mr. Greenburg liked computers or, more to the point, he liked certain, ah, web sites. One of his favorites was Seeking Arrangement, where “wealthy men and women find the odds in their favor.” Most of us would call that prostitution, but lest we misjudge, here are their words (punctuation added), and yes, that’s a trademark symbol in the first line:

Upgrade Your Relationships™ where beautiful, successful people fuel mutually beneficial relationships. Our Mission: Seeking Arrangement delivers a new way for relationships to form and grow. Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies or Mommas both get what they want, when they want it. We provide Relationships on Your Terms. Where Sugar Babies enjoy a life of luxury by being pampered with fine dinners, exotic trips and allowances. In turn, Sugar Daddies or Mommas find beautiful members to accompany them at all times. We want relationships to be balanced. We give our members a place for this to happen. (Seeking) Arrangement is where people are direct with one another and stop wasting time. It allows people to immediately define what they need and want in a relationship. Our profiles allow members to effortlessly state their expectations. This is what we like to call Relationships on Your Terms. No Strings Attached– Redefine the expectations of a perfect relationship. Ideal Relationships– Upfront and honest arrangements with someone who will cater to your needs. Be Pampered– Indulge in shopping sprees, expensive dinners, and exotic travel vacations. Date Experienced Men– Date real gentlemen who don't play games. Find a Mentor– Established Sugar Daddies offer valuable guidance for long-term stability.

OMG, it’s so beautiful it makes me teary. Of course by ‘relationship’ they mean ƒ—… Well, you know the word. If you can’t achieve love, romance, and sex, you buy it. I can feel empathy for that, but please, don’t call it a relationship.

Joel Greenburg presently faces between fourteen counts and as many as thirty-three. Even after indictment and his release on bail, he continued committing crimes and violations.

Roger Stone, Matt Gaetz, Joel Greenburg

Congressman having Congress

About here Greenburg’s buddy Matt Gaetz enters the picture. The tax collector seems to have been one of Gaetz’s few friends, which may have gone beyond a penchant for underage girls.

Greenburg’s indictment is well-understood, but our sleazy congressman’s story is still developing. We’ll leave it and the involvement of Roger Stone for another time.

And remember, all parties are considered innocent until the rotten miscreants are proven guilty.

Thanks to Darlene, Sharon, Cate, and Eve for contributions to this article.)

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.



02 April 2021

Giving It Away for Free


I don’t think I fit the profile of a sap or a patsy, but there’s an argument that I’m a bit of a sucker. Thus far this year I’ve read and commented on two full nonfiction books, a nonfiction book proposal, and a sample chapter intended to accompany that proposal. All works in progress, all written by people other than myself, and all of my time given free for the asking.

I didn’t see what I’d committed to until I was in the thick of it, feeling like a freelance editor (or college professor) without the income, and wondering why I hadn’t gotten more of my own writing done. Just as that realization hit me, a fresh email popped into my inbox. It was from an acquaintance here in town. She asked if I’d consider reading her middle-grade novel and advise her on how to sell it. She offered payment, which was nice. But since I had now switched to overcompensation mode, I turned her down flat. (And feel bad about it, to boot!)

I’m determined to say no more often in 2021. I’ll check back with you to let you know how well I’m doing on that score.

But yes, I give it away for free often. And when the experience goes well, I feel like I’ve made a difference. I’m naturally drawn to people who are committed to their writing, and aren’t afraid to work to take it to the next level. Some years ago, my wife and I “donated” (i.e., accepted no payment) for a weekend class we ran for a local writing program on how to write nonfiction book proposals. Three out of our 15 students went on to get book deals with traditional publishers. A fourth decided to self publish what is shaping up to be a really fine book that she will use to promote her business. We felt awesome hearing those success stories.

But other times the help I offer quickly becomes a time-suck. The dividing line is always the person’s level of commitment. How hard they are willing to work. How easy they expect the journey to be. And, I dare say, how quickly they are willing to give up.

Once, there was a well-heeled business dude whose only daughter had written an inspirational book. She wanted Daddy to front the costs of the “publisher” she had found on the Internet. “Is $10,000 a reasonable amount to pay to get a book published?” Daddy-O asked on a phone call that quickly gobbled an hour of my time that I’ll never get back.

Another person—an accomplished entrepreneur—insisted on paying me to coach him in the writing of a book proposal. Now, next to inhaling rotisserie chickens and slices of pizza in record time, nonfiction book proposals are arguably my largest area of professional expertise. They’re tricky to write. Ultimately, they’re a sales document, designed to sell a publisher on the (always nonfiction) book you want to write—and to land the best price while doing so. But boy, they cannot read like that. They have to wow editors with compelling writing, too. Most people who’ve worked in business have no idea how to write such a chimera, let alone the book they feel they have inside them. Hours and meetings into his project, my entrepreneur friend threw up his hands in frustration and said, “Do you think my time would be better spent hiring a ghostwriter like you?”


Things I'd be enjoying if I weren
t reading your book...

I spent long (unpaid) afternoons with another businessman—what is it with you business dudes?—who wanted to write a memoir. First we mapped out the plot of his book on a whiteboard, and later spent hours organizing scenes on index cards and rearranging their order on the giant conference table in his office.

He was ecstatic. After years of simply talking about the book he wanted to write, he could finally see a way to getting it done. Look—it was outlined to the max! All he had to do was go home, trip down the path mapped by the index cards, and write!

Before Covid did a number on our social lives, I ran into him at a bar, were he made the most hilarious proposition I’ve ever heard. “I just can’t seem to find the time to write the damn thing,” he confessed. “Hey! What if you came over and sat in my office for an hour every day? You could work on your projects, and I could work on mine! It would be like—”

He paused, struggling to find the right word.

“Babysitting?” was the one that popped into my mind.

Believe me, I know writing is not something that comes naturally to a lot of people. You could very well be an accomplished individual in your chosen profession, and never have had to write anything longer than that one 10-page term paper you wrote in college. The thought of completing a short story, or an entire book, is daunting.

But what ticked me off recently was a text sent to my wife’s mobile phone at 8:30 pm on a Sunday night. “A friend of mine has a book she wants to get published,” a neighbor wrote. “Are there any tips or sites you would recommend?”

I hit the roof. Unknowingly, this person had blundered into one of my pet peeves. Yes, I know the world of publishing can sometimes seem opaque to people who aren’t immersed in it, but—call me crazy—are we not living in a golden age of information? If you’re passionate about something, you ought to be able to find the information you need to chase your writing dreams.

I wonder if I’m wrong about this. In fact, I write these next words with some trepidation because I fear I am on the verge of becoming a Grumpy Old Writer Man. So please bear with me.

My publishing path is similar to that of many other writers. I started writing short stories in the 1970s, when I was barely into my teens. I knew no one else who wanted to do what I did. And yet, here are the things one would-be writer kid knew, I repeat, in the Seventies:

* I knew how to format a short story manuscript.
* I knew the addresses of the markets I wanted to crack—and sometimes the names of the editors.
* I knew I ought to mail a SASE when I mailed my story in.
* I knew I’d have to get my parents to drive me to the post office. It was too far to walk, and unsafe to ride my bike to get there.
* I knew I’d get rejections, but I also knew I would just have to keep sending stories out.
* I knew there would be still more rejections, and that I would just have to keep sending out stories.
* I was prepared to repeat the last two steps ad nauseam.

How did I know such things in the 1970s, before the Internet as we know it was available, and before you could ask a friend to text working writers on your behalf? 

Simple. I found it all out at my public library. The top shelf of the reference section had a copy of the LMP (Literary Market Place) and an outdated copy of Writer’s Market. That was pretty much all I needed. That, and copies of the magazines I loved that gave me the audacious notion of seeing my own stories in print.


More things I’d enjoy if I weren't reading your novel-in-progress.

Later, as I got older, there were other libraries with more generous resources. One held back issues of magazines such as Writer’s Digest or The Writer. And when I began to think I could write a novel, I scoured paperback racks in stationery stores and bookstores. The book pages of local newspapers were still rich with book reviews back then. If you thought critically and maybe even opportunistically, you could mine all those resources for clues to imprints, agents, and editors.

The Sunday night text crystalized my intention, folks. I have to stop taking the road to Suckerdom. The next time someone asks how to get a book published, I intend to encourage them to do their own research first. To think about how hard they’re willing to work, and how badly they want it.

Because I suspect that if you’re bugging a writer on a Sunday night, you are probably not really looking for information, but for a quick ’n’ dirty “secret.” A way to hack a profession or an accomplishment that has historically never been easy.

There is only one secret, and that is this: Everything you need to succeed or fail is inside you already. If you’re lucky, it’s as stubborn as a teenage kid, and just as resilient. Find that kid, and keep them close. They’re the only writer buddy you need.


Writing is hard. Thats the point. It may be the only point.

* * * 

One of my (professionally paid) ghostwriting projects pubs next month. The author was a dream to work with. Hope to share news about that next time.

See you three weeks!

Joe