Monday, March 27, 2017

Big money for short stories

Dozens of movies have been made from short fiction, earning their authors nice rewards.  Sometimes a brief story has inspired more--even many more--than one movie.  Examples:

          Story and Author                                          Movie(s)
“The Bicentennial Man” Isaac Asimov       Bicentennial Man (1999)
“The Sentinel” Clarke                                  2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
“The Birds” Daphne duMaurier                   Same name (1963 Hitchcock)
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” Truman Capote      Same name (1961)
“Octopussy” Ian Fleming                             Same name (1983)
“It’s a Wonderful Life” Philip Van Doren    Three movies (1946-1990)
“The Fly” George Langelaan                        Five (1958-1989)
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” Irving        Nine (1922-2004)
“A Christmas Carol” Charles Dickens          At least twelve (1912-2008)
“The Fall of the House of Usher” Poe           Fourteen (1928-2008)
“The Invisible Man” H.G. Wells                   Eighteen (1933-2013)
“Zorro” Johnathon McCulley                        Twenty-two (1920-2005)
“The Turn of the Screw” Henry James          Twenty-three (1957-2013)

Several of Stephen King’s short stories have become movies including The Mist (2007), The Langoliers (1992), Maximum Overdrive (1997), Children of the Corn (Several 1984-2009), and The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

Why is this so?  I think it’s because good short stories have lasting reader impact.  In many ways they demand the finest writing--succinct character development, vivid scene-setting, astute word choice, and tight plotting.  I can still remember some I enjoyed as far back as college, like “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane, and Hemingway’s “The Killers.”  I also loved the series featuring Tugboat Annie in The Saturday Evening Post, which also made the movies.

If you’re a writer or aspire to be, short stories can be fertile ground for your efforts.  And creating a good one could reap a lucrative harvest.


(Give my story collection, Dagger and other tales, a try.  It’s on Amazon, and includes yarns gleaned from a lifetime of writing, even one begun by Stephen King.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hail the vernal equinox

Today signals the advent of spring for the northern hemisphere and fall for the southern hemisphere, with both receiving equal light from our star.  Because our planet is tilted 23.5 degrees from the ecliptic (the orbital track around the sun), which of course creates our seasons, there are only two times during each year that an equinox happens.  As our planet rotates on these two days six months apart, the sun appears to rise from due east and set due west, and the hours of daylight virtually equal the hours of darkness almost everywhere on earth.

For us northern-hemisphere dwellers above the tropics, it’s a time of celebration as each day now begins to grow a little longer with the sun’s track edging northward, flowers and trees miraculously come back to life, migrating birds return to familiar nesting grounds, we open up our homes to benign breezes once again, and our souls welcome yet another pleasant restoration from gray winter.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Instigating Inspiration

"For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can.  Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.”       —Ernest Hemingway

          I’ve learned you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration to magically descend upon you like an invisible cloak out of a fair-weather cumulus cloud that resembles Tinker Bell.  Or for your muse to whisper excellent plotting suggestions and lyrical phraseology in your ear as you sleep, perchance to dream.  Try that philosophy and you could be hanging around taking up space for years, not getting anything at all written.

          There is such a phenomenon as inspirational magic, though, and when it happens it’s a fine experience.

          For some years I played fiddle with a group (violin is the same instrument, only it’s played in more sophisticated circles).  We got together weekly in a drafty garage and worked up a play list of classic country stolen from Nelson, Jennings, Colter, Gosdin, and Zevon, along with popular favorites from Buffett, Seger, Santana, Madonna, and Kristofferson.  We played at small receptions, at big charity affairs, out on the deck of a hotel/marina, at posh and not-so-posh private parties, once even in a dewy field on a cold night during a deer-hunting contest barbecue.  Our fingers kept going numb, and a couple of our members were surreptitiously sipping high-octane moonshine to ward off the chill.

          When you play in public for a client, you have to begin at an appointed time, no matter whether you feel particularly musical just then or not, and you have to keep at it for an agreed-upon interval of from one to several hours.  It’s not always the thing you’d most like to be doing.  Sometimes it was a real struggle for all six of us to keep correct and steady time, get all our amplified volumes balanced, start and stop each tune together, and sync the harmony.  But there’s no alternative except to keep flailing away at it, at least if you want to get paid at the end of the gig.

          Then there are those rare and wonderful times. Like one night in a smoky bar in the military town of Jacksonville, NC, where the crowd was well-lubricated and boisterous, singing along and giving us excessive ovations.  Around eleven o’clock, my fiddle began almost playing itself, the tones sweeter, the pitch perfect, the gliding bow vibrating the strings without effort.  I could feel all of us playing flawlessly together, far better than we had in months.  It was magical, and the crowd seemed to sense it.  The gig was supposed to be from eight to midnight.  We didn’t reluctantly quit until two.

          A similar magic can happen in writing, when the words seem to be floating in out of nowhere and fitting together seamlessly, emotively, powerfully.  The feeling is exceptional.

          But the only way to have any hope of achieving that wonderful magic, I believe, is to plug away at our writing as best we can hour after dogged hour and every possible day.  Until, one day, we happily find ourselves writing better than we can.