Directed by Alan Smithee #4: The Look

A series of musings on movies, memories, and storytelling.

by Cassie Hayes, Fiction Editor

Once upon a time, I lived on my family’s land in a house my grandfather designed on FM 1387 in between Midlothian and Waxahachie, Texas, near a tiny little town called Ovilla. This land, although we moved into Waxahachie when I was ten, is often the image I think of when I come across the word “home.” The scratchy knee-high grass. The goats and cows. The black fence and mimosa blossoms. The smell of honeysuckle. The blackberry bush and the peach trees.

I spent the first ten years of my life standing on hard, quartz-ridden black dirt underneath an unrelenting sun, surrounded by whispering wind and miles and miles of cedar-tree-spotted plains. I was, I liked to think, the next link in the chain of Wild West warriors that made up the Hayes clan.

I liked to think I was Texas tough.

Of course in reality I was a scrawny underweight girl, all knees and elbows, prone to ear infections, afraid of the dark, who got stage fright ordering at restaurants.

I’m more of a romantic dreamer than Texas tough. There’s a Kodak photograph buried somewhere in my parent’s attic of me as a six- or seven-year-old at the state fair, standing next to my father and grandfather. I’m wearing a black cowboy hat and black cowboy boots—(they HAD to be black because I wanted to be an outlaw, not a lawman)—that my grandfather had bought me. I’ve got a stern look on my face, like one wrong move and I’d shoot you dead. I adored those boots and that hat because they were sort of like a costume you could wear out and about without Mom telling you to put on something more presentable. No, they weren’t my beloved Batman, Tigger, or Scooby Doo costumes that I wore at home—but at least they were something.

At least they were an outward representation of the character I felt I was building myself to be.

Now, let’s not start philosophizing about how “everyone wears masks” and have some sort of existential identity crisis in the middle of a lousy blog post. I’m just saying people like building and rebuilding their character—the person they present themselves to be—and that who they end up being is one part who they are, one part who they were brought up to be, and one part who they want to be.

And when I first saw The Big Sleep, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be Lauren Bacall.

Although she was a New York girl, she should have gotten an honorary Texas tough badge. Brash, but cool and collected. Never screechy or hysterical like a lot of the other girls in the black and white movies I watched. Even when she played a minor role, she seemed to be in control of the whole film somehow, all the character development, action, and scenes playing out according to a master plan of her making.

She had “the Look.” Sexy. Sassy. Dangerous. A strong woman who could be the femme fatale, the young debutante, or the doting lover but in any case wasn’t naïve, wasn’t lost, wasn’t unfocused, knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it. She was the forerunner of the strong women portrayed in this year’s Wonder Woman box office success.

I do not possess anywhere close the level of cool conveyed by Lauren Bacall. But recently I read her memoir, By Myself and Then Some, and was amazed to read that her famous “Look” came about when she had to lean against the wall with her face pointed down so she could raise her cigarette to her lips without her hand shaking from nervousness.

Toughness is in the way you carry yourself, not in what you feel. It’s a piece of your character that you choose to put into place—not something God-given, not something granted to only Texans or brassy New York actresses with smoldering good looks.

Which is good news for us who don’t feel so tough sometimes.

And good news for us writers, who need a bit of toughness, perseverance and resilience, just to keep putting our pen to paper or our fingers to the keyboard. Writing is tough. It’s about as relentless as the sun over my Texas homestead, about as hard as that quartz-ridden black dirt. And it means putting on masks, wearing costumes out and about, pretending life on your family’s rural land was idyllic and meaningful—assigning meaning to yourself and your experiences and sharing them, declaring them important for others to understand and recognize too. Pretending the quartz is diamonds. That takes guts, grit, toughness, and that’s writing.

Of course maybe I’m overthinking it. At the end of the day, maybe being a writer has nothing to do with toughness or the reshaping of your identity—maybe a writer is just plain and simple one who writes and can’t NOT write.

Maybe you just are what you are—your look is just your look—and it’s as simple whistling according to Bacall’s famous double entendre line from To Have and Have Not:

“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”


Cassie Hayes is a scribomaniac, film aficionado, and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She received her bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various print and online literary journals.

Directed by Alan Smithee #3: Match Cut

A series of musings on movies, memories, and storytelling.

by Cassie Hayes, Fiction Editor

Hands down the best thing about movies is that you can use them as an excuse to eat popcorn.

When I was a kid, me and my dad would have movie nights. Typically the billing consisted of Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, the Three Stooges, or old Universal horror pictures—Dracula, Frankenstein, and, my favorite, the Wolf Man. At first I cared little about the movies—I didn’t really get why they didn’t have any color, or why the actors talked so fast and stiffly—but I absolutely loved the way my dad made popcorn. At the time I thought he was some kind of master popcorn chef who knew this amazing secret ingredient that no one else knew to add. In reality, all he did was melt butter in the microwave and pour it into the popcorn bag. My job was to shake the bag using both hands, careful not to spill popcorn everywhere—though I don’t know why I had to be careful about making a mess when he didn’t. He never covered the bowl of butter with plastic wrap, so our microwave ended up looking like a warzone, much to my mother’s chagrin.

The Wolf Man is, I think, the first non-animated movie that truly captivated me. It was the first movie that made me care more about the story than the popcorn. I was amazed especially by Maleva, the gypsy woman who tries to help Larry Talbot after he is bitten by her son, a werewolf. I liked her mysteriousness, her sensitivity, her knowledge, and her dedication to her family.

And of course I was also captivated by the whole idea of werewolves, human beings transforming into out-of-control beasts.

I wasn’t scared at all by the movie. Maybe I’d already been desensitized somehow by television (I used to like the show Cops), other movies (Bambi?) and brow-beaten bible stories, but I didn’t hide my eyes or bury my face in my father’s shoulder when kind, mild-mannered Larry Talbot turned into a giant man-eating wolf. Not a bit. Instead, I couldn’t look away. How AWESOME, somebody becoming something else, something so different that his own father doesn’t recognize him!

But Maleva did recognize him.

The match cut is a transition in film editing in which one shot cuts to another shot that has graphic elements—a subject or action—matching the previous frame. It makes readers see parallels between two different subjects and also can represent a jump in time. For instance, in the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey one of the monkeys throws a bone into the air. The bone tumbles against a blank sky, and then there’s a cut to a satellite tumbling in space. So the audience can follow that time has shifted forward and that there are parallels between the bone and the satellite—two of the few things easily followed in 2001.

I wonder who I would be match cut to if the options were Maleva and Larry Talbot. This is one of the many pointless question I wonder about. I also wonder about why I wonder about so many pointless questions.

Yet this isn’t a pointless. Somehow I think this question says something about my heritage, my vocation, my very essence.

Heavy stuff for a pretty cheesy 1940s Universal horror flick. Allow me to elaborate:

My mother’s side of the family is traditionally more stoic, more mysterious, more sensitive. There are bigger holes in the history of that side of my family—my grandfather’s “lost years” in between getting out of the Army in his twenties after WWII and marrying my grandmother when he was around forty, my grandmother’s tendency towards silence and pragmatism when asked about anything. How they come from swampy Caddo Lake in East Texas hidden among the weeping willows and curtains of gray moss. They remind me of Maleva.

My father’s side of the family is more passionate, hard, tough. I have heard stories about my great-grandfather—my father’s father’s father—his resilience and quick temper, how he raised his several brothers and sisters single-handedly during the Great Depression, how when he got mad he would very slowly and deliberately take off his glasses, fold them, put them in his pocket, and then commence to pummeling whoever was the poor soul that had made eye contact. I have seen threads of that temper in my grandfather and father and most certainly in me. Especially when I’m driving and somebody cuts me off.

That side of the family reminds me of the werewolf, Larry Talbot—the man suddenly turned beast.

Most likely I’m a bit of both, and since I’m really not that unique a human being, you could assume that if I’m a bit of both everybody is a bit of both, too.

You need both to tell a good story.

We at Arkana claim that our mission is to find stories that “work to discover and uncover the overlooked, the misunderstood, and the silent.” In the Wolf Man Maleva always recognizes Talbot, even when he’s a monstrous beast that even his own father doesn’t recognize. Stories, or at least the kind Arkana is after, wouldn’t work without both the dysfunctional monsters and the people able to still see the human in the beast.

A good storyteller combines the out-of-control nature of passion and feeling with the quiet wisdom of reflection.

And a good story listener supplies the popcorn.


Cassie Hayes is a scribomaniac, film aficionado, and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She received her bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various print and online literary journals.

Directed by Alan Smithee #2: Stingers

A series of musings on movies, memories, and storytelling.

by Cassie Hayes, Fiction Editor

The only movie I’ve ever started and been unable to finish is Bambi.

Yeah, that’s right—the animated Disney movie with the cute forest animals. When my parents put it in the VCR and I settled in to watch it as a small kid, I was really into it until that stupid song “Little April Shower” starts playing and—*spoiler alert*—Bambi’s mom dies. I then proceeded to start bawling, moaning, and chastising my parents for allowing me to watch a film that I believed at the time children should never be exposed to.

Yeah. Bambi. The one kids all over the world adore.

To this day I cringe when I hear “Little April Shower.” I still, although I like to think I’m quite a bit more stable than I was as a kid, have not watched the full movie, perhaps out of some distant childhood fear carried over into adulthood but more likely because I’m lazy and just haven’t bothered to put it on if only for a degree of closure. I can only imagine what my poor parents were thinking when I had a giant meltdown over a Disney movie—I bet they wondered how in the world they managed to bring into the world such a messed-up kid.

You would think maybe I just didn’t like dark movies. But my favorite childhood movie was The Lion King—a.k.a. Hamlet for Kids. So we have our death, betrayal, and revenge bases covered. Perhaps I cried because I didn’t think Bambi really had the gumption to get revenge—he was a little momma’s boy set adrift into the big bad world with nobody but that stupid rabbit to guide and protect him.

Or maybe I cried because, for some reason, in that moment I felt a surge of uncontrollable empathy.

Stories will do that to ya. Like with relationships and fatty food, sometimes you go in looking for a good time and end up feeling more than you bargained for.

In movies and screenwriting, there is often “stingers” at the end of scenes—sharp lines that wrap up what a scene is trying to do or say. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. Door slam. Cut. And ta-da the scene is complete. These stingers drive home the point of the scene and are often emotionally charged.

In real life, endings are sometimes emotionally charged, and sometimes not. I actually kind of wish there were stingers marking some of the endings that have happened in my life—many of the endings that haunt me the most are the ones where things sort of just drifted away. No Rhett Butler. No door slam. No cut. Sometimes I think real life is like the movies, or at least could be. Other times I think I’m too much of a wishful thinker.

I can’t remember the last silly show me and my sister put on to entertain our parents and grandparents before me and my sister grew up. I don’t know what my last high school class was before I graduated or who was in it. I couldn’t begin to tell you what I was really thinking when I was a little kid ordering my parents to turn off Bambi.

I could have used a stinger for each of those moments, cementing them into my reality.

But instead they’re just lost, blurry memories that I know must exist, but I can’t exactly bring to mind, that I can’t exactly conjure in THIS moment right now today as I sit here at age twenty-two, by some twist of fate at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas instead of at my home in Waxahachie, Texas.

My, my I can be such a bummer sometimes. But fear not—good news is on the way:

In stories, we can find what is lost, cement what has crumbled, prime for action what has long lay dormant. I feel like writing down those moments now makes them real somehow, validates them as reality. I feel like the simple act of telling the story is the door slam, the stinger, and the endings have been clarified.

And even better, every time I feel great empathy from a story well told, I feel like my feelings about the endings have been validated as well. I feel connected to humanity. I still feel like a total mess, but like everybody else is a total mess too.

And being a total mess can be wonderful.

That shared sense of messiness pops up in great stories of all shapes and sizes. I feel it every time I open a book, read submissions or what we’ve published in Arkana, or watch a movie. Dysfunction is reality. Dysfunction is life. Dysfunction is interesting. And people are horribly dysfunctional, horribly interesting.

So, as my stinger for this post, here are a few reading suggestions from the pages of Arkana, featuring the human condition’s captivating messiness:
A flash fiction story about growing up, “The Life Cycle of a Human Girl”
A short story including a magical deer, “Be Thou Ravished Always With Her Love”
And a poem on the power of creative writing, “Creative Writing in Oman”


Cassie Hayes is a scribomaniac, film aficionado, and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She received her bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various print and online literary journals.

Directed by Alan Smithee #1: The Ugly

A series of musings on movies, memories, and storytelling.

by Cassie Hayes, Fiction Editor

Fade in. World of darkness turned to light, blackness to color, silence to sound. Quiet rustle of feet on a sticky floor, people adjusting in their seats, and fingers tickling through popcorn dissolved into a completely new reality.

I love the movies. I love them once they’re finished, displayed as a spectacular fog of light in a theater or a pixelated glow from my TV screen. I love them when they’re mangled, cut-up pieces that have yet to be assembled. I love them when they’re nothing more than a stripped bare screenplay, ink scratched or stamped onto coffee-stained pages. The movies to me represent a collective consciousness.

I’m not a psychologist or philosopher, but I am a storyteller—I think human beings are connected by the stories they tell. And the great thing about movies is that they present the story on a massive and celebratory pedestal for anyone and everyone, from any walk of life or background, to see and understand—my conservative parents, my semi-liberal sister, my street-smart coworkers, and my book-smart classmates can all see a film like The Life of Pi and be awed.

Movies are the imagination seen, the imagination realized—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And, yeah, there can be a whole lot of ugly.

Here’s a tip: if some movie nerd tells you his or her favorite director is Alan Smithee—laugh because it’s supposed to be a joke.

Alan Smithee is the pseudonym used when a director for one reason or another (probably “artist differences”) either does not want to be credited in a film or has had his or her credit removed. For instance, in some cuts of the 1984 movie Dune, the directing credit reads “Alan Smithee” instead of the real director David Lynch.

Perhaps it’s my sneaky nature, or the fact that as a fiction writer I love a good lie made into truth, but pseudonyms have always interested me, so when I recently heard about Mr. Smithee I was instantly hooked.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Indeed, Billy-Boy, but would a rose by any other name still be a rose? There is something about “Smithee” that makes me think pirate—I admire him a little—a fictional character who has managed to force his way into reality with nothing except for a name and a willingness to claim the sloppy jobs no one else wants to take credit for. Who is this Alan Smithee? What does he look like? What does he feel?

All we know about him (or her?) is his name and where he lives—in the cobwebbed credits of the tarnished and abandoned.

He sounds like one cool dude.

I wonder how it feels to be the marker for when something has gone terribly wrong, the label that symbolizes dysfunction. I see a bit of myself in Alan Smithee, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Would we need storytellers if the world was full of harmony and everything worked out in the end? My favorite book and one of my favorite movies is The Grapes of Wrath. I doubt that amazing artwork would have been made or appreciated if something and a lot of somethings had not gone terribly wrong.

It’s the duty of the artist to expose the beauty in the ugliness, the light in the darkness, the color in the blackness, and the sound in the silence. Every single artist is an Alan Smithee—we see the value in claiming the mangled messes of the world. We see that somebody has to see the world for what it is and still take ownership of it.

And still, I like to think, love it.

The movies have shaped the way I see my world. I didn’t realize until recently how much a person’s favorite movie says about that person. During summers I’ve been working at a fast food place in my hometown. Last summer, when one of my coworkers heard I wrote screenplays she gasped and asked me if I had seen The Life of Pi. I answered yes, that the visuals in that movie are amazing, and—being maybe a bit pretentious—I added that the book is amazing too. She told me that The Life of Pi is her all-time favorite movie.

This woman’s life was so dysfunctional it sounded like a blues song. Barely any money, just diagnosed with COPD, living with what seemed like a no-good man. At first, although I loved her company and talking to her, I grew very tired of her same old stories, frustrated that she didn’t make better decisions in her life. But when I heard her favorite movie was The Life of Pi, a light bulb went off. This woman is a beautiful person, I realized. She must ponder spiritual questions, feel at times shipwrecked and unmoored, and without a doubt relish the beauty surrounding her. A whole new dimension of her character was opened up to me through simply learning her favorite movie.

American Beauty. The Apartment. Touch of Evil. Sunset Boulevard. The Maltese Falcon. The Usual Suspects. Once Upon a Time in the West. At different times I say different titles for which movie is my all-time favorite—depending on what I feel in the moment. I’m too careful and self-conscious now about giving a single one.

It’s always hard—linking a name to your character, revealing yourself to the world, taking credit for the mess you are.

Perhaps I’d have more luck asking Alan Smithee for his favorite movie.


Cassie Hayes is a scribomaniac, film aficionado, and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She received her bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various print and online literary journals.