In 2007 Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up to release Grindhouse, a double-feature paean to 1970s action, horror and exploitation films. Studded with stars of every stripe and featuring plenty of stunts, explosions and sound-enhanced gore, the two films were Tarantino’s Death Proof, a revenge fantasy about a homicidal stunt driver who double-crosses the wrong squad of stunt-driving babes, and Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, a zombie flick centered around a psychotic doctor, his bisexual wife, the military and a stripper whose lost leg is replaced with a machine gun.

Mark Twain didn’t consider himself a novelist, not a good one anyway. He was a short story writer who couldn’t keep his stories short. Setting out to write a simple six-page tale, the author would find it spooling out into myriad story lines, which, to be sustained, demanded additional characters, followed then by more story lines to justify the new cast—and so on. Twain would chase this ball of yarn as it unraveled, until eventually it wouldn’t ball back up. Left with no other choice, he’d arrange, structure, embellish, trim and beautify the whole mess and call it a novel.