Friday, January 31, 2014

That's What

It’s Friday.  I’m signing the Friday song.  Had a killer workout at the gym last night.  Swinging some seriously heavy kettlebells.  My wife thought I was having a heart attack.  I told her, “Go heavy or go home.”  She said, “You aren’t a natural color.”  I would have said something clever back, but I was too busy trying not to throw up.

That has to be a more pleasant way to get weakness out of your body.

I don’t usually do this.  In fact, I think it’s the first time I’ve done it, but today’s flash story is a sequel.  I stand by the original as a complete tale, but due to complaints about sad endings, I’ve decided to revisit it.  This piece does not stand well on its own, so if you haven’t read, “What is it Then, Exactly?” it won’t make much sense.


That's What
Jon Stark

     Christopher knew his life was going to change as a result of the engagement, but not like this.  He stood frozen as Izzy walked away -- ran, really -- and struggled to make sense of things.  He'd thought she would be happy for him.
     Instead, he'd lost her.
     But Izzy wasn't Abigail and he wasn't engaged to Izzy and he didn't want to be.  She would come around.  That consoling thought was enough to free him from the momentary paralysis.  He stopped in the house only briefly to say goodbye before taking his car back into town.  Definitely didn’t want to be engaged.  To Izzy.
     Abigail (never Abby) handed him a green concoction when he got home.  It looked thick, with chunks of something and smelled vile.  "What's this?" he said, trying for a kiss.
     She dodged artfully aside.  "Spinach and ginger.  You look peaked."
     He felt peaked looking at it.  "No ice cream hidden in there somewhere?"
     She laughed at him.  "We're having frozen yogurt with Cindy and Bill on Friday."  Like he was an idiot for thinking ice cream on a Sunday afternoon was a good idea.  She had a green mustache on her upper lip.  Maybe it wasn't so bad.
     But it was.
     That evening was painful.  He was confronted with the truth of Izzy's words at every corner.  He'd gotten her message loud and clear – Abigail wasn’t right for him -- and had dismissed it.  But his friend was right, Abigail didn't know him.  She wasn't even trying to know him.  She was trying to change him -- with the yoga 3 days a week and the clothes that made him look like a geek and -- but wasn't marriage about change and sacrifice?
     Plus there where things they did together that he enjoyed very much.  Izzy was just making him think about the negative.  He wondered what she was doing, where she was.
     "What are you thinking about with that faraway smile?" asked Abigail.
     "I was thinking about home." he said.  It was true enough.  "You should come out this weekend."
     She frowned at him.  "You know I have a painting class Sunday morning."
     "You could miss one." he said.  "You haven't even met my Father yet, Abby."  She set down her laptop and walked away.  The bedroom door shut quietly.  So quiet.  So much worse than a slam.  He went to her.
     She was sprawled out on top of the bed with her back to the door.  "I need to be alone now." she said.
     "I am not going to spend the rest of my life calling you Abigail."
     She spun to face him, furious and looking like a little girl.  "You won't call me Abby."
     "You've never told me why." he said, suddenly standing firm.
     "Isn't it enough that I don't want you to?" she spat back.  He considered that.  Much of his life now consisted of things dictated by that one reason.  It was not how he wanted to spend forever.  Forever was about adventure, about exploration.  It was about ice cream for breakfast on Tuesdays and being able to listen to the Cure with your soul mate.
     Christopher took his jacket, 2 CDs, and the can of Coke he'd hidden in the back of the fridge.  At the door he turned.  Thought about saying goodbye.
     At first he wandered aimlessly, the escape was such a surprise that he was somewhat overwhelmed.  But his feet still knew what they were doing and found himself standing outside of a blue door on Leopold Street.
     It had grown dark and the air was cooling off.  What other explanation for his shaking could there be?  He heard music from inside.  Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am young again.  The Cure.
     Christopher nocked.  It took a moment, but Isabel opened the door.  Her eyes were puffy and she looked a mess.  He had never thought her more beautiful and he was struck with a sudden, long ignored yearning.  "What are you doing here?" she demanded.  The music played on, However far away.
     "Izzy..." he trailed off, unsure of what to say.  His eyes locked with her’s.  His voice trembling.
     "What about your fiancĂ©?"  She was bitter.  She was afraid to hope.  However long I stay.  Whatever words I say.
     "Tell me I'm not too late."  You make me feel like I am clean again.
     Tears streamed down her face.  I will always love you.
     I will always love you.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"In Rock-Paper-Scissors, I have a tell?"

I finished "One Man's Pirate" this week -- a short story of adventure and intrigue flying miles above the surface of the ocean.  The first draft came in at 8500 words.  Trimmed down to 6700.  It's amazing how much you can cut and keep the story.  In your own head.

                First reader thought it was flat.  She kept "waiting for the interesting part."  It's an adventure with heavy emphasis on the action side and low emphasis on the character development side.  She compared it to the TV show "Leverage."  It's a fair comparison.

                "Leverage" is the TV version of "The Italian Job" and attempts to capture that same fun and hip vibe for the small screen.  And do it week after week.  We've watched a few episodes and I like it, but she doesn't.  Discussing the short story helped us to figure out the difference in opinion.

                The show focuses on the heist element.  There's a lot of tradecraft and running around and fusion jazz on the soundtrack.  The cinematography is about "cool" and acts almost as another character, certainly like a voice over narrator.  It's reminiscent of  “Mission: Impossible" only the characters are thieves instead of agents.  And that's why she doesn't like it.  The cast is shallow and we have no reason to like them coming in because they're crooks.  I actually think that the first few episodes would not pass the anonymous script test -- any of the characters could say any of the lines.

                There are a lot of episodes so I know the show succeeded and I expect that as we go on the personalities will develop.  However, the engine of the show is not one that she enjoys so, much like the story, it really doesn't have a chance.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Dr. Grant, my dear Dr. Sattler... Welcome to Jurassic Park."

Despite another morning of single digit temperatures, I have not yet seen "Frozen" -- but #2 has.  And she came home telling us how great it was.  Nothing about the story, just that it was great.  She talked about the music, watched youTube videos, made us watch youTube videos for the songs.

I have to be honest.  It wasn't anything special to me.  Not bad, but not amazing.  They were the sorts of songs you'd expect in an animated film about a princess.  But that's not how #2 heard them.

She had seen a great story, felt emotions, and the music was a part of that.  Listening to the music on her iPod brought all of that back.  And I got to thinking.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


Music was okay.  Movie without music would be okay.  Together, they swept her away.  That's hard for a screenwriter.  It should be our words that sweep people away, not the music.  But really, the greatest moments in film you can recall, was there music or silence?

Jurassic Park blew us away.  Sure, the CGI looks terrible now, but then?  We saw dinosaurs.  It was incredible.  And when I hear the theme I still get chills.

Then there's Doctor Jones.  The Indiana variety.  Would recovering the ark have been nearly as exciting in silence?  Jaws?  Star Wars?

Hmm.  Maybe it isn't music.  Maybe it's John Williams.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Write around the block

There is writer's block.  But it's a choice.  You may be blocked on a specific project, just can't figure it out, and that's got to be hard.  But it shouldn't block your writing altogether.  Write something else for a season.

Or perhaps you have something specific to write about but you just can't get it together.  No worries, Mate.  Write it all falling apart.  Then start it again.  And again if you must.  Just keep putting it down.  Your body knows how to write.  Your brain knows it has to write.  Get yourself rolling down the hill, pop the clutch, and you'll be off to the races before you know it.

It's sort of like running in that the first half mile or so always makes you want to throw-up but then, once your brain discovers that you are more stubborn, and you are doing this, it stops complaining, stops making excuses, stops teasing you with chocolate glazed donuts, and gets down to the business of pounding out miles.  Or words.

If you're afraid of the blank page put a word on it.  Then it isn't blank.  If it's the wrong word you can change it.  You know how to do that.  And you know to try a different word.  Trust yourself.

It will come.

Monday, January 27, 2014

I ain't afraid of no ghosts

Fear is an interesting emotion.  It isn't bad.  It should be listened to.  It will keep you alive.

But it will also kill you, imobilize you, and suck enjoyment out of life.

There are rational fears, and irrational fears.  The problem is that nobody seems to agree on which category most fears fall.  I happen to think that arachnophobia is irrational.  I'm sure most of you disagree with me.

Some fears are inborn, others are developed.  It's the developed ones that I'm interested in today.  Like the fear of submiting your writing to a publisher.  That's irrational.  Don't develop that one.

"Easy for you to say." you say.  True.  But very possible.  It's an act of will, much like writing the story in the first place.  Then the fear arises.  What you do with it, when it comes, defines you.  I'm fairly comfortable riding on airplanes.  Every once in a while I get a little worried during final.  I fight that fear, it's something out of my hands and I don't want to be afraid of flying.  I love to fly.

I had a new one the other day.  I was sitting in my economy seat, crowded by people anxious to get off the plane and into the termal (crowding has never bothered me) and I was sudden struck with the thought, "What if one of the engines suddenly caught fire?  How would we all get out?"  I felt the sudden stirrings of fear.  The emotion encouraging me to push to the front, over people if necessary.

That was irrational.  I'd like to say I laughed at it, but a better description is that I told it to go away in a firm voice.  I dont' need to develop that.

I worked with a man who had developed a fear of edges -- cliffs, building roofs, etc.  He wasn't afraid of heights, but described he building of that fear like this.  "When I see an edge, I have to look over.  I go closer and closer.  And then I want to jump over it, just to feel what it's like.  I really wanted to jump over.  I can't go near an edge.  I don't trust myself."

I thought that was really strange.  But I see the logic of it.  It's the same fear that keeps us out of dark alleys.  But that shouldn't be the kind of fear that keeps you from exploring the world and telling your stories.  Unless you are exploring the world from the end of bungie cord.  Then, maybe, you should reconsider.

I'm not one that usual quotes Dr. Who, but he said (the writer of the script said...) "It's not the number of years that define a full life.  It's how they are lived.  Some people live more in 20 than other could possible live in 80."

Don't be afraid of your dream.  You might wake up.  And then it will be gone.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Danielle who?

2 basketball games this morning, back to back like last weekend.  I never understood it when I was in school, but I love watching it now.
I’m writing with my border collie this morning.  (Not literally, he’s just sitting with me.)  In many ways, he’s like the cat I had – always trying to use the keyboard.  The cat would walk on the keys.  The pooch uses his nose.  Not so bad today, but when I’ve only got five minutes to write a story, his errant strokes are quite disruptive.
Mine's in mint condition.
Is you may recall, I first began taking writing seriously when I was a senior in high school (busy not being interested in basketball).  Before that died away, I collected a few books, one of them was “The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction” published by Writer’s Digest by the founder of the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference.  I read about half of it.  I’d like to say that I stopped because reading about writing is not writing, but actually it was because I didn’t think I was learning anything.
That was probably true.  I’ve picked it back up and now read from it when I am waiting at the barn for my daughter to finish her chores.  I’d like to share two things that I have pulled out of the 20 pages.
“Plot and story are 2 different things.”  This is probably obvious to you.  But it made me put the book down.  Plot is the structure that the story hangs on.  I tell the same story all of the time, but change up the plot so it feels fresh, or at least is entertaining.  This is what Blake Snyder was talking about with his 10 story types.  So succinct.  I’ll never forget it.

I’ll leave you with the other, especially encouraging to me.  James Michener didn’t start writing until he was 40.  James Michener.  40.

Friday, January 24, 2014


It is still pretty cold here. Went to court this morning to listen to a highly motivational speaker threaten all of the fine new young drivers with instant bad mojo if they run a stop sign.  Then he said it all again.  And again, until he'd filled half an hour.

I loved his admonishment that we, as parents, must share our knowledge of driving with the youth seated beside us.  The biggest complaint I hear is how nobody knows how to drive.  Then there was also the irony of the Judge leaning on the podium (for most of his 30 mintues) that had a big sign saying, "Do NOT lean on This."

Could be worse days to spend your morning, like sitting in a waiting room while your car is being worked on.


"The red Camry." said Rob, handing off the packet.  "And the customer is waiting."

The customer was always waiting.  That's what they did.  Why did Rob always have to tell him that?  What if the customer wasn't waiting?  How would that change anything?  Miles took the keys from the packet and drove the red Camry into the bay.

He lined it up very carefully on the lift jack.  Miles activated the jack until the car was about three feet up.  He attached the saftey hooks to the chasis.  The kids never bothered, but they were always rushing.

The car was a little rough, but all in all, in pretty good shape for it's age.  He poked at a dent in rear quarter panel.  That would have been at the pool lot, three or four summers ago.  Miles guessed the kids had taken it, parked a bit close to the line, gotten tagged by a little Chevy.

He raised the car the rest of the way up and put in the jack pins.  "You don't need to you use those." said Jake.  Miles figured Jake would have a car fall on him someday.  Can't fix stupid.

He rolled the barrel under the front of the car and pulled the drainplug.  Thick, black oil poured out into the funnel.  He watched the burned fluid stream down, looked to have about six thousand miles on it.  Or a lot of city driving.  He tried to picture it driving through the hectic downtown, parking in garages, along the street.  It just didn't fit.  These miles were on highway.  Commuting to college?  He could see that.  The backseat filled with laundry.  That was it.

Miles rotated the tires.  They were 80k mile tires, almost due for replacement.  These had been west, in the high desert.  And to Florida.  The Florida trip hadn't been a vacation though, he could see that.  There was a day at the beach, but there was as much ash as sand.  And the the ocean wasn't crying.

Miles paused.  There was a deep scuff along the sidewall of the front tire.  That had been a close one. He rested his hand against the body, reassuring it.  Everything was okay now.  Everything was okay.

They spent an hour together before Miles put everything away and lowered the jack.  He brought it around and took the packet to Rob.

"It shouldn't take an hour to do an oil change and rotation, Miles." said Rob.  "You need to pick it up."

Miles shrugged.  "It takes as long as it takes."  He watched the little car drive out of the lot.  That had been a nice one.  No attitude, no broken spirt.  It was friendly, and giving, and loved.

"Well, try to take a little less on this one, it's the blue Carolla."  Rob handed him the packet.  "And the customer's waiting."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"What is a week-end?"

This morning I experienced 7 degrees of separation on my drive to the train station.  As in 7 degrees of separation between the outside temperature and 0 degrees.  Farenheit.  In the immortal words of the Claymation spokesman for Lipton Tea, "That's BRISK, Baby."

Being able to wander around my house in a t-shirt during such weather makes me very thankful that I live in a time with central heating, insulation, and with wealth to squander on staying warm. I suspect that, despite their fortune, the good folks living in Downton Abbey would be freezing on a day like this.

What?  Not a smooth enough transition?  A bit on the nose?  Sorry.

Friends have been recommending DA to us for a while now and after "everyone" was talking up the season 4 premiere, we just had to add it to our queue to find out what the fuss was about.  Now we know.  If you know, you don't need to read my take on it.  If you don't, read on BUT before you watch it, remember, it's English.  Check IMDB before you watch it with the kiddies.

First thing that struck me about it was that my wife enjoyed it very much.  It isn't that she doesn't care for period pieces or actors with strong accents, but both require a compelling story to overcome and the two together make for a Matterhorn worthy ascent.

The second thing that struck me was the brilliant writing that made me actually care about life in a lord's manor house circa 1912.  The logline was not the sort that would pull me in.  But it's compelling drama.  Everything is well done and, despite being a large ensemble, the characters were quickly identifiable and memorable.

I was so completely entertained by the show that I didn't even analyze it as it was going so I'm not sure quite how they did it.  I will have to go back and watch it again, perhaps even dig up a script of the first episode somewhere.  We've watched a dozen episodes of Flashpoint and I still don't know who is who.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Now get out of here before I have a heart attack trying to kill you."

We did end up with a little bit of snow.  Tried to do a little sledding with the boys but it was too powdery and too sparse.  It kept at it overnight though so hopefully they will be able enjoy it today during snow day #2.  I am off to work.  There was a 2 hour delay, but the train doesn't care about that so it's "the usual, please" for me.

I'm very glad that I work in a warm office.  All of the envy I experience during the summer vanishes on days like this.

Speaking of vanishing, let's talk about good baseball movies.  I'll be the first to admit that watching baseball is about as interesting as weeding a garden and I'd easily be distracted by a rabbit eating spinach.  However, there have been a few baseball movies that I've enjoyed and many others that were good movies.  Sorry if you think that makes me a bad citizen, it's just not my bag.

Last night we watched "Trouble With the Curve" and I will tell you, it is no "Major League".  It wasn't a terrible movie, but there were some inconsistencies and for a movie with 'curve' in the title, it was pretty linear.  The only "surprises" were a completely out of character response by the love interest and that the movie -- which was clearly about characters rather than story -- left the characters fundamentally unchanged.  If you like any of the actors you'll enjoy it, the film had polish.  It also had clever dialogue.  But as I have been reading, dialogue is a sauce, not a course, and you can't carry a story with it.  Even if Clint Eastwood is one of the stars.

Sort of goes along with the idea that actions speak louder than words.  A point that Mr. Eastwood demonstrated very well in this film.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Where's the snow?"

Tuesday.  And my office is closed because it will start snowing at any minute.  Any minute now.  Snow.  Momentarily.  Keep your eyes peeled.  It’s about to start.  The snow.  Any second.
While we wait, let me catch you up on this week.  This is the last week of minority for #1.  I’m thinking that might be a big deal for his parents, or not.  It’s sort of in the middle of things.  It won’t be as terrifying as graduation.  He’s got some plans for his party and we’ll be going on a field trip later this afternoon to get the supplies.  (Because my office is closed.)  (Because it’s going to snow.)  (Any second.)
I write on a train.

I entered a contest last week.  (In addition to 5 minute fiction).  It’s the Glimmer Train Short story competition.  Entries close January 31.  GlimmerTrain is probably the aspiring literary author’s best friend.  As such, everyone wants a piece of the pie.  Harvard has a higher acceptance rate.  But the difference is that Harvard’s applicants are prescreened and anyone can give Glimmer a whorl.  I never have.  It’s always been a bit too lofty for me.
                But not anymore.  You have the option of just submitting to the magazine or entering into one of their many contests.  I went for the contest because the reading fee is very low and I’m starting to come around on the idea of contests.  Why?
                Quite simply, a contest creates focus.  You have a deadline, often a specific format and topic, and you need to do your best.  There are stakes so it makes a difference whether or not you actually try.  It also gives you a chance to see if you’re making any progress.  Now, most contests are a bit arbitrary (all of them, quite a bit, actually) but so is the publishing market.  And a win in a respected contest is a great way to get meaningful journals (and anthology collections) to publish your work.  And the snow ball grows.

                Once the snow starts, anyway.  Which could happen At. Any. Second.

Monday, January 20, 2014

"You all crazy?"

I had a great conversation with my trusted reader last night regarding the novel.  The salient point was her question, “What is the story about?”  One should not be on page 70 and have to ask that question.  I know that very well.
I was then advised that this poor reader was having to suffer through pages of “stuff” to get back to the story she was interested in.  Specifically, the part of the story that involved my main character and was truest to the original screenplay idea.  I had experimented with all sorts of different ideas as I blasted out the words and it needs to be reined in.
In short, I was politely being told that my first draft was a rambling mess.  You know how many times I’ve read that in print and on line?  Your first draft is [insert any word you like for mess].  Don’t show it to anybody.  Ever.

Some lessons you have to learn yourself.  Some you have to learn over and over (like, “You’re not as great and special as you like to think.”)  Of course, as soon as you overcome the desire to show everyone your “fresh from the oven” project, you have to then tell yourself that, “You’re amazing, really special, and you can make it in the impossible business.” Or you’ll never fix that horrible first draft and get the work published.
Remember those posters, “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps”?  There’s a reason that so many of the more famous authors seemed a bit… off.  Not to worry though, not everyone is off his rocker.
“So what does any of this have to do with inspiration?  You’re making me depressed.”
Great question.  I have the answer.  If you recall, I was feeling a bit down on writing in the last post.  Had a great email response that picked me up a bit.  Went through my 2014 Writer’s Market Guide.  Remembered that Steven King, Robert Ludlum, and George R.R. Martin didn’t start out writing best sellers.
Some lessons you have to learn for yourself, but you learn them.  And you improve.  You can outlast those who are lucky and out-work those who are lazy.
And let’s not lose perspective.  I’ve only been back in the game for about a year.  In that time I’ve published a short story, written scores more, won a few contests, finished a novel length draft, written 2 feature length screenplays, a short film script, wrote and directed a promo video, wrote and directed a play, and blogged nearly every day since the end of May.  How arrogant to think it’s impossible to succeed.  I am doing it – and I’m not alone.

Neither are you.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Intense, Dude.

I had a very busy morning.  And because it was Saturday, I didn't want to start it especially early.  Therefore, instead of rising at 6 to write a blog post, I got up at a quarter past 7 and ran financials before heading out to a planning meeting.  I had to duck out of that to make the first basketball game and left that game early to make it to the 2nd game -- transporting a player with me.

Now I'm home.  I've eaten.  I'm being wracked with guilt for wanting to just skip the post today, after all, it's past 3pm (2pm central).  But by golly, I'm going write.
Seriously, look at their eyes.  Intensity.

It's about intensity.  And building skills.  And knowing you can do it.  It's like basketball.  You get out on the court and it doesn't matter what time it is, how tired you are, or whether or not you feel like playing.  You have to play.  If you want to succeed.

I saw a couple of players who didn't really care about the game.  They sort of went after the ball, they sort of shot at the basket, and they sort of played.  Great for a neighborhood pick-up, not so much for the league.  Other players were intense.  Some more than others, some more skilled than others, some just plain lucky.  One really stood out during the second game.  But his stand-out performance didn't take away from the success of anyone else who was all-in.

Writing has a handful of superstars.  Great.  We won't worry about them.  Writing also has a whole lot of folks looking for a neighborhood pick-up game.  If you want more than that, you need intensity.  You need to be fully in the game.

And when you're not in the game, you need to practice.  That takes discipline.  If you're a writer, that means you attach your butt to the chair and write the blog post.  Even if that post admits that this thing is a bit harder and not always as much fun as everyone thinks.

Of course, I'd be lying if I told you that I don't check my email twice a day anxiously waiting for an acceptance letter on one of the 10 stories I've got out there.  That's the shot at the buzzer that goes in.  That's when all the practice is totally worth it.

I can't wait to tell you about it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

"What's it like, then? Exactly?"

I sort of had an idea for today's piece of flash but it never really came together.  I wrote it three completely different times on the train.  I'm still not quite satisfied.  I wasn't going to post anything.  But I've re-read it and think that it's alright for what Friday posts are supposed to be like.  After all, can you really craft a story, that's good and powerful and complete, in 45 minutes?

Is it egotistical to think that I've actually been able to do it on occasion?  That I'm frustrated now because I've raised my standards too high?  Maybe I'm just getting really ancy about having so many stories out to market and not hearing anything back.  Or maybe I'm just a goofball.

"What is it Like?"
by Jon Stark
January, 2014

Riding back to the city gave her time to think about it.  Not that it was a good thing – thinking about it -- just that it was what happened.  She brushed away a few straggling tears, watching the world rush away outside of her window.

"I've discovered something." he had said, earlier that afternoon.  "Love.  The sort that makes you think about the future.  The kind that makes you dream about forever.  Do you know what I mean?"

She knew that kind of love very well.

"The kind of love," he continued, "that makes a chap want to ask a girl to marry him."

Isabel was still.  Her heart quickened, vision faded, she felt faint. 

"And can you believe it?" he said.  "She actually said yes!"

Some dreams wither.  Some burn until the last breath leaves the body.  Some burst and cover everyone with their sorrow.  But Isabel's dream did none of those things.  It collapsed, a star dying and falling in on itself, the fiery nova settling into a cold, dark lump alone in the void.

"She did?" managed Isabel.

He was ecstatic, pacing around the garden bench where she sat.  "We're to be married next spring.  Think of it.  In just one year I'll be married."

She had thought of it.  Many times.  "Does the lucky girl know about caramel and peaches and burnt marshmallows?"

"She's learning." he said.

"Does she know the secret hiding places in your house?"

"She's not been out yet." he said.  “But her place is grand.”

"Does she like The Cure?"

"Not especially." he admitted.  "But that's okay.  She likes Zeppelin and -"

"But they're your favorite." said Isabel.

"Look, Izzy, your my best and dearest friend in the whole world."  Not quite true anymore, was it.  She glared at him.

"Does she know that?" she said.  That put him back a step.

"I thought you'd be happy for me."  He seemed genuinely puzzled.

She wanted to run away.  "Does she know why you cry ever year on May the twenty-second?"

"I don't think she needs to." he said, much quieter now.  "What is all of this?"

"I have to go."  She stood, a bit unsteady, and walked toward the gate.

He chased after her.  Took her hand.  Turned her about to face him.  She wriggled her hand from his grasp.  "You don't get to do that anymore." she said.  "You're engaged."

"It isn't like that.

"What exactly, then?" she opened up on him.  "What is it like?"

He opened his mouth but nothing came out.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"I know you know..."

#3 had another game last night.  They came from behind to win by 2.  Apparently those shirts that tempt you to the dark-side with cookies are a bigger threat than I thought because his coach told them that if they didn't pick it up in the 2nd half there would be no cupcakes.

I'm supposed to write about TV today but I don't feel like it.  I started working on a short story last night (the one last week was a big flop) and I'd rather be working on that.  And I haven't watched anything new lately that I'm prepared to comment on – although I will say that I enjoyed the episode of “Psych” that we watched last night.  But then I always enjoy “Psych” and totally interject obscure 80s references in everything I say too.

"On Any Given Friday Night at 10pm, 9pm Central"

I did have a successful go at the 5 minute fiction contest this week, snatching first of everybody instead of first of the losers during double-dog-dare overtime tie breaker voting.  This was the first week I wrote using a word processor instead of the text editor and even though I use a word processor every day, it was different from my routine and I found it incredibly distracting.

I am expecting my 2014 Writer's Market Guide in the post this afternoon.  I have 9 stories out for consideration.  2 of them in markets that I have aspired to but never submitted because they are the top of the heap (if you don't count fickle markets like "The New Yorker" and "The Atlantic") --  Analog and Glimmer Train.  I always used to think I needed to work my way up to them.  I’ve decided instead to work my way down.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"Sorry about the house, sir."

So what sort of a man am I?  I'm the sort that has two donuts.  Except today, because having two would have meant someone else going without.  And after the first one there were only powdered sugar left anyway.

#3 had his first game of the season last night.  Very exciting ball.  I should write about a basketball movie, since it's Wednesday, but I never saw “Hoosiers.”  In fact, the only basketball movie I've seen is "High School Musical" and that hardly counts.  Wait a minute, I think that other Zach E. movie with Matthew Perry – “17 Again”? -- had basketball in it.  So did "Teen Wolf".

But I've already decided to compare and contrast "Olympus Has Fallen" with "White House Down."  You could write the same logline for both of them, but they are different movies.  Watching either one you would be reminded that Die Hard created its own genre, but much like the duel release of "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," these two side-by-side summer action films are quite different.  And in this case, I'm going against Morgan Freeman.  Nothing personal, he played his part very well in OHF, but it was a vastly inferior movie that he couldn't save.

Not that OHF was all bad -- it completely and totally delivered on its promise to be mindless, pointless, and filled with exciting action sequences that trashed the White House.  You may get up to buy more popcorn or use the restroom without missing anything of consequence.

WHD, on the other hand, actually delivered on a lot of what we complained about from OHF.  There were problems with it, and it was very long, but there was a story with characters we cared about and if you went for snacks at the wrong time the rest of the movie didn't make any sense.

I do have a beef with both of these films though.  Maybe I'm biased because it's a film cliche and so far from real life, but why is the hero always "a former special forces" operator?  That tells me he's going to scavenge weapons and be a crack shot, likely able to defuse nuclear bombs and fly airplanes even though now he's "only" a secret service agent, or local cop, or cook.  Deus ex Machina anyone?

Remember the original "Die Hard?"  John McClane was really a cop.  He did (for the first two acts) cop things.  More to the point, he did creative things.  Sort of the reverse of a horror movie's monster – this time it was the protagonist picking everyone off one at a time.  I didn't see that cleverness in either of these films.

Actually, did anyone else think they were watching a remake of Die Hard during OHF?  I mean it was about as close to a beat by beat reproduction as you could get -- right down to the high-tech vault busting.  Just missing the story and dialogue...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"We divide human drives into three groups..."

Don't be like this man.

Writing is a solitary act, no doubt about it, but to have something to write about you can't be a hermit.  Which is to say that you can be, but you run the huge risk of not writing anything that anybody else cares about -- how are you going to know what is interesting people these days if you don't engage with them?

But if you spend a lot of time engaging with people, you may find yourself in the difficult position of having a billion stories to write without a moment to actually get any of them down.  Interacting all of the time takes away the necessary alone time needed to formulate plots/characters and then put them on parchment.

There have been some very successful hermits, but from my experience (and you may be able to find better examples), the hermits don't write very much and are reported to be very cranky.  The one that jumps out at me is J.D. Salinger.  Hardly as prolific as his contemporaries.  And then there's Ted Kaczynski.

There is also the balance of your writing life against the rest of your life.  There is a certain truth to the adage that "a writer is always writing" and, to the extent that our life experience informs our writing, that's true; but you can't actually be actively writing/plotting all of the time without missing out on the world around you.  Can people do it without burning out?  Sure.  But during their month long stay at the cabin in the woods on the lake are they catching any fish -- or are they shushing anyone who comes out onto the deck to chat because it’s too distracting as they write?

If you write to pay the bills then you have to treat writing like any other job.  If you write to define your life then your self-identity can't afford a break to smell the roses.  But if you write to enrich your life, to satisfy a passion, then you most assuredly must take time to walk among the living and partake of the richness around you.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"Even Nostradamus didn't see him coming!"

We're over 7k page hits, thank you.  That's a nice way to start a very dreary day.  And it is dreary.  Foggy, raining, and cold.  It's the sort of day that would be fun in the woods, if you were dressed appropriately, because the daytime fog is wispy and hides things and you can imagine anything from an alien invasion to the zombie conversion with stalking secret agents and hobbits in between.

But I don't live in the woods.  And my joints hurt.  Not badly enough to complain, just enough to make me prefer boating weather.

Today is #4's first basketball game.  We're pretty excited about that.  I fueled him up with biscuits and gravy this morning (actually, #3 and I had the biscuits -- #4 had biscuits and chicken).  Why do I always want to spell biscuits with a 'q'?

I've been working on a short story -- a real short story (>4k words) -- on the train this week and when I got home last night I was almost done so I hammered out the last bit.  I wanted to see how it ended.  That may sound funny, it was my story, but it's true.  I've read more than one professional writer say that if you don't have an emotional reaction to your writing, nobody else will too.  Other pros have written that, as the author, you're the first person who gets to hear/read/see the story.  What they are all saying is that when we sit down to write, there's an idea -- sort of an image of the story and characters or scene -- but it lacks definition.  The act of writing brings it into focus and creates a narrative line rather than a tangled ball of string.

That's what happened with my story, working title of "Intention".  I've had this idea for a bit of technology and a very rough idea of how it might be used, but no setting or plot.  Then I was told about an interesting encounter IRL and that served as my inciting incident.  With that, the rest just unraveled.  It was a very neat experience.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Vortext of Doom

They can't all be sunny days.  That's why we have local weathermen, a cadre of self-styled community super-heroes that bring advanced science and fortune telling directly to your home, weather you need it or not.

The Vortex of Doom
Jon Stark
"Death threats."  said Jim.  "Actual death threats.  Because of the puppy."  He had worked himself into quite a fit, the sort usually reserved for forecasting really big storms.
"Calm down." said Rick Richardson, the GM of Channel 11.  "We'll get it worked out."  He put a paternal hand on the shoulder of his Chief Meteorologist.  His only one, actually.  The man had cost a fortune and now he was melting down after a single death threat.  Over a puppy of all things.
"Calm down?" wailed Jim.  "How am I supposed to do that?  All I wanted was to find a good home for Scrappy and instead I've made people mad at me.  He was just too cute."  The GM had to agree that Scrappy was a cute mutt and they'd gotten a hundred calls from people who wanted to adopt him.  That meant at least a hundred people had seen the broadcast.
There was no calming Jim.  He left the station a few hours later for a fifteen month stay at the Winfrey Center for Mental Restoration.  Jenny Davis put words to the question on everyone's mind.  "Now what, Boss?"
Rick wasn't sure.  "Do you want to take over weather, Jenny?"
"I'm already doing news and sports." she said.  "You promised me a co-anchor, not more stuff to make up."
Rick looked around anxiously.  "Keep your voice down."  She waved him off, everybody knew the news was made up.  And on channel 11 the sports and weather were too.
She felt bad for him, it really was a spot.  "Listen," she said, "My sister knows a guy who might do it.  But he's allergic to dogs so the 'Corner of Adoption' has to go."  Rick seized the lifeline.
Her sister’s friend turned out to be a natural weatherman, after the initial storm.  He didn't have much in the way of qualifications, but he could qualify anything.  He had a flair for the dramatic and could pull $.50 words from the sky like candy.  If you pulled candy from the sky.
The only problem was that he insisted on using the name Storm Snow.  Rick insisted that wouldn't work and found a new roadblock in the form of Dark McCleod.  "You can't use that, Joe." he told Jenny's sister’s friend.  They went through several more names including Windy Waters -- Rick said, "Everyone knows you're not Windy." -- and Misty Dawn Fogg which even Jenny didn't like.  She said, "Joe, you're not a girl, stop using girl names." and he said back, "They aren't girl names, they're weather names." and Rick said, "Joe, they are girl names and there is no such thing as a weather name." and Joe said, "Sure there are, they all sound like or rhyme with meteorological weather words.  Why, I knew one guy named Noah and they always started his show with 'Nobody knows snow-ah like Noah.' and I want a name like that."
Rick was not amused.  "I appreciate you coming down here kid, but I need a weatherman, somebody who can top channel 9's noon forecast of a polar vortex, not somebody scattering stage names like a windstorm blowing through the office."  Joe looked at him.  Rick looked at Joe.
"You are a genius, Sir." he said.  "I'll be Joe Blow."  Jenny laughed.  Rick shook his head and walked away.  There wasn't time to argue.  Action News was about to start.
The set quieted.  The music ran.  The cameraman pointed.  And Jenny made up the news.  Rick suddenly realized they had never worked out the weather forecast.  He tried to catch Joe's eye but the man was sitting cross-legged with his eyes closed doing speaking exercises.
"And now for the weather." said Jenny.  The camera panned.  Joe stood by the map, smiling and looking every bit like a weatherman.
"Good evening, Springfield -- Detroit's finest, most vanilla suburb.  I'm the new channel 11 weatherman, Joe Blow, bringing you the latest so you know weather too."
Jenny smiled and cut in, "Whether to what, Joe?"
He shot her a death look.  "Weather is nothing to joke about.  Why, even as we speak a polar vortex has developed."  He turned to face the camera.  "And while some of you may be thinking this is no big deal, just another winter storm, I can assure you that it is a very big deal.  I've seen the map, the clouds, the pressure bands, and they cover the entire continent of North America.  This isn't just a polar vortex like they are reporting on channel 9, oh no.  This is -" and he paused, fearfully licking his lips - "A Polar Vortex of Doom."  He went on, "It is entirely possible that snow will fall in sufficient quantity to close schools, burry small shrubberies, and send the kiddies to Westmore Park for some extreme sledding into the ravine."
Rick thought the segment had started well, but now things were starting to go little over the top, even for a local weather report.  Rick signaled furiously and Jenny tried to get it back.  "So Joe, I guess I should pack away my swimsuit for a while?"
He turned from the camera and looked at her.  She became uncomfortable.  He said, "You probably want to keep it handy.  There is definitely a chance that instead of snow some of you -- tuning in via the internet, of course -- may actually experience summer like weather, especially if you are located in the Southern Hemisphere or the Tropical Latitudes.  I think I read somewhere that Freeport is supposed to reach 83 today."
Jenny choked out, "Freeport?"
"Bahama's, Baby." said Joe.  He was on a roll.  "Of course if you're in the Bahama's you'll miss out on this exciting Polar Vortex of Doom."  He paused, then winked, smiled, and added, "But you can still buy the t-shirt."  They flashed the graphic, a t-shirt with a cartoon man sweating profusely and a voice bubble saying, "It is HOT!  I sure miss Channel 11 and the Vortex Doom."
Rick turned to his producer.  "I didn't authorize that.  Did you authorize that?"  The producer shook his head.  "Who authorized the t-shirt?" shouted Rick.  Somebody mumbled something about the meteorology department.
When the broadcast was finished, Rick stormed over to Joe and Jenny.  Before he could speak Joe said, "Wow.  That was incredible.  Did you see me?  I was awesome."  Jenny nodded weakly, she looked as green as the weather map board.
Rick pointed a long finger at Joe.  "You, Mr. Blow, are fired!"
The producer came over to Rick.  "Sir, you won't believe this."
"Can't believe it if you don't tell me." said the GM.
"We've received orders for 300 t-shirts and they are still coming in." said the Producer.
Joe had collapsed to the floor and sobbed miserably.
Rick looked questioningly at Jenny who shrugged helplessly0.  "You said he was fired." she told him.
Rick put his hand on Joe's shoulder.  "I was interrupted before I finished, Son.  I think you've misunderstood what's happening here."
Joe looked up, tearful, nose running.  "I misunderstood you saying I was fired?"
Rick smiled his best boardroom smile.  "What I was saying is that you are fired... up about the weather!"   Joe wiped his nose.  Rick was already holding out his hand, too late to pull back.  Joe took it and they shook.  "Welcome to Channel 11." said Rick.
It sank in very slowly for Joe.  But once it did, he started dancing around the studio.  "I'm a weather man.  Tomorrow it's going to be sunny and we can have a picnic.  Then on Saturday it will rain all day so that we can go to the movies instead of doing yard work."
Rick put his arm around Jenny.  "Good call, finding Joe."
She pushed his arm away.  "You're getting snot on my jacket."
Rick shook his head.  Showbiz types.  All a bit weird.  But he could handle that, as long as they kept bringing in the dough.  He paused on his way out to look at the now abandoned 'Corner of Adoption'.
He'd never much cared for it.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"We're in their homes and in their heads..."

I did coverage notes for a script a few days ago and caught myself starting to write, "This would be fine for TV but it just isn't quite a movie."  I immediately switched courses but it got me to thinking about why I might consider something to be fine for one medium and not for the other.  (The script was well written, it just didn't have the emotional depth or plot to justify a $15 ticket.)

Why are our standards lower for TV than the movies?  Or aren't they?  “Airwolf” vs. “Firebirds” is a dead heat and “MacGyver” copied movie plots for the first season (even using movie footage).

There is clearly a difference in production quality and the amount of money spent per hour.  And, until recently, when a movie was finished the story was finished too, whereas with TV it just sort of kept going as long as advertisers would still pay for it.  And if you were a film actor you didn't do TV -- until about 1998.  So if film is so much better, why even bother with TV?

You could argue availability -- even with videotapes there wasn't exactly an endless supply of new content.  But now there is.  I could log into Netflix and watch a different movie every night for the rest of my life.  Most of them are awful, but I could.  Which brings up the question, if those movies really are awful, why bother with them at all instead of just watching…TV?

I've been reading pundits who argue that TV is now the superior format because you can address more characters with more depth and run a longer plot arc -- (“24”, “Lost”, and “Breaking Bad” all support this thesis).  Others point to CGI tentpoles like “Ironman 3” and say, "As good as ‘Agents of Shield’ is, it's still television.”

I think it depends on the show and the movie.  Any Bruce Lee movie is going to be better than an episode of “The Master.”  By the same token, any episode of “Arrested Development” is going to be funnier than a movie with John Candy in it.  And it won't take nearly as long to get there.

But maybe not.  Maybe what we see is that there are two different ways to tell stories.  “Firefly” was a popular show, but not popular enough.  Yet the movie “Serenity” was a huge hit for a larger audience.  It was a story better suited to film.  Most folks are done with zombies by the end of “Last Man Standing”, but they'll tune in season after season for “The Walking Dead.”

I guess it comes down to the fact that if you pick the right format, you've got a winner.  Pick the wrong one and my Netflix slush pile expands with content that sounds good, but isn’t ever quite good enough for me to get to.