Friday, February 28, 2014

I'm thinking about something else entirely.

Busy week.  2 awards ceremonies at school and a birthday in the family.  It was also so cold this morning that the bucket of water in the pony’s stall was frozen.  I discovered that after setting off the alarm for the barn.  The Police thought it was funny.  I think #2 was a bit embarrassed.

Today’s bit of creative writing examines assumption, one of the themes I’m playing with for the current script.

Her Ladyship, Maybe

Terrill set his mug down and pointed to the door.  His companions at the long table followed his gaze.  A woman stood in the doorway of the Inn and looked around.  Two men entered behind her, both with swords and the clank of mail beneath their traveling coats.
                Old Boykin waddled over to them and made his usual fuss.  The travelers spoke to him in hushed tones and he quickly led them to the stairs and the privacy of the upper rooms.
                “What do you make of that?” asked Terrill.
                Herk stared at the base of the stairs.  “Seemed a bit mismatched.  Her cloak was too fine for an Inn like this.”
                “Aye, like they wanted us to think they were just travelers.” said Terrill.
                “Maybe they were.” said Herk.  “There’s all sorts that travel.”
                “But with two guards?”
                “Maybe she’s a princess?”
                Terrrill didn’t think so.  “She’d have had an entourage.”
                Boykin sidled over.  “And no self-respecting princess would be out with two soldiers alone.”
                “So she’s not from the castle.” said Terrill.
                “I didn’t say that.” said Boykin.  “Look at the coin.”  He showed them the silver harts and a golden osprey, warm and damp in his hand.  “She must be close with the royal family.”
                Terrill snapped his fingers.  “She’s part of the Web.”  The others looked about hastily.
                Boykin whispered, “Do not speak so openly about the Web here in my house.”
                Herk nodded.  “And I don’t think a member of the Web would travel with two guards.  She’d be a homeless whore or something.”
                Terrill smiled.  “That would have been nice.”
                Boykin slapped him.  “Don’t speak of her Ladyship in such vulgary.”
                “Ah ha!” said Terrill.  “So she is a noble.”
                Boykin raised his hands, palms up.  “I don’t know.  She just asked not to be disturbed.


                Mirabelle was exhausted from the ride.  They had left her Aunt’s estate at dawn and ridden through a dreadful spring squall before reaching the Inn after sunset.  She was hungry and her body ached.  There would be no bath in a place like this, but for a price she could have food and a bed and that would have to be enough.
                Her husband returned to the common room to fetch bread and ale while her son, now practically a man himself, collapsed in a chair near the door.  She regretted the rush, but they had only been granted three days to attend the funeral and if she was not back by her Ladyship’s side tomorrow evening – she shuddered.  The woman could be dreadfully cold.  And generous, without the loan of her horses they’d never have made it and did give them money to pay for the trip.

                She snuggled under the cloak her Aunt had bequeathed, shut her eyes against the world, and slept.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"There wasn't one today. "

I was going to write about Harold Ramis today.  It was to be a study of the similarities between my two favorites of his -- "Ghostbusters" and "Groundhog Day."

But then The Fates conspired, destinies entwined, and the world was turned on its head.  To quote Dr. Vinkman, "Dogs and cats, living together.  We're talking mass hysteria here."

Perhaps that's all a bit dramatic.

But everything is different.  The car traffic is different (took 20 minutes to make a single turn), the train traffic is different (freight, auto, and passenger all moving together), a different person was behind the counter of the station coffee shop, and SOMEBODY SET UP CHAIRS.

40 of them.  Little brown folding chairs.  The tables are all smushed together in a narrow band of "Hey, let's all sit way too close to each other for a few extra minutes today."  But folding chairs?  In a train station?  When is there not enough room without resorting to folding chairs?  They don't even have a stencil on the back claiming to be the property of something or other.

I waited a few minutes before I started writing.  Just in case there was a flash mob.  But there wasn't.

Am I the only human left?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Get her!"

More snow.  ‘Nuff said.

August 8, 1978 – Toronto, Ontario.
I’ve met the funniest man in the world this evening.  The Plainclothes Mountie.  You know the one, he rides a horse everywhere but without the bright red coat so he can be “undercover.”  Hysterical.  Even if you’ve never been to Canada.

The character, of course, is a fiction of SCTV.  The closest to a Plainclothes Mountie I’ve ever seen was the winter I went into the Yukon Territory with Sam McGee and the policeman there were so bundled up you wouldn’t have known them from the prospectors.

But the man behind the fiction is amazing.  We can expect great things from young Harold.  I predict he will turn the likes of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor on their heads.  It’s truly unfortunate that our evening was cut short by the appearance of a Free Floating Full Torso Vaporous Apparition in the dining room.  The hotel evacuated all of us but gave no indication of when we might return and I was separated from my guest.  There should really be someone to call about things like that.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"I had my heart set on becoming an English teacher,..."

Oh, the importance of routine.  I was ahead of schedule today.  By quite a lot.  Then I broke the routine and left the house a bit later than usual.  Hit a different traffic pattern.  Missed my train.  Which is to say that I beat the train to the station but had to park too far away to get across the tracks before it arrived.

I am not one to race with trains, climb under or around them when not engaged in my official duties, or stress about missing one when there's another about half-an-hour after.  (That's an interesting construction -- is it legal?)

One of the routines I am currently engaged in is checking the blog "Daily Writing Tips" ( during lunch break while I eat my peanut butter and love sandwich.  It's a great source of information about how to use the English language correctly.  I find it to be to the point, filled with all of the examples I ever need in a format that's easy to skip over if I don't need them.  The topics are varied but applicable.  I've actually learned somethings.

And forgotten them.  Which is why I check every day...

Monday, February 24, 2014

If you can't take the critique, get out of the kitchen.

I'd like to share a story with you and, hopefully, it will inspire you as much as it has inspired me.  It's about perspective and while I generally don't like to focus on negative or take on airs of superiority, this was too remarkable to ignore.

One of the things I do is provide 'notes' to other writers.  I don't do it all of the time and have probably only covered about 20 scrips in the last 8 months or so.  I don't charge and I don't promise immediate feedback (in most cases...) but it's a wonderful opportunity for both the writer and me to see what we've learned.

While I'd never quit my day job and hang out a shingle, I do know what I'm doing (based on the feedback and public recommendations I’ve received).  Perhaps more to the point, I know what the writers are doing.  Both good and bad.

The last script I covered was not especially good.  It was written well but the underlying story wasn't the least bit engaging.  I've read much, much better.  I spent three pages explaining my impression and citing examples of what worked and what didn't.  (Never a fix, that's not the way notes work.)

I received a bit of argument in reply.  Not what I was expecting.  There was a brief exchange.  I was then asked if "it had ever occurred to me, since it had been a month between when the script was finally send (different story) and when I sent my notes, that there might be a newer version of the script available and I should ask for it?"

I said, "No.  Has the script changed fundamentally since the version you sent me?  My notes were about the underlying elements of the entire story, not the quick fix grammar or formatting.  Knowing the version I read, would you be able to quickly summarize how your most recent draft addressed the issues I identified?  I would be happy to take another look."

I received back the very curt, "Thank you for your time."  The author clearly disagreed with my assessment (well within his right) but for some reason thought that it was my fault I didn’t like it.  I had the impression that he didn’t actually read my notes.  It was a total waste of time.  For both of us.

My work has been shredded since I started writing – from teachers, friends, family, and peers.  It was shredded for good reason and I’m a much better writer now because of it.  Find someone qualified to give you feedback, solicit it, and then politely pay attention to them when they tell you how to make it better.  It isn’t personal and if they didn’t respect you in the first place, they’d never have looked at your work.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Face-Time Continuum

We had the end of season party for #4's basketball team last night.  They finished undefeated.  I finished over-eated -- we were at a pizza buffet and I might have almost had a little bit too much.

I haven't exactly been reading Poe, but I've been reading of him and haven't written anything in that vein since "The Penny and the Paperclip" so…

A Face-Time Continuum
by Jon Stark
February, 2014; 677 words

Portia cowered in her corner.  It was no longer 'the corner' or 'a corner.'  She'd been here too long for that.  It was also 'her collar' and 'her chain' though she did not think on them as fondly.  Except perhaps the collar.  There was a sense of security in the collar.  Of belonging.


The workbench was covered with tools.  Not big wrenches and braking bars for engines.  Delicate tools for delicate work.  And wood.  There was no saw dust on the bench, or on the floor.  He was meticulous and it had been cleaned up at once.  But he didn't trust the surface, too much risk that there was still some particle there that could gunk things up and spoil his work.

He worked instead from a leather mat with the inner mechanism of a clock spread out, a few small tools he needed lay in their well-worn place.  He applied steady pressure to a stubborn gearbox, frozen with rust and neglect.  This clock had looked very nice when he bought it, but the insides didn't work and when he took it apart it almost made him cry.

But he never cried.  He knew the secret was patience.  And pressure.


Portia always tried to sleep now.  It was the only way to pass time.  At first she had tried to escape but there are only so many ways you can pull on a chain anchored to a wall.  Only so many nails you can scrape off of your fingers against old bricks mortared into place.  Only so many times you can count the marks that the other girls left.

When it was their corner.  Their collar.


The gear-set broke free.  He was surprised -- it was much weaker than the last clock he'd worked on.  That one had taken hours over the course of days.  That had been a beautiful clock.

He watched Edgar, his malnourished cat, pace across the floor.  He didn't particularly care for the animal and it didn't like him, but they had an arrangement that suited them both and they were content to ignore one another.


Portia looked at the giant hourglass that sat against the wall just out of her reach.  Her captor had flipped it over when she was hooked to the chain, rotating it as if by magic, aided by an unseen system of pulleys and gears and counter weights.

The sand had started running.

It had been running for a long time.  She couldn't be sure how long, in the dark with nothing to mark the days.  But it was long enough she didn't care anymore.  Long enough that she’d given up.  Long enough that she couldn't wait for the sand to finally run out.  Anything was better than waiting.  Wasn’t it?

Such a big hourglass.


The man stood and stretched.  Edgar forgot himself and rubbed at the man's legs.  He forgot himself and stroked the cat's head.  Then by mutual agreement they parted ways.

He walked over to where a giant hourglass stood against the wall.  He was very proud of it.  There was a thousand pounds of sand inside.  It took nearly a month to run out completely.

And it was almost done.  He tapped at the glass, willing it to hurry.  He was a patient man, but even so, the excitement of starting on a new project was hard to contain.  A new clock.  He loved building new clocks.

Portia watched him shuffle away.  In the first days she had tried to get his attention. She shouted, smashed things, even threw her water bottle at him but he never acknowledged her.  Now they ignored each other.  But his tapping on the glass encouraged her. He knew it was almost over too.

She leaned back against her wall, in her corner.  The weight of her chain pulled against her collar and she dozed sitting on her floor.  Over her head the clocks kept time.  Eleven of them.  Each with two hands.  Each with a gaunt face that looked remarkably like her own.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"I once saw a horse kill a clown."

I didn't watch very much this week.  Read a lot and wrote more than usual instead.  [Curious thing on the elevator today – I was the only person (of 6) not wearing earbuds.]

We did catch another episode of "Leverage" and it was the best one yet.  It's been close to a month since we last watched but I didn't have any trouble picking back up with the characters.  Clearly it was better written than I initially gave it credit for.

This particular episode provided exposition on the backstories of 3 different characters.  1 was the basis of the episode but the other 2 were artful additions.  We were introduced to a new multi-episode nemesis (I'm presuming) from our hero's past.  And then there was the flashback.

Flashbacks were over used by "amateurs" in the last decades and are on the list of devices to never use.  I believe that list is just to separate out the people who can think from the people who can't -- sometimes you need a flashback and if you do it right it's awesome.

This flashback was done correctly.  1) There was absolutely no other way to provide the information about the character other than a dull monologue.  2) It was wicked short.  3) It was immediately relevant and was further paid off before the end of the story.  4) It delivered the information visually -- in this case the words, "I once saw a horse kill a clown," didn't describe what really happened but the words over the video made it work on multiple levels.  5) It was the only flashback in the episode.  The other expository elements were addressed using different tools.

All in all, very entertaining with just a hint of Psych's offbeat humor (which I love).

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Ya better say your prayers, ya flea-bitten varmint!"

This has been a good week for keeping "rejected" in the title of the blog.  I had two short stories rejected and was eliminated from the Bluecat competition.  On the plus side, I made the finals for this week's 5 minute fiction contest.  I've won that a few times… but lost far more.

And that is the business side of writing.  On the personal side?  I can see improvement.  I like the stories I've been writing.  Today I'll be submitting short to a magazine that has rejected every one of my submissions for over 10 years.  Stubborn?  You don't know the half of it.

Washington Orville Hampton had this to say about stubbornness.

May 24, 1875 -- California, USA.

We finally reached San Tomasito at a quarter past 10 in the evening.  Sherwood took care of the animals while I arranged for our lodging at the only establishment that offers rooms.  It is disconcerting to be billed by the hour, but the linens are fairly clean and after a week on the trail, the subtle perfumes that permeate everything here are quite welcome.

Our pack mule, Bill Jefferson, decided to quit early this morning.  He sat down near the Amarillo Arroyo and wouldn't budge.  I grew tired of encouraging him onward after a few moments but Sam kept at it.  Sherwood advised me that once a mule quits, it's over and we should just leave him for the pumas, but Sam wouldn't leave old Bill.  The two of them made an ornery pair and we (Sherwood and I) had enjoyed many a laugh as the diminutive teamster waggled his finger in the face of the apathetic animal.

After an hour, Sam took a rest but he didn't give up.  When Sherwood suggested to him that we leave Bill, Sam started in on the rootenist, tootenist tantrum I'd ever seen.  "If there's one thing I hate more than a stubborn mule," said Sam, "It's the pumas that eat stubborn mules."

I had not seen a puma since leaving Chicago and although the taverns in Denver were full of tales, I had become something of a skeptic.  "Oh, they're there." said Sam.  "Hiding in the crevices."  Sherwood nodded sagely.  "He's right, Wash.  There's pumas in the crevices."

But Sherwood also told Sam that we weren't going to wait for him to save the mule because those said same pumas might take us if we spent another night on the side of the trail.  "I can take care of the pumas." said Sam, firing off both his revolvers.  I swear to you that the blast actually lifted him into the air.  I dare say that were I a puma I would not tangle with Sam.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Don't write about the weather. Ever."

*** R&A has exceeded 8000 page views.  Thank you!

Elmore Leonard is going to roll over in his grave at this, but I just can't resist commenting on the weather this morning.  The sun is brilliant, there's a dusting of snow, and the roads are slick with ice.  Nothing special there, I know, but by this afternoon we'll have picked up 30 degrees and gone from below normal to above normal.  A dramatic change like that, with the climax providing such a wonderfully warm feeling and foreshadowing the season to come is like the best of stories.

I'm pondering the writing process this morning – specifically the outline.  As longtime readers know, I'm a huge fan of The Blackboard online community.  Recently I’ve noticed a huge difference in the way that writers work.  Some won't write the first word until they've detailed the entire story.  Others won't do more than sketch a rough map of the plot that their characters will follow.

I never used to outline.  If a story took more than a few thousand words I either didn't finish it because I didn't know where it was going or didn't finish it because it was a rambling mess.  I wrote a few months ago about how much I thought outlining was a good idea now, and how using index cards was, in point of fact, one of the best ideas out there.

Now that I've been writing seriously every day for a year, I'm not so sure that outlining is the cat's meow.  This is to say that I think you must write longer stories (screenplays and novels) with a plan, but you don’t necessarily want to be burdened with every detail.  I can see how that really does stifle creativity.  For this most recent story I didn't plot it out with index cards.  I wrote the treatment and then used that as an outline for the first draft.

I worry that for many writers the in-depth outline is a crutch to keep from starting.  For others it's the desire to minimize rewrites by making the first draft better.  There's also the folks who do it because they think they must.

So what is the outline really?  For me it's the original plan of how to get from A to B including snippets of dialogue and characterization.  It isn't I.A.1.a or 40 index cards divided into 4 sections.

I've just started using a new program that I refer to as "my creative secretary" -- spotting holes, dangling characters, and where the story arcs fall flat.  (I'll review it once I've finished a project with it -- I hate the summary judgments by people who test the features but not the application.)

It should help me write a tighter, more exciting, and entertaining tale.  But it still has to be me writing it, structure alone is boring.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Win, lose. Doesn't matter, Daniel-san."

I have rearranged my workspace at home.  I now work from a fold-top desk without clutter.  I think it’s going to work out.  The monitors are bit higher than what I’m used to generally but not too high and my chair does tilt. Sort of.  Maybe I should get a different chair?  Another trip to Ikea, anyone?

But today isn’t about furniture or sunshine.  It’s about finding the inspiration to keep going.  As I mentioned – bragged about? – I made the first cut for the Bluecat screenplay competition.  The 2nd round cuts were supposed to be this weekend, a mere two weeks and, with my schedule, a short time full of distraction that would allow me to pretty much ignore the whole thing.

For some reason they had to postpone until tomorrow.  2/18.  It was only 2 days but suddenly it was at the forefront of my mind.  I was all like, “Hey, I can’t wait.  Did I make it or not?”

Then I sat down to work on “Falling Star” (current script project, if I haven’t mentioned it by name yet).  I love the story.  No really, I’m swept away.  It gives me chills just thinking about it.  That’s not arrogance, that’s me getting to be the first person to read it.  It is probably my best long form idea to date.  And I as hammered and chipped at it, I forgot about Bluecat.

It doesn’t matter if I make the cut or not on Tuesday.  Wednesday I’m going to be on the train writing.  I’ll see you there. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Is it all a lie?

It’s a typical Saturday.  Typical Saturday schedule.  Prepping for company arriving tomorrow afternoon.  Down to the last couple of basketball games for the season.  Had a wonderful day out with my Wife yesterday.  We opted for the Valentine’s lunch instead of dinner and it was a good choice.  Cheesecake and Ikea.  The great thing about an uncrowded Ikea is that it lets you consider how to rearrange what you already have into something you want.  (Sort of like getting into a second draft.)

I found the perfect home office.  I was absorbed.  And she stopped and then said out loud everything I was thinking.  I even took a picture.

This morning I read a great essay by Herbert Gold asking “What’s the difference between a lie and a short story?”  My children have asked me that.  I’ve pondered that.  We put a very strong emphasis on honesty in our home.  It is, perhaps, the single most important character trait to us.  We don’t like fake and we don’t like lies.  So how is that I can write fiction?  That we can enjoy good movies?  I was very pleased with Mr. Gold’s reasoning.

In short, he said that a short story is a lie that teaches you about the world.  It isn’t for gain, isn’t for avoiding what’s due.  It’s a tale that people want to listen to.  It’s a lie that different than a dream.  He humorously suggested that the number one reason for divorce in our country is the recitation of the previous night’s dreams at the breakfast table.  Who cares?  His point was simply that a well told story is a fiction that we can relate to.  We can put ourselves in it and we can find out about ourselves.  He went further and said that for him, when reading about divorce or alcoholism – things he’s experienced – the story become cathartic for him.  A chance to commune with the characters and find a bit more peace in his own life.

Maybe that’s why I love “The Wedding Singer”, “Notting Hill”, and “Music and Lyrics.”

Friday, February 14, 2014

Card Stock

I’m trying out a new template in word.  We’ll see how it posts.  I have difficulty getting the tabs and or carriage returns to transfer properly.  They seem to be as slippery as my driveway which – as you might presume – is especially slippery today.  I suppose that since it’s February 14, I should be wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day.  Since it’s Friday as well, I should likely write some sort of love story.  But what if I just wrote a story you could love?  That would be a trick worthy of duplication.

Let’s give it a go then, shall we?

Card Stock
By Jon Stark
February, 2014

Martin was not a fan of Valentine’s Day.  It seemed to be just one more opportunity to make a colossal mistake, to spend too little or too much on the perfectly wrong things for someone who had only been holding on these last two weeks to get one final payday.  Except this year he didn't think Tamara would be dumping him.  She was dropping too many hints about exactly what sort of diamond jewelry she was after.

It was with these ruminations that Martin strolled into Adele’s Hallmark.  It was as busy as you’d expect this close to D-day.  It had the electric panic of Christmas shoppers who had just remembered Aunt Ruby and needed to find a crocheted hand-warmer with the face of John Elway.  He elbowed his way in and began the pointless search.  There was, naturally, no card in stock that would accurately describe his feelings for Tamara without offending her.

Adele worked the aisle, pointing out perfect cards and encouraging those who were, perhaps, a bit timid about approaching the perfect woman.  Martin wanted to tell them to run.  Not to waste their money.  But he didn't.

“What are you looking for this year, Mr. Abernathy?” asked Adele.  The old man next to Martin smiled at her.  “I don’t think I have a card specifically celebrating 63 years.  But this one is nice.”  It was nice and Mr. Abernathy took it.

Martin almost threw up.  He was terrified by the thought of being with Tamara for 63 years.  But she seemed to want that.  He considered what that might look like.  What in the world would they talk about?

He put back a card that featured a dachshund promising a lifetime of “long walks on the beach” – it was cute but she didn't like dogs.

A pimply youth, effervescent with naïve hope, asked Adele for help.  “It’s our first, you see?”  She nodded.  “And I want it to be special but not creepy.  Not a ‘I can’t wait until forever’ sort of stalking card.”

Adele led him further down the aisle and pulled out a black card with a small red rose.  “Try this.” She said.  He read the inside – ‘I never knew love was real” - and thanked her.

Martin pulled out the next card and caught his breath.  It was a cartoon drawing of a frog.  His outstretched arms held a heart shaped box of chocolates.  “Rescue me with a kiss and I’ll happily be your valentine ever after.”

He thought about the tire swing by the river.  The Ferris wheel.  The first time they shared popcorn at the movie – her hand lingering with his, neither eating, neither hearing a word of the film.  A night of pouring rain and oppressive thunder rescuing frogs from the flood.  Simone.  Always in secret, nobody could ever know how he’d felt.  Secret even from himself until she was gone.

Tamara wouldn't save a frog.  But Martin could imagine 63 years with the same Valentine.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America."

We've got a snow day today.  I did some writing.  Then some shoveling.  Went to the barn.  Did more shoveling.  Then more writing.  Actually got to type FADE OUT which is why, despite the snow day, I’m late posting the blog.

Fade out is a big deal, but in this case it isn’t quite as big as it could be.  Rather than being a first draft, it’s more like a 75% draft.  I wrote the story, not the back story.  Now that I’ve decided how it ends, I can add in the bits pieces to make that ending both logical and satisfying.  That’s the plan anyway.

The first screenplay I wrote came in at a whopping 180 pages.  Trimming it down has proven impossible for me.  I didn’t want that to happen again so I wrote lean – intentionally and on purpose.  I even deleted a few sections/rewrote scene in progress a couple of times.  Not true editing, but a distinct change from my “no edit until the end” rule.  It didn’t slow me down, this has been a two week journey, and I think it’s a more workable draft.

2 months from now I may be singing a different tune.

"I ain't no flatlander."

I’m hoping to capture some of what I learned from “Captain Phillips” with this script.  That film built and maintained an incredible level of tension throughout.  There was no memorable dialogue, no major surprise plot twists, just people reacting so believably you felt you were there.  I’m going for that immersion – and deep caring about what happens.

I’ll also be sure not have a character attempt a New England accent.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


                So all of the pedestrians are crazy today.  All is a lot.  Many of the pedestrians are crazy.  I don’t know if it was a single suicidal one that prompted a herd migration or just everyone upset that it’s only Wednesday but I have never seen it so bad.  Tires squealing, people jumping, horns (naturally) and shouting.  Dudes, chill man.  There’s a storm coming, let’s just use the crosswalk and wait for the signal.  I mean seriously, you want to get run over on the way to work?  No, really, do you?  I don’t.  Give me that extra 45 seconds of fresh air.
                A loyal reader wrote, “I loved your construction of ‘.3k words.’  Is there a word meaning a unit of 1,000 words?”  I poured over Washington Orville Hampton’s diary and found this entry, excerpted here for you in a sort of answer to the question.

12/25/1921 – Christmas in Paris
I found my room at the Hotel d'Angleterre to be somewhat typical of the French but then one doesn’t go to Paris to stay inside.  At least not in the room.  At least not in the room with only a book for company.  I arrived late in the evening so that this morning was my first good chance to look around.  Imagine my elation at finding a fellow ex-pat in the downstairs.
Ernest interrupted his conversation with the lovely Elizabeth Hadley to call me over.  I was invited to luncheon with them at the Café de la Paix on Ave de l'Opéra.  What followed was a marvelous day during which we…[snip] ...but the evening’s conversation was one of the most interesting dissections of the writing process I’ve ever had.  Hemmingway insisted that daily writing hampered his ability to enjoy grappa so that he preferred instead to write in great spurts, pouring out thousands of words at a time.
I felt that it would be impolite to express my distaste for grappa and instead asked what the proper term for a unit of 1,000 words might be.  He wasn’t sure there was one and the three of us worked out the puzzle.
There’s kilowatt, kilometer, (and in 60 years kilobyte) so we felt it should be kilo-something.  Hadley proposed kilograph.  Ernest thought we needed to come up with an abbreviation.   "kg" was taken, "kph" could work but I thought it would be confused with speed limits outside of America.  Hadley then proposed "kilographeme" so we could use "kgm."  Hemmingway thought it a long word and, using that amazing gift for finding the remarkable in the simple, said, “What about Kwd for kiloword?”   Absolute genius.
In 1957, Harper Lee actually changed the working title of his story idea, “Mocking Bird,” after drafting a detailed outline that was 2,000 words long and sending it to his brother with the cover, “Two Kilowords -- Mocking Bird.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"It's not as bad as it looks."

Watched a couple of basketball games last night.  (You may have caught the tweet about one ref explaining the rules to the other ref...)  It was a double header -- sort of -- #3 and #4 both had games, fortunately at the same place and in succession.

                My wife and I were struck by the differences between the two games.  Specifically, the size and skill of the boys playing.  There was only one grade between them but the contrast between the older and younger players was astounding.

                First, the boys were all much bigger.  They were stronger, faster, and more coordinated.  Second, they demonstrated better ball handling -- some were better than others, but at this next level, they all had the basics.

                I suspect that those boys on the older team don't realize how much better they've gotten.  Or how much they’ve grown.  The change occurred too slowly to notice themselves.  But in one year all of that little growing has added up.

                A lot can happen in a year, even if it's only a page or two each day.  (See how I slipped in a bit about writing?)  Breakthroughs are great, but you can’t count on them.  What you can count on is enhancement.  Slow, steady progress toward mastery.

Monday, February 10, 2014

"What's wrong with perfection?"

                There is a sailboat that I pass every time I drive in and out of my development.  It's up for auction on 2/22.  I'm estimating 23 feet with a single cabin and convertible settee.  Topside is covered with plastic wrap so it's hard to tell who made her.

                The bottom is a bit rough, her fixed keel in nipped, the paint is worn -- though not covered with algae -- and I highly suspect that there are some weak spots in the fiberglass.  I haven't gotten a good look at the prop -- or the mast for that matter (it's down and under the wrap).  There is no way that the interior isn't full of mold and I expect that the cabinetry is in need of repair.

I don't know anyone else who liked this film.

                In short, she's likely going to require a lot of work.  Said another way, she's probably affordable.  But I won't be going to the auction.  And if I do go, I won't bid.  It's not that sort of dream that distracts me every single time I drive by.

                It would be wonderful to sail the Chesapeake, or the Caribbean, writing madly between tacks.  But not on that boat.  Not right now.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats!

We saw "Stomp" at the National Theater last night.  Quite a show.  There was no intermission, they just went for nearly two hours straight.  Banging things.  And it was interesting.

Actually, it was more than interesting.  It was amazing.  They danced, but it wasn't really dancing.  They drummed, but didn't actually use drums.  Sure, there were a few things that were pretty drum-line, but mostly, what they banged were the sorts of things we bang on all the time – without rhythm.  They, of course, had lots of rhythm.  And humor.

And energy.  I told my date that I would never complain about a workout again.

They took the ordinary and re-envisioned it.  Familiar, yet remarkably different.  Are you bored?  Look again.  From pens to brooms to shopping carts to the kitchen sink (full of water), you are surrounded by music and poetry just waiting to be discovered.

If you have never seen a performance of Stomp, I encourage you to do so.  It’s not one big long drum solo.  It’s a kaleidoscope of color, motion, and rhythm.  Melodic and dynamic.  I never checked my watch and only yawned once – that was because I ate a piece of “The Great Wall of Chocolate” and not that the show was dull.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Weights and Measures

I took today off.  Big plans tonight.  But even with a four day week, it felt like I crammed two or even three weeks’ worth of life in.  It was a pleasant change to not have any morning appointments.  I’m safely tucked into the studio learning how to use Windows 8 and Word 13.
I’m not sure how I feel about either yet.  Windows 8 is definitely wasted since I’m not using a tablet and am too cheap to buy a touch screen.  Actually, it isn’t about being cheap.  It’s that I sit too far from the screen to touch it without moving.  Like you care.
Today’s story was not inspired by real events.


      Kenneth – despite a mother who had wished to have a son people called Ken, the name had never taken, he was always Kenneth – rocked slowly on his porch.  It was one of those mornings that made him wish he had a second 80 years to enjoy.
      Then, quite out of the blue, the birdsong was interrupted by a blood curdling scream of rage and a crash from across the street.  The small second story window in Mrs. Peters house exploded outward, shards of glass and wood framing preceding a rectangular box.  The box bounced three times, springs and plastic flying off, though in diminishing quantities each time.
      Kenneth picked up his bird glasses and peered at the wreckage.  It looked like a set of scales.  He put the glasses down and smirked.  He liked the Peters family.  They had a lot of energy.
      A few moments later Mrs. Peters came out of her front door.  She was dressed for speed rather than going out and a bath towel was wrapped tightly around her head.  She looked around, spotted the crash site, and made her way forward.
      Kenneth waved to her and called out, “Good morning, Mrs. Peters.”
      She paused her recovery operation and looked across at him.  Her cheeks flushed.  “I didn’t see you there, Kenneth.”
      “Is everything alright?” he said.  “There was a bit of commotion earlier.”
      “Yes, quite fine.” she said.  “Everything’s under control.”  But it wasn’t.  She was having a terribly difficult time getting all of the pieces together.  And she was on the verge of falling apart herself – a state which precipitated the plummeting scales incident.
      Kenneth stood.  “Well, then.”  He stretched.  Picked up his empty coffee cup.  “I’ll be going along then, if you’re sure you’re alright.”
      Kenneth set his book down on the table next to the rocker and watched Mrs. Peters pull into her driveway.  She had a shopping bag.  Just one.  There was a rectangular box inside.  He waved to her.  She smiled and waved back.
      “Get everything you needed?” he called to her.
      “Oh yes.” she said.  “Can’t live without the necessities.”
      “You know you can’t trust the digital ones.  They’re always getting out of calibration.” said Kenneth.
      Mrs. Peters looked at him.  Shock, hurt, embarrassment, anger, and, had there been more time, a dozen other emotions, flooded through her.  She clutched the new scales to her chest and ran inside.  The scales that promised to help you lose weight by tracking every change and playing a motivational quote by one of four world famous trainers every time you missed your goal.

      This set would be different.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

"This is a small pond and I'm the big fish."

I got to use my sunglasses this morning.  That might not seem like much to you, but for me that's almost as good as fresh crescent rolls.  The kids were off from school again yesterday but I didn't find out until after it was already too late to drive safely on bare roads...

This week's film/tv post takes a look back to one of my favorite action movies of all time.  Die Hard 2.  It was released during the week of July 4th -- I remember because our local theater did a surprise "sneak preview" the day before it was supposed to be released so instead of driving "all the way into the city" we stayed local and only paid about $2.50 each for a ticket and popcorn.

I recently watched a "TV edit" of the movie and when I first got the scrubbed copy I thought, "Wow, Die Hard 2?  What's that going to be, like 20 minutes long without any swearing?"  Even without the requisite 'R' rated content, it was a fun movie.  (See?  Not necessary.)

This time capsule of pagers, corded airline cell phones, and cops that didn't understand faxes, offered some great moments and storytelling panache.  Of course it also had more than its fair share of, "totally not reality," but you expected bottomless magazines for everybody's gun back then.

It poked fun at being a sequel which helped it to stand on its own.  It introduced bits and pieces and then paid them off -- the pagers especially!  It kept offering twists and upping the stakes.  And it used memorably fun characters to provide the” luck and happenstance” needed to reach the happy ending.  For every "Oh my goodness, that's so ridiculous" moment, there was a very respectful, "Now that was good story telling."  Besides, you went to movies like that see how over-the-top they could be.

Sure, the 2nd most famous catch phrase of my high school years was edited out, but the story didn't need it.  It was one of the best at what it was and, even thirty years later, was still better than the current crop trying to capture the same magic.

Doug Richardson penned the film and you can read his very entertaining weekly blog here.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Cat Food

Welcome to the new Wednesday.  A day of camels walking through cubicle mazes and the inaugural excerpt from Washington Orville Hampton's journal.  (As a reminder, WOH is completely ficticious and nothing in his journal should ever be believed.)

From an entry dated March 3, 1981
                ... and Barnum says, "Cat food."  We all had a good laugh but then, after finishing an especially vile stogie and being shoo'd away by his Dame de la Journée, he popped a handful of Meow Mix into his mouth and crunched away.  He washed it down with the remains of his VSOP.
                Naturally we were all quite aghast but when Le Petite Cherie returned, she did not shun his attentions.  Indeed, it was us who made the hasty retreat.  And a hastier run on the local purveyor of fine dry cat food.
                Now my mother, God rest her soul, won't let me kiss her after a stogie even after eating the cat food but she will let me into the house which is far sight better than the alternative.  I have, through careful research in the name of science, determined that Purina Seafood is the most effective variety to cleanse your pallet of that awful smokiness that otherwise hangs on for days.  It is also effective when you inadvertently consume a large quantity of battery acid and need to keep your insides from being burned out.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"You're all clear, Kid."

I am having a little difficulty ambulating this morning.  I don't think it's age or cold, humid weather.  I think it's kettlebells.  They don't get any easier, just heavier.  Like math in school.  Just about the time you get the hang of your multiplication tables, it gets harder.  A few years later you'd love just one day of math homework that was only multiplication.

And then there's calculus.

Lost in the pressure of the rising standard are the gains that have been made along the way.  We shouldn't go back, and we shouldn't stop -- to the dark side that path leads, hmmm.

But we can take a minute.  This is what you've been striving toward, isn't it?

Monday, February 3, 2014

What's new, Bluecat?

I'm not going to write about the weather.  I don't even want to think about the weather.  Or what it did to my morning commute to the railstation.  Instead, I will sit here, waiting for the next train, and drip all over everything while I write something inspiring.

If there is any doubt in your mind that you can accomplish what you set your mind to, dispel that doubt right now.  I'm going to use me as the example today so, naturally, your milage may vary, BUT (and notice it's a 'big' but) there's no reason you can't still get there.

One year ago, literally, I had never written a screenplay.  Yesterday morning I found out that I made the top 10% of the BlueCat competition for shorts with "Princess Rose."  That's the top 160 scripts out of 1602 entries.  BlueCat.  The competition that's in everybody's top 10 and most people's top 5.

I haven't won.  But seriously, do I need to (this year)?  Isn't beating 1442 other entries validation enough that even the impossible Hollywood dreams are possible?

Everybody comes from somewhere.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

"I used to pick that as the worst movie ever made."

We had quite the collection people at our house last night/this morning.  Both #1 and #2 had people over.  But #1’s friends all drive so getting out of the driveway and down to the barn for chores and my weekly read of TCGTWF (see last week’s post) required a bit of maneuvering.
I’ve decided to change up the format of the Blog a bit.  I will be combining the Wednesday/Thursday posts into a single post about the film media – either TV or Movie.  I haven’t figured out what I’m going to call it yet so the schedule page hasn’t been changed.  That post will appear on Thursdays.  Maybe “Thursdays with Gene?”

On Wednesdays I will post excerpts from Washington Orville Hampton’s diary.  He was an extraordinary gentleman and I do not wish to keep his secrets secret any longer.  I hope you find them as educational, and entertaining, as I have.  Again, I have failed to come up with a clever name for series.
If you have any suggestions, or are curious to see if Washington commented on any particular topics or events, please drop a comment.  You’ll get kudos for a good name and I’ll be happy to peruse the journal to see if you topic of interest has been addressed.  (I assure you it has, as I’m making the whole thing up on the fly…)

The last change is one I have already implemented.  Posts (with the exception of fiction) will be limited to 300 words.  Plus cushion.  If I can’t say it in .3k, I’m either being unclear or trying to tackle too much at once.  Hopefully this will make the blog easier to follow and increase the time available for me to work on the bigger projects.  Making up words now just to land at three hundred.