Monday, May 30, 2011

What's New - Week of May 22, 2011

Greetings and salutations, all. Today is Memorial Day in the States (and our twelve year wedding anniversary, too), so while I wait for my wife to get primped up for our night out, I decided to write a short blog post.

On-Going Activities

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been spending a large amount of my writing time on two things: editing my works-in-progress and writing brand new material that has nothing to do with the former. As I noted in my last post, I downloaded Celtx for the iPad and have working to get my various screenplays synced between the desktop and tablet versions. That gave me the chance to revisit some of my favorite future projects and think a bit more about what I want to do with them.

Besides Project X to which I referred last time, there’s also Projects Y and Z (also screenplays). All three of them have potential commercial appeal and I can’t wait to be working on them for real. That’s one of the challenges of having these ideas - there is not enough hours in the day to do all the writing I would love to be doing. It’s funny - there was a time I had major insomnia, but I was so zoned, I couldn’t write much even while I was completely awake. Now I’m back to being able to sleep without trouble, so I find myself stealing time from my designated sleep time to write. As we all know, eventually the piper has to be paid.

Short Stories - New Idea

A week wouldn’t be complete without my drafting a fresh snippet or three. Here is the start of a short story thriller I began a couple of weeks ago (as always, this is raw material. God knows what the final product will look like):

The instant I heard the shot, I knew the last of the guards sworn to protect me to the end met his fate like the rest of his comrades.  I'm all alone, I thought to myself.  No, not completely alone.  That would never be true so long as they roamed the island.

Death's ugly stench filled the cave, forcing me to seek another hiding place.  Theirs was a race drawn to such horrors like the stars to the night sky and I only had a little time before they'd be upon me.  Thank God they weren't as numerous as the stars - maybe I could still escape their clutches if kept my head on straight!

The guards told me that in the event I had to flee, I would find a barely passable exit at the rear of the cave.  My lantern barely put out enough light to see more than a few feet in front of me and I only had two flares left, but I had no choice.  I strapped on my threadbare backpack and took off.

The sound of my footsteps echoed as I stumbled half-blind over the slick limestone.  Behind me, I heard nothing but silence.  So far, so good.

I climbed over a four foot pile of rocks and almost fell face first into a small pool of murky rainwater.  The water looked green with algae, a sure sign there would be plenty of slippery rocks to deal with as I made my way to freedom.  I stepped gingerly over the water and continued along the narrow path down the end of the cave wall.

When I first arrived eleven days before, I couldn't believe how fortunate I was to find such a deserted place.  My pilot landed the plane on the leeward side of the island, guiding the Cessna with the precision honed from years of landing all types of aircraft on slivers of flat iciness atop of Alaska's most delicate glaciers.  He cut the engines and we both jumped out, me with my backpack and fishing gear, him with a cooler of beers and food.  We both cracked open a cold one and toasted our safe landing.

"I'll be back in ten days to get ya," he told me, chugging down the rest of his brew.  "Just meet me here around 1:00 in the afternoon.  You'll see me coming in from the northeast."

He pointed in the general direction of his intended flight path, but I knew where he meant.  I surely would be here on time to pick up my ride.

My pilot climbed back into the cockpit, started up the Cessna's engines and took off again, heading back to Guam, his home base.  I watched him until the plane was a mere speck on the horizon, then looked around the beach to figure out my next move.

I spent years seeking out the most obscure spots on the planet to play survivalist, escaping the brutal corporate grind a couple of weeks every year.  Nature always fascinated me and untamed nature appealed the most to my sense of adventure and deep desire to return to the basics.  I certainly was no misanthrope, as my circle of close friends and business acquaintances would tell you; simply put, I needed time away from mankind to recharge my batteries.  A little danger intentionally put in my way certainly helped my restoration.

What will happen to our hero? Hopefully, a lot. Will he survive? Maybe yes, maybe no. I’m not tellin’. :-)

OK, that’s all for now. I said it was going to be a short post.

Until next time,


Saturday, May 14, 2011

What's New - Week of May 8, 2011

Mid-May and you’d think Spring would’ve stayed sprung, no? This morning, it was cold and rainy here on The Hill, a place known for both cool weather and that famous “dry heat” the Southwest is famous for. Well, not to complain - weather like this makes it easier to suppress the demons tempting me to go outside and play. Writing’s what it’s all about. And on that note ...

On-Going Activities

I took a week off from editing Lens Flare and instead spent some time on my screenplays - both works-in-progress and those in the queue. Some of this was done in order to test out Celtx for the iPad, which I finally broke down and bought (now that they lowered the price by 50% and added a syncing function with the desktop app).

In order to test this, I exported the current incomplete draft of A Grand Delusion (the one I’m writing based on my short story of the same name) from Final Draft into text format and then imported it into Celtx desktop. It took a bit of time to format it properly (that is, to assign the correct elements to each piece of text), but once I completed, I sent it over to my iPad and it looks great! Definitely a plus, especially since I recently purchased a Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad. Much better taking that to bed to write on than my MacBook Pro.

Then I decided to use Celtx for the iPad to begin the opening scenes for a script I’ve had in on my to-do list for several years. I’ll call it Project X for now, as I think the title is too intriguing to give away at this time. The app worked wonderfully and after I synched it back to my desktop, I was able to easily pick up where I left off.

There are a couple of other screenplays I have in progress (unnamed for now as well) that I started in Celtx which now reside on my iPad. This will make it so much easier to write & edit them as time permits. Once I have first drafts completed, I’ll move them over to Final Draft to polish and prep. How cool is that?

Ricochet Man - The One That Got Away

Whenever someone’s about to tell a joke, they say “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.” I’ll ask the same indulgence in the (re)telling of this story.

Back in 2005, I wrote my first screenplay called The Rebound Guy. I don’t remember the original logline (it’s in my notes somewhere), but here it is now:

After spending a lifetime bedding women on the rebound, a lothario finally falls in love and finds himself in competition with his own brother for her heart.

The idea for this came to me in a dream. We were living in our downtown LA loft apartment (our 18-month bohemian period) and I woke up one Saturday summer morning with this idea fully formed in my head. I had just bought a Toshiba tablet PC and remember writing the treatment longhand on it (forty pages worth), even including music that would work perfect at various points in the movie. I already knew who would play the main roles and everything.

I next bought Final Draft and proceeded to write the screenplay in about two weeks time. After several drafts, I asked my wife to edit it for me - she was a creating writing major, after all - but alas, she procrastinated. Summer turned into fall, fall turned into winter and finally I couldn’t wait any longer and did the final review & edit myself, then posted it on Inktip (around February 2006) and waited.

Not too long after, I got a call from a producer - the wife of a well-known DC, in fact - who expressed interest in working with me. I met her and her husband at Starbucks near their home and long story short, they wanted to option the script. Naturally, I was thrilled. This was my first screenplay and it was possible someone was going to turn it into a film!

I hired an entertainment lawyer - I didn’t have an agent - and he edited the contract. I sent it to the producer who, to my surprise, had no objections with any of the changes. We were ready to sign.

Then I got the brilliant idea to secure the domain for the movie - and when I did the look-up, I saw that Twentieth Century Fox Films already took it. No!! More research showed that they announced the pitch for a movie with that title in Variety in December 2005 - long after I wrote mine, but before I posted it to Inktip. Clearly, this was a coincidence, but the loglines at the time looked almost identical! Their script hadn’t been written yet, though the writers were chosen, and Seed Productions was going to produce it. Their executive producer happens to be Hugh Jackman, who would also be the star of the movie.

I guess I’m too honest - when I told my producers about this, they decided to pass on the opportunity and I was left high and dry. I retitled my script to Ricochet Man (a play on “rebound guy”) and altered it a bit to distinguish it from Fox’s - my producers recommended I make it about a pair of brothers instead of a guy and his best friend. Even though I’ve had interest from others in making this film since then, I’ve not gotten past the negotiations stage with any of them.

A few interesting tidbits:
  • Three years ago, I sent Seed Productions a letter and told them I had the completed script and wrote it before they did (if they every did). They sent a succinct reply back telling me they had no interest.
  • Fox’s movie has yet to be made. IMDB Pro lists it as being released in 2012 - this has changed virtually every year since it got on the site. Since it doesn’t appear that any talent is yet attached to this project, I predict it will be pushed out again.
  • Seed Productions no longer appears to be associated with the movie, nor is Hugh Jackman, for that matter.
And so, that’s the scoop in the nutshell. There are hundreds of stories in the naked city and that’s just mine. Will I see the movie if it’s ever made - probably.

Short Stories - New Idea

This was also one of those weeks where I had ideas that I had to start working out or I would bust. This snippet began with the opening scene just tripping in my head - I think I was daydreaming while waiting for my turn to be questioned during my recent jury duty service. I couldn’t wait to get home to capture it and then kept it going, the entire plot sketched out to complete. Here it is (so far), raw and unedited:

Harvey Biscombe stumbled and limped his way along the uneven sidewalk, stopping at short intervals to observe the most mundane things: a bird gripping a styrofoam cup in its beak, a plastic bag held aloft by the updraft from a passing car.  The world's small dramas still mesmerized him, despite his diminishing eyesight and failing attention span.

Other pedestrians strode by him, almost toppling him in the wake of their got-to-get-to-work passage.  Sometimes he used his cane like a bullfighter with his cape and issued a full veronica after each passing body, artistry that left no lasting impression on his conquests, but instead elicited sneers of derision.  After each torrent of abuse, Biscombe would chuckle in that way old men do, dry and throaty, with a hint of a rasp from tired lungs.

At stoplights, he stood with the others, waiting for the signal to cross, but as soon as the signal changed, the sea of humanity pressed him forward and caused him to dig in until the crowd pushed past him.  He then stepped off the curb in two full steps and inched across the street, just making it to the other side before traffic continued.  Without fail, he would turn toward the passing cars and wave as though thanking them for the privilege of letting him share their street with him.

After walking several city blocks in this manner, the cityscape changed from busy and bright metropolis where pedestrians outnumbered the vehicles to the gray outskirts, devoid of crowded sidewalks and dense auto traffic.  Instead, Biscombe would have to walk around or over the occasional transient that lay in his path.  Ancient Fords and Chevys, blue smoke billowing from rusted tailpipes, snuck past him, heads and eyes turned, watching his every move, suspicious of his odd presence in their neighborhood.

Do you want to guess where Harvey is going and what happens next? You may be surprised at where this story leads him.

Next Week

I didn’t cover everything I thought I would this week, so I’ll tee them up again for next time:
  • Some unlikely plots I’ve dreamt up
  • A silly TV series idea
  • Doc On Loan - results from the first ScriptFrenzy
  • Another short story snippet
So until next time, have a great week and keep writing!


Sunday, May 8, 2011

What's New - Week of May 1, 2011

It’s Mothers Day, so my hat’s off you all of you who are mothers or have mothers. And now, the week that was ...

On-Going Activities

Editing dominated the week’s work, as has been the case for the last month (I’m up to chapter 5 right now). Lens Flare remains the novel I’ll most likely publish first among those I’ve already invested a lot of time in, which is why I’m being particularly fastidious about the editing process with this partial manuscript. I stopped at chapter eight before and from there I’ll pick up the writing. I can’t wait.

The Genesis of Yet Another Story

As I’ve noted before, it’s easy to become distracted from your task list to chase another “really great idea.” I encourage everyone not to be so rigid as to dismiss that burst of inspiration, especially if you’re like me and think they’re gifts from your Muse ... she doesn’t like being rebuffed, trust me. Instead, take a little time to jot down some key information or a snippet of prose so you can come back to it later. That is, unless the idea is fully formed, of course - then you may need to sketch out the entire thing before you lose it all.

Case in point - last Saturday morning, I woke up at 6:30 and as always, our almost fifteen year-old beagle mutt observed me lift my head and in a blink, she stood in front of the sliding glass door of our bedroom, wanting to see if the Food Fairy left her anything overnight - only to be disappointed, I assure you. I watched her trot to the other side of the house, then meander her way around the back deck, exploring her queendom and trying to decide where to leave her Morning Deposit. A pretty stiff wind rose unexpectedly and shook the trees, something that caused her to be distracted and standing, sniffing the air for whatever interesting smells the wind brought her way. For whatever reason, the phrase “Idiot Winds” popped into my head, so I got up out of bed and walked down to my study to capture this (note this is very raw):

  1. Fired up Evernote
  2. Created a new noted and entitled it “Idiot Winds,” adding “Titles” as the tag
  3. Launched Google Chrome (my new browser preference) and went to to check the title. It turns out, Bob Dylan has a song called “Idiot Wind,” but I’m not worried about that.
  4. I wrote down the premise: “A freak windstorm buffets a small rural town, causing the residents to behave as strangely as the weather.”
  5. I then wrote the opening scene:

“I bet I can beat you to that ridge,” Jenny yelled, looking back at Toby. She pointed to the spot for emphasis.

“You never have before,” Toby said, holding his horse in place. “What do I get if I beat you?”

“The usual, I guess,” Jenny said with a wicked smile. “But what do I get if I beat you?”

Toby laughed. “I never thought about it. We’ll figure it out if that ever happens.”

Jenny trotted Chestnut over to Toby and slapped him on the arm, then took off for the ridge at a full gallop.

“Cheater!” Toby shouted as he and Liberty set out after her.

The pair spurred their horses repeatedly, jumping over dips and ruts at a frenzied pace, nearly caroming against each other several times. Their horses knew the drill and galloped as fast as they could, each wanting to take their rider to victory.

A thousand yards from the finish line, Chestnut slowed up without warning, almost causing Jenny to pitch headlong over the horse’s head. Moments later, Toby passed her and raced to the ridge’s edge. He stuck his fists in the air and let out a war whoop to declare victory. When he turned to await Jenny’s late arrival, he saw her standing next to Chestnut, holding him back by the reins as he strained to get away.

In a moment, he reached her and got off of Liberty, then grabbed Chestnut’s reins along with her.

“What’s going on?” he asked her as they both struggled to calm the horse down.

“No idea,” Jenny replied between gritted teeth. “Something spooked him awful.”

“Was it a snake?” Toby asked, scanning the thick grass. “I don’t see anything around here.”

Jenny didn’t answer, but pulled harder on the reins, cooing softly to her horse. After several minutes, Chestnut got the message and relaxed, still panting, a look of panic in his eyes.

“We’d better go back,” Toby said, mounting Liberty. “I don’t like it when these horses start acting skittish.”

Jenny climbed back on Chestnut and the two trotted back toward the ranch.

“By the way, I won,” Toby said with a snicker. “We’ll discuss the terms of your surrender later.”
Will this go anywhere? Maybe. I already know what’s going to happen in the next scene, but before I write that, I will plot it out. This is definitely a short story, nothing longer - and at least it will be fun to write.

30 Rock Idea

If you’ve never seen this comedy, you’re missing one well-written, funny show. What’s interesting is I’ve mostly only watch it on Netflix as I have other things going on when it airs (and believe it or not, I don’t have a DVR - don’t ask).

Anyway, if you’re not familiar with the premise, Tina Fey (from SNL fame) plays the head writer of a variety sketch show, in charge of a group of “characters” who are tasked to produce this live show every week. Fey (as Liz Lemon) spends a large part of her time trying to get the writers, acting talent and others to create something watchable while the remainder of the time, she obsesses with her less-than-stellar personal life.

My idea sprung from my recent addiction with Angry Birds, the computer game sensation that’s really captured a lot of eyeballs (and money) from the ever-hungry gaming community. In my plot, Liz belittles her staff who have become obsesses with a computer game, mocking them every chance she gets about how lame it is. At some point, they challenge her to try it and she goes about proving how dumb it is - only she realizes it’s not as simple-minded as she originally thought. The more she tries to prove her point, the deeper she gets into it until she becomes even more addicted than anyone else in her office.

Liz’s addiction moves to dangerous levels. She starts neglecting her hygiene, her job, her relationships, and mostly everything else just so she can play this game. At some point, she goes head to head with an online opponent who taunts her and as a result, brings Liz’s game up several notches. When she finally reaches the last level, she discovers she’s made it into the top ten players and that all of them are invited to compete for the championship trophy. Unfortunately, that championship coincides with a deadline for a two-hour special she and her team have to finish and air that same evening. Liz has to choose between this big show and the championship. The question is what does she do?

It’s unlikely I’ll write this episode - fan fiction really isn’t my thing - but if someone from the 30 Rock writing team wanted to steal this, I’d be happy to look the other way.

A Perfect Tenant - A Movie I’d Love to See Made

I’ve written three feature-length screenplays (so far), one of which is called A Perfect Tenant. Here’s the logline:

“When a couple takes in a conniving boarder to earn extra money, it’s up to their ten year-old son and Great Dane to convince him to leave.”

Think of it as a comedic Pacific Heights, the movie starring Michael Keaton as a crazed tenant who is bound and determined to force his landlords (played by Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine) to abandon the property so he can buy it cheap, using the California tenant laws in his favor. In my version, Robin Williams would play the tenant who moves from house to house, taking advantage of naive landlords by faking injuries in order to gain free room and board. Unfortunately for Charlie Pound (the tenant), his new landlords have a bratty son, Kyle, and his destructive Great Dane, who are hellbent on expelling the usurper. Hilarity ensues when Charlie falls victim to Kyle’s pranks time and again until the joke goes to far and Charlie really gets hurt, forcing Kyle to kowtow to Charlie’s every whim.

Maybe some day ...

Next Time

That’s all for this week. Possible topics for next time:
  • Discussion of Ricochet Man (another feature-length screenplay I wrote)
  • Some unlikely plots I’ve dreamt up
  • A silly TV series idea
Until then, have a great week!


Sunday, May 1, 2011

What's New - Week of April 25, 2011

Aloha! It’s May Day - or Lei Day (if you’re in Hawaii). Here’s a snapshot of the week that was.


I spent another week of editing Lens Flare. I remember that when I first started writing, I hated (dreaded) the editing process. Like many other beginning writers, I felt that I poured it all out on the page already and except for fixing typos and grammar nits, my work was sacrosanct. As one matures as writer, that dread you feel becomes an opportunity to approach “perfection” - certainly not in the purest sense of the word, but as close as you think you should be before putting it before an audience of critical readers.

The thing about the process of editing (and re-editing and re-re-editing) is much like a sculptor that fashions a share out of a blob of clay - at first, the substance of the finish piece is barely seen within the medium, but after cutting, smoothing, massaging and tweaking, the final product finally emerges. Oh, what a great day that is!

But how do you know when you’re really finished? After all, if one can never achieve “perfection,” then it stands to reason you can keep editing for the rest of your days. Sometimes you really do need the input from an interested third party to get feedback before calling your work “done.” Be prepared for whatever you may hear, though - if you’re squeamish about getting well-meaning critique about your new baby, you may be in for a major shock when your reader sends you a laundry list of “must fix” items (especially after you’ve invested so much time getting it right in your eyes). Advice for receiving critique on your work: take what you need and leave the rest. Similarly, if you provide critique, be constructive, but kind - tough love is great for keeping kids out of trouble, but artists’ egos are fragile things, so there’s no reason to live by the motto “it’s cruel to be kind.”

Work-in-Progress (Last): Jenkie and Me

The only novella in the bunch (and only one of three I’ve attempted to write over the years - the other two having been put on the back burner, perhaps indefinitely), this work features two young women of limited means who opt to leave high school in order to pursue factory jobs. These two women are best friends, but are very different in temperament and motivation.

Meredith, the “me” in the piece and who tells the story in her own voice, feels that completing high school is unnecessary as she has no plans to go to college - first, her mother can’t afford to send her and is already working two jobs just to make ends meet. Meredith feels compelled to contribute to the family income instead of frittering away her time in school, where she won’t learn anything useful to apply to the goal of making money now. Meredith’s mother is dead set against her daughter quitting school as she’s a bright girl with lots of promise; however, Meredith is determined to no longer be a “drain” on her mother and gets her way. Jenkie, on the other hand, has a drunk for a father and unlike Meredith, isn’t the greatest student anyway, so quitting and going to work is not a big sacrifice for her.

The two young women start out in the same place, but their personal paths diverge early at their new job, leading them both on a journey of self-discovery and clarity. Jenkie & Me captures their story.

This concludes a brief description of WIPs I want to complete this year.

Right-Brain Stimulation

Having had a technology background, I always thought of myself of being left-brained (logical) versus right-brained (creative). So how did a left-brainer find a use for his right hemisphere? More to the point, how does one stimulate that part of the grey matter that helps one produce decent writing?

In my case, I came from a family of musicians (on both sides). My Italian mother’s father, straight from the old country at eighteen, earned a living playing guitar and mandolin with some friends after he first moved to Peekskill, NY from Naples. We are related to the Carusos, thanks to my maternal grandmother (though none of us can really sing that well). On my father’s side, there are guitar players, drummers, banjo pickers and players of all kinds of other instruments as well as talented vocalists, many of them professional (or semi-professional).

So it was only natural that I would pick up an instrument (guitar) at the age of nine and with instruction from one of my uncles - another musician, of course - learned to play. In time, I went on to learn how to play the keyboards and compose music. While I don’t play much these days (though GarageBand has given me an outlet for my composition again), I found that during the times I played, that my ability to create stories became much easier because of all the right-brain stimulation.

These days, I find I get the same kind of stimulation by studying and enjoying art. If I ever get stuck when writing, I merely pull out my two-volume complete works of Vincent Van Gogh (by Taschen) and look at the paintings for a half-hour or so before going back to the computer. Or lately, I’ve really been exploring the abstract expressionists, a group of artists I associate with bebop jazz or beat poets because of the structured “unstructuredness” of their work. Unlike with music or writing, I can’t draw or paint for spit, but I can certainly appreciate the complexities and subtleties in producing such artistic works.

My recommendation to all writers: if you get stuck, need a break, what have you - don’t turn on the TV or organize your sock drawer. Just go the Google Images and browse the millions of images from the great masters of the arts. I promise it’ll be a worthwhile use of your time.

The Period Controversy

Recently, I had a discussion (or a gentle debate) with someone on Facebook about the correctness of two spaces following a period at the end of a sentence. This person claimed that two spaces are no longer required after a period - that this is an artifact from the world of typography and now that we have computers with proper font spacing, there is no need to accommodate that any longer. In fact, I was sent a link to an article on supporting that point of view. Admittedly, the writer did a great job supporting his position and perhaps I could be swayed but for the following reasons:
  1. Pick up any printed (and recent) novel these days and it is likely you’ll see the two-space convention.
  2. Most writers make a stink about one-space usage when critiquing others.
  3. After years of typing a la two spaces, my brain refuses to let me fingers type only one.
I did experiment with the one-space method and I can’t seem to shake the notion that paragraphs look a too packed that way. I know it’s probably only psychological, but if your target readers are over the age of thirty, it’s probably a good idea to stick with the old school way of doing it. When I start seeing the one-space convention become the norm in book publishing, I may force myself to change. Until then, I’m sticking with what I know best.

Next Time

Possible topics for my next blog post:
  • Genesis of yet another story
  • A 30 Rock episode I’d love to write (and may do so anyway)
  • A Perfect Tenant - a movie I’d love to see made
Until next time, cheers!