My Resolution for the New Year

2016-Arcus

Happy New Year!

I resolve in the New Year to always let facts shape my faith. My decisions will be influenced by knowledge not belief. My gut instinct will be informed by observation not aspiration. When I don’t understand a thing, I will strive to know that thing. I will not be blindly obedient. Instead, I will be unrelentingly curious. I will ask more question. I will demand more answers. I will not let old traditions shut down new ones. I will allow myself to be afraid but not frozen by fear. The mistakes I make will be paths to understanding not roadblocks to living. I will celebrate my accomplishments that are achieved through hard work and perseverance, and I will acknowledge the random nature of good fortune when I am blessed by it.  I will show gratitude for earned and unearned riches of any sort. I will not give authority to anyone who isn’t open to change. I will not pay attention to anyone who thinks having the spotlight is their destiny. I will only show reverence to those who put others before their own ambition. I will not seek the approval of others by shaping my life to meet their expectations, but I will earn their respect by what I know, how I treat others, how I face my fears, the manner by which I achieve, and how I take ownership of my mistakes.  Shit, I’m just going to a better damn person in 2016 – who uses more profanity.

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Outlining in the New Year

  Christmas was great. However, the week before Christmas almost killed my brain, but I loved every second of it. I went on a deep-think marathon to plot out Book Two of the Pearl of Justice Mysteries, and I kid you not, my head was numb by the time I was finished. You’ve heard of a runner’s high? This was a writer’s high. I couldn’t carry on a coherent conversation by the time I was done. I crashed. Hard. But the result is I have 132-page outline that will make writing the novel much, much easier than if I were to start from scratch. I still have to clean it up before sending to my publisher, but that requires considerably fewer brain cells. 

Happy New Year!  Write on, man!

 

Trumbo was a great movie, but it totally ruined one of my idols for me

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Dalton Trumbo writing in the bathtub. Why? Because it’s dead sexy, that’s why.

I reached the age of – older than I want to talk about yesterday, and my gift was a trip to the movies. As it so happens, The Force Awakens opened on the day of my birth, so I avoided the stress of waiting in an endless line to see that movie and went to see something more in my wheelhouse. I saw Trumbo. I am a huge Bryan Cranston fan.  If something I ever write makes it to the screen or New York stage, he is the one actor I would beg the producers to pay ungodly amounts of money to head up the cast.

I’m happy to report that his portrayal of the legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo did not disappoint.  As a writer, I know a little bit about the era of the Blacklist, and the great shame it brought upon this country. That people were ruined and even jailed because they were accused of being part of the Communist party is beyond disgusting. Trumbo was an unabashed member of the American Communist Party, and when he was called before Congress to testify to that effect, he instead scolded the lawmakers for violating his Constitutional rights, a move that found him in contempt of Congress and ultimately placed him behind bars.

When he was released he, of course, couldn’t find work as a screenwriter, so he went to a B-movie producer and offered to write scripts for him at a fraction of his normal rate, using assumed names to assure they would avoid scrutiny by Congress. The end result was that two of Trumbo’s screenplays written under aliases ended up winning Academy Awards.

Trumbo eventually outed himself because he saw that he was living a lie and allowing his country to be overrun by fear and propaganda. When President Kennedy publicly endorsed a film written by him, the Blacklist died.

As I said, I knew a little about this period, but I was unaware of the Hollywood side of this story. I knew the names of the bad guys in Congress, but I did not know who the scumbags and heroes in Tinseltown were. Hedda Hopper and John Wayne are painted as two of the worst people to come out of that disgrace, while Kirk Douglas was as heroic as his signature character Spartacus (a film written by Dalton Trumbo).  There’s a great scene where Trumbo puts the Duke in his place, and to see Hopper’s face when her house of hate comes crumbling down is priceless.

I highly recommend Trumbo. Outside of the great performances – including one by Louis C.K. – it’s an educational film, and you can’t help but see our current torrent of fear and loathing as a repeat of the Red Scare.

On a sad note, The Cowboys staring John Wayne was one of my favorite movies. However, this movie opened my eyes to his true character. Wayne maliciously ruined lives and did so with gusto and aplomb. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch that or any of his other movies again. I don’t normally hold an artist’s political views against him or her, but his actions went beyond politics.

A New Staged Reading

As you may know, b10389512_1564615963750068_8929018021791817570_nesides writing books, I’ve been trying my hand at writing stage plays this past year. I’ve written (and rewritten) two full-length plays and a handful of ten minute plays. It’s been challenging and rewarding, and most importantly, it’s been hella fun. Writing a play is much more collaborative than writing a novel. That is to say there are more people involved, particularly if you join a playwright’s group that holds regular cold readings of new works in progress. I’m fortunate enough to have two I get to participate in every month, and I find the whole process fascinating.

To that end, I was attending Writer’s Bloc at 5th Wall Productions last night, and the organizers, Jason Olson and Blair Cadden, graciously offered to do an unscheduled staged reading of my new full-length play, One Bear Lake,  from beginning to end. It’s a comedy about sibling rivalry and cancer, and we’ve been reading it in 10-12 page chunks over the past number of months, and now I get to hear it in it’s entirety. I could not be more pumped and thankful.

The reading is going to be January 24 at 6:00 pm.  If you’re in the Charleston area, come and laugh it up as a group of talented actors portray a family spending their vacation together fighting over carrot cake, marijuana, and cancer.

No, really.

In the meantime, if you want to see a fun musical for the family with an evil toad and original Christmas songs, 5th Wall has a show this weekend by Kem Welch called The Heart of Christmas.  Check it out. Bring the kids. See some cool puppetry.

In the Heart of the Sea – Dusting Off an Old Review

In light of the release of the movie, I’m reposting this repost of a review of In the Heart of the Sea. I’m dying to see this movie. If it’s half as good as the book, it will be a great film.

The South Side of the Moon

The True Story that Inspired Moby Dick!

I read and reviewed this book over a year ago, but I’m posting it here for you lucky blogophiles. In the Heart of the Sea is one of my top five favorite books (In fact, let’s call it number 5). If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and read it. If you’re a high school English teacher, please make this required reading. Here’s my review:

This is a phenomenal book. I am putting it in my top five. It is that rare bit of nonfiction that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I am an avid horror reader, and although technically this book doesn’t fit that genre, I am making a place for it on my horror shelf. This truly is a tragedy, and the depths of Captain Pollard’s misfortune is staggering. Granted he wasn’t a “fishy man,” but he is a character you rooted for…

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The Spooky yet Logical Intersection of Fiction and Reality

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Precogs ain’t got it easy.

I’m deep in the throes of working on outline número tres for book número dos of the Pearl of Justice Mysteries. It’s a struggle to wade through all the nothingness in the universe to develop a story idea. There’s one right turn to make at every pivotal point in your journey in order to reach your final destination, and about a million wrong turns you can make that will leave you stranded in a strange land where you don’t speak the language and the natives are cannibals with a taste for authors who screw up story outlines.

I don’t want to spoil the central theme of the story I have in mind for book two, but I will say I was having doubts about it. I thought it might have been a bit farfetched to pursue. But then – Then something spooky happened. A news story appeared yesterday about a coming event that nearly matches what I have happening in the book. In fact, it takes it a step further than even I had imagined. It’s as if the story god’s were monitoring my doubts and said “hey, asshole, stop thinking real life is only full of sane people making rational decisions every second of every day. There are idiots, nut jobs, and psychopaths working 24/7 trying to screw everything up for everybody else.”

And this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. I will often experience crossover. An element of a story I’m writing or have written makes an appearance in the real world. Sometimes names of characters will even show up unexpectedly over and over again. Now, I’m not saying I’m getting messages from an alternate universe or that I’m manifesting these things into reality. I think it’s just an illusion of precognition.

These events can be explained as kind of a logical preconstruction of actual incidents. In other words, I have been influenced by real life events in the world, and I logically piece together these events and reach a fictional conclusion that matches a reasonable eventuality. That that eventuality comes to pass isn’t that strange.  Most of us can predict what’s going to happen when it comes to human nature if we really pay attention to the world. It’s really fascinating how the brain works.

The fact is I’m kind of bummed this particular element of fiction is about to become a reality. I can only hope it doesn’t go as badly as I have pre-constructed.  Even though I write books full of bad guys doing violent things, I think that people are basically good and want to do the right thing, but that doesn’t mean they know what the right thing is.

My History of Rejection

crop380w_istock_000012132005xsmallI have been at this writing thing for a long time. I wrote my first long-form project in 1991. It was a screenplay that has long since been lost to the inaccessibility of something called a floppy disk – Ask your parents. I actually first wrote it on an old Brother electronic typewriter, and then ambitiously retyped it into a computer that took three people to lift. The screenplay  was titled “Life Just Happened,” and it was as misguided as the name suggests. I don’t have to read it today to know that it was bad.  Still, at the time, I was convinced, simply because I had completed an entire screenplay, that it was worthy of a deal. It was not. And the agents, production companies, and studios all let me know with form rejections.

Some rejections were so short they didn’t even bother using an entire sheet of paper to tell me no. They sent a strip of paper slightly bigger than you would find in a fortune cookie, and it read something like “Thanks for sending us your screenplay. Unfortunately it’s not right for our company.” That was it. Each rejection hurt. How could it not?

I coped by writing another bad screenplay that was rejected just as unceremoniously.  Two of my screenplays and no bites. I wrote a third to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong. Rejected. What? I wrote a fourth, and fifth.  Rejected. Rejected. Insanity. What the hell was wrong with these people? I started reading books on Hollywood and tried to figure out if it was run by lunatics with no eye for talent. It was. Just as I suspected.

In my research, I read an article by a screenwriter who said that he didn’t make a sale until his ninth screenplay. Ninth? I was no math wiz but even I could figure out I was more than half way to the magic number. I could write four more if it meant a deal was on the horizon. So, I wrote screenplay number six, and I started getting more encouraging rejections. Agents and producers even scribbled some positive comments in the margins of form rejections.

I carried on, unfulfilled by my day job, but totally pumped to get to write in my off hours. Then eventually came screenplay number nine. What didn’t come was the deal. More encouraging words accompanied the stack of rejections. I even talked to an agent by phone, but that was it. By now, I had developed the unfortunate habit of writing, so I had no choice but to carry on. In addition to screenplays, I started writing novels, and I ran into the same rejection pattern.

My 12th screenplay came with some excitement. I reached the semi-finals of the Nicholl Fellowship, a competition held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the friggin’ Oscar’s people. I was jacked! I didn’t make it to the next round, but I did spend the next two weeks or so talking to some Hollywood folks and independent filmmakers. I was too stupid to know how to proceed, so interest quickly died.

I wrote my fourth novel The Takers in 2004, and started sending out the normal inquiries with agents, but by now I was losing interest in the rejection game. It was the only way I knew, so I kept at it. Until, that is, I got a rejection from an agent that literally made me LOL.  She turned me down because my thirteen-year-old protagonist didn’t have a “sexy” enough disease. He only had mono, and she felt like kids today were too sophisticated to connect with someone who just had mono. She actually floated the idea that I should consider something like cancer or HIV.

That’s when I decided to go the indie route. As a result, I won a few awards, got some decent buzz, and  by 2008, I had an agent. By 2015, I had a publishing deal. Just like that. All it took was a mere 24 years of rejection to get to this point.

I bring all this up because The Independent has an article titled Rude rejection letters could cost you the next JK Rowling or George Orwell, publishers warnedRude rejections were never my experience. Years of rejections were my only obstacle. The point is to not let rejections or bad reviews derail you from doing what you love. Find a way to endure and keep writing or acting or telling jokes or designing buildings, whatever. No one is owed a career or respect. There’s going to be a lot of bullshit along the way. You deal with it by focusing on your craft. If you do that, the career and respect will follow. If it hasn’t yet, it will – as long as you don’t let the rejections stop you.