Thursday, December 29, 2005

Movies on DVD

I used to go to the movies all the time. Not anymore. I only saw a handful of films on the big screen this year – Batman Begins, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, King Kong, and Sahara. Why? A lotta reasons – for the price of a ticket and a soda you can buy a DVD, you don’t have some inconsiderate idiot talking on their cell phone or kicking the back of your chair, you don’t have to watch twenty minutes worth of commercials before the movie starts, you can stop the movie if you need a bathroom run. So most of my movie watching is on the big screen in my living room. Below are the ten DVDs I enjoyed the most. All versions noted were released in this year.


Batman Begins – This I saw in a theater and bought when it was released on DVD. Without a doubt, my favorite movie released in 2005. A kick-butt, cool story. Few comic book tales translate well to the silver screen. Superman I and II, Spiderman I and II, X-Men, Hellboy are the best. Batman Begins beats them all. This is how it should be done.

Deadwood: Season One – Television has an advantage over movies in that it can tell a story over an extended period of time. This western is incredible. It is raw in plot and dialogue and has a cast of well-developed intriguing characters. Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) is one of the best villains ever and he’s only at the top of the list. There’s Seth Bullock, Trixie, Alma Garret, Sol Star, Calamity Jane, Dan Dority, Doc Cochran, E.B. Farnum and a dozen others. I could go on and on about this show. But be warned, this is not like the westerns your grandfather saw. It is crude and profane and mesmerizing. Thank you producer David Milch and HBO.

Serenity – I never saw the Firefly TV series when it was on the air. I discovered it after it was on DVD and was hooked. I was and wasn’t looking forward to a big screen version. Most movies based on old TV series suck. There are a few exceptions – the Star Trek series (except the first one), The Fugitive and The Brady Bunch movies come immediately to mind. I was surprised and thrilled when I saw it. Good movie with several surprises. Yep, this is a keeper.

Cellular – this tight B-thriller with Kim Basinger and William Macy has better characters and more suspense than most major film releases. I know I really enjoyed a movie when it’s over and I wish I’d written it.

King Kong (1933) – Released for the first time this year. A classic. Not perfect but damn good for a 70-year-old movie.

To Kill a Mockingbird (Legacy Series Edition) – A classic movie based on Harper Lee’s American classic novel. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) was voted the Number One Hero in American films by the AFI. I agree.

Bambi (Disney Special Platinum Edition) – First saw this when I was a child with my mother and younger brother. Fond memories, timeless animated film.

Toy Story (10th Anniversary Edition) – What can I say? I’d rather spend time with Woody and Buzz than some people I know.

Seven Men from Now – A lean, tight Randolph Scott western that was released for the first time this year. Worth seeing just for Lee Marvin’s performance. Screenwriters should study the scene where Masters (Marvin) stirs the already tense pot by telling a story that’s "not" about the other three characters in the scene. This is how it should be done.

Desperate Housewives: Season One – There was nothing worth renting at the DVD store. I’d heard about this show but never seen it. Picked it up just to see what all the fuss was about. I was hooked. Terrific, entertaining characters and dialogue, good plot twists. This is only DVD on the list that I don’t own but I probably will.


There were a few DVDs I saw and I was glad I did but I won’t be adding them to my DVD collection: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Cinderella Man, Finding Neverland, Hitch, Hostage, Land of the Dead, Lost, March of the Penguins, Million Dollar Baby, National Treasure, The Notebook, Sahara, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Shall We Dance? and War of the Worlds. (This could change. As Christmas gifts I was given Cinderella Man and Revenge of the Sith.)


Saw a lot of films that I will never see a second time. Some had some nice moments but overall one word sums up my viewing experience. Yuck. In alphabetical order (except for the three I disliked the most): Alien vs. Predator, The Aviator, Cursed, Darkness, The Forgotten, The Grudge, The Pacifier, Ray, Saw, The Skeleton Key, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Village, and White Noise.

Why were the next three films the worst? I turned them off a quarter way through. Had absolute no interest in wasting any more time on them. The Chronicles of Riddick, House of 1000 Corpses and Resident Evil 2.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Printed Page

I used to read for “pleasure” much more than I do now. Not enough time left in the day. Home life and work life keep using up the hours of the day. I no longer even have a current subscription to a daily newspaper. I find I’m reading more stuff on the web than ever before including news stories. That and I reread my own work more often – polishing, tweaking, and editing. But I did find time to read a few real hold-in-your-hands books. Not all were published in 2005 but all were read this year. They were (and I recommend):

Lords of Swords edited by Daniel Blackston – a heroic fantasy anthology from Pitch Black Books. Good tales, well-told.

Garden of Beasts by Jeffrey Deaver – a suspense thriller about an American assassin in Berlin during the 1936 Olympics.

Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman – I reread these nonfiction books written by one of my favorite authors and screenwriters. Fun stuff and good advice for aspiring screenwriters.

Dean & Me by Jerry Lewis and James Kaplan – the story of the comedy team of Martin and Lewis seen through the eyes of “me” in the title.

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola and John Byrne – the speculative fiction graphic novel that inspired the movie. Cool new superhero.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume II by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill – speculative fiction graphic novel about the League’s second adventure. I hope there’s a third.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – enchanting romance about a time traveler and his soul-mate.

‘Tis Herself by Maureen O’Hara with John Nicoletti – autobiography of the talented and witty actress.

Apex Science Fiction & Horror Digest Volume 1 Issue 3 edited by Jason Sizemore – the third issue of a new speculative fiction quarterly. Terrific short stories (including one of my own).

Creature Features by John Stanley – a comprehensive film guide for science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies. I hope an updated edition is done soon.

Fire in the Hole by Richard S. Wheeler – a Western page-turner about an undercover detective in a wide-open and deadly boom town.

Sitting on my night table, waiting to be read, are Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson (nonfiction), Still Life with Crows by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (thriller fiction), Seven Miles to Sundown and An Obituary for Major Reno by Richard S. Wheeler (western fiction). I also intend to pick up a copy of Elmore Leonard’s latest novel, The Hot Kid.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I hadn't checked the Zide/Perry web-site in a while. I hadn't because it simply stated that they were revamping their site and would be back soon with a newer and better one. Zide/Perry were producers for the American Pie and Final Destination film series. On their site, they accepted screenplays from novice writers. It was fun sending in scripts to them. They never accepted any of mine but it felt like I was actually touching the Hollywood gates when I sent a screenplay to them. Today the notice about revamping is gone and the server says that there is no such site listed. Another market bites the dust. I just hope that another producer and/or studio picks up this idea. Anyway, it was fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


My buddy called and said he was invited along with the screenwriting class he teaches to visit the set where they were filming his latest screenplay, “Trapped in Perfection.” I thought it sounded like fun. Then he added that the day he was invited was the day they were shooting the S&M rave scene. Okay, I’m intrigued. Need to think about this. Do I want to go all the way to Hollywood on one of my rare days off to see a film shoot? A half-second later (perhaps not quite that long), I said to count me in.

The day arrived and four of us—Cindy, Drew, my buddy and me—drive up to the location. It almost didn’t happen. The day of the shoot changed then a couple other problems arose but all came together at last and I’m riding shotgun with the driving directions. All is cool. Then we miss the first freeway interchange. I swear I was looking for it. So was my buddy who was driving. We swing the wide way around and get there. The drive was an adventure in itself.

The first illusion to vanish immediately is the glamour of Hollywood. We’re on Alameda in an old, old (did I say old?) part of Los Angeles. We see homeless guys wandering the street including one in a wheelchair with a Santa hat and beard. I’m wondering if I should be carrying something other than my comb and disposable camera. Definitely don’t want to be here after dark. I write about places like this but I don’t need any “real life” incidents to draw upon. My imagination is enough.

Anyway, after we cross the train tracks with one steel guard arm missing, we find the building. The studio is on the second floor. The first floor is a real “couples” club. We find out that members of the club have been offered extra roles in the rave scene. Oh, yeah, they have to bring their own wardrobe. Hmmm…

We enter the building and are directed upstairs. Head down a long hall. The extras are everywhere. And I see more leather than at dairy farm. We reach the set. More people. But this group is the production crew. They are putting up lights and checking the props on the set. The set is a club with a bar, disc jockey station, booths, dance floor, a raised stage with poles for dancers, and several twirling disco lights. There’s also a statue of a smiling mustached red devil, a tall wooden A-frame to handcuff people to who want to whipped (or is the right term “flogged”?), a bench for people to bend over who want to be spanked, and a glass enclosed room with a bright red leather sofa. (No clue about the room’s function. Perhaps if the club music is too loud and your tush is tired of being paddled you go there for a little conversation.) We try to stay out of the way. These people are working. The first guy I talk to, briefly, is the sound guy. He’s watching a football game on his tiny portable TV. He’s ready so he’s just killing time until they’re ready to shoot. He says the best investment he ever made was in that tiny TV. Nice guy. They were all nice people even we were in their way.

My buddy finds the director, Michel Katz (California Myth). We’re introduced. He is a very friendly and affable man. He says he’ll catch up with us soon. He does but right then he needs to check on the set and get ready for the scene walk-through. Later, he tells us which room to go into so we can watch his monitor while the scene is shot. Cool.

We look around. There’re a lot of people working. It appears to be controlled chaos but everyone knows their job and is accomplishing it. My buddy talks to several different people. The other three of us just try to stay out of the way. I try not to trip over any cables or knock any equipment over. I succeed with this endeavor thankfully.
Elise Muller (Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy) sees my buddy and comes over. She is the lead in the movie. I think this is her biggest role so far. She greets all of us. She is a very nice person, warm and genuine. Okay, yes, she’s also a beautiful woman. She talks with us then poses for a few pictures. Don’t know what got into me. To get me into the group shot, Elise has to pull me over beside her. I thought I’d gotten over my shyness back in high school. Guess not. Once a geek, always a geek I reckon. I hear her talking to my buddy about her character’s motivation in this scene then she has to go. She checks on us a couple times during the day. Like I said, a very nice person.
Brien Perry (Tiger Cruise and The Wedding Video) comes over to us. Brien is the villain in the movie. He is very friendly and very pumped up about his part in the film. He jokes and laughs and his demeanor is contagious. My guess is that Brien is the center of attention at every get-together and party he attends. He’s the kind of person who sends off good vibes and people just like being around him for that.

It’ll be interesting to see how they play their roles in the finished film. I start thinking that Elise would be a good choice for Dr. Nicole Fairchild and Brien for Major Stephen Light in the screenplay that my buddy and I co-wrote, The Nest. I mention my thought to him. He just looks at me. He’s had over a dozen screenplays filmed. The Nest is my first. But I realize instantly that our screenplay has only been optioned, the financing has not yet been arranged and, if it does happen, the producer won’t ask us writers for our opinions on casting. Still I think they would be terrific.

Later we’re standing on the dance floor. One of the Assistant Directors (I’m lousy at remembering titles so he may have had another position but he was one of the director’s team) is there. This very tall blonde in black leather appears and says she a fire-eater. She goes on to explain what she does and the AD takes off to inform Michel. My buddy asks how she got into that. If I remember correctly she just thought it’d be neat to learn. She adds that when she was visiting Thailand she saw some five and six year-old boys doing the trick and they taught her. Soon the AD returns and they take off to talk. I didn’t get the impression that this woman and her talent was a planned shot in the scene but she’s here and they’re definitely going to take advantage of the fact.

Still on the dance floor, my buddy leans against a high-top table and quickly yanks his arm back. He says it’s sticky. No one says anything for a moment then we’re all chuckling. I think we all had the same disgusting thought.

We move back to the equipment/snack area just as the extras file in. It’s the United Nations in black leather and chains. Someone from every race and nationality seems to be represented. We have short skirts, long skirts, tight pants, baggy pants, short shorts, vests, jackets (some zipped all the way up and some zipped down to pierced navel), skin-tight tee shirts and halters. All in black except one big guy who is wearing black make-up around his eyes. He has the black shirt but these baggy electric-bright purple pants. All the extras are given masks to wear.

My buddy asks if any of us wants to be an extra. Drew and I decline but Cindy’s up for it. One of the production assistants gives her a mask and takes her onto the set.

We look around while the extras are placed in their positions. Discover the Orgy Room that is decked out with mattresses and red sheets and red draperies. One of the set designers shows us a motel room he built. Looks very real. I swear I stayed in a room just like this one up near the Grand Canyon many years ago. It even had the same crappy bedspread.

Time to shoot the scene. We end up in a room with the director and his team. The fire-eater is there, too. The actors walk through the scene with the camera. Michel makes changes. Wants an extra in this spot or that. Drapes need to be added to one area. Discusses the best spot for the fire-eater. Decides that one of the pole dancers should be topless. Concludes that the woman flogging the guy on the A-frame won’t be a distraction. An assistant arranges it all. Elise comes into the room. She has a question about the line of dialogue she has at the end of the scene that she says to Brien. They start to discuss it. My buddy—his mind shifting into rewrite mode—speaks up. "Don’t say anything. Just look at him then walk away." They all agree that is much better and that’s what they’ll do. Everything is set. Smoke machines turned on. Camera rolls. They shoot the scene. Then Michel decides to do it once more. They do. Michel says “print.” One of the assistants yells “Lunch.”

All that work for a scene that will last probably one minute in the completed film.

We grab a quick bite with the crew. The room we eat in is a set. One corner is a law office and another is a radio station booth. The other half is a doctor’s office.

It’s decided that it’s time to leave. Long drive home. We thank Michel and everyone we met. We head out. Past two dozen more extras who have just arrived. I wonder if Michel will re-shoot the scene with more people in the background or use what he has. I understand they are a day or two behind shooting and Thursday is their final scheduled day. Don’t know.

It was a fun and interesting day. I hope the film turns out well for all those involved. Like I said, they were nice people and the film looks like it will be an intriguing erotic thriller.
I hope the next set I visit will be for the screenplay that my buddy and I co-wrote. No S&M raves in that story. Just a ten-story science research facility. Maybe I need to expand my scene locations. Hmmm…

Friday, December 16, 2005

Nude, uncovered, bare, unclad, undressed, au natural, denuded, exposed, disrobed, unguarded, open, unconcealed, stark, stripped and bare-ass.
Not much happening with me today. A fellow Zumayan writer, Erin OBrien, put a nude photo of herself on her web-site (well, kinda). Her blog has been hammered by visits and comments. I added a stupid comment myself to the list. Anyway, since I'm not as out-going as she is (and don't have the nerve) I decided just to list the word "naked" and some of its synonyms. I'm going to see if my visit and comment counter takes a jump. It'll probably turn out to be another lame idea in a long line of lame ideas. Whoa, probably shouldn't use the words naked and lame in the same paragraph.
Well, back to writing. Maybe I'll write while nude. Haven't done that before. Nahhh...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


One year long ago at the North Pole, Santa was having a lot of problems. Numerous supplies he’d ordered to build toys were backordered and, in some cases, cancelled altogether. Several hundred bags of mail had been misplaced. The Elves Union was threatening to go on strike if their new contract wasn’t approved. Rudolph had the flu and his nose wasn’t glowing at all. Prancer and Dancer had gotten into a major argument and flatly refused to be on the same harness team with the other. His doctor had sent him a curt note stating that he had to immediately cut down on his milk consumption. Then he forgot an anniversary from his dating days with Mrs. Claus and she wasn’t speaking to him.

As he sat at his desk, he muttered to himself, “That’s it. I’m at the end of my rope here. I can’t handle more one thing.”

Just then a cute little angel, dragging a Christmas tree, walked into the office and said, “Hey, Santa, what do you want me to do with this Christmas tree?”

And that, boys and girls, is why the angel is on top of the Christmas tree.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Both my novels, Rebel Nation, and, The Inheritance, are listed at Amazon. I promote this when I send out my monthly newsletter. The novels can be purchased through Amazon or the actual printer Booksurge. Booksurge is faster but a lot people are nervous about ordering through companies they haven't dealt with before. Amazon is a known name and a more comfortable enviroment for ordering on-line.
My cousin calls the other day. Wants to order a copy of The Inheritance but Amazon says they have no copies. I check out Amazon and TI is listed as out of copies. On the RN page it says there is one copy at a used book store. I click on it. The book store is selling RN for 51 dollars and change. Huh? When did my novel become a rare collector's item? What does this book store know that my publisher and I don't? Amusing.
I wrote my editor, Liz Burton, and she responded with this email:
Here's the way it works:
1.Amazon runs out of copies.
2.Amazon notifies Booksurge.
3. Booksurge prints no. of copies requested and ships to Amazon warehouse
4. Amazon warehouse receives copies and updates book status.
Chances are if your cousin orders the book anyway he will get an email in a day or two that it's "shipping sooner than expected." That's whathappened to me with an order I placed where they'd run out of copies.
Cool. So, shameless plug here, order from Amazon anyway (or go to Booksurge or Both novels would make excellent Christmas presents for the reader in the family. RN is listed for $15 and TI for $13.
The Alternate-History Thriller
by Christopher Stires

“A chilling alternate history suspense novel …
Stires builds a memorable cast of characters that rivals the best of Turtledove.” – Apex Science Fiction & Horror Digest
"... a novel heavy in alternate reality and rich in character...
you forget at parts that this is not a history book or based on real events." -- EpicSFF
"... a twisting, intriguing and downright solid story that shouldn't be passed over." -- The Romance Studio
"This is an intriguing novel ... fast paced .. a lot going on .... I like the twists both in the plot and in the world." -- The Eternal Night (UK)

Winner of the 2003 Dream Realm Award for Horror
“… a very good first novel ... an excellent introduction to an author who shows promise for big things." -- Fangoria Magazine "In all, a very well written book reminiscent of my favourite, Dean Koontz." -- Eternal Night Magazine (UK) “Rarely do stories capture the reader's interest so absolutely, but this one does … sinister and chilling…” -- Timeless Tales

Have a great day. Happy shopping.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Two Short Story Successes

Short stories are a dying breed as are the publications that produce them but that’s for a different blog entry.

So, on with this entry: Find a story worth telling (a lot aren’t). Write it (sometimes the first draft is perfect – okay, I can dream, can’t I?). Then rewrite the story. Then rewrite it again and give it a good polish. Then push it out of the nest and send it to editors. Sometimes they return bruised and bloody. A lot of times they return with a “thanks for visiting but doesn’t fit in here.” Occasionally they return with notes on how they could be better (fifty-fifty whether or not the notes are helpful). And, once in a while when the stars and moon and sun are in perfect alignment, they are asked to stay at the house they were sent to.

Twice it has occurred this month for me. I’m pleased. Both are original stories (not reprints). It’s exciting and very cool when someone who is not a relative or friend likes the story you’ve created and they want to include it in their zine or anthology. It’s even better when they offer money to show your story. Yeah, it’s very cool.

I have about ten stories in the mail currently. The last couple of months have been pretty quiet. A few rejections have come but not many. Still I check my email and snail mail box every day. Okay, I check more than once a day.

A week ago, a new web-zine called Devil’s Work accepted a flash story I wrote. (Just in case you don’t know, a flash story is a tale under 1000 words.) My story clocked in at 360 words. I’m pleased. This acceptance marks my 80th acceptance. I use the word “acceptance” because not all my acceptances included money. Sometimes, especially in the beginning of my writing career, I accepted exposure with web-zines and payment in copies with print zines. I don’t regret a single sale. FYI, of the eighty, five were for non-fiction articles and 15 were accepted then the zine folded before publication. So 60 have been for fiction tales. Some were reprints which means I sold the same story more than once. Haven’t counted that group. That means my original sales are less than sixty. Long winded, ain’t I?

Today, Sunday, I received a very nice acceptance from editor Armand Rosamilia at Carnifex Press. He wrote that my story was the first he was accepting for his new anthology called Clash of Steel: Book Three – Demon. He added a couple more compliments. I’m tickled. Really. This will be a cool anthology to be part of. As for the story, “The Beast of Lyoness,” is my fourth Crusader tale. Patrick Novarro is the only character I’ve ever created that I’ve written one than more story about. I like him and enjoy sending him on adventures. About time for a fifth story in his saga to rescue the loved and loving Lenore.

In the meantime, I’m cracking open a fresh bottle of Mountain Dew and celebrating.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Amusing … at least to me … I think

The other day I made an appointment with my massage therapist. My body was one giant knot on top of another knot. A Swedish and deep tissue massage sounded wonderful. I’d been there several times before and I’m very comfortable with my therapist. Usually I’m the only client there. It’s a one-person office.

I arrive and Karen has just finished running my whirlpool tub. I strip, head down the hall and into the tub. The hot pulsating water is terrific. I nearly fall asleep.

The whirlpool ends, I dry off and head back down the hall to the massage room. I’m nude at this point. As I said I’m very comfortable at this office. Plus Karen has massaged 99% of my body over the years. No big deal to me or to Karen. Also I have discovered that being nude is relaxing.

I enter the massage room, climb onto the table, and cover myself with the sheet. Just before Karen comes in, I hear her talking to someone. Don’t think much about it. Karen comes in and the massage begins. I can’t fall asleep on the table this time (I have in the past) because Karen is finding knot after knot in my muscles. Slowly I begin to relax. At some point during the hour I hear sounds of someone in the outer office. It dawns on me that Karen wasn’t talking to someone on the phone earlier but to someone in the office. Uh-oh.

Massage finishes. My body feels better. Still knotted in spots but not like before. I get dressed. I walk into the outer office to pay my bill. There’s a woman sitting in the waiting room. She looks at me and her face turns bright red. Then she looks at her feet. Karen doesn’t mention anything but I realize, without a doubt, that this woman was in the office when I took my naked stroll down the hall. I’ve never “flashed” anyone before and that’s what I must’ve done by her reaction to me. I didn’t intend that. I pay my bill, Karen and I tell each other to have a nice day, I leave. Outside, I start laughing. Good grief. I guess I need to be a little more discreet next time. Or, at least, suck my gut in when I’m strolling naked down hallways.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Bought my Christmas cards today and located the Christmas CDs. Started thinking about my favorite films and specials from this time of year. Decided to share whether you want to hear it or not. These are my Top Ten:

10) Scrooge (aka The Christmas Carol) from 1951 with Alister Sim. At some point before Christmas I'll end up watching this one again. It was a toss-up between this version and the 1999 one with Patrick Stewart.

9) The Ref. This dark comedy with Denis Leary and Kevin Spacey is hysterical.

8) How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I may be one of the people who enjoys both the animated version and the Jim Carrey movie (and I don't normally care for Carrey -- maybe it's because he's hidden under all the make-up. Hmmm.)

7) A Charlie Brown Christmas. Yeah, I get sentimental and sappy sometimes and have flashbacks to my childhood.

6) Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. See above.

5) Miracle on 34th Street. The old b&w version with Maureen O'Hara, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, and a very young Natalie Wood.

4) National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Chevy Chase used to be in very funny movies and this one is funny.

3) It's a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Clarence the Angel. Now that it's not being shown a thousand times a month I can enjoy it again. "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his/her wings."

2) A Christmas Story. This movie cracks me up. From beginning to end. Go ahead, stick your tongue on an ice-cold pole. It won't stick. Wrap little brother in so much winter clothes he can't get up when he falls. And "You'll shoot your eye out."

and (drum roll, please) in the Number One Spot, my favorite Christmas movie of all:

Die Hard

Hey, back off. It takes place during Christmas. That's why Bruce Willis is in Los Angeles. To see his family for the holidays. That's why the company is having a party in the building. (At least I didn't say Lethal Weapon which also takes place at Christmas. That would've been sick.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Romantic Movies

Romantic dramas and comedies, hmmm…

I’m in a strange mood today. For better or worse, I’ll jump off into the deep end of this pool. This isn’t a genre that I normally check out when I hit the DVD store or channel surf. A lot of so-called “romantic” movies put me to sleep. Don’t care for films like An Affair to Remember or A Star is Born (any of the 83 versions of this tale) or Bridges of Madison County or Last Tango in Paris. I wish someone would put Baby in the corner permanently (Dirty Dancing) and the ship would sink sooner (Titanic) and “love means never having to say you’re sorry” is one of the lamest remembered quotes ever (Love Story). I’d rather watch a B TV western or a Z horror movie than be forced to sit through Jerry Maguire or Doctor Zhivago or Summer of ‘42.

But a few creep under the radar and I’m hooked. Completely. Thoroughly. Here are my top ten in alphabetical order (why alpha order – just cuz):

The American President
As Good as It Gets
My Fair Lady
The Quiet Man
Roman Holiday
Shakespeare in Love
Singin’ in the Rain
What Dreams May Come
You’ve Got Mail

On a second top ten list would be: The African Queen, Love Actually, Moonstruck, The Music Man, Pillow Talk, Pretty Woman, Sabrina, Sleepless in Seattle, To Catch a Thief, and Working Girl.

Good grief, maybe I’m a closet romantic.

Quick put on a Clint Eastwood shoot-‘em-up or anything with a lotta explosions.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


(Warning: Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know the endings of several movies.)

Last night I watched The Skeleton Key with Kate Hudson. Intriguing storyline steeped in Old Southern atmosphere. I was hooked. Then I reached the end. And the bad guys won. Ruined the movie for me as it did in Darkness. Didn’t like it.

There are only three possible endings: 1) Good guys win. 2) Bad guys win. 3) Nobody wins.

Back in the days of Old Hollywood, only two of the three endings were allowed. Good always defeated bad and, occasionally, nobody won. Examples of no one winning would be John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of Sierra Madre.

In the Sixties, the old Product Code was replaced with the Ratings Board and things changed. We saw new characters like the anti-heroes in Cool Hand Luke and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In those films, Law-and-Order destroyed Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) and Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) to protect Society. They played outside the rules and had to be stopped. The title characters in Spartacus and Braveheart rebelled against the corrupt powers in control and forfeited their lives for their actions.

In most movies the good-guys-win scenario is still used because it works. In Jaws, Alien, Aliens, Independence Day and countless others evil is defeated. The audience roots for the heroes to beat the bad guy (or thing) and they do. Usually at the high cost of supporting characters but they do. And we cheer. But occasionally (suspense-thrillers and horror movies being the prime culprits) evil wins out over good. Does it work? Does it make a satisfying story?

The answer: Sometimes. Or as my old novel workshop instructor used to say often -- Depends.

Chinatown, The Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver (yes, Travis Bickle is a bad guy), Witness for the Prosecution, and Body Heat are examples of the bad guys winning and the endings in these films are terrific. I don’t think they work in The Usual Suspects, Frailty, and Arlington Road. In The Godfather I and II, Michael Corleone defeats his family’s enemies but loses his soul in doing so. Look at Michael in the beginning of the first film – he’s a young, decorated veteran. Slowly he becomes worse than his enemies. (He was always smarter.) The Godfather films’ endings are much more powerful than if he’d been killed at the conclusion as would have happened in Old Hollywood. Other thrillers where the bad guys win include Basic Instinct, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Primal Fear.

In the horror field, the odds are even money on who will win between the good guys and bad guys. Sometimes the main good character survives but so does the bad guy. Examples of this type of ending would be Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Other times, the bad guys flat out win. Examples would be Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen (a personal favorite), Colossus: The Forbin Project, The Stepford Wives, Fallen, Jeepers Creepers, and Final Destination.

Do they work?

What was my point here? Whether good, bad, or no one wins the ending has to be perfect for that particular story. Robert Towne’s screenplay for Chinatown is a perfect example of excellent screenwriting. It’s beautiful. Still director Roman Polanksi rewrote the original ending and Polanski’s ending is on-the-money. It is the right ending for that story.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Lesson in Storytelling

The other night I watched the western Wyatt Earp (1994). The movie was co-written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. It stars Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Dennis Quaid, Michael Madsen, Bill Pullman, and many others. Top of the line in all aspects. There is no debate about that. Wyatt Earp is the life story of a western lawman. I know the true story and the Hollywood version of the true story. It has been dramatized in film before, most notably in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946) with Henry Fonda, The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, and Hour of the Gun (1967) with James Garner. It is an intriguing story that can resonate with each generation’s retelling.

Wyatt Earp despite its top-line cast and crew, despite its scope and earnest aspirations, does not work. It’s stiff and, the worst of all movie sins, boring. But it can be a learning experience. Watch it.

Then watch Tombstone (1993). This film was written by Kevin Jarre and directed by George Cosmatos. It stars Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Powers Boothe and Michael Biehn. It tells the same basic story as Wyatt Earp involving the same historical characters but in an hour’s less time. This movie works. The characters are vivid and more developed. The dialogue is memorable and individual. The suspense and action more involving. This film is in my top ten of westerns.

Watch both films. You’ll see the difference. It will be clear. Compare the dialogue and characters; hold up side-by-side the dramatic tone and suspense. Watch, learn. Now I need to review my latest writing. Did I create a Tombstone or a Wyatt Earp?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Story Responses
Received 4 responses to short story submissions I'd sent out. None were sales. Oh, well. Back in the mail they will go. One was a 125-day from Vestal Review, a flash webzine. (Had to resubmit this one. The editor, a good guy, couldn't find the original submission. Responded to the resub in less than a day.) One was to City Slab -- it was 125-days, too. The editor of Lone Star Stories responded the same day (it was an email sub by the way). The last one was 179-day response to a story I had withdrawn six weeks ago when an editor expressed interest in the story for his new anthology book. Do I move this from the "withdrawal" category to the "Rejection" column or leave it where it was? Decisions, decisions.
Rejections don't sting like they used to. I don't take it personally. You have to risk rejection in order to sell. I always remember that for the longest time Babe Ruth held the home run record in baseball. He also held the strike-out record. You can't hit the long ball if you don't swing.
My rejections stand currently at 385. But sales of fiction stories, reprints, and nonfiction articles stand at 79. That's about 19% if I don't count withdrawals and magazines that folded before responding. 13% if I include all submissions without reason. Not too bad. Can't complain.
In fact, I think I'll swing for the bleachers.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Part 2
People continue to amaze me. I gave my assistant her "walking papers" today.
This is not about my ego. At first I was stunned by the investigation results. I felt betrayed. After all I trained this person, trusted her, and supported her aim to rise in management. At first I was pisssed but I shouldn't have been. There is only one person whose actions I can control. And that's me. There is only one person whose view of the world I can truly understand. Mine. I can't feel what another person is feeling (or believes) because I haven't lived their life. I can try and I do try but a lot times I just shake my head in disbelief.
This person was stealing product and giving it to friends and people she wanted to impress. We have several witnesses, several signed statements. Of course, my assistant never expected the staff to tell. She was too well respected and "loved" by the staff. That and no one wants to be labeled a snitch.
She forget one important thing though. Most people (despite what the news headlines say) are honest. Most people are not thieves. And they resent being made unwilling accomplishes.
When I told just part of the investigation results, she interrupted with the respond that this was a witch hunt -- that I had set her up because she didn't like one of my "pet" staff members. She added that the store would not survive without her. Oh, jeez, I guess I should be afraid.
Our store is a small cog in a big company. Most of us just want to do our jobs to the best of our abilities and go home to our families. We don't want to hurt anyone or be hurt ourselves. And if during the course of our work we can bring a little smile into one of our guests' lives then it's all cool. And if it disappears tomorrow perhaps someone will miss us a little.
But if it does end tomorrow I want it not to be for something stupid that I did and thought I could get away with it.
Okay, I'm done with the soap box. Who's gets it next?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

S/F Films in 1981

Second year in the decade and a good year for s/f movies. At least in my humble opinion. Here we go:

The Oscar for Best Picture that year went to Chariots of Fire. Don’t remember much about this movie. It could be good; it could be bad. I don’t remember much about it except that it’s about athletes competing in the Olympics at the turn of the last century. This is what I do remember; it’s an early example of a music video. There’s a slow-motion scene of athletes running along the beach to a tune by Vangelis (and, yeah, I had to look up the composer's name).

These are the movies from 1981 that I do remember. And clearly. (Yes, I wonder about me sometimes, too.)

First is one of my favorite movies of all time – Raiders of the Lost Ark. The advertising tagline was: “The creators of JAWS (Spielberg) and STAR WARS (Lucas) now bring you the ultimate hero in the ultimate adventure.” And it was true. A terrific film. Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones and Karen Allen is Marion (the best of Indy’s leading ladies). And let’s not forget Paul Freeman as Belloq. He’s on my top-ten list of best villains.

Also that year: Superman 2 -- this movie is one of the best of the comic-book/graphic-novel adaptations. The Road Warrior -- the best Mel Gibson as Mad Max films. Both are solid entertainments.

In 1981 there were several good (but not great s/f) movies. The list would include: An American Werewolf in London, John Carpenter’s Escape from New York with Kurt Russell, John Boorman’s Excalibur, Outland with Sean Connery, Scanners with its classic head-exploding scene, Time Bandits, and Wolfen. All have their flaws but are definitely noteworthy.

At the other end of the scale were the sequels to Friday the 13th and Halloween. Freddy and Michael deserved better than these follow-ups. Damien grows up in The Final Conflict: Omen 3. The first movie in the trilogy is terrific, this film ain’t. On the bad scale were also: Clash of the Titans, Little Shop of Horrors (the musical), and Michael Crichton’s Looker.

On most movie guides they have the listing BOMB. I created a new one for the last film of this list – CRAP BOMB. Once I heard an actor (I think it was George Peppard) asked why he made a series of bad films. He called them his “alimony movies.” He said he took the projects so he could make his alimony payments. I bring this up because Richard Harris is in this film and I hope they paid him a lot of alimony money. The film on my CRAP BOMB list is Tarzan, the Ape Man. John and Bo Derek took a beloved character and “crapped” on him. I’ve seen home movies on old 8mm that were better than this. I’m done now.

Coming soon: 1982.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Fun, Fun ... Not
Back from the GM convention in San Diego. Went okay. Met some nice co-workers and was recognized for my store's successes. Not awarded but given a honorable mention. Not too bad considering my store is one of the quietest in the company and we beat out 155 other locations in two categories.

But, putting a damper on things, was a personal investigation I did at my store just prior to the convention. I discovered that one of my assistants (and my most senior staff member) has been stealing. Caught her and have witnesses. She's dust. Period. End of discussion. Damn. Sometimes people surprise you. They do incredibly stupid stuff then when they get caught (and they always do), they act like it's your fault. Oh, well, screw it ... and her. Don't do the crime if you can't do the time as they say.

Personal life in the toilet, too. Sometimes it just doesn't pay to get outta bed in the morning. Well, things will get better. Or they won't.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Speculative Fiction in the Movies: 1980

Since I’d done a list of terrific and influential S/F in the 1970s, I decided to review the decade of the Eighties. I got as far as 1980. S/F was well represented in that year. So here’s my list (sure hope my resource material is correct):

The Oscar for Best Picture went to Ordinary People (not a good omen).

It should have gone to what has become a classic: George Lucas’ The Empire Strikes Back. For my money this is the best Star Wars film in the series. Slightly ahead of the first (or is it the third?) film in the series. This movie rocks. The characters are all in place and a few new ones have been added. Luke learns the ways of the Jedi from Yoda then faces mano-a-mano one of the great screen villains of all-time – Darth Vader. Leia and Han fall in love as they battle the Empire. Lando makes his first appearance. C3P0 and R2D2 are still the comic relief and let’s not forget Chewie or Jabba the Hut. The beginning battle on the ice planet Hoth would have been a climax in other films. Cool movie even with the cliffhanger ending (we moaned and groaned about that because we knew it’s be three years or more before the next film was released – then we went back and saw it again.)

But other terrific s/f films were released that year: The Shining (I loved King’s book and, for me, with a couple exceptions the movie was a disappointment), Superman 2 (one the best of the comic-book hero movies), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (we’d have to wait until the second film in the series for them to get it right), Mad Max (this introduced Mel Gibson to the world), Friday the Thirteenth (this welcomed Jason to the world), The Changeling (classic ghost story with George C. Scott), and Brian de Palma’s Dressed to Kill.

Plus there was Altered States, The Awakening, Battle Beyond the Stars (Roger Corman “big” budget film – a space opera remake of The Magnificent Seven), Death Ship, The Final Countdown (Kirk Douglas and the USS Nimitiz are transported back to Hawaii just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor), The Fog (a John Carpenter head-scratcher – why did they remake this?), He Knows You’re Alone (notably only because it had Tom Hanks’ first role in it) The Howling (strange little werewolf film that doesn’t take itself too seriously), Saturn 3 (how could you go wrong with Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett and Harvey Keitel? – watch this film and see how), Somewhere in Time (time travel romance) and Terror Train.

1981 coming soon. (After the GM convention in San Diego probably – gotta pay those pesky monthly bills that keep cropping up.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


My copy of the signed contract for The Nest and my share of the option arrived in the mail today. I am beside myself. The science fiction-horror tale that Mark and I co-wrote is going to be made into a movie. A production company paid us real money for it. This is too coooool. A long-life dream has come true. Big smiles all around.
The Nest.
The experiment succeeded ... now no one is safe. A top-secret bio-research lab has gone on maximum alert. No one inside the building or any of the first investigators have emerged. Now a beautiful scientist and a team of Special Forces soldiers have entered the ten-story building to search for survivors. What they find has never walked the earth before. In the vein of Alien, Jeepers Creepers, Predator and Die Hard.
Updates will follow as they occur.
Okay. Once more: YIPEEEEEE!!!!!

Confession (Shhhhh.....)

Another Halloween has come and gone. I survived but I wasn't sure my cat, Sabrina, was going to. All the little ghosts and goblins and fairy princesses coming to the door freaked her out. She hid under my desk for the entire night. About half-way through Tuesday she seemed to come back to normal. I have a scaredy cat.
Okay, confession time. Don't tell anyone. I write horror stories and thrillers. I've killed off more characters in gruesome ways than you can think of. I try to keep up on the current market trends. I check out Fangoria regularly to see what's new in the genre. I check out the horror site at Barnes & Noble. I plan on renting Devil's Rejects and the new House of Wax to see what they are about. (Okay the one movie has Paris Hilton being murdered and that alone is worth the rental cost -- but I digress.)

The other day I rented Lost. Hadn't seen the show but wanted to see what all the fuss is about. It's mildly entertaining. Too much unexplained stuff. Even X-Files, one of my favorite shows of all time, had problems with this. Big build-up but lame pay-off. Endings are a bear. Plus the only interesting characters are Locke, Sawyer, and Hurley. Okay, the Said character had possibilities but they haven't done much with him so far. The main characters are too one-dimensional. Oh, well.

Now the confession ... I also picked up the first Disc of Desperate Housewives. I'm hooked. I shouldn't be. This isn't the type of show that usually interests me. There are, of course, the mystery elements. Why did Mary Alice kill herself? Who's Dana and is she the skeleton in the toy box? Who is Mike and what's he doing in the neighborhood? (If you know the answers to these questions -- please don't tell me.) But that's just part of why I'm hooked. It's funny, it's written well, and I like the four main characters. I hate to think what Susan's ditzy-accident prone life would be like if her daughter, Julie, wasn't there to save her from herself. Susan is just a plain likeable character. Lynette, too. Trying to take care of her kids and nothing seems to work. You feel for her. Loved the moments when she ordered the boys out of the car and left them, and when she told the alpha mom at the new school to step outside. Bree -- the Stepford version of June Cleaver. She's scary. Although I can't picture June telling Ward that she's willing to do anything he wants sexually. Then there's Gabrielle ... playing Mrs. Robinson with the teenaged gardener. Waiting for that to explode big time. I'm done now. Don't tell anyone what I just shared with you. I have my reputation to protect. Shhhh....

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


I am thrilled. To say the least. Talked to my friend, Mark, and he said the signed contracts from the production company had come back and our first check came. I should get my copies and my share in the mail this week. Whoa! This is amazing. I co-wrote a script that is going to be made into a “real” movie. This has been a dream since I was a kid. Audiences will be able to watch a movie that I helped create. Okay, the whole thing could collapse and never happen. I know that. It could turn out to be a dud. One never knows. But, on the other hand, it could turn out to be a cool little science fiction-horror film. Hey, I just hit the lottery. Yep. I did.

I want to tell everyone I see. I do. Some people will be excited for me, some won’t care. The ones that make me nervous however are the ones who say: “I have an idea for a movie.” Then they want to tell you all about it. Unless I know the person well, I learned a long time ago that I don’t want to hear their idea. Over the years, I have read a lot and seen a great deal of movies. I have filed away bits and pieces from magazine and newspaper articles. I have noted certain phases and ways of speaking. After a while, I don’t remember where I saw or heard the information I’m using in my writing. The last thing I want is to be accused of stealing someone else’s idea. I don’t steal from anyone. I observe and put it into my own words. So, what do I do when someone says they have an idea for a novel or screenplay. As I said unless I know them well, I suggest they take a college class – like I did – or go to Barnes & Noble and buy a book on creative writing or screenwriting.
Meanwhile, Mark and I have spitballed another idea. Does it have legs? We’ll see. Some ideas work out, others don’t. The research begins.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Entertainment Weekly arrived in the mail this week with Charlize Theron on the cover.
She is a terrific actor and from interviews I've read or seen on television she is an intelligent and articulate person. Then again, I don't know her, she may be as I said a terrific actor.
But she is definitely a beautiful and lovely woman. Smitten is an old-fashioned word. It seems appropriate here however. I think I became a fan after I saw her in Cider House Rules.
Over the years I have found myself smitten by different female movie stars. On that list was Ursula Andress (Doctor No, The Southern Star), Jennifer Connelly (The Rocketeer), Grace Kelly (High Noon, Rear Window), Maureen O'Hara (The Quiet Man, Rio Grande), Deborah Shelton (Body Double), Raquel Welch (Bandolero!, The Three Musketeers), and Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Mask of Zorro, Chicago).
I don't know why I felt compelled to share this information. I can say that the EW cover with Charlize Theron wrapped only in a towel got my attention.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Working on a new screenplay. In some ways it’s different than doing a short story or novel, in other ways it’s the same.

Create a compelling opening. Something that will hook the reader (or an audience later). Something that hasn’t been done a million times before. Be clean and intriguing.

Introduce the main characters. The biggest difference between prose and a screenplay is that you can’t tell scenes from a character’s POV. I mean you can sort of but not really. Okay, that was clear as mud. You can write a scene from one character’s POV but that’s not the same as getting into their head and writing the scene. That’s better. And a screenplay doesn’t have a voice like prose does. The closest example I can give of a novel and movie having a similar voice is To Kill a Mockingbird. Still (and TKAM is a great movie), it doesn’t have Harper Lee’s voice or way with words. On the other hand, when I reread the novel, Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch in my mind’s eye.

Back to creating. What is similar? Plot, characters and dialogue. Yes, both must have an engaging storyline, well-defined characters, and sharp dialogue.

In the new screenplay, I open with a short scene. None of the characters ever come in direct contact with the main and supporting characters. The scene sets up the world I’m taking the audience into.

Then I introduce the villain and lead secondary villain. Their nefarious plan is set into motion. What is happening is a direct and in-direct reaction to the opening scene. Direct reaction because if the opening had not occurred then the plan would not have been formed, in-direct because the people being involved in the plan have nothing to do with it except that the villain knows them all. This time it’s personal, as the old movie slogan goes. Hopefully also, I’ve established a good enough villain that the audience will ask two questions: 1) She’s capable of anything -- What will she do next? 2) How will the heroes ever escape from this evil person?

Okay. World set-up. Villain’s plan. Meet the heroes. For this screenplay, I decided I wanted non-professionals meaning no cops, FBI agents, former thieves or the like. Regular people. Subject to change of course, the lead female is a grade school teacher and the male a cross-country truck driver. Well, I cheated a little. The truck driver is a former Marine. This will be an action-horror-thriller after all.

Next comes the secondary characters. Must be intriguing in their own right but must not over shadow the heroes. I’ve had that happen before. A secondary character became so fun to write that I kept creating more scenes with them. In those cases I’ve had to re-think my main characters. Intriguing but not stock or clichéd. And one of them, a solid well-defined character, must be the first to go. Because, after that death, the audience knows that no one is safe.

Then we have dialogue. Must seem natural. No info dumps. I personally detest the scene at the end of a thriller when the villain tells how he did everything. Heck, if they’d shut up and just shoot the hero, they’d win. Got it? Oh, yeah, just one more thing … while I hate it when the villain does it, I don’t mind a bit when Columbo tells the villain how he did it and where he slipped up. Where was I? Oh, yeah, dialogue must sound natural and individual. That’s much tougher than it sounds. And it has to be more than one character does not use contractions and another always drops the g’s from any word ending in ‘ing.’ I admire good dialogue. Watch Deadwood and listen how the characters speak. Even the cursing is an art form. Read any Elmore Leonard novel and just look at the dialogue. Always remember to that the dialogue can’t jerk you out of the novel or screenplay. The audience can’t be marveling about how wonderful the writer is. It must sound like that character would say those words at that time. Yeah, tougher than it looks.
Oh, well, back to writing creatively … I hope.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

See Blog Below for Details

I’m over my rant. Things change. Heroes pass and new heroes come. (Hopefully.) At some point Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, and Julia Roberts will be those old-time actors as will Charlize Theron, Christian Bale, and Katie Holmes. I remember Pong, Pac-Man and Doctor Mario. Someday Doom, Grand Theft Auto, and Sym City will be relics. All things have their time and are replaced. I’m sure younger people know who Marilyn and Bogie are (but I fear Bogie is fading, too). It is not the time in your life but the life in your time. If you catch my drift. Oh, well.

If you haven’t seen the movie, Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman, watch it. It’s worth the time. Oh, yeah, it’s in color not crusty old black-and-white.

In conclusion, I will paraphrase the saying: “Those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Back to writing.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Feeling Old

I’m at work today and one of the college kids I work with made a comment—don’t remember what the comment was now—but I responded with a line from Cool Hand Luke. It was the classic line from Strother Martin: “What we have here is failure to communicate.” I even said it in my crummy Southern drawl--my crummy, not Strother's--because that’s how I hear it in my head. The kid gave me a blank look. I added that it was from a Paul Newman movie. He asked me if that was the singer who played in Las Vegas all the time. I felt so old at that moment.

I realize that I know a lot about movies. I’m not an expert by any means but I love the movies. I can hold a conversation on about any genre of motion pictures. I can recite favorite lines of dialogue or talk about the classics or about blockbusters or the B’s. Heck, I can even hold my own talking about silent films or foreign movies. I know the stars and characters actors. I write stories, novels, and screenplays. I need to know what has come before.

How could he not know Paul Newman? I could understand if I’d said James Cagney or Errol Flynn or Bette Davis or even James Dean. They had passed along before he was born. Newman was in his prime when I was in junior high. He’s still making films. He starred in The Hustler, Hud, The Verdict, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Harper, The Color of Money, Hombre, Road to Perdition, and others along with Cool Hand Luke. How?

I’m done with my rant. Does this matter in the long run? No, I guess not. It’s all relative. And it wasn't to him.

Now I’m taking my old, tired body to bed. Good night.
“Shaking it up here, boss.”

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Day Off … Sorta

My day off. Went like this. Slept in till 7AM. Because of my job, I’m usually up at 4AM so this was sleeping in late. Got up, showered, shaved, and dressed. Went to the grocery store. Put groceries away. Paid bills. Put fresh litter in Sabrina’s box. Cleaned toilet. Sorted laundry. Straightened up and vacuumed bedroom. Had lunch and watched Morgan Freeman interview on Inside the Actor’s Studio.

Worked on new screenplay. Tightened opening. Wrote two new scenes that introduced the heroes. Played with names of supporting characters. Gave them occupations. Tried to find “good” reason the villain wants revenge against them. Screenplay will only have fifteen characters (perhaps two more if scene warrants). Is fifteen too many? Maybe. Two characters are all ready on the fence. Could go either way for them. Exist, don’t exist. Supporting character or spear carrier? Not sure at the moment.

Basic premise and setting have been established. Villain and top henchman introduced. Heroes and supporting henchmen introduced. Now comes the gathering of all the characters. Is fifteen too many? I’ll know soon.

So will they…

{Another photo from Duluth MN}

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rewriting and "Time"
Two days ago I received a letter from a very nice editor asking that I rewrite and tighten the opening of the story (a reprint) I submitted to his magazine. He likes the story but the opening feels fat. No disagreement.
The story was one of the first I wrote and sold a long time ago. I'm a different writer now than I was then. Hopefully a better one. I would have written it differently today. But ... I literally don't have the time right now. I'm in the middle of a new screenplay and my writing partner and I are waiting for the rewrite notes from the production company on The Nest. I also have a full-time restaurant management job (gotta pay those pesky bills that crop up every month). I had to tell him "no" for the time being. Hated doing that but I had to. Short stories, like screenplays and novels and poems, take time and concentration. At least for me it does. I can't whip things out anymore. I agonize over finding the right word then the right phrase. I polish dialogue and characterizations. I want every piece I do to be the best it can be. Shoot. Anyway, back to work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

My Favorite Genre: The Western
Part Two

I decided to limit my favorites to ten. Nice round number. Then I realized I was leaving several terrific movies off the list. But I’m going to stick to ten. Decision made. Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Yep. I also decided to would be only movies. Deadwood (Season One and Two) and Lonesome Dove (mini-series) are not on the list for that reason. Both are great. If you haven’t seen them, treat yourself. Here we go, pilgrim:

(in alphabetical order)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
This is just a flat-out fun movie. William Goldman’s script sings and there are numerous great moments and lines of dialogue. If you were an outlaw, you’d want to ride with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Katherine Ross has never looked lovelier. Plus Strother Martin has a wonderful character part.

Dances with Wolves
Kevin Costner as a Union officer who goes West and encounters the Sioux. Involving and breath taking. The Native Americans are the good guys and the US cavalry are the villains. An epic. Well told.

High Noon
Gary Cooper as the town marshal standing alone against four killers arriving in town for revenge. Watched this one countless times as a kid. Still enjoy it. Grace Kelly is Cooper’s bride and Katy Jurado is his former mistress (she’s also the former mistress of the head killer). Classic showdown.

The Magnificent Seven
Western remake of the Kurosawa film. This clicks. Seven gunfighters go to the aid of a Mexican village plagued by outlaws. Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, and Horst Buchholz are the seven. Eli Wallach plays Calvera, one of my favorite villains of all time. Classic musical score, too.

The Searchers
John Ford and John Wayne. Renegade Comanches murder the family of Wayne’s brother and kidnap Wayne’s niece. He vows to find her. And kill her since the Comanches have defiled her. This is Wayne’s best, most complex role and he’s a bad guy. Filled with classic moments and Ford’s stock company. The ending is perfect.

A gunfighter attempts to hang up his guns and settle down with a farming family. But his past (and expertise) catch up with him. Alan Ladd is Shane and Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, and Brandon De Wilde are the family. Jack Palance is the hired gun of the villains. Palance’s taunting and killing of Elisha Cook is a classic moment in a classic film.

A rip-roaring adventure with Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover and Kevin Costner leading the good guys and Brian Dennehy heading up the bad guys. The West the way it should have been. Co-written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Great fun.

The story of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in the Arizona boomtown. Solid retelling of the oft-filmed story. Kurt Russell is Wyatt and Val Kilmer has never been better as the consumptive Doc. Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton are Wyatt’s brothers. Powers Boothe and Michael Biehn are the head bad guys and they’re riveting.

Dark, unrelenting. Three gunfighters ride out to kill two cowboys who “murdered” a whore and claim the bounty on them. A classic directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Gene Hackman is the sheriff, Morgan Freeman is Eastwood’s partner, and Richard Harris is another gunfighter. All are terrific.

The Wild Bunch
Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece. Outlaws on their last job who find a nobility within themselves that they didn’t know they had. Great complex characters and dialogue. Bloody and leathered. William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates, Edmund O’Brien, and Ben Johnson have never been better. Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones are fantastic in supporting roles as members of the railroad posse. The walk to get Angel is classic movie-making.

Left out so many. Including: Angel and the Badman, Bend of the River, The Big Country, Crossfire Trail, The Far Country, Fort Apache, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Hidalgo, Lawman, The Man from Laramie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, My Darling Clementine, Open Range, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Posse, The Professionals, Red River, Ride the High Country, Rio Bravo, The Scalphunters, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Sons of Katie Elder, and 3:10 to Yuma.

Back to writing.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

My Favorite Genre: The Western
Part One

The western has been my favorite genre since I can remember. It has definitely fallen out of favor. I know this, I write horror stories and thrillers after all. But, in my heart, it is the adventure of the West (the Hollywood West to be more accurate) that I truly enjoy. In another time and place, I would’ve written Westerns (I did as a kid). I know the conventions and the clichés and the outright historical lies. On the other hand, as times get more confusing and complex, I find refuge in the old Western tale. That doesn’t mean that all Westerns are simple white hats vs. bad hats scenarios. They’re not. Just take one peek at the great Deadwood series on HBO. Still, for the most part, things seem more clear-cut and straightforward in the Western. That doesn’t mean I’m thrilled with every Western. You couldn’t force me to sit through a Roy Rogers or Gene Autry western or any Spaghetti Western that doesn’t have The Man with No Name in it.

Plus the actors who played in some of my favorite Western films seemed larger-than-life and more heroic (and Gods knows we need all the heroes today that we can find – at least I do). The villains were more menacing and colorful; the landscape more awesome.

Some favorite Western male actors (definitely not all and not in any particular order and they weren’t always the good guy): Gary Cooper, John Wayne, James Stewart, Burt Lancaster, Clint Eastwood, Randolph Scott, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Tom Selleck, Sam Elliot, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, and Clint Walker.

Favorite female actors: Maureen O’Hara, Grace Kelly, Barbara Stanwyck, Katy Jurado, Shelley Winters, Jean Arthur, Vera Miles, Inger Stevens, and Katherine Ross.

Villains (when the good guys faced these guys you knew they were in trouble): Richard Boone, Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, Ernest Borgnine, Eli Wallach, Arthur Kennedy, Richard Widmark, Telly Savalas, Powers Boothe, and Bruce Dern.

Then there were the great character actors in the Western. Once upon a time, maybe their names weren’t known but their faces were: Walter Brennan, Warren Oates, Strother Martin, Ben Johnson, Ward Bond, Edmund O’Brien, Woody Strode, Jack Elam, Robert Ryan, L.Q. Jones, Dennis Hopper, Lee Van Cleef, Elisha Cook, Edgar Buchanan, and John Carradine.

I’m sure I’ve left some wonderful actors out. Yep, I’m sure. In a few days, I’ll list my favorite Western films. The ones I can watch again and again.
I’ll conclude with the line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Saturday, October 08, 2005

First Drafts and Other Stuff

Just finished the first draft of the new horror screenplay Mark and I have been working on called Deadlyville.

Now the rewriting begins. Here’s the editing line that I see most often – “What the **** were you thinking?” Yeah. Uh-huh. What worked at first inspiration, may not when reviewing the entire story. Characterizations may not seem consistent, Dialogue that seemed cool, doesn’t any longer.

And of course, the ending. Endings are bears. Always have been, always will be. It must seem inevitable but not predictable. The viewer must leave satisfied. But how do you do that in a fresh way? It’s tough. How many times can the villain (or creature) get back up before it’s really dead? (Worked in The Terminator.) Should the creature be blown up? (Worked in Jaws and Predator.) Should he/she/it fall from a high place or die by their own weapon? (The first is clichéd symbolism and the second is clichéd irony – always choose symbolism over irony, by the way.) That doesn’t mean a clichéd or shopworn ending is bad. Some can be completely satisfying. Beware the trick ending. Odds are Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents all ready used it and did it better. What to do, what to do?

* * *

In my DVD library are several movies that I really enjoy but will probably never be on a Top Ten List. (Then again?) So I picked ten movies that were not blockbusters but are cool. My perimeters for this List were it had to have a s/f element and be in my collection.
Here we go … in alphabetical order … Ten S/F Movies that are really cool but you may have never heard of them:

The Changling (1980) – A deliberately paced story given gravity by the presence of George C. Scott as a man attempting to unravel the mystery behind a haunting. When an empty but moving wheelchair can have you on the edge of your seat the movie rocks.

The Deep Blue Sea (1999) – Researchers at an undersea lab alter the brains of sharks and the sharks get pissed. With Samuel L. Jackson and LL Cool J. Always remember to never climb into the oven when the kitchen is flooding and a shark is after you.

Deep Rising (1998) – Hijackers force a salvage crew to take them to a luxury liner they plan to rob but when they arrive the ship is empty. Or is it? Early work by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing.) With Treat Williams as the hero. Or is he?

Dog Soldiers (2002) – British soldiers on war maneuvers stumble onto a coven of werewolves. Terrific dialogue and suspense. Oh, yeah, plenty of blood, too. With Sean Pertwee.

Mysterious Island ( 1961) – A favorite since I was a kid. Union soldiers escape from a Confederate prison in a balloon and crash on a supposedly deserted island in the Pacific. Based on a novel by Jules Verne and special effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. With Herbert Lom and Michael Callan (Who? Look them up.)

The Night Stalker (1972) – This was the highest rated TV movie ever in its day. Still pretty good. A vampire hunts his prey in 1970’s Las Vegas. Dig those clothes and hair styles! Darren McGavin is great as reporter Carl Kolchak.

The Relic (1996) – A vicious creature wrecks havoc in Chicago’s Natural History Museum. Creature designed by Stan Winston. With Penelope Ann Miller, Linda Hunt, and James Whitmore. (See comment at end of Mysterious Island.)

The Rocketeer ( 1991) – Set in the 1940’s. A barnstorming pilot finds a jetpack that the Nazis want. Really fun. Don’t let the Walt Disney Pictures label scare you away. With Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin and Timothy Dalton (as the bad guy modeled after actor Errol Flynn).

Soldier (1998) – A man is raised by the government to be a merciless, obedient soldier until he’s replaced (and literally thrown away) by a new breed of DNA-enhanced soldiers. With Kurt Russell and Gary Busey.

Tremors (1989) – Scary and funny, edge-of-your-seat suspense and good characters. Giant underground worms attack a small desolate town. Where did the worms come from? Who cares. But remember having survivalist nuts as neighbors might not be such a bad thing. With Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. And, of course, Reba McEntire and Michael Gross as the neighbors.
All are worth checking out.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Movies in my Life

I’m celebrating with a glass of Mountain Dew while our cat, Sabrina, moves between her salmon food and the backyard window. My friend, Mark, and I have had two screenplays optioned and the contracts have been signed. If nothing else happens, if the projects crash-and-burn tomorrow, this moment is worth it. Too cool.

I’ve always enjoyed the movies and, at different times, they’ve become touchstones in my life. If I let myself drift during a television broadcast of Rio Bravo or The Alamo, I can picture myself in my pajamas in the backseat of our family car watching these films at the drive-in theater. I saw Bambi for the first time at the long-gone now West Coast Theater in downtown Santa Ana with my mother and younger brother. Mom had worked at this theater when she was a teenager (she met my father there). After the movie, we got a tour of the projection booth.

In those days, we only had seven television stations and, as Jeff Foxworthy notes, if the President was giving a speech we were devastated because he was on every channel. I remember that Channel 9 would have the Million Dollar Movie and they would broadcast the same film all week long. I saw The Magnificent Seven and High Noon until I could recite the dialogue along with the characters.

In junior high, we moved from Orange County, CA, to Richardson, TX, a suburb of Dallas. There was a movie theater a few blocks away and my brother and I went there every Saturday afternoon. There we saw Cool Hand Luke, The Dirty Dozen, Planet of the Apes, and Wait Until Dark. I literally held my brother in his seat during the climax of To Kill a Mockingbird (do you remember when the studios used to re-release films before they went to television?). At that theater I saw my first James Bond movie. Actually it was a double bill of From Russia with Love and Thunderball. For a seventh-grade boy, this was cool beyond belief.

My father stopped going to the movies for some reason but one Father’s Day, my brother and I dragged him to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He loved it. I can still hear him laughing when I see the film today. It is a special memory. We didn’t know it at the time but he would not be with us for much longer after that.

My brother, Tim, and I fought during most of high school. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on much of anything. After I moved out of the house, and especially after the birth of his son, Brian, we become best friends again. Every time a western was released (and there weren’t many any longer), we’d get together and go see it. We saw Silverado and Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider. Shortly after seeing Pale Rider, a drunk driver killed my brother. I miss him terribly. He would’ve gotten a big kick out of me selling a screenplay.

In 1997, I met Annie and her daughter, Katie. Fortune smiled on me. The first movie we saw together was Disney’s Hercules. I remember Annie crying through the entire movie of When Dreams May Come (the main characters in the film were Annie and Chris). I gave her my handkerchief because she’d used up all her Kleenex. Later she gave me tissue when I choked up at the end of Saving Private Ryan. Good memories. Recently, Katie and I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in IMAX. Enjoyed the movie but I’m not sure I want to see a film that big again.

Movies. They’re entertainment, a diversion for a short time. But…
...hopefully, someone will have a fond memory of the movies that Mark and I have written. That would be cool.

{Note: The picture is a waterfall in Duluth, MN, where my heart is.}

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Just received in the mail the print issue of Apex Science Fiction & Horror Digest #3 ( A reprint of my short story, "Human Resources," is included and my name is on the cover. Very cool. I'm stoked. It originally appeared in The Edge: Tales of Suspense in 2000. Alas that magazine is no more. This story is one of my favorites. I remember that I wrote it while job hunting if that tells you again.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Movies in the 1970s

Got into a conversation about movies made in the 1970s. The times were achangin' as they said. The old studios were done. And so were the codes they had abided by. Some of the great films released during the decade were The Godfather 1 and 2, Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, All the President's Men, The Last Picture Show, Network, and several others.
I started thinking about the s/f genres. There had to be great films in that arena too. There were. So I picked one solid s/f film from each year and here's my list:
1970: The first year of the decade and I crapped out. The most well-received s/f film of the year was Beneath the Planet of the Apes. What a dismal way to begin. There wasn't many other choices either -- Colossus: The Forbin Project, THX-1138, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, The Scars of Dracula, or Vincent Price's Cry of the Banshee. Terrific decade, lousy year for s/f films.
1971: Clockwork Orange -- whether you like the film or don't, to write in the genre you have to know it. That and name another movie where the viewer feels pity for a totally despicable (but fascinating) character like Alex?
1972: Deliverance -- Women shake their heads when guys mention this terrifying film. Women have been raped and abused in countless movies for years. Make one movie where a man gets raped and guys go buggy. Women don't understand. I'm not going to debate the reasoning. I'll lose. Still, watch the reaction when you say to a guy, "I want you to squeal like a pig."
1973: The Exorcist -- This film is still on most horror film lists as the scariest movie ever made. I've never much cared for it. Didn't give me the rush I want from a horror film. My brother went to church the day after he saw it. A very influential film. Period.
1974: Young Frankenstein -- There's two words that sum up this movie for me (and put a smile on my face). "Abby Normal."
1975: Jaws -- The first summer blockbuster. An edge-of-your-seat, rollercoaster ride. Spielberg's first hit. It's cool. And yeah, we need a bigger boat.
1976: Taxi Driver -- Think this movie shouldn't be on this list. Wrong. This is a view of Hell on Earth and Travis Bickle is our guide. Riveting.
1977: A tie. Okay, Star Wars is one of the most popular movies ever made. It was a cultural event. I saw it in the theatres more than once. I own the DVD. It is a really fun damn movie. But on the downside, special effects have replaced character development and cool dialogue in movies and it's Stars Wars' fault. Also released in '77 was Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Adult scifi of the best kind.
1978: Another tie -- the ultimate zombie movie and the first slasher fim and both are terrific. Dawn of the Dead and Halloween. (Note: some might argue that Psycho is the first slasher film and Hitchcock's legacy is definite and without question but the John Carpenter movie started the trend that still continues today.)
1979: Alien -- The haunted house scenario in outer space and one of my favorite horror films. It's totally cool. Just one thing -- Ripley, leave the cat!
Anyway, it's late. I'm exhausted. Check out these films if you haven't seen them or if you haven't seen them in a while.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Left: The cover artwork for my alternate history-thriller, Rebel Nation. Now available from . It's received solid reviews so far.

Received word from Jason Sizemore, publisher and editor of Apex Science Fiction and Horror, that the contributor copies of Issue Three have been mailed. My short story, "Human Resources," is included and I'm thrilled to be part of this new zine.

Other than that, not much happening. I keep mulling over ideas for my next venture. Life (and work) keep interrupting. Oh, well, that's just the way it is. However, Mark and I were spitballing and one idea definitely has legs. We'll see if it goes any further.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Returned from a week's vacation in Duluth, Minnesota. Enjoyable. Different culture than I'm used to in Southern California. Nice people. Don't know if I could handle six months (or more) of snow every year though.

Anyway, I thought the movie deal was going to collapse while I was gone. Way of the world. But it appears to be progressing. Contracts are being written. Perhaps this will happen afterall.

Also received a note fromthe reader at Interzone magazine that my s/f story, "The One-Hundred Lives of Dorian Echo," was being sent to the editorial board for consideration.

Possibilities abound.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Wow. I am still … what’s a good word … “stunned”. There we go. That’s the word. I’ll tell my good news in a moment.

I started writing stories in grade school. I write short stories, non-fiction articles, novellas, novels, and screenplays. The majority of the stories have been in the speculative fiction genre. I sold my first short story, a horror tale called “Blood Alley” in 1997 to a small magazine called Nightmares. I was paid $10.00. I was thrilled. I never cashed the check. The magazine folded before my story was published. Way of the world.

While growing up—and I haven’t finished growing up yet—I always loved the movies. The western is my favorite genre. But I loved the s/f world too. I watched and re-watched movies like Fantastic Voyage, Forbidden Planet, House of Wax, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Jason and the Argonauts, Mysterious Island, Planet of the Apes, Psycho, Them!, The Thing, War of the Worlds and the James Bond series. {Sidebar: One of my favorite all-time moments is in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. The Monster is chasing Bud and Lou. They push a heavy bed in front of a door then lean into it with their entire body weight and … the door opens the other way! :)}

{Second sidebar: I still clearly remember being allowed to accompany my older cousins to the movies one Saturday afternoon. This was a major event. I wasn’t a “baby” anymore. They took me to see Boris Karloff in Black Sabbath. I had nightmares for years after seeing that film but I never told my folks because they wouldn’t have let me go with the guys again.}

On television I watched Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Time Tunnel, and The Wild, Wild West. Later I would be addicted big-time to The X-Files (at least until Duchovny left). {Another sidebar: The day before our wedding, Annie and I snuck off to see the X-Files movie that had just been released. Addicted, yep.}

In books I read Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Jack Finney, and Robert McCammon.

Today, in my DVD library, the s/f section is larger than even the western section. (Okay, I own way too many movies but that’s another issue.) There are classics like the first three (or is it the middle three?) Star Wars films, the Indiana Jones movies, Alien, Aliens, Jaws, Jurassic Park and The Terminator. But some of the movies I watch again and again are not classics. They are just kick-ass, fun movies – The Deep Blue Sea, Deep Rising, Dog Soldiers, Field of Dreams, The Green Mile, Hellboy, Independence Day, Predator, The Relic, and Tremors. I just picked up copies of The Changeling, The Exorcist III, and Waterworld.

Okay, back to my news. About “five” years ago, I caught up with an old friend from our novel workshop days. Mark “Arachnid” Sevi had sold over fifteen screenplays. Among his credits are Serial Killer, Excessive Force II: Force on Force, Sci-Fighters, Relentless II: Dead On, and Arachnid. His latest work, Pterodactyl, is the highest rated original movie to be on SciFi Channel.

Mark and I have co-written a handful of screenplays together. The latest is a sci-fi horror tale called The Nest. The story has no political or philosophical agenda other than to be an edge-of-the-seat, scare-your-socks-off, fun time. We enjoyed writing it. We are a good team.

On Friday, Mark called me. A production company wants to buy The Nest. They want to make a movie out of it. Stunned. Disbelieving. Whoa … this is way too cool. I am enjoying the moment. If nothing else happens, if the whole thing crashes-and-burns later, I am enjoying this moment. Yep.

Now I’m going to go kick back and watch a movie. When the screenwriter credit comes up I’m going to picture:

Screenplay by
Mark Sevi & Christopher Stires

Oh, yeah, I am enjoying the moment.