Using Experiences in Writing

I had a disturbing experience last Sunday. I heard a bunch of coyotes howling behind my house. (The picture I’m showing is one I took several winters ago) It was still daylight and I went outside to listen to them. I had been expecting the coyotes to show up soon. We’re having a bunny explosion in the neighborhood and we’re on the coyotes’ regular circuit. They come and take care of the bunnies and mice then they move on to their next feeding stop. I usually see them every three months or so. I enjoy the sight of wildlife—there’s a lot of it in my area. And I try to be practical about it. Yes, the bunnies are cute, but unchecked, there would quickly be hundreds of them. I’m very respectful of the coyotes, and give them their space. I also never let my dog out alone in the dog run. He’s just small enough that they might go for him. Enough back story. Last Sunday, while I was listening to the coyotes howl, and enjoying their songfest, the howls suddenly changed and I heard a dog’s bark mixed in. Next followed a vicious fight that ended with the dog being killed. It’ll be a long time before I get those sounds and cries of pain out of my head. It was so fast, there was nothing I could do. I didn’t know exactly where they were. I could just hear the sounds. I felt such horror and frustration that I couldn’t stop it. I wanted to yell at the coyotes to focus on the bunnies and leave the... read more

Movie Trailers

I hate it when movie trailers give away the entire plot. How’s that supposed to make me want to see the movie? There are no surprises left. If I know the story why pay $10 to see it? Then there are the times you see a movie you were looking forward to and realize afterwards that the only good parts were in the trailer. That feels like a ripoff. In those cases I think they are trying to make some money on the movie before the word gets out it’s crap. I recently saw a movie trailer for Paranoia. It sounds like a cross between Wall Street and Duplicity with a strong cast. I put it on my list to see. Then I went to the movies on Friday to see Wolverine (great movie, BTW) and saw another trailer for Paranoia. This time it included a big plot twist. At first I thought, Oh, cool. But then about a second later I thought, Wait a minute. That just gave the whole movie away. It really turned me off. It’s taken all the surprise out of the story for me. Curiously, my friend, Hilari, said it made her more inclined to see the movie. Before, she wasn’t that interested as she didn’t feel the characters had much to recommend them—remember this is about big business, corporate secrets, and greed. I like dark characters so that didn’t affect my interest in seeing the movie. Plus it has a strong cast and I trust certain actors not to sign on for a flop (yes, I know everyone has them in their past... read more

Getting Ideas

Earlier this year I was struggling to think of a new novel idea. I had been focusing on apps for the past year and a half and I felt it was time to get back into novel writing. But having been working in a different field for so long, I found it very difficult to change gears. I couldn’t think of an idea. I didn’t panic right away. Usually I get ideas from things I see—newspaper articles, news on the TV, a story I don’t like and how I would change it, etc. Generally it’s a buffet of ideas and I pick which one seems the tastiest to work on. Only this time the cupboard was bare. I figured I just needed to open myself up to ideas. I hadn’t had my mind working in that way for too long. I was busy with freelance work so I wasn’t too concerned, but then I realized several months had gone by and I still didn’t have an idea. Now I was starting to get worried. What if I never thought of another good novel idea? Okay, I realize that’s ridiculous, but there is still that little worm of doubt working away at my self-confidence. I decided to change tactics. Instead of waiting to be inspired by an idea, I would simply think of one. I went back to my old idea file to see if anything looked promising. Unfortunately, I had used most of the ideas that were worth developing and my older idea file seemed to have vanished. I think it’s on one of my old external harddrive backups... read more

Director’s Commentaries

Whenever I get a DVD and I like the movie, I check out the bonus features to see if there’s a director’s commentary. I always find it interesting to listen to the director’s thoughts as he/she takes you through the movie. You learn about the choices they made concerning the story, why they shot the scene the way they did, the ideas they discarded, what came from the script and what came from the actors. I learn a lot listening to how other creative minds approach their work. I recently listened to Joss Whedon’s commentary for the Avengers. He wrote and directed the movie. (Let me just say up front that Joss Whedon is god when it comes to story and dialogue.) He said that Marvel had told him up front they wanted Ironman and Thor to conflict. Whedon said his job wasn’t to create the fight (the storyboards guys did that) but to justify it. There were a lot of suggestions about having one of them under a misapprehension or a spell, but he discarded those. He said those kind of reasons were deadly. If you have guys pounding on each other over a misunderstanding then you are just waiting for them to start talking to one another. “You’re just checking a box. Ironman fights Thor. Done. And you don’t want that.” What you want are two guys with conflicting agendas. What he came up with is something that’s done in a lot of cop movies—you can’t bust the bad guy becomes he’s part of a bigger operation. That gives you an excuse to set them against one another.... read more

Much Ado is Mucho Amazing

I saw Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” over the weekend. It’s one of my favorite plays by Shakespeare so I was really looking forward to it. I was not disappointed. I’m a big fan of Kenneth Branagh’s version that came out in 1993 and Joss Whedon’s movie is just as good. I love the choices Whedon made. In fact, he blew my mind when he cast Conrade as a female role. The conversation between Don John and Conrade is done as foreplay and I couldn’t believe how sexual the language was in that situation. It was perfect, yet it never occurred to me how sexual it was when the scene was between two men. My mind exploded and it made me look at everything with a fresh eye. My favorite scenes where when Benedict and Beatrice overheard the staged conversations where their friends spoke of how they were dying of love for one another. Beatrice, in particular, had me almost on the floor. Her perfect comedic timing and antics were a delight to watch. Benendict, too, did so much with his body language that he didn’t need to say anything. The other change that makes this version rise a tad above Branagh’s for me was a tweak to Claudio’s character. It has always bothered me that Claudio could dismiss Hero’s death so easily because he thought her sullied. Then, when he finds out he was wrong, his sudden repentance never seemed sincere to me. Yes, I know I’m bringing a modern view of virginity and applying it to a 16th century culture, however, if you love someone one... read more

Expect Your Audience to be Smart

I recently saw “A Good Day to Die Hard.” I’ve enjoyed all of the Die Hard movies. In particular, “Live Free or Die Hard” was my favorite and I was looking forward to the latest installment. I felt that they had done a good job of reinvigorating the series by bringing his adult kids into the storyline. “A Good Day to Die Hard” had a good premise—John learns his son is in trouble in Russia so he rides to the rescue only to find out that his son purposely got himself arrested so that he could free a Russian prisoner. His son is not the screw-up he thought, but rather a CIA operative. That worked, especially when John shows up in time to mess-up the escape. The corresponding plot double cross worked, too, though it was a bit predictable. The dialogue was okay and the action was good. The movie, overall, was shaping up to be an okay addition to the franchise, until the climax. The location moved to Chernobyl, site of the reactor disaster in 1986. I can only think the people behind the movie figured a nuclear disaster that took place almost 30 years ago would be far enough away in people’s memories that they wouldn’t remember exactly what happened there. News flash, it doesn’t matter if people remember or not. They will remember nuclear disaster and the accompanying radioactivity that necessitated the complete evacuation of the area. Did they really think they could have John and his son go into the area without any protective clothing/equipment and then dismiss it with a joke? “Hey, am I’m... read more

Success?

I saw White House Down yesterday and throughly enjoyed it. I thought it had great dialogue, good action, some plot surprises, and a strong cast of actors. The review in the paper gave it 4 stars and I thought it was well-deserved. Imagine my surprise when I read in today’s Huffington Post that the movie was a flop. It only made $25.7 million on it’s opening weekend. It came in behind Monsters U ($46.2 million) and The Heat ($40 million) and World War Z ($29.8 million). The  real kick in the pants is that it’s the second weekend for World War Z It wasn’t that long ago that a movie making $25 million it’s opening weekend was a big deal. Now movies have to make $40 or $60 million the first weekend to be successful. It seems a shame that a movie has to be a hit from the beginning or it’s considered a flop, no matter how good it is. Movies aren’t allowed time to gain a following. It’s the same for books. For big publishers, if a book doesn’t make its numbers in the first quarter of its release, then it’s likely to be remaindered. The world has gotten so fast. Gratification has to be instantaneous. What’s wrong with taking a little time to appreciate a good story? To let word-of-mouth do it’s job and bring an audience to a movie or book that’s worthwhile? Is short term return really more valuable than long time investment? I think of all the stories in books and movies that would never have been written, filmed, printed, or appreciated. Goodnight... read more

Blog Topics

I recently read a book by one of my favorite authors, John Scalzi, called “Your Hate Mail Will be Graded.” The book contains a decade of blogs (1998-2008) from Scalzi’s Whatever site. Scalzi writes about whatever is on his mind and he doesn’t care about other people’s opinions. The blog is all about what he thinks and it can be funny, poignant, scary, or angry according to the topic. If you have very strong opinions about things and are easily offended then don’t read it. He pushed my buttons a couple of times but even on those topics he made me think. I always gravitate toward humor because I enjoy laughing. However, an author who can make me laugh and think deeply is one I will read over and over and over. Scalzi doesn’t arrange his blogs in numerical order. The years are mixed up. You can read a blog from 2004 and it may be followed by one from 1998. What surprised me so much was being reminded of what was happening in the country during those years. It wasn’t that long ago but it’s amazing what I had forgotten about current events back then. It was also fun to see what he speculated the outcome would be about events when I knew what the outcome actually was. There were some blogs on writing, but not that many. The ones he had were excellent, especially the one on advice to young writers.  But for the most part, the topics covered a wide range. It made me wonder if I had the nerve to open my blog up to... read more