Saturday, July 5, 2014

What's Your Instrument?

As long as I can remember, I dreamed of taking the arts world by storm. I envisioned myself an artist, a prima ballerina, a concert pianist, actress... usually all before noon. My childhood was spent searching for the perfect instrument. Gymnastics, clarinet, clay, painting,  theatre... You name it, I did it. My mother sang in a band, so music was never an optional program. I was on the forced-entry list every time she needed a performance partner. Never minded a bit, I might add. Although my voice never matched her range, we both agreed I could throw in a whole lot more rasp. Yes, I gloated over this, and took every opportunity to belt out a Janis Joplin tune to prove it.

I took a lot of lessons. Spent hours practicing. But never quite found my instrument. The pictures in my head never rendered quite the way I wanted on a canvas. There is a lot you can do with technique and practice, but at some point, the definition of a true artist is the ability to transcend the medium, and I just didn’t have it.

Same thing with music. I am in awe of those people who can coax a tear from a guitar. I took lessons in my teens and twenties. Practiced until my fingers bled and then some. My teacher, a wonderful life-long friend, Renee Rowell, finally shoved me out the door. “I have taught you everything I know.”

Technique does not equate art. It elevates everything to make it possible, but doesn’t create masterpieces.

Spent a long bleak spell where nothing in life seemed to go right. Made every mistake possible, and lived to tell the tale. Ended up with four amazingly wonderful children, and that makes every moment of it worthwhile. So, I wouldn't change a thing, even if I could. But, my lofty dreams were buried under the distant sands.

Then something incredible happened. I got bored.

It was on a vacation with no cell phone reception, and since it was one of those “Get away at the cabin in the woods with your in-laws, and nothing at all to do,” things, with far too much emphasis on the nothing to do. (Those of you familiar with my cell phone addiction are laughing, so stop it.) In any event, I did have a laptop, although interwebz was iffy at best. And... a word processor. Once upon a time, I enjoyed writing stories. It might kill some time. Or at least keep me from killing anyone.

I wrote the majority of a first draft of a complete novel in ten days. No plot, completely by the seat of my pants, just writing the ideas as they came to me. It’s still sitting there on my production list, because I clearly didn’t have the technique to really create anything more than a passable first attempt. But, I finished the damn thing. And three days after writing THE END, I signed up for, and completed my first NaNoWriMo challenge. That’s where you write a 50,000 word novel in the space of thirty days. Now I had two complete manuscripts. Well, huh. Now what?

Bingo! Talk to some writers. Learn how to turn those rough lumps of clay into something. I sought out writing groups, and soaked up a lot of information. Listened. Read. Wrote. Revised. Submitted. Won. Published. Produced. This did not happen overnight, it took a lot of time and effort. There is no substitute for actually doing the work. Practice until your fingers bleed, and then some.

My health did some wonky things in the past six months, and due to treatment, the limited filter I have between what I think and what I share seems to have gone away. And, that might be the best thing in the world. I say this, because after some rather unflinching posts to social media, I've gotten a flood of messages and emails from people who tell me my words moved them to tears. I will forever be in awe of those who can bring me to tears with the power of their movement in a dance, or a song, or a perfect photograph. Until this moment, it hadn't hit me. Never in a million years would I have guessed that in my quest to find an instrument, what I would end up with was my mind.

Love you all!

Just a couple of the dances that have inspired me to tears recently. I still wish I could do this.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


A few days ago, I had a really weird nightmare. This in and of itself isn't so uncommon. However, I posted about it on Facebook, and in the ensuing conversation, several people suggested it might be story fodder. And... it got stuck in my head. Those of you who are writers know exactly what this means... You have to write it out. Or else.

This is completely unedited, and I have no idea if I will actually do anything with it, but since I do have frequent nightmares, you just never know. In the mean time, Charlie Volnek, this one is for you!


The phone fell from my fingers and landed with a soft thud on the carpet. Dead? Not Mom... I bent down and picked it up. I wasn't even sure if I'd said goodbye. The thick accent of the consulate minister still filled my ears. Something about an accident—I stopped hearing his words at some point in time. Dead. There was always a mission trip or disaster somewhere, it was hard for me to grasp that this time, she wasn't coming back.
The rest of the afternoon was a blur of calls. More apologetic voices, and after the standard platitudes, wanting me to make decisions. Where to send her effects. Why didn't they just say luggage? Tons of details to transport Mom's body back to Nebraska. I had no idea there were so many regulations. Memorial services. Even though we hadn't really talked about it, I knew she'd want her remains scattered in the ocean—or from the top of the Himalayas. That's how she was.
So many questions I didn't have answers for. I hadn't been back home much since college, even though I only lived a couple hours away. It had nothing to do with my relationship with Mom, we were good, but honestly, I don't know why she even kept a house, she traveled so much. In any event, I grabbed a change of clothes and headed out. Maybe I'd find something in her roll top desk to help me sort things out.
By the time I hit the city limits of Dover, dusk clung thick and heavy to the sky. The old streetlights did little to pierce the gloom. I turned down Fifth Street and for a brief moment, forgot the reason for my visit as I remembered learning to ride my bike along the well-tended sidewalks. The Honda sputtered a few times before surrendering as I turned off the ignition and headed up the walk. No cheery lights came from the windows, no soft sound of television or music, just an overwhelming sense of empty. I scrubbed the tears from my eyes and shoved the key I had for this kind of emergency into the lock.
It was hard to resist the urge to call out, even though I knew there was no point. A horrifying thought crossed my mind. I flipped the light switch, and breathed a sigh of relief when it worked. She'd been known to have the power turned off for longer travels. Everything was like I remembered it, right down to the ugly circa 1979 plaid tweed recliner in the corner. I tiptoed to the desk and rolled the hardwood cover up to reveal Mom's belongings. Suddenly it seemed like I was four years old, and getting into things I wasn't supposed to touch. I shook my head and steadied myself. I was a grown woman, and as Mom's only child, the only one who could take care of the arrangements.
Everything was so neat, so organized. I smiled, imagining what Mom's face would look like if she saw my cluttered desk. Or worse yet, my closet. Bills marked paid and a note from one of her church friends were the only things on the blotter. A quick flip through the neat file folders in the drawer revealed little more than tax returns and appliance warranty booklets. There had to be something. I needed a birth certificate, life insurance policy, and what seemed like a hundred other documents. She had to keep them somewhere. Lockbox?
The faint scent of Mom's perfume came from the closet in her bedroom as I stood on tip-toe to reach the top shelves behind the pile of faded quilts. Aha. I pulled the aluminum box down and sat on the foot of the bed with it clutched to my chest. I didn't have a key, but either it wasn't locked, or the mechanism had worn away to the point it no longer held, because it opened easily.
What had to be hundreds of tattered photographs faded to soft pastels filled most of the box. I was in most of them. Fat cheeks, ruffled panties, and black patent leather Mary Jane's and all. Dad bouncing me on his lap. He'd died in a car crash when I was five. Now they're together. The finality of the thought hit me like a bus.
I was alone. Really alone.
I don't know how long I laid there curled up in a ball crying before I fell asleep. But I do know what woke me up. Lightning flashed outside the yellowed lace curtains and the house shook with the subsequent crash of thunder. I didn't remember there being rain in the forecast, but then again, this was Nebraska. A soft plop of something cold and wet hit my head and ran down my cheek. Great, the roof leaks. I made sure the lid on the strongbox was closed before I headed out to hunt for a bucket.
Not only did the roof leak, it leaked a lot. By the time I reached the door, my hair and clothes were wet, and my socks squished in the carpet. I caught sight of my reflection in the window and gasped. I looked like something straight out of a horror movie. The combination of rust and tar-water running down my face looked almost like blood. I had no idea what time it was, but staying at Mom's the rest of the night was clearly out of the question.
I grabbed the strongbox and ran to the living room. The door slammed behind me a little louder than I would have liked, but thankfully, the roof here seemed fine.  Where did I leave my purse and keys? I retraced my steps to the roll top desk as the sound of driving rain echoed through the empty house. I lifted the drapes and peered outside. As I expected, the maple tree in the drive swayed with each gust of wind. My little Honda sat unmolested under the carport. As I contemplated how much wetter I would get if I made a dash for it, something caught my eye.
Mom always stops the mail when she's gone... Our mailbox was on the opposite side of the street, so the opening faced me. The door was open, and what appeared to be packages filled it. Why hadn't I noticed this earlier? I glanced up at the sky, and back across the street at the manila-wrapped boxes that were surely going to get ruined. Dammit. I flung the door open, hurdled the raging river along the curb, and grabbed the boxes.
My teeth chattered as I ran back across the street. Surely there was a coat or umbrella somewhere inside, and why I hadn't stopped to grab it was beyond me. I saw the hole right before I stepped in it. I grew up here, so I should have remembered where the storm drain was, and where the slope began. The packages flew out of my arms and landed somewhere in the grass ahead of me, but I hit the concrete hard enough to knock the wind out of me. If I wasn't wet before, now I was soaked. Icy water flowed over the top of my head and made me cough. I couldn't seem to get myself righted. Cold fingers of water surrounded me as my chin sunk below the surface and I fought to breath. I'm going to drown in six inches of storm runoff. It wouldn't be all that bad would it? I wouldn't be alone, I'd be with Mom and Dad.
"Get up." Mom's voice whispered somewhere inside of my head. "Now."
Even in my imagination, her voice had that tone of voice you didn't argue with. I managed to pull myself onto the grass and made it to my feet. As if to mock me, the flow of water reduced to a gentle ripple. I snatched the now wet packages from the grass and ran back to the house.
A pang of guilt washed over me as I peeled the wet paper from the first box, even though I knew with Mom gone, it would have to be me that opened them. Carefully sealed inside the bubble wrap was a thick leather book. No note or shipping invoice, just the book. It was so old I couldn't even make out the title. Latin. Even though I'd taken two years in high school and another in college, I'd need a dictionary if I wanted to read the thing. I flipped through a few of the thick parchment pages before setting it aside.
If an anonymous Latin tome was odd, the contents of the second package only served to further confuse me. Two matching boxes. The first held a pendant. The medallion reminded me of a cameo, but instead of the usual woman's profile, this lady held a dagger in a backdrop of flames. I opened the second box and my jaw dropped. Not just any dagger, this dagger. I almost didn't want to take it from the velvet lined case. The ornate ivory handle fit perfectly in my grip as a flash of lightning from the window glinted from the blade. Words were etched along the metal surface. More Latin. Again, there was no note of any sort.
The final package was more like an overstuffed envelope. I slid the folded pages from the padded mailer and read the first page. "My dearest Charlene," I drew in a ragged breath. Only two people in the world called me by my given name. Mom, and my grandmother—her mom. Everyone else knew me as Charlie. "If you are reading this letter, I must assume something horrible has happened..."
I dropped the pages to my lap and grabbed the packages. They were addressed to me. All of them. I turned the soggy wrappings in my hands. No return addresses—and even more odd, none bore any sign of a postal marking. How was this possible?
A rattle from across the room caught my attention. Seriously? Now what? I sat the papers aside and stood up. The plaid tweed recliner slid a few inches closer to me with a screech of legs against hardwood. I had to be asleep. The whole day was nothing more than a horrible nightmare. I pinched myself just to be sure. Hard enough to make me gasp. I was very awake, or everything I'd ever heard about pain and dreams was a big fat lie. I picked up the knife and stood up.
The bedroom door flew open and spray of thick red liquid blew everywhere in a torrential rain. I wiped a drop from my face. It wasn't tar or rust, this was blood. Real blood. The chair shook to the point the legs came clear off the floor. Then it rose a few inches into the air and spun. Forget dreaming, maybe I'd gone crazy. The recliner hovered a few moments as I stared, frozen to the spot and my mouth gaping. Then it hurtled toward me. Without thinking, I threw my hands out in front of me and screamed, "Stop it!"
The recliner exploded in a brilliant flash of flames and the acrid heavy stench of sulfur filled my nostrils. Something screamed from the smoke. As bits of wood, foam stuffing, and singed, blood-soaked plaid tweed rained down around me, the smoke coalesced into a beast-like form. It writhed a moment, then fell from where it hovered near the ceiling into a heap near my feet.
I stared at my shaking hands in disbelief. The Latin script on the steel blade still held tight in my grip glowed a deep amber. I'd grown up hearing whispered tales from my grandmother, a frail wisp of a woman who could take down grown men with a single stare. She spent her twilight years traveling the country in a beat-up Winnebago, and stopped in a few times a year to visit. I used to listen as she told me fantastic stories of the Chosen Ones who wielded Hellfire against unearthly foes—in spite of Mom's protests.
Surely they were the same type of legends and myths we'd all grown up hearing about, weren't they? I crept closer to the still-smoking figure, kicked it with the toe of my shoe, and tried to remember what I could about the Chosen Ones.
All of a sudden the pieces slid together, and a sense of cold filled me from head to toe. It was a gift passed from mother to daughter—upon the death of the mother. Grandma's Winnebago...Mom's sudden interest in traveling after her death... it all made sense. Somewhere in the distance, a police siren sounded.

I had no idea what I was supposed to do next, but I did know two things.  First, I was going to either need to get the hell out of here, or try to explain to the cops why I was in Mom's house in the middle of the night with blood on the walls, fire marks on the ceiling, a blown-up recliner and a dead—whatever this thing was—in the middle of the living room floor. Secondly, from what I knew about Hellfire, this was only the beginning of my problems.      

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Out With the Old, In With the New--Year that is. 2013, You Shall be Missed...

It's that time of year again, you know what I'm talking about...the time when you look back on the year we're about to usher into the past, and prepare to welcome a brand-new one, full of infinite possibilities. I'm going to start right out and say I don't do New Year's resolutions. Waste of time. In the words of the immortal Yoda, "Do, or do not. There is no try."

So, in lieu of resolutions, I'll set a list of goals. Then go make them happen. Sometimes things work out the way I want, sometimes not so much, but the end result is always more than I could have imagined the year before. Here's a trip through my 2013, hope you enjoy it as much as I did living it. To write this post, I spent some time looking back on Facebook. It is a great time capsule of information, buried in between cat memes and apparently a lot of spiders.

January 2013 started cold...very cold. How do I know this? I was on the set of "Remission," a feature-film by Midnight Frights I had to wonderful opportunity to be associated with. Filmed in the old Fischer Foods building in downtown Lincoln. It was...cold. I got to work on a script re-write, made some amazing friends, watched a film come to life, and froze my ass off. Not a bad start to the year.

In February, "Til Death Do Us Part," racked up another screenwriting nod as a finalist in the Omaha Film Festival. (It also took the Bronze in the Oregon Film Festival, and made the top 25 Feature Scripts at Slamdance.)

March brought on the actual festivities of the Omaha Film Festival, and although I didn't win for TDDUP, I did get to sit in a theatre and watch trained actors bring the opening sequence to life as part of the Writer's Theatre. I'd call that a win. Survived the blizzard of OFF, resulting in an extra night at a posh hotel in downtown Omaha. Tragic turn of events, right? Met some awesome-cool filmmakers from all over the country, and generally had a great time. Meeting David Greenwalt, show runner for one of my favorite shows, "Grimm?" OUTSTANDING!

April was when things really started getting busy. "Modified Flight Plan," had an editor deadline, the Nebraska Writers Guild had a conference, and I'm the President, so it was a busy month. One of our speakers, incomparable agent, Lee Hough, made a lasting impression on so many. He lost his fight with cancer later in the year.  I was blessed to count him as a friend. Spending time with my friend, horror writer, Jonathan Maberry, and self-publishing guru Joel Friedlander, made it a conference I'll never forget.

Looking back over the year on Facebook, I notice a lot of airplane photographs. In planes, from planes, fixing planes... just a lot of planes. I lost a family member in a small aircraft crash in the late 1990's, so if you had told me a few years ago that I would be spending this much time around planes, I would have laughed. But, Brian Thomas, my co-author and all-around favorite person has introduced me to a whole new way of looking at the world. In more ways than he probably realizes.

I'm also looking at photos from a kick-ass group of paranormal investigators from Paracon. My brothers and sisters, love them so much, even though my work and writing schedule seems to get in the way more than I want. Got to cheer on my Paracon buddy, Brian Kent, as he brought not one, but two books into existence this year. GO BRIAN!!!!

In the midst of the publishing fury surrounding "Modified Flight Plan," I was also contacted about working on a feature script. "Lost in Oblivion," is currently lost in pre-development, but I hit my deadline. On to the next—or until they're ready to move forward.

May 16th was THE day. "Modified Flight Plan," unleashed on the world. Book #4, first with a print release. Thus began a whirlwind of speaking engagements, television interviews, and book release events. The response to the book so far has been more than I could have imagined. We topped Meredith Vieira's book on the bestseller chart for an entire week, and hit the #33 overall on Amazon. It was awesome.

Scrolling through Facebook... spiders, dogs, grandbabies, spiders, woodchippers, Minions... more spiders. What the heck is it with the spiders??

In September, "Modified Flight Plan," made the quarterfinals of the Austin Film Festival. Not a win, but making the top 300 out of 8,700 entries, yeah, that's pretty cool. Even more cool is when your screenwriting mentor asks you to come help teach his screenwriting colony. I was blown away that he'd even ask. (Side-note, THE winner of the Austin Film Festival? One of the students in the colony. Great guy, well-deserved win!)

October brought the Fall Conference for the Nebraska Writers Guild, and a re-election to my second (and last, thank you term limits!) term as President. Good friends, amazing speakers, yay!

November brought the first ever Prairie Lights Film Festival. Nebraska filmmaker heaven in Grand Island, Nebraska. Cool just for that reason, even better because "Remission" had a sneak-peek screening. Still some sound issues and story tweaking to be had, but I got to sit in a theatre and watch a film I worked on play in front of a live audience. It was awesome. NaNoWriMo happened, and I managed 56,000 words on "Walk Me Home," which hopefully will debut in 2014. I also had the opportunity to do something every self-respecting child of the 80's dreamed about, and star in a music video. Okay, so star might be too strong a word, but I acted in a music video. The fact that it involved fire, a big knife, a mask, and blood, was bonus.

Mid-December, time to go out on a high note, right? My health decided to take a nose-dive, but a really cool opportunity came of it. My wonderful-awesome friend from Dead Lantern Pictures, Mat Kister, wanted to talk screenwriting. At the end of the day, I got to write a short film script for "Last Breath," and be on set while the amazingly talented Jazmyne Van Houton and Will Griffey brought the roles to life. I honestly don't even have the words to describe the experience, and can't wait to share this one when it comes to BluRay/DVD next year.

To make it even sweeter, my son and his wife welcomed baby #3 (grandbaby #10) on HIS birthday, Dec 20th. Little Wesley also shares a birthday with his grandfather, three generations!

Well, year recap:  Books:  1.  Movies: 2; one feature, one short. Music videos: 1. Interviews:  14.  Television appearances:  5.  Screenwriting nods: 4.  Grandbabies, kids, general friend mayhem? Beyond measure!

It's been a great year, and I can't wait to see how I can top it in 2014. Buckle up, it's likely to be a bumpy but fun ride.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Delivering the Promise of the Premise

I've been in love with the written word as long as I can remember. In fact, my grandmother had me writing and illustrating stories since before I could even pen the words myself. I grew up with a voracious reading appetite—something that is essential to become an adept wordsmith. When you hear people talk about books, they usually say they liked it, or they didn't like it. As a writer, I make it a point to spend time thinking about what it is that either attracts or distracts me from a story.

So, I recently started reading a self-published book by a journalist/college professor. Man, this thing has prose that jumps off the page. Great characters, and a compelling plot-line. I was absolutely hooked...

Then I saw it, looming on the distant shore.

 A fin.

You know what I'm talking about, a story that was about to jump the proverbial shark. Maybe it was when a beer-drinking Jesus showed up saying things like, "Bztt," while poking himself in the forehead, and suggesting that extramarital sex was fine with him. I wanted to yell at the book, "Don't do it! Get out of the water, NOW!"

Instead, the story bore down on it like the Titanic heading for an iceberg, and the collision ripped the entire plot apart.

One thing writers are admonished to avoid is called, "Deus ex machina," or "God in the machine," which is a plot where something or someone shows up at the end and magically solves all the problems for the characters. In this case—well, Jesus showed up, and the plot fizzled.

My disappointment mounted with each turn of the page. I understand the message is that Jesus can fix anything, and that ultimately, he's in charge, but I had the same problem with the popular, "Left Behind," series. Loved the characters, loved the unique way the authors gave a relatable face to the book of Revelation, right up to the point that Jesus showed up and marched around the sky singing and chanting in everyone's head at the same time. It was a letdown, when the story I'd signed on for was that of a small band of people I was emotionally invested in. The addition of the divine minimized those characters I cared about to the point of making them inconsequential. I simply quit caring what happened to the characters, and when a reader stops caring, that's the kiss of death for a story.

The ending of this book now seemed rushed. Solutions to the apocalypse kept popping into existence with little setup, since now that Jesus in on the scene, we're good to go. I want characters locked in a life-or-death struggle until the bitter end—do or die, sink or swim. I want to raise my fist in triumph when they win, or grieve when they fail.

So, that's my lesson to myself today. Delivering on the promise is as important as the flow of the prose. Life—and writing—is the journey, more than the destination.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Birthday Blues

I have a confession to make. I'm not fond of birthdays. Well, not all birthdays, just my own. Birthdays remind me I'm a year older, and it's another year I haven't accomplished even a fraction of the things I want to do before I die—and every year that passes, I realize the opportunities will only diminish.
Honestly, I believe my thing about birthdays goes back a lot further. I was adopted, and somehow, even though I know the parents who raised me loved me with their whole beings, a little voice still whispers in my ear things like, you weren't wanted. You aren't good enough. Well-meaning family members deepened those thoughts by introducing me as, "Roland and Nelva's adopted daughter." My mind always read that as adopted second-rate daughter.

As much as I've tried to silence that stupid voice, it has spilled over into nearly every aspect of my life. I was also ruthlessly bullied growing up. (Even within my own extended family) I lived on the wrong side of town, and my parents didn't have a lot of money, so I was the somewhat geeky girl with messy hair, pop-bottle thick glasses and weird hand-me-down clothes. Might as well have painted a big red victim target on my back. I remember trying to tell a teacher in grade school about a classmate who pushed me down on the playground. Her response? "Someday, he'll be a big football star, and you'll like him a whole lot more." Guess what? That guy ended up playing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It did nothing to improve my opinion of him.

These subtle messages played in my head while I was growing up, and I consciously and subconsciously tried to drown them out by trying to be the best I could at everything. I became the girl who would get a 99% on a test, and argue the one point, because I wanted to be perfect. I ended up in doomed relationships, because in my need for acceptance, I was unable to formulate healthy boundaries.
I don't want anyone to think I'm going off the deep end into depression or anything, because I'm not. But, when people asked what I did for my birthday, and I say, laundry, cooked dinner, and cleaned my apartment a little, they act surprised. My daughter asked me last night why I didn't have a cake or anything. Because I didn't want to bake a cake for myself? I still have a few nightmares about graduations when I was a cake decorator. That might have something to do with it as well.

I have four wonderful grown children, and an equally amazing step-daughter that I love dearly. All but the step-daughter have their hands full with spouses (equally awesome people) and at least two small children apiece. (My kids have made reproducing a competitive sport) Having raised those four children, I know exactly how difficult it is to balance the demands of work, family, and self. But, it's hard to not allow those same stupid voices to creep into my thinking. Sometimes those kids remember my birthday, sometimes not-so-much. (This year was half and half) I'm not always the "cool grandparent." I live in a one-bedroom, unbaby-proofed apartment littered with books, and writing implements. And dogs. Don't forget the dogs.  Plus, between work, writing, ghost hunting, and the special people in my life, I live a rich and full life. Time is always a challenge.

I'm sharing my thoughts, because I have a suspicion I'm not the only person in the world who has a love-hate relationship with birthdays. Oh, as for my personal boundaries, they are fine, thank you very much. Test me at your own peril. I write, which is an area where one can excel, but never master—and I'm okay with that. I bleed a bit of my soul onto the page in hope that it resonates with someone. I'm proud of my Iranian heritage, and my German/Czech small-town Nebraskan upbringing. I have amazing friends and family, and a new book release to boot. Life is good. But I will probably always get at least a little introspective around June 10th. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lessons from a Movie Set

Amazing graffiti art on the walls on the set. 

Last night, at nearly 11 pm, I made it home from the first day of filming a feature film entitled "Remission."  One day on set makes me an expert, right?  Okay, not even close, but since I am participating in this project, I thought I would pass along any random wisdom I manage to glean from the process.  Here goes the lessons from Day 1:

 Leave your ego at the door.  As a writer, my job is to take a story idea, and show it in words on a page.  It's for the most part, a rather solitary endeavor.  Movie making is more like a hive-mentality.  Every person on the set has a vision for what the story should look/sound like. Writers, directors, actors, effects crew, sound technicians, and they guy who brings the donuts.  (They were great, by the way, along with the Mulligatawny stew)  The goal is to meld all of those visions into one cohesive whole.  It's the director's job, and a lot like herding cats.  For the process to flow, everyone needs to be willing to work together, and if your ego gets in the way, the whole thing can derail.  It doesn't take years of set-work to see how a Diva can develop the relationship where no one wants to work with them.  A "What can I do to help?" attitude will take you much further.

Contrary to popular belief, movie making is not glamorous.  Yeah, the big Hollywood stars may get posh trailers, and pampering assistants. But even then, stars have to do things like stand around for countless takes in freezing weather clad in totally weather-inappropriate attire to get the perfect scene. Get used to no heat, and the nearest bathroom being a gas station four blocks away. It's dirty, cold/hot/wet work sometimes. My respect for actors who can film scenes while hiding their shivering.

Follow direction.  "Quiet on the set," basically means "don't breathe, unless given permission."  Nothing worse than getting nearly through a difficult scene, with near-perfection, then having it ruined by noise contamination.

Make friends!  It's not about name-dropping, or shameless self-promotion.  True networking involves forging relationships.  If you can't be genuine, you're going to struggle.  It goes back to the whole ego thing.  In a line ripped right from the script... "You know what happens if you bite the hand that feeds you? Eventually, it will let you starve."  Let's face it, whether it's Hollywood, or Nebraska, the film community is pretty small.  You want to make a name for yourself, make it be that you add value to a production.  That you're to be trusted.  That you'll be a supporter, cheerleader, and a hard worker.  

Fist-bumps to my fellow cast and crew from Remission.  We rock!

 On the set, after about 10 hours of filming in single-digit temperatures. 
More uuber-cool graffiti art in the background. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Look", It's a Hook for a Book!

My friend, and fellow Nebraska Writers Guild author, Brian Crouse,  invited me to post an few paragraphs of what I’m working on. The rules of this game say the word “look” has to be in the sample. 

I've been working on the novel adaptation of my script, "Modified Flight Plan," co-authored with my good friend and writing partner, triple-amputee pilot, Brian Thomas. I typed "look" into my search box, and the first section that came up is one of my favorite passages, a pivotal moment from early in the story, before Brian became an amputee.  Without further ado, here is an excerpt from "Modified Flight Plan," due out in 2013. 

Brian threw his book bag, keys, and motorcycle helmet, on the kitchen counter. Mom turned from the sink. Soapy water dripped from her hands as she reached for a towel. He knew the look on her face. Distant and sad. She knew something--and whatever it was, he most likely wouldn't like it. She picked up an envelope from the counter and handed it to him. Her voice caught. "I'm so sorry, honey."
His hands shook as he pulled the sheet of paper from the envelope. His ears rang and heat flushed into his face. "We regret to inform you that due to uncontrolled platelet counts related to your Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura, your medical certificate has been revoked. Please return any certificates to Federal Aviation Administration, Aerospace Medical Certification Division, AAM-300 , CAMI Building , 6500 S. MacArthur Blvd, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73169 "
He threw the paper on the counter, grabbed his helmet and keys, and stormed out the door. Somewhere his mind registered Mom's voice calling after him, but all he could think was he had to get out of there.
At first he just rode, not even mindful of where he was. Nothing but the growl of the engine, the vibration of the pavement beneath him, and the rhythmic swirl of wind as it whipped past him. Eventually, Brian found himself at the marina overlooking the wide sprawl of the upper Missouri river before it reached Gavin's Point Dam. He parked the bike and wandered out to sit. The cool breeze off the water brushed against his hair as he stared out over the water and surveyed the Nebraska bluffs on the other side.
The thought flashed across his mind that it wouldn't take much to let the rushing water pull him under and drown what remained of his soul. They can't take flying away from me. It was all that kept him going through the bleeding, the chemo, with all the horrible side effects. Knowing that for those precious few hours, he'd soar with the eagles. His dad was a pilot. So was his mom. His oldest brother, Dana, had left home for the Air Force when he was in second grade. It wasn't fair.
He absent-mindedly picked up a rock and tossed it a few times in his hands, then threw it as hard as he could into the river. His eyes stung with tears, but even alone, he refused to let them fall. Brian took in a deep breath. He knew where to go. The only place in the world he could go.
By the time he reached the Springfield Airport, darkness had already fallen. His headlight cut a deep cone into the moonless night. He slid the corrugated steel hangar door open and caressed the side of the plane as he approached the cockpit door. He reached inside, turned the master switch on and flipped a couple of switches on the dashboard. Behind him, the runway lights turned on, two long rows of white cutting the surrounding corn field in a swath. He walked out to the airstrip and sat in the center of the asphalt runway.
 He had no idea how long he'd been there, nothing but the gentle breeze rustling the cornstalks when something disturbed the air beside him. Dad patted his shoulder as he sat down beside him. His deep voice softened. "You can't keep a good pilot down."
Brian scoffed. "Tell that to the FAA."
Dad shook his head and laughed. "Not like I've ever known you to follow the rules."
"This time, I might have to."
Dad's big palm clapped his shoulder again. "You'll beat it. If anyone can find a way, it will be you."
"I’m cursed. We hoped one day I'd outgrow it, and I'd be normal. Now I’m older and things keep getting worse."

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from our upcoming book!  Now, head over to check out another friend, author Ron Heacock, who will share some of his upcoming book as well!  Ron is a man of many talents and artistic endeavors, and I can't wait to get a "look" at what he's working on!  If you'd like to share a "look" at your work in progress, join in, and post a link to your blog post in your comments below!  I'm "look"ing forward to seeing what you're working on, too. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

You want me to WHAT?!?!?

During November, I wrote the first draft of the book version of Modified Flight Plan, the true story of an amazing friend, triple-amputee pilot, Brian Thomas.  One thing I have learned telling his story--and just having him as a friend, is that you need to be prepared to find ways around the random road blocks life throws in your path. 

Case in point, Friday night, we were preparing for his very first television interview.  Wardrobe?  Check.  Reviewing script and book notes to prepare for interview?  Check.  Putting a spit-shine on the Cessna 205 he planned to take the reporter flying in the next morning?  Check.  Charging the hook that died while putting the spit-shine on the plane?  Check.  We had it covered...right?

Or something like that.  

Brian  mentioned he needed my help to sew the webbing on his wheelchair where it was tearing loose.  I have done some upholstery work in my time, and heck, I've sewn wedding dresses.  No problem.


I don't know what the heck they make wheelchair webbing out of, but that stuff must have some magical charm protecting it from needle penetration.  Good grief.  The material thickness should have whizzed right through my sewing machine.  HA!  Not even close.  I didn't even know my machine could lock up the way it did with the wheelchair webbing stuck with the needle buried in the bobbin channel.  Yeah, that was fun to try to get out without breaking my rather expensive embroidery-capable Brother sewing machine. 

Hand sew it.  

It's one simple straight seam, and I have heavy-duty thread, an upholstery needle, and a thimble.  What could possibly go wrong?

Uhhh huhh... I also did not know pushing a THICK needle through a magically impervious but deceptively thin sheet it fair to call it fabric?? could snap it right in half.  Well, huh. 
So here we sat, at nearly 11 pm, with a looming interview first thing in the morning, a disassembled wheelchair, and a CURSED piece of material I had no idea how to fix.  There aren't any urgent care centers for wheelchairs, I am fairly certain.
We both stared at the mess for a few minutes, and Brian grabbed the staple gun out of my (hot pink) tool bag.  "Staple it."

Say WHAT?!?

It's not like upholstering a couch, I don't have a wood frame to staple it TO. 

"Shoot the staples through the material, into the carpet, then bend the staples with your (hot pink) pliers." 

Why do I suspect this is not going to end well?  "Hey, we need to cancel the interview.  I inadvertently stapled Brian's wheelchair seat to my floor..."

Oh what the hell...  It wasn't like we had much for other options.  With great trepidation, I pulled the trigger and shot the staple through the dreaded wheelchair fabric and into the carpet.  Ka-pow.  Then I gently lifted the edges.  Low and behold, it pulled up cleanly.  I grabbed the pliers and bent the sharp ends over into a tight metal stitch.
This just might work. 

Ka-pow, ka-pow, ka-pow.  I managed to finish repairing the split seam without inflicting bodily damage to either of us, and Brian reassembled his wheelchair.  Whew.  I commented that he really should take the thing in and get a proper repair.  He reminded me of the screw he'd had in his tire since this summer (it's still in there)   and said his dad would be proud of his innovative repair idea.  I suspect the staples may be there a while.

Somehow, this is all fitting.  Brian's story is really one about finding creative ways around roadblocks--no matter what they may be.  If he wasn't truly an expert at doing this, he would be sitting at home collecting disability checks every month, and likely being miserable.  Instead, he was back at work six months to the day from his illness, and he soars with the eagles when he flies.

Besides... I was out of the good duct tape.

Monday, November 12, 2012

That Poem

I am not a poet.  This is important to know up front.  But, I have the utmost respect for those dedicated to the art form of weaving magical images with minimal words.  Today, the subject of the word "that" came up, and I cringed.  That is one of those overused kudzu words I hunt and destroy when I am editing.

Double-thats make me nearly convulse.

But, in the spirit of fun, I made it a point to come up with ways to use not only double-thats, triple-thats, and even a quadruple-that in phrases that actually make sense... and to make it more challenging, turn it into a poem.

It's November, so I am participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.  There are likely more uses of the word that in my draft than I want to think about... and I won't even look for them until December.  So, in the mean time, enjoy a plethora of the word THAT!

What is it that that that conveys,
That little word that causes editors such dismay,
That that that makes them gnash their teeth,
That that that emphasizes writing that is weak,
That that that needs to go away,
Highlight that that, hit delete and pray,
That that that that disappears,
Will save that editor grief, and that many tears.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's Almost HERE... and I'm reading to get ready!

It's almost November... and that means NaNoWriMo time.  National Novel Writing Month, and adventure in living where the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  It's intense.  Plus, I am a Walmart manager.  Nothing much happens during November at Walmart, right? 

Stop laughing. 

I mean it. 

Writers read.  When I'm writing screenplays, I read movie scripts.  So, having just finished two scripts, I've read a lot of them, but not much prose.  To get back into the novel-writing mode, I decided to read the second book in The Passage series.  A nice little (698 page) tome set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the living dead...something of a cross between vampires and zombies... created by the US Army as an experimental weapon.  Funny how that never turns out the way they hope.

In any event, I do love some things that Justin Cronin does in his writing.  Take for example the following passage. 

More bodies lay near the hotel entrance. Not bodies, strictly speaking--more a zone of human body parts. A woman police officer eviscerated as she'd stepped from her cruiser. She rested with her back propped against the fender, her pistol still clutched in her hand, her chest opened like the flaps of a trench coat. A man in a shiny purple track suit, wearing enough gold around his neck to fill a pirate chest had been hurled upward, his torso lodging like a kite in the limbs of a maple tree; His bottom half had come to rest on the hood of a jewel-black Mercedes. The man's legs were crossed at the lower ankles as if the lower half of his body hadn't heard it was missing the rest. ---Justin Cronin, The Twelve. 

Great stuff. 


He brings these bit players onto the stage, and fully develops them in a few choice descriptions, then slides over them onto the next.  Yet, the image is left seared in the reader's memory.  An art, really.  A writer who pays attention to every character, without boring us with long, useless, backstory. 

That's why I read a LOT.  I find techniques I admire--and I emulate them!  I also look at the things that pull me out of a story.  Cronin has writing that makes me cringe, too.  He uses way too many passives, and cliché-ridden similes, like, "His brain felt as jumpy as corn in a hot pan."  Cringe-worthy.  You learn from other writers' bad habits too.   

I'm off to prep for NaNo.  Hope you'll join me. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Tao of Travel

I've always had a fascination with travel, yet never really understood what it was about making a journey that I was attracted to.  I think I may have figured part of it out.  I'm a writer.  I form new worlds simply by willing them to be.  My words breathe life into characters and places never imagined before.  Heady stuff. 

I think part of my love of traveling has to do with the suspension of reality that takes place during a trip.  Time doesn't even have the same definitions.  Everything is a new possibility, and I love it all. 
Writers are also readers, and really good writers read a lot.  I don't know how good a writer I am, but reading is like breathing for me.  Recently, I've found my always eclectic taste drawn to works with a somewhat more mystical and philosophical nature.  My imagination drawn to how I fit in the scheme of life and nature.
Traveling brings those connections closer to the surface.  It is easy to miss things when you are caught up in the mundane routines of daily life.  Things slip into simple repetitive motions.  It is like the cords that connect you to the universe fade and curl up inside. 

I'm one of those people who believe the journey is more important than the destination.  I've never been a rigid agenda-type traveler.  I know roughly where I want to go, and let Destiny take care of the rest. (I write the same way, for the most part)  I can't think of how many wonderful side-trips and amazing experiences I would have missed had I been compelled to stick to my initial plans.  Some of those are the moments where I have found myself closest to what I imagine Nirvana to be. 

 It's a bittersweet moment, when you head for home, whether it be from a weekend away, or a lengthy sojourn.  But, as the ribbons of Interstate contract and pull me closer, I have to wonder if it isn't precisely the contrast between the expanse of the unknown and the security of the routine that makes me complete.  It reminds me of The Wizard Of Oz.  How the brilliance of Oz only became evident against the harsh black and white of Kansas.  Part of me needs the grounding reality, as much as the other part longs for the bright blue horizon.  

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lucky Number Seven Meme

I was tagged not one, but TWICE for this, so I figured that meant I should play along.  Here's the idea.
1. Go to page 77 of your current manuscript/work-in-progress (MS/WIP).

2. Go to the seventh line of your MS/WIP.

3. Copy down the next seven lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they are written.

4. Tag seven writers and let them know.

So, this is from my current Work In Progress, "Walk Me Home."

Russ pulled off his warm up jacket.  He'd left his singlet sleeves down, and that exposed the tape around his chest.  Parts of it were coming lose, and one area showed a tinge of red.
            Cathy drew in a deep breath.  "You're bleeding.  We need to get you re-taped.  I've watched this guy.  He's tough, and he's ready.  You need to be careful."
            She went with him to the team's athletic trainer, and stood by as he replaced the tape on Russ's chest.  Her eyes stayed on his face, darting occasionally to his injuries, but she still offered him nothing but words of encouragement.  As the trainer finished, he pulled his singlet up and flexed his arms a few times to see how it felt.  Better.  Not great, but better.
            "You know," he gave her a sidelong glance and smiled, "today you have went out of your way to be nice to me.  I don't know that I want to get hurt so you'll always be like this, but it is a pleasant side effect."
            She laughed and stuck out her tongue at him, but she grasped his hand as they walked to the mat.  He looked at the clock.  All he needed to do was hang on for seven minutes.  All he wanted to do was get out the door with two wins one loss.  The referee called him to the table for instructions.  He was shocked to see both coaches and his final opponent meet him.  "You want to forfeit?"  Both coaches asked him at the same time.
            The absurdity of the situation struck Russ as funny, and he started to laugh.  One look at the mass of tape surrounding his chest told him it might be the wisest decision, but in that moment, he knew the only way he was going off the mat was after the final buzzer--or after a pin.

Now, for who I tag...
Mary Unger
Bev Teche
Bryce Marin
Emily Judd
Phyllicia Spidell
Torie Taibemal
Jenny Bates.  
Have fun!

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Kitchen Floor is Shiny, and that's Not Necessarily a Good Thing.

My kitchen floor is clean--and this is not a good thing.  You would think having a shiny kitchen floor would make me happy, and usually this would be a fair statement .  But, the path to cleanliness is often messy.  Let me elaborate.

I decided I was hungry for chile rellanos.  A lady I work with is from Brazil, and she makes fabulous rellanos.  Since it would most certainly be an abuse of my authority as a manager to cajole her into making them just because I am hungry for them, I decided to make them myself. 

So, I broiled, skinned, and cleaned the guts out of the poblano peppers, then stuffed them with cheese.  After they were battered, I went to fry them.  Now, this is where the fun comes in.  Since the divorce, I live in an apartment.  An apartment with a tiny galley kitchen.  A tiny galley kitchen that is about 3.7 inches from the fire alarm.  I swear, I can't boil water without the alarm going off.  So, any time I cook, I have a big plastic cutting board at the ready to go wave fan-like in front of the stupid thing to direct the non-existent smoke the other way.  (I think it must be hungry, and it is yelling at me for not offering it anything to eat)

In any event, I was standing in front of the stove, frying the rellanos and even though I KNOW the alarm is likely to go off, I jumped about a mile into the air when it did.  In the process, I knocked the handle of the skillet, and splashed hot oil onto the burner.  You know what happens when hot oil gets on the burner?  You got it... FIRE!  Now, I grew up cooking on an amazing gas stove, and if you watch any cooking shows, you know that chefs aren't fazed by a bit of flame.  (Funny side-note, the alarm was eerily silent while there were actual FLAMES in the kitchen.  Odd, huh?)  I went to move the skillet off the burner, and do something I should have done in the first place, put it on the back burner.  Splash.  More grease, this time, on the floor. 

I wiped up the worst of the grease, and it really did make the floor shine.  Shine=Slick.  So, imagine me trying to finish frying the rellanos and not fall down on a floor that now has now become a shiny oil-skating rink. I am still in Physical Therapy for a knee injury from a recent car accident, so this in itself was a challenge. 

I finally got the rellanos all fried, and safely into the oven to bake, and I surveyed the kitchen.  No wonder I roll my eyes when my daughter asks me why I don't like to cook for her.  Batter covered counter, including the handles on the sink, flecks of flour everywhere, poblano pepper skins in the sink, and an oil slick on the floor.  Not even going to mention what the stove top looked like, not much gives me nightmares, but that might. 

I am happy to say that the kitchen is now probably cleaner than it has been in a while.  I guess that's a good thing, but wow, that was a lot of work just for a chile rellano. 

After you're done laughing at my cooking mis-adventure, I'm sure your next question is "What about the chile rellanos?"  Here it is.  Not as good as Maria's, but not bad, either!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dating for Purses

I get into relationships with my purses.  I mean, serious, long-term relationships.  It starts with speed dating, which involves trolling the stores, comparing online sites, looking at fashion spreads...  

Like real speed dating, there are  some duds, and some you want to get to know more.  Once I've identified the potentials, I spend some time getting to know the creme of the crop.  You're going to potentially spend a lot of time with a purse, you need to bond with it.  Get to know it inside and out. 

Like human dates, every purse candidate will come with strengths and flaws.  You have to decide which ones are deal-breakers.  For me, deal-breakers are vinyl construction, lacking a zipper closure, icky straps, not enough pockets, and generally being ugly.  Oh, and ladies, back me up on this one--size matters.  There is a fine line between laughably too small, and painfully too large.  Like I said, it's a lot like dating.
Another thing that is a lot like dating?  If you snooze, you lose.  It is possible to find the perfect purse, and miss your opportunity because you hesitated too long.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, is as frustrating as showing up at a store, credit card in hand, to find out your potential soul-mate purse has been snatched up by some other purse-nabbing hussy.  

So, you might ask, what did I end up with?  Red leather, (matches my red leather briefcase) big enough to hold my stash of stuff for my upcoming trip to Los Angeles, nice straps and pretty hardware.  The print material inside was a bonus.  I love you my new shiny purse... at least for now.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Newton's Laws of Motion

Newton's Laws, and Yes, This About Writing!
                My formal educational background is not in writing--or any liberal art.  I spent my collegiate formation as a scientist.  Hard, cold facts, and immutable laws of  physics.  And, believe it or not, some of that science background has come in quite handy, and in more ways than you might imagine.  So, I am going to break down  Newton's Laws of Motion, and how I think they relate to writing.

                Rule #1: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

                There are two statements about this law that are important.  The first states that a body at rest will remain at rest until acted on by some force.  What this means is you will never, ever write anything unless you apply some force to the chair and start writing.  Thinking about writing, dreaming about writing, wondering about writing... nope.  You. Must. Write. 

                The second is that a body in motion will remain in motion until acted upon by another force.  So, great, you are writing.  Wonderful.  Words and ideas are making their way onto the page.  What force might cause that to cease?  In the physical world we live in, we usually will think of things like gravity, even air resistance.  Oh, I understand resistance in writing.  What things tend to get in the way of writing?  Work, family, chores... the list is endless.  Even more insidious are the forces of apathy.  Inner doubt.  That kind of resistance is sometimes even harder to overcome.  So, be aware of it when  writing starts taking a back seat.  Write anyway.  Make it a habit.  I have a sheet of paper on my writing board that is divided into 365 squares, each numbered.  Every day I write, I can mark through that day in red.  My goal is to fill that page with red marks by the end of the year.  An object in motion remaining in motion.

                Rule #2: The relationship between an object's mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma. Acceleration and force are vectors (as indicated by their symbols being displayed in slant bold font); in this law the direction of the force vector is the same as the direction of the acceleration vector.

                Take a deep breath.  This isn't as complicated as it might seem, or at least not where writing is concerned.  Basically, Newton's Second Law says that acceleration is increased by force, and decreased by mass.  Okay, so let's consider mass as the size of the story.  A short story is perhaps easier to get in motion, and keep in motion, than, a novel the size of War and Peace.  But, the key here is that we are talking about acceleration.  So, the more force (butt glued to chair, writing) you apply, the faster it goes.  Yes, writing picks up speed the more you write!  You will get to know your characters, you will become more familiar with the world they inhabit, and your writing skills will grow.  I like this law--a lot!  It's like training to run a marathon.  The stronger your writing muscles become, the easier it is to finish the race.

                Rule #3: The mutual forces of action and reaction between two bodies are equal, opposite and collinear.

                Another way this Law is stated is; For every reaction, there is an equal and  opposite reaction.  Hmmm.  What does that mean for writing?  Oh, you are going to LOVE this one.  If you write long enough, things won't remain the same.  They change.  For example, you find yourself getting things like this.

And this:

                Well, that's it for my physics lesson today.  I am back to writing, because I want to accelerate towards other goals.  Like some of these. 

                Until next time, apply some glue to the chair, and get to work on some physics--I mean writing!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Can't You Smell I'm Writing?

Writers all have different little tricks they use to help them get into the mood of a story, or to connect with a character.  On my desk, I have plenty of little knick-knack items, most related to a story or character.  Things I can pick up, fiddle with, throw if I'm having a really off day, and generally remind me of what I'm working on. But those things don't really do much to help me when the words simply aren't flowing the way I want.

I'm one of those writers who loves to engage all of the senses in my writing.  I want to immerse you in a scene.  Sights, sounds, taste, tactile, and aroma.  And I have found that one way I can call my creative muse is by the use of scents.  I search out smells that evoke the mood I want to create.  The perfect candle, or just the right incense--sometimes even the right cologne can transport me directly into the ambience I need to make the words flow from my soul onto the page.  I don't know why it works that way for me, but it does.  Probably a Pavlovian response of some sort.  Smell the candle, write the words.

Yes, I write horror, and other dark fiction, so you might be wondering if I have a stash of blood-scented candles, and the answer is no, I don't.  But, in one story, I have a demon, masquerading as a woman--a rather beautiful woman.  For her, jasmine and orchids set the mood.  Exotic, and a little dangerous.  Sage, bergamot, musk, those all evoke an image of the unknown for me as well.  Especially the sage.  I even own a bottle of a deep, rich men's cologne.  One spritz is all it takes for me to channel the character I imagine wearing it. 

When I need inspiration, I'll go wander in a candle shop, or certainly the candle aisle in my store.  I have a literal treasure trove of candles, incense, essential oils--and each evokes a different emotional response.  Even more, once a scent engages my muse, my writing becomes more descriptive in the use of all of the senses.  I have a candle called Angel Whispers.  It's a clean scent, almost like a gentle spring rain, mingled with flowers in bloom.  It takes my writing in a much different direction than the deep musky sage and bergamot candle.  That one is mysterious--dangerous.  I used that one when working on "The Hunt," a story filled with magic and mayhem.  When I was working on the scenes with the Minister in "The Hunt," I found burning incense was helpful, even though incense is more of a Catholic thing, and my minister is Lutheran.  My Catholic brain didn't care one iota. It's all about the mood I, the writer, associate with the smell.  All I know is that for me, it works.  So, if you see me wandering the candle aisle deep in thought, it's all research, me attempting to appease the muse without destroying the budget in the process.  I always end up with so many scents that pique my imagination.

I'd love to know what works for you?  Music, sights, smells, touch, taste?... How do you USE your senses to add layers of meaning to your writing? 
Write on!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Star Wars, you Rule-Breaker!

Last night I watched arguably one of the most famous movies ever to prepare for a plotting talk I'm going to be doing in October for Pagan Musings podcast.  "Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope."  (Not that we knew it was episode IV in 1977, it was just "Star Wars")  I chose this movie because it is so universally recognized, and it also fits the basic plot paradigm I want to cover.  Or so I thought.  But, as I analyze my notes, what I find is how many of the current screenplay conventions George Lucas broke in this script. 

Yes, Star Wars absolutely fits the paradigm I'm going to use in the podcast.  So, if you want to know how, you'll have to tune in to find out.  October 22nd, 7-9pm CST, on or on iTunes at

I want to talk about a couple of the "screenwriting rules" George Lucas chose to ignore when he crafted "Star Wars."

Rule:  Never open with an information dump, or in other words, disguise your exposition. 

Hello, that iconic scroll at the beginning?  You know how it goes, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."  Not to mention, why a long time ago?  Doesn't that mean the people I'm supposed to cheer on and care about are DEAD???!!!???  And why far, far away?  These are some scary bad guys.  Shouldn't this story be happening RIGHT NOW, and so close these bad guys are just one hyper-jump to light speed away from Earth, where they can wreak some real damage?  But the crawl at the beginning of each movie--information dump! 

Rule:  The story question must be posed in the first ten minutes of the film.  This sets up who is the "Good Guy" and who is the "Bad Guy", and ultimately, the question of who will win. 

Oh, man do we get a great glimpse of the bad guys.  When the huge Imperial ship chased down Princess Leia's ship in the opening sequence, the sound in the theatre rumbled.  It was massive, powerful--unstoppable.  Then Vader enters.  The breathing alone, coupled with the black mask and cape... then the guy kills someone with ONE HAND.  Hello, I don't think anyone--or anything can take him out.  And that's before he chokes someone out with his MIND.  But, where is our "Good Guy?"  Is it the lady with the cinnamon-rolls on the sides of her head?  How about the weird little robot that doesn't even talk, only beeps??  Uptight gold robot?  I don't know.  Ten minutes pass, and Luke Skywalker hasn't even hit the screen yet.  But, when Luke finally hits the screen, we know immediately that this immature, whiny kid is going to either have to defeat Vader, or die trying.  We just don't see how it is ever going to be possible. 

I could cover a lot of territory in how the script fits or doesn't fit standard conventions, but this would be a book, not a blog entry, so I'll end with one final "rule" Lucas breaks in "Star Wars."

Rule:  The Good Guy (Luke)  needs to control his own destiny, and defeat the Bad Guy (Vader) on his own merits.  (No one can rush in and save him at the last second.) 

Yes, Luke controls the Force, he flies into insurmountable odds and aims at the target.  But hold on a moment.  Vader is about to blast him out of the sky.  He's right on his tail, we're waiting for Luke to make a move against him... and no.  Han Solo to the rescue, and it is HAN who blasts Vader into the nether-regions of space.  Now, we know that there are a five more episodes to this story.  George Lucas knew he had way more story than he could fit into one movie.  But, he had to fight to greenlight "Star Wars," and the studio had no intentions of promising him anything until the first movie delivered.  Heck with a  working title like, "Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars." it's no wonder the studio balked (Okay, so that's Rule #4, you need a short, amazing, and compelling title, but since the film came out as "Star Wars," I'm not going to harp on it.)  My point is, in 1977, Lucas had no idea if he would ever see the completion of his vision, and his hero just let the sidekick clobber the bad guy.  Typically a fail as far as scripts go. 
"Star Wars," was one of those films that made an indelible mark on my psyche.  I lost count of how many times I saw it during the summer of 1977.  Why?  The characters, the story, the ground-breaking uniqueness of the film itself--I still love every frame of it.  When I look at the overall arc of the six films, I am so impressed at the craftsmanship--and Lucas's ability to successfully bend the screenwriting rules to give us a story that spanned a nearly three-decade time frame, from May, 1977-August 2008. Heck, I struggle to maintain continuity for a two-hour (120 page) script.  I bow before the Force. 

Have I captured your interest?  Don't forget, October 22nd, Pagan Musings Podcast.  It will be archived on the Blogtalk radio site, and on iTunes if you miss it.  Just in time to get your opus plotted for National Novel Writing Month 2011.  November 1-30.  I'll be leading the charge, and updating every week on how the Lincoln Region is doing on Pagan Musings.  Come be part of the magic!!