Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

The Grio

Iraq War Memoir Marked by Macabre Humor

Does My Suicide Vest Make Me Look Fat?Does My Suicide Vest Make Me Look Fat? by John Ready
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In John Ready’s war, a car backfire can form the basis for claiming combat decorations. An officer tests HUMVEE armor by blasting away with a pistol, narrowly missing his own troops. A unit’s whimsically garish Christmas decorations serve as aiming points for enemy rockets.

Serving in Iraq from 2003 to 2004 as a Civil Affairs officer responsible for Baghdad reconstruction projects, Ready presents 47 recollections that capture the funny, the tragic, the stupid, and the deadly from a war that ended in victory, then deteriorated into bloody insurgency.

Mostly in the range of two to four pages, these pieces are not chronological, bouncing around from the author’s hectic deployment to a sometimes bleak post-war period where the joy of reuniting with family collided with the bitterness of certain indelible memories.

A rare view into Army Civil Affairs, this book is worthwhile read.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 28, 2013

No Kindle Necessary to Read Jury Doody

Available here.

You don't need a Kindle to enjoy eBooks from Amazon. Download a free Kindle app and enjoy your favorite stories on phones, Macs, PCs, Blackberries, you pick 'em. What's it to me what you read? I would like my Kindle-less friends and family to have an opportunity to read my short essay, Jury Doody now available on Kindle Direct Publishing.

And should the post-Christmas spirit move you to plunk down .99 for a read, please rate your reading experience and leave a comment. Ditto if you're a member of Goodreads.

And if this tub-thumping appeal leaves you completely unmoved, or you're low on cash, or bleary-eyed from technology in general, bless you and have a very Happy New Years!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Two Sieges of Rhodes: Knights and Turks Battle for Island Base

The Two Sieges of Rhodes, 1480-1522The Two Sieges of Rhodes, 1480-1522 by Eric Brockman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A crusading order evicted from the Holy Land at the end of the thirteenth century, the Knights Hospitaller needed a home to continue opposing Islamic expansion. Settling on the island of Rhodes near Asia Minor, they commenced raiding Muslim shipping in the eastern Mediterranean. Relying on first person accounts and other historic documents, Eric Brockman details a pair of Turkish assaults aimed at ousting the offending Knights from their Rhodian stronghold.

History, tactics, religion and politics all play a part as the outnumbered religious order scraps to defend their harbor fortress. Brockman sets the attacks against the backdrop of a disunited Christian Europe, unwilling to rally in support of the Knights against the growing might of the Ottoman Empire.

A very readable account with personalities and intrigue coloring the narrative. At 163 pages, I thought the book a little short for two sieges. Still, it does set the stage for later historic events in the ongoing war between the Ottoman Turks and the Knights Hospitaller of St. John.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Warner Bros. Merry Christmas!

Inspired by a Facebook post from friend Josh, and plucked from the blog of Tom Ruegger, here are the Warners Brothers (and sister) as shepherds from "The Little Drummer Warners." Back in the day, we showed the episode to Steven Spielberg who joked that we now owed him a Warner Bros. tribute to a Jewish holiday. Hanukkah and Thanksgiving at the same time would have been perfect, but that kind of calender gold doesn't roll around too often. Plus Animaniacs would've needed to be airing for twenty years like Gunsmoke. So we still owe him.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Wonderstorms: Sharp Writing Reins in Fantasy Anthology

Wonderstorms: A Fantasy AnthologyWonderstorms: A Fantasy Anthology by Brian Clopper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Young people with special gifts and big troubles describe most of the protagonists in this quintet of fantasy tales. With ‘wonderstorm’ as a prompt, Keith Robinson, A.E. Howard, Roger Eschbacher, Brian Clopper and Jason Asala weave the word into their worlds as everything from a vortex, to a talisman, to a ludicrous supernatural power. I especially enjoyed Eschbacher’s “Undrastormur,” which neatly blended myth,tension and humor in relating the fate of a troll-plagued village.

Good writing across the board. And while I’m not a big consumer of Young Adult fantasy stories, this batch was compelling enough to keep me thumbing my Kindle. Definitely worth a read.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

World Literary Cafe Rocks!


 A fine writerly site filled with useful tips on boosting blog readership, Facebook likes, finding beta readers and a host of other helpful tasks. They are one of my favorite author resource websites and can give you a welcome hand increasing your visibility. Examine their wares, as time permits.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Running Posts Rate High

Adventures in Running

Here sayth the blog metrics: more unique views have accrued to a six-year old recount of a 10K race than the recent publication of my ebook, Jury Doody. And by a substantial margin. Clearly, instead of writing about my jury duty stint, I should have repackaged all my old race reports from back in the day. Stay tuned for my new ebook, From Marathon to Couch Potato in Only Four Years:  A Middle-Aged Runner Reports.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jury Doody Up on Amazon

Illustrated by D.C. Richter.
 A short humorous essay on jury duty in Los Angeles, this wee piece breaks the ice and finally gets me established on Amazon. Why, they even gave me an author's URL. I celebrated last night by ordering a large pizza and watching Chinatown. (I know. Born to be wild.) I use a variation on the last line of that film as a subheading in my essay.

Thanks to law Professor Glenn Reynolds for the link to my Author Page. His Instapundit blog is a high traffic beast and is responsible for the following Jury Doody metrics:
Before I get too carried away, this is only the start. But after a year of hard work on a number of pieces, it's gratifying to finally see one live.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Famous People Born on My Birthday

From December 5, 2011, I repost my birthday thoughts on fame and fortune. What have I learned in two years? A kind word opens many doors and always get back-end money.

Thank you very much to all who have, so far, wished me Happy Birthday. In thinking of this day, I am reminded of several famous Americans who share my date of birth. I will list three and examine their accomplishments as compared to mine.

1. Martin Van Buren - b. Dec. 5, 1782

2. George Armstrong Custer - b. Dec. 5, 1839

3. Walt Disney - b. Dec. 5, 1901

4. John P. McCann - b. Dec. 5, 1952

1. Martin Van Buren succeeded greatly in becoming the 8th President of the United States but was hardly remembered even in his own day. He had a large bull frog stuffed and used as an ink well in the White House. However President Taft later sat on it by accident and they had to throw the thing out. That's about it.

2. George Armstrong Custer succeeded greatly as a soldier in the Civil War but had a mixed record fighting Indians. (1-1-2, I think.) He is best remembered for his spectacular fail at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. At first, everything was going well; then it all fell apart under an Indian tsunami. In later years, Custer had a park named after him as well as a monument and a movie where his part was played by Errol Flynn. That's a whole lot more than Van Buren ever got.

3. Walt Disney succeeded greatly in animation, a pioneer in the field, creator of iconic characters—but not the word 'iconic' which has been seized upon by junior execs.—established Disney studios and Disneyland and is fondly remembered to this day. Nonetheless his body is frozen in a vault beneath Disney's Burbank lot and should Walt be reanimated and start making decisions again it could effect his legacy.

4. John P. McCann was greatly successful as a Hollywood atmosphere player. McCann was the ship-board stand-in for a Canadian actor portraying Errol Flynn in My Wicked, Wicked Ways. In addition, he is visible catching Dennis Quaid's jacket at around 1:19 in a clip from Great Balls of Fire.
More successful in animation, McCann created the non-iconic character of The Huntsman. For the next fifteen years, he piggy-backed onto as many successful shows as his friends would allow. While the record is still being written, outsiders agree that McCann will be remembered by Bank of America and several other creditors who might reasonably feel aggrieved should he pass from the scene within the next several months.

Images: whitehouse.gov, Parcbench, fold3

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Football: A Brief History


My Midwestern family had two Thanksgiving traditions. One involved placing a pot of boiled cranberries outside to chill. The second tradition revolved around watching football . . . or at least having the game on in the background while cards were played, the Almighty invoked, drumsticks munched, and arguments rekindled. As the 2013 holiday season arrives, let’s quickly examine how a day of feasting and gratitude hooked up with a robust game of inches.
Professional football on Thanksgiving started in the 1890s. From then into the first half of the 20th Century, teams such as the Canton Bulldogs and Massillon Tigers clashed with their leather helmets, no facemasks and few rules.  And while various teams in various cities continued Thanksgiving play, it wasn’t until 1934 that T-Day football as currently recognized formed thanks to G.A. Richards.
Mr. Richards had recently purchased an NFL team, the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans. He moved them to Detroit and rechristened his team the Lions. But the baseball Tigers were the Motor City darlings. Wanting to start a buzz, Richards scheduled a Thanksgiving Day contest with the undefeated Chicago Bears. As it turned out, the Lions had an excellent 10 – 1 squad primed to meet the 11 – 0 Monsters of the Midway. Tickets sold out two weeks prior to the clash. The Lions lost 19 – 16 but a tradition was born. Except for six years from 1939 – 1944, the Lions have played on every Thanksgiving.
But it would take another 22 years for Detroit’s T-Day tussle to go national. In 1956, the first Thanksgiving Day game was televised as the Lions dropped a close one at the wire to the Green Bay Packers, 24 – 20. What we now assume normal was born: televised pro football on Turkey Day.
Our last contemporary puzzle piece took another decade to drop into place. In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys commenced their run as the second T-Day game. For the last 47 years, with only two exceptions, the Cowboys and Lions have played on Thanksgiving Day. Starting in 2006, the NFL added a night contest featuring two at-large teams. Now tryptophan-filled football junkies can have their fill in several ways.
But let’s close with the American tradition of do-it-yourself. On Thanksgiving, in backyards and parks all across the country, ad hoc Turkey Bowl games will be underway. Touch or tackle, these contests pit family and friends against one another for bragging rights or just a way to let off holiday steam. And while such games are legion, let me single out one such Turkey Bowl from my old hometown. Now in its 14th year, the Indo-Jew Bowl takes place every Thanksgiving at a different park in Skokie, Illinois. Old high school classmates of Jewish descent line up for nine-man tackle against their sub-continent rivals. Last year saw the Jews roll to a 41 to 27 victory. But the Indos are hot for payback come November 28.
So whether you put your cranberries outside to cool or not; play, watch, or listen to football, have a most Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

CSUN 10K Race Report from Back in the Day

This is an updated version of an old post from six years ago. A rare race report on something other than a full or half-marathon. Just 6.2 miles around a college campus. Plus I left out my encounter with The Incredible Annoying Man. Back then on Mondays or Tuesdays, Melissa Foley and I would meet at the Rose Bowl and run four miles. She wanted to break four and half hours at the Long Beach Marathon in the fall. I wanted to break four hours at the Chicago Marathon, also in October. (My result is chronicled here.) At the time, I was training for the inaugural Santa Barbara Wine Country Half-Marathon.  My friend Ernesto and I were signed up. I had a room booked and everything. Ah, but interesting events loomed in my immediate future.

Ran a 10K today at Cal State University Northridge. After injuring my calf running last Monday (locked up tight), I spent the week either in the pool or doing yoga to loosen up the muscle. And while it's still not 100 %, I felt strong enough to give 6.2 miles a go.

Except I didn't want to run.

I didn't want to get up, or drive to Northridge, or run once I got there. And a very annoying guy with a strange, over sized bill on his cap out of a Terry Gilliam film decided to mentor me. First he said I wasn't drinking enough water pre race. When I blew him off, he decided to critic my stretching. I told him I'd like to listen, but I needed to be somewhere else and wait for the race to start.

Racing feet, but not mine. Image: Utah Valley

Horn sounds and the race begins. Off I go anyway. I wanted to quit at the second mile. Then I wanted to walk for long periods. Then I wanted to quit at mile 5. Yes, it was sunny and hot and the course teemed with race-etiquette challenged "Kids Run L.A." But I've been there/done that before and bounded along like a young deer. Today was different. A most unusual attack of the "quits." 

Maybe 10Ks remind me too much of tempo workouts — hard, long mid-week runs at a faster-than-usual pace. They build endurance. And grumpiness.

Despite all that, I set a 10K pr of 52.56. That comes out to an 8:32 pace. (Note: My official gun time  places me at an 8:36 pace.)

Afterwards, I drove to Brookside Park near the Rose Bowl for World T'ai Chi Day. This is a yearly gathering of L.A. County T'ai Chi players and Chinese yoga practitioners. Marjorie was there. We hugged good-bye again. She drives to Texas this Friday. I hung out with old chums Loren, Ed, Iren, Dave and Dede from my T'ai Chi class. Then I bought an official tee-shirt and left.

Acres of writing, but it'll keep.

I don't want to do that either.

Turns out I was running with a torn calf-muscle. No Santa Barbara and no running at all until July. My training was thrown off for Chicago, but I really got into spin bikes and that stands me well to this day.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Kindle Tasks Me

My jury duty essay, "Unreasonable Doubt," has sustained a name change to Jury Doody. I'm now in the process of prepping the MS document for transfer to a Web page and eventual upload to Kindle Direct. I'm using a Kindle book specifically for Mac users and it seems straightforward. But I'm the king of formatting workarounds like lots of hard returns that create forbidden extra paragraph symbols. Spacing, hyperlinks, and other formerly ignorable details must be executed within the  program. I'm glad I chose the shortest of my "books" to upload first. Now I understand the peevishness of Khan.

h/t: thatjohnkydd

And Gutierrez

h/t: Brendan Owens

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Novel Update Plus Free Bonus Writing Tip!

i z quotes
Oh, hahahahaha! The second draft is finished. What a crawl through gravel that was. But there's a story there. I see it forming. Now I'll let the whole thing simmer and finally PUBLISH SOMETHING ON AMAZON! Yes, within two weeks, an electronic version of my jury duty essay, "Unreasonable Doubt," will be for sale to the general public on Amazon Kindle. (The specific public may also partake. I'm not an excluding guy when it comes to such matters.) Off to find cover art.

Free Bonus Writing Tip
As my spirits dragged toward the end of the second draft, I used a trick to transition me into writing.
I would spend five to ten minutes copying text from a story onto a page, then switch over to my latest chapter. This got me writing judgement free for the few minutes that I needed to warm up. My teaser texts were:

The Mammoth Book of Monsters edited by Stephen Jones

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower.

Incidentally, Tower is a kick-ass writer who can really sling a metaphor. Worth a look.

Monday, October 28, 2013

So Long, Jack Bierman

Jack Bierman 1942 - 2013
In 1989, I was out of college, broke, living in a microscopic apartment above a garage in Hollywood and in need of employment. Answering an ad led to an internship at LA Parent Magazine. Founder and editor Jack Bierman hired me after my internship ended. He was the first person to ever ask me where I saw myself in five years. I didn't know anyone thought that far into the future. I think I answered, "Not in prison." Nevertheless, I eventually became Calender Editor for sister publications in Orange County and San Diego. Working with an amazing group of editors, I learned to write quickly and to deadline while keeping up the quality. On the production side of the magazine, I ran into an interesting bright young woman who eventually became my wife. Moving on in 1991, I soon landed a staff job at Warner Bros. Animation and my life veered into a different realm.

Over the years, I'd run into Jack every now and then. He'd hold poker games for the old editorial and production crews and was even my neighbor for a time. Occasionally we'd meet for breakfast and talk running as both of us were former marathoners. So I was bummed today to learn Jack had recently passed away.

Aside from starting a magazine from scratch and turning it into a multi-million dollar business, Jack was a quirky guy who worked his own spiritual side of the street. A Jew from New York, his wife was a devout Catholic and Jack would occasionally attend Mass. He listened to tapes of Thomas Merton and would meditate in his office. Once he lent me a Merton cassette and I lost it. With some trepidation, I admitted the deed. Jack smiled. With a Zen attitude worthy of Merton, he told me not to worry.

Good thoughts and prayers go out to the family, particularly daughters Lisa and Clare. Lisa has set up a site for stories about her father on Tumblr. (Image: LA Times)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Chicago Marathon 2007

Six years ago, I ran my third marathon in Chicago. Or, at least, I attempted to. Here's my race report originally published on Oct. 8, 2007 under the heading Sweat Home Chicago.

Marathon number three continued my tradition of only running marathons with temperature extremes. At dawn it was an overcast, humid 75 degrees and climbing. My niece dropped me off near the lake-front start line around 7:00 AM. I checked my gear, loosened up with T'ai Chi, then stood in a tightly-packed brick of humanity waiting for the 8:00 gun. As the overcast dissolved into popcorn-shaped clouds, the sun rose above Lake Michigan. It felt like a furnace door opening.

Because of crowd size, it took me 20 minutes to cross the mat.

Interesting Stat:

The Chicago Marathon sold out all 45,000 spots back in April.

But only 35,867 passed the start line Sunday morning. That means 9,133 people figured out it was too stinking hot to run.

Lots of TNT runners from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, New York City and even Louisiana.

The field was so packed it was tough to interval. Those who intervaled clashed with those who viewed the far right of the course as a passing lane. My goal was a 4 hour and 40 minute marathon. I aimed to interval four minutes running/ and one walking up to the half-marathon mark, then see how I felt.

Leaving Grant Park, the course turned onto LaSalle Street just past Mile 2 and headed north. No water at the first stop — they'd run out. There was a mob around the folding tables, shaking gallon water jugs to get the last drops. The surrounding street was littered with flattened Gatorade and Hinkley water cups from the preceding runners. (Wet, flat plastic cups are like ice. You had to watch your footing.) People were highly pissed — especially those without water belts. (I'd brought mine.) One runner had a bottle of Gatorade. He took a sip, passed it back to me. I took a sip and passed it on to another runner. This no-water business boded ill.

Running for several miles on LaSalle, you'd get an occasional breeze through the tall buildings. I'd take off my visor and savor the cool air. Then out into Lincoln Park where the water stations remained a problem. Runners were surging across the street to the first one they saw. Sometimes there was only Gatorade. Other times, volunteers couldn't keep up with demand and runners served themsevles. Whenever possible, I grabbed two cups, drinking one and dumping the other over my head. (In today's Chicago Tribune, the race director blamed runners for the water shortages, citing those who took two cups.)

Around mile eight, I saw an old white-haired runner drift off course and ask a spectator if he could sit in his lawn chair. (The guy helped him down.) By now, sirens whooped all over the city as ambulances rushed the first heat casualties to the hospital.

The heat was getting to me. For the moment, I slowed but kept the same interval. But as we turned west onto Adams, the shade disappeared. No tall buildings, no leafy tree-lined streets with brick apartments. I passed a medical tent and it was full: runners on cots and others holding ice bags to their heads. Past the half-way point, I started tossing out goals like a passenger on a sinking boat dumping freight. Dropping to a 3:1 run/walk, I slowed pace even more. After frying my brain in Honolulu two years ago, I listened to my body and if it said walk more, I did.

We doubled-back east on Jackson and finally found a little shade. Turning south on Halsted to mile 17, I was mostly walking. I'd pick a point and run to it, or run half a mile, or choose a runner going about my speed and tag along. I took another salt tablet, but skipped goo as it made me retch.

Somewhere around mile 18, the cops bull-horned that the race had been cancelled. No finishing times would be official. Please walk. There was a great deal of confusion. By now, the city had opened up fire hydrants and fire trucks stood at certain intersections hosing down the crowd. (Not to mention ordinary Chicago citizens with garden hoses doing the same.) Finally, in the Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen, around mile 19 it sunk into the vast majority of runners that the 2007 Chicago Marathon was toast — just like them. Some runners dropped out at the nearest medical tent where they'd be bussed back to the start line. Some ran on. A nasty rumor surfaced that we wouldn't get medals. This put me into a black mood.

Come what may, I was determined to finish. Because my legs hurt, I ran 1:1 off and on to around mile 22, then walked to mile 26. Along with many others, I ran the final .02 because there were cameras present. 24,933 runners crossed the finish line.

And they did give out medals.

I finished in 5 hours, 48 minutes and 23 seconds. Check the Comments of my previous post where Jeff Carroll has listed my unofficial splits.

One man died and over 300 were hospitalized for heat injuries.

The people lining the route were great. Many offered water or ice cubes, staying on to cheer in the heat long after the race was called.

As for the "other" race — the front end of the marathon where people actually had a chance to win — Kenyan Patrick Ivuti beat Moroccan Jaouad Gharib by .05 of a second. (2:11:11) The top woman's finisher, Ethiopian Berhane Adere edged Roumanian Adriana Pertea in the homstretch. Pertea thought she had the race knocked, and eased off, waving to the crowd as she neared the finish. Adere poured on the coal to catch and pass Pertea for the win. (2:33:49.)

Given my injuries since April, I couldn't think of a better race to cancel. But if I'd been a TNTer who'd fund-raised and trained for this moment, or a runner eager to pr, I'd be supremely miffed at Sunday's outcome. For over a week, I'd been tracking the temperature. I knew it would be hot and humid. Hence, the race organizers did also. I find it hard to believe they couldn't increase the amount of water stations, change the start time to earlier, or better prepare for the heat onslaught they knew was coming. The Honolulu Marathon faces these conditions every year. No one could pick up a phone?

In any case: mission accomplished. After 30 years, I finally finished the Chicago Marathon.

Thanks to Ryan, Raul, Jeff and K for the emails. I'm walking around fine after sleeping eleven hours last night.

As for now, I'm not looking at any marathons before next fall in Pasadena. But don't tell anyone I'm entering.

They'll kick me out to avoid extreme weather.

(All photos courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.)

Sam King's Halloween Art

Eight days more until the night of All Hallows Eve. In the spirit(s) of things, I'm sharing artist Samantha King's seasonal offering from her blog.
Samantha King

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Another Novel Update


Work, travel, and other sound excuses have thrown off my schedule. But I'm back at the book this week. I've been attempting to weave the story and may be making things harder. For instance, each chapter is beginning with a flash forward that is filled in later. I might be better off writing everything front to back, then figuring out in subsequent drafts where to drop things in.

This was originally a novella meant to be quickly brushed up then uploaded for sale on Amazon. But the story developed its own wants and needs and will be novel-length whether I approve or not. Alas, the tale is set aboard a small boat afloat on a sea alive with monsters. In many ways, the story is  like a play where all the characters are on stage constantly. They only exit when I off someone.

Right now, I want to off them all and type "The End."

That said, onward.

Monday, October 07, 2013

'Boats' Tells How Animated Features are Made

A funny look at animation executives planning the next movie blockbuster.


Cartoon Brew via Josh Gerbrandt on Facebook

Friday, October 04, 2013

Goodreads Short Story Labeled 'Mature and Explicit'

Are you really? Then dare  to click the button below.

My short story "Death Honk," now up at Goodreads, carries the above warning. However Wattpad allows the same material with a PG13 rating. And the Journal of Microliterature just assumes you can handle it.

Note: I've included the word 'splatterpunk' in the metadata of this microfiction. (Less than a thousand words.)  The Oxford Dictionary defines splatterpunk as: "a literary genre characterized by the explicit description of horrific, violent, and often pornographic scenes." 

And while there are no pornographic scenes in "Death Honk," there is explicit description of certain actions one might find 'horrific' and, most certainly, 'violent.' I, in no way, disagree with the Goodreads warning. I merely point out how the same tale may be labeled, or not, on different sites.

Mostly, I've never had a story preceded by big red warning labels and it's kind of exciting. 

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

So long, Tom Clancy

NY Daily News
 Tom Clancy is gone, but leaves behind good writing advice. From back in the day, I recall reading Red Storm Rising and marveling at how fast Clancy could move action while relating highly technical details on military hardware. He was wise to see the potential mix of his books and video games. And he also had some tips for those interested in a writing career:

"You learn to write the same way you learn to play golf... You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired – it’s hard work.”

Clancy thought of himself "as a storyteller, not a writer." He said,  “I think about the characters I’ve created and then I sit down and start typing and see what they will do."

Considering my recent angst, I appreciate the wisdom of a seasoned scribe who will be missed. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Another eBook Novel Writing Update

Writing hasn't gone very well lately.      (Image: ESPN)
My morale is so low I'd desert if there was anywhere to go. Back on August 31, I was writing Chapter Five. Today I finished Chapter Seven and began Eight. Yes, I had a freelance article and some marketing work, but I fell into a deep rut between Six and Seven. I couldn't wrap them up. Something else always cried out to be added and the new stuff disrupted the old flow. Now I want to dump the novel again. I'm angry, depressed, and hating the work. I feel the book has taken me hostage. But what if it hadn't? I'd be writing something else. And if it were long enough, I'd be hating that too.

Since January, I've been a writing machine. Three novels, a novella, and two short stories are in various drafts. But without some form of completion, I feel like a guy who always trains but never competes. So there's been a change of plan.

Once I finish the second draft, I will pause. In that pause, I will publish an essay on jury duty that I serialized here two years ago and have subsequently rewritten. It's polished and ready to roll. I was going to marry it to another essay based on my adventures in Southeast Asia searching for an old battlefield. But I'm in dire psychological need of having work up For Sale soon. Then it's back to battling the novel.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Stygian Accepts Horror Novels,

Any cover with my name and a hot spider babe is just fine.

According to their blog, R. Scott McCoy and company will be in the market for horror novellas and novels beginning in November. Scott edited the horror magazine Necrotic Tissue and selected my short story, "Dagon and Jill," as Editor's Pick in Issue #13 as well as including it in his Best of Necrotic Tissue Anthology. While we're on the subject, Scott also gave me space for a big gabby interview in Issue #14. Glad to have him back in play.

Scott paid his writers and paid on time. He's a pro and a guy you can work with. So if you're sitting on a long form horror piece, clean up your copy and keep an eye on the Stygian Publications blog for more details.

UPDATE: Submissions accepted beginning November 1. Details at Stygian Publications

Cool Gift: Alien PEZ Dispenser

Thanks to Susana Polo at The Mary Sue, I am now aware that there's a plastic Alien figure that dispenses PEZ candy. Who says this nation has run dry of ideas? But don't stop there! High tail it over to the PEZ site and pick up The Hobbit Gift Set. Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and Thorin Oakenshield plastic heads await you atop a stack of fine PEZ candies. Hurry Christmas, don't be late.
PEZ Products

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lovecraft Film Fest 2013

Artist: Jason Bradley Thompson

With a  short story ("Dagon and Jill") anchoring The Cthulhu Mythos Megapack, I feel sufficiently drenched in things Lovecraft to promote an upcoming celebration. Billed as "The Only Festival That Understands," this salute to horror author H.P. Lovecraft happens  here in Los Angeles September 27 - 29 at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro.  You'll see long films, short films, as well as hear artists and authors inspired by the Lovecraft canon. And, of course, there's plenty of Lovecraft swag.

Festival organizer Aaron Vanek exceeded his Kickstarter goals and, in the process, made a nifty little film that gives a rundown on the events and places that Lovecraft Lovers will be seeing in ten days.

So barring madness or a mysterious disappearance, you've no reason not to fire up your Model T, load your revolver, practice a few protective spells, and creep on over to the 2013 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon. (Or, if you're Mr. Busy Schedule like me, you can even stream portions of the festival. Isn't that sort of like having a vision?)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Animaniacs Turns Twenty

In September, there are dark memories and light memories. Today falls on the incandescent side as Animaniacs premiered on Fox back in 1993. (As did the X-Files and The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. Which of those two became a big hit, I wonder?) That same premier week, I believe, there was a huge party celebrating the event on the Warner Bros. lot. Steven Spielberg showed up. Free drinks were available in plastic cups. Then time passed and the show disappeared from the air, but stayed alive thanks to fans and the wonder of YouTube. Now the Warner siblings may be seen in reruns on the Hub.

Happy 20th, Animaniacs, and a shout out to all those who worked on the program.

I'm in the foreground right, across from Tom Ruegger and next to Paul Rugg.

And, especially, a water-tower sized 'thank you' to all the fans who persevered and kept the memory fresh. You rawwwwk! We close now with the Animaniacs Suite.

h/t: TammieRD

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering September 11, 2001

K called from Florida, "Planes crashed into the World Trade Center and one of the towers just fell." Unemployed in Los Angeles and half asleep at 7:30 AM, I shuffled downstairs to the TV, past Joy as she prepared for work. At first, all I saw was a dirty cloud obscuring southern Manhattan. Then a stunned announcer said the second tower had just collapsed. Joy joined me, work forgotten as we learned of the attack.

Other friends phoned throughout the day. Paul Rugg speculated about the pilots of the doomed aircraft, certain they weren't Americans forced to crash. TJ, a Vietnam vet, was incensed at the footage of jubilant Palestinians with their candy and AK-47s. He wished he could gift them with a nice buttering of napalm. In a grim mood, I agreed.

Watching TV and power-chewing Nicorette, I mostly felt numb — except when the subject was jumpers. Then I felt horror. Go to work, sip coffee, joke with your pals, then decide whether you'll suffocate, burn alive, or leap a quarter mile to certain death. Questions of etiquette arise: jump solo or hold hands with a co-worker? Perhaps several of you link arms and form a chain, finding courage in numbers. Or do you clutch a table cloth and step into the air, desperately hoping it slows your fall?

The journey takes ten seconds.

Air velocity rips away your shoes.

You explode on impact.

I will always be haunted by the jumpers of 9/11.

Oceans of paper were blasted from the towers, filling the New York sky like the Devil's ticker tape. Invoices and wedding invitations floated down to gray sidewalks.

My friend Cathy, who worked in D.C., reported chaos as the government sent everyone home at once following the Pentagon attack. One jammed intersection turned scary as a man leaped out of an SUV brandishing a pistol and attempting to direct traffic.

Being murdered is not a heroic act, though it can be. Flight 93 passengers fought back and died, saving many more in their sacrifice. North Tower Port Authority employees rescued over 70 people before perishing.

There were many heroes that day.

My sister Mary Pat and I had dinner at a coffee shop. She was passing through town, leaving a job in Mountain View, CA to return to Phoenix. Depressed by the day's events, our meal was not jolly.

Later, Joy tried to give blood, but the hospital was overwhelmed with donations and refused.

Vulnerability, grief, dismay, anger.

Such a beautiful morning with a sky so blue.

(Photos from: Little Green Footballs.)

Repost: Sept. 11, 2008

Update: Strange to reread this. TJ died in 2009 and K passed away just over a year ago. My wife, Joy, and I are doing well, as is Paul Rugg who now rides the train

Monday, September 09, 2013

Ink and Alchemy Page Promotes Artists

Emilia Elfe

Who couldn't use a little promo?

On Facebook, the goal of artist Robin Kalinich's Ink and Alchemy is to "encourage, inspire, and transform via networking and social media. I support and promote the work of artists from all over the globe because I believe that a rising tide floats all boats."

And while Ink and Alchemy aims at fine art, More Ink caters to poets and writers of most things written.

When the next rejection notice arrives, go relax among your peers in a place where your efforts are appreciated. You deserve it, artist!

Gothic Wallpaper

As I'm writing a horror novel, a suitably dark and macabre image seemed fitting this morning.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Star Trek Reacts to Miley Cyrus

Friend Ken alerted me to the fate of the crew of the Federation starship Enterprise upon viewing the feral gyrations of Miley Cyrus at the MTV Music Awards.

h/t: Aries Head Films 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

eBook Novel Writing Update

Novel Writer at Work

Chocked full of metrics, this update celebrated the completion of draft one. At that time I was still aiming for a publication date of August 31.

Then on August 14, I guest posed over at Rachael Rippon's Caravan Girl. There I stated:

"As I prepared to start the second draft, I realized that I wouldn’t meet my initial deadline of August 31. I need time to finish the second draft and let the beta readers do their job while I focus on publishing and marketing. However, I’m certain I’ll upload by September 15. And the organization and metrics I’ve gathered will help me shape the time and focus on what’s important."

September 15 will come and go without seeing my eBook uploaded. Please close your wallets and stow the credit cards. Right now, I'm thinking October 15. But mostly I'm thinking of why I've never completed a novel up to this point: it's a lot of hard work. From a forty page long short story, I've expanded this particular tale to around a 200 page short novel. Characters cry out for more attention, back story, dialogue. Scenes rushed through to reach other scenes must be given their moments. It's easier to nap, read history books, or watch The First 48 than it is for me to craft a novel.

Not that I don't have fun writing. I've been doing it professionally for many years. But there are moments of doubt and hating my own work that lead me to tossing the whole thing into the Tartarus of slain books and starting again on something new. (Oh, the crafty witch called "something new.")

Today I'm on Chapter Five of the second draft and in motion. A third draft may be necessary to make the piece presentable to my beta buddies.

But I'm determined to complete this horror story and see it up on Amazon in time for Halloween.  

Image: Independent Voters of America

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lovecraft, Madness, and Lost Notes


My cousin James spotted a fascinating Slate article on recently discovered handwritten notes from H.P. Apparently Howard Phillips Lovecraft was living on the edge and used the back of an envelope to catalog thoughts for his 1936 novella, "At The Mountains of Madness."

See the scribbled musings of the master over at Slate's The Vault.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Writing Techniques of Famous Writers

How Hunter S. Thompson crafted his colorful prose is absent.
Interesting to discover how successful writers rolled out the words. Some literally banged them out on a typewriter, while others wrote long-hand. Still others stood or sat or wrote in chaos or skipped lunches with other famous people while they worked.

Here's a quote from Hemingway I liked:

"You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again."

I've also found it helpful to leave a little in the tank. My problem is leaving too much in the tank and veering off to other projects. Then I can't find my juice, though it's usually in a large sippie cup.

Read the rest of Maria Popova's article over at brain pickings

Image: junglemagazine.com

Monday, August 26, 2013

Rare Peter Hastings, Norm Abram, Freakazoid Photo

From right to left: Peter Hastings, Norm AbramPaul Rugg.
Above: John P. McCann (JP Mac) and Jean MacCurdy.

Peter Hastings, Norm Abram and Freakazoid walked into a restaurant . . . and that was it. They had no reservations and were asked to leave, later attending a play on the history of whistling.   

Back in 1996, when a free 90 hours of AOL came with everything you bought, the five of us had dinner at the Huntington Hartford in Pasadena. 

Norm, Paul and Peter were into carpentry. Norm is a master craftsman. But you should know that Paul Rugg and Peter Hastings are immensely practical men, capable of handling the lion's share of household tasks. Should the world again face extinction by water, Paul and Peter could construct very serviceable arks. I would try and avoid drowning by complaining to God about all the people who are worse than me. And Jean would be flying Virgin Atlantic, First Class.

From that dinner, as  Freakazoid! fans might know, came the wonder of Normadeus.

Originally posted as Wood You Look at That?

 (Props to Peter Hastings for locating this snapshot in his voluminous photo archives.)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rita and Runt Remembered

In collaboration with Max Demski (aka King Yakko), Keeper1st has crafted a player-piano arrangement of "Let's Try for Two" from an Animaniacs' Season One episode entitled,  Phranken-Runt.

Directed by Mike Gerard, the story follows Rita (voiced by Bernadette Peters) and Runt (Frank Welker) as they seek shelter from a storm in the castle of a mad lady scientist (Adrienne Alexander) who is in desperate need of a dog brain.


Animaniacs "Phranken-Runt" Recollections

 In addition to the lyrics, this is one of the few episodes where I wrote music. "Rocky Horror" was clearly a musical influence, but that was the extent of it. We weren't trying to slip anything past the censors. Compared to later censors, ours were generally so indulgent that duping them would've reflected badly on us.

I used a cheap little keyboard I had in my office at Warners. Richard Stone accepted my barbaric scratch track and worked his noteworthy magic.

I crafted a couple of Rita and Runt episodes but never met Bernadette Peters. Andrea Romano would always record her over the phone or via balloon or some such old school thing. But I surely enjoyed her singing.

Tom Ruegger came up with the idea of having the rat, Mr. Squeak, constantly slipping on an over waxed floor.

UPDATE: Another influence was Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

UPDATE: On Facebook Ron O'Dell wrote: "Max made the arrangement. I just arranged to get it to play on a real instrument, recorded it and made the video."

Here is the episode, courtesy of BloodyWellDone.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Seven Pitch Meeting Taboos

Executives at Nickelodeon after Higgins Benzine and I pitched Sea Dentist.
If you're in the aTV animation field, or aspire to be, than pitching original series ideas is a bread-and-butter task. Abundant resources are available to tell you how to nail it. But few take the time to guide you around the rocks and shoals of artless questions often asked in haste and regretted in leisure. Here are a few no-nos culled from novices and veterans alike.

(Originally posted Dec, 2011, I again present my thoughts on seven key sentences that can lead to an EBT card.)

1. Why doesn't this studio ever buy anything I bring in here?
In the animation world, ask and you shall not receive.

2. How many dim bulbs get to make notes on the scripts?
This query ensures you won't remain around long enough to count them.

3. My agent says you have fecal incontinence.
Possibly so, but a seasoned animation veteran leaves medical issues for a more relaxed time.

4. Pilots are for timid losers. People with nuts go directly to 65 half hours.
Brashness can lead to ample free time.

5. I worked hard on this pitch and all you do is smile and nod like a dog hanging out a car window.
Pithy observations are best shared with peers and not animation executives.

6. Hey, this office has a killer view. I can see the car I'm living in!
Sadly, economic prejudice is alive and well in Hollywood.

7. When I worked here before, I would lock my office door and inflate a plastic woman.
This sort of provocative anecdote demands a strong response such as 'be silent and go away now.'

Image:  corcodilos.com
5. I worked hard on this pitch and all you do is smile and nod like a dog hanging out a car window.
Pithy observations are best shared with peers and not animation executives. - See more at: http://writeenough.blogspot.com/2011/12/seven-things-not-to-say-in-pitch.html#sthash.lfofHHzI.dpuf
5. I worked hard on this pitch and all you do is smile and nod like a dog hanging out a car window.
Pithy observations are best shared with peers and not animation executives. - See more at: http://writeenough.blogspot.com/2011/12/seven-things-not-to-say-in-pitch.html#sthash.lfofHHzI.dpuf
5. I worked hard on this pitch and all you do is smile and nod like a dog hanging out a car window.
Pithy observations are best shared with peers and not animation executives. - See more at: http://writeenough.blogspot.com/2011/12/seven-things-not-to-say-in-pitch.html#sthash.lfofHHzI.dpuf

Thursday, August 22, 2013

io9 and James Rollins Teach Scifi Exposition Tips

"Here's where you'll live, kids. You did bring a lifetime supply of water? Yes?
Gabby, gabby, talk-talk all trip and now you've nothing to say."
 A problem I'm facing now is how to tease out information without using the dreaded exposition avalanche. Sci-Fi author James Rollins lists a few tips, plus many techniques and tools to smarten up your science fiction—or, in my case, horror—tale so that it shines like the accretion of hydrogen on the surface of a white dwarf star igniting into nova.

On the topic of clunky exposition, Rollins writes:

"The bane to all fiction, no matter the genre, is called “info-dumping.” Whether it’s trying to fill in a character’s backstory or explaining the science behind quantum physics, never stop your story to lecture or teach. So how do you get that necessary information into the book without bringing your story to a grinding halt?

 By remembering the adage: story = conflict. Information should be revealed to the readers through a variety of techniques: shared through an argument between characters, or perhaps teased out within the scope of an action scene, or left unresolved as a tool of suspense. Use that spoonful of sugar to help that medicine go down. And it works. After I wrote my novel Black Order, I received a flurry of emails stating “I never understood quantum mechanics until I read those three pages in your book.'"

Read more over at io9.

Image: mst3

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

So long, Elmore Leonard


Not long ago, I posted his ten rules for writers. And now he's gone like the cash from a mark's wallet. There's a lengthy article on Elmore Leonard from 2008 that says, in part:

"He has helped shape an entire body of literature and cinema. He has become, in these later years, an iconic cultural reference point: Any quirky violent crime story with punchy dialogue is Dutchesque. When the new version of the video game Grand Theft Auto came out recently, the New York Times said its street patois could "rival Elmore Leonard's." "Pulp Fiction" is the best Elmore Leonard film not written by Elmore Leonard; director Quentin Tarantino acknowledged a "big debt" to him when the film came out. The New Yorker reviewed the Oscar-winning "No Country for Old Men," and said, "If I want wry lawmen and smart, calculating fugitives, I'll get them from Elmore Leonard." (His own books have been turned into films since God was a baby: "Get Shorty," "Jackie Brown," "Out of Sight," "3:10 to Yuma," "Hombre," "Mr. Majestyk.")"

Read the rest at the Washington Post.

Comic Carolla Cracks Crowd-Source Million

Raising money for another movie, former Acme Comedy comrade Adam Carolla has hauled in a sweet 1.36 million to be exact. According to entertainment media:

"Adam Carolla, who launched his entertainment career as a stand-up comic, has raised $1.36 million via a crowdfunding campaign for a feature film set in the world of comedy clubs.

Carolla, who is using Donald Trump’s Fund Anything site, will write, direct and star in “Road Hard” with plans to begin shooting in December. Story will center on a former standup-turned-sitcom-star who is forced to return to the road after a divorce and the cancellation of his show.

Carolla told Variety that Illeana Douglas, Larry Miller and Phil Rosenthal have been cast and that a host of stand-ups will appear in the film. Kevin Hench, who co-wrote Carolla’s “The Hammer,” will be co-directing and co-writing.

Carolla’s movie campaign reached its $1 million dollar goal in less than 30 days and had hit $1.36 million as of 6 p.m. PDT Monday, the final day of the campaign."

Read the rest at Variety

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Read Rachael Rippon's Horror Tale 'The Bagman'

Who the deuce is the Bagman? Is giving a teenage girl seven wishes to be used in seven days really a smart idea? Learn why you should watch what you wish for and pay less than a dollar for the info over at Amazon.
 NOTE: Rachael Rippon was kind enough to ask me to guest post on her blog Caravan Girl. In turn, I have promoted her book of my own free will. In addition, I have used the occasion to again plug my post on organizing for writers. Thus, in small ways, does one scribe freely help another in this vast Web of ours. Or we're backscratching. Either way, it works.

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