Friday, June 30, 2017

June Words of Wisdom

Another kind of slow month.

Think of what makes you smile, makes you happy...and do more of that shit. --Steve Maraboli

The harshest reality (in Hollywood) - everybody that has finished a script is immediately ahead of 90% of the people that claim to be writers. --Bill Lawrence

Cooking is at once child's play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love. --Craig Claiborne

Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest. --Mark Twain

We can disagree with one another without being raging, judgmental, spiteful, self-righteous lunatics. Can't we? --Scott Stabile

Keep reading. It's one  of the most marvelous adventures that anyone can have. --Lloyd Alexander

The love of books is a love which requires neither justification, apology, nor defense. --J.R. Langford

Don't tell the reader anything you can show. --Janet Evanovich

It's not your job to like me, it's mine. --Byron Katie

The truth is my light. --Latin proverb

Just as the body cannot exist without blood, so the soul needs the matchless and pure strength of faith. --Mahatma Gandhi

This is how you do it: You sit down at the keyboard and put one word after another until it's done. It's that easy, and that hard. --Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

California Crime Writers Conference - a brief recap

Earlier this month the bi-annual California Crime Writers Conference, co-sponsored by Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, was held in Culver City. It's a much smaller, cozier version of bigger conferences like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime, but don't let that fool you - CCWC gets the same exceptional writers for their panels, many of whom I've seen at the bigger conferences. It's a great two days.

Topics included:

  • The differences of writing for print and for television, with a big shout-out to the Hallmark Mysteries & Movie Channel, which has been buying up book series including Charlaine Harris's Aurora Teagarden series (starring Candace Cameron-Bure), Suzi Weinert's Garage Sale Mysteries (starring Lori Loughlin), as well as panelist Phoef Sutton's upcoming Darrow & Darrow, and panelist Kate Carlisle's Fixer Upper Mysteries, which star singer Jewel. Hallmark has very specific content requirements - they changed the name of Carlisle's This Old Homicide to Framed for Murder, because "homicide" isn't a word they'll use in a title.
  • Panelist Hollie Overton: When dealing with Hollywood, expect to be disappointed, then you'll be pleasantly surprised. Panelist Wendall Thomas, a fellow LAst Resort contributor, indicated that her story, "Eggs Over Dead" pretty much sums up her feelings about dealing with Hollywood producers.
  • Guest of Honor William Kent Kruger gave a terrific talk on building suspense. Among his suggestions: Visceral danger to either the protagonist or someone important to the protagonist, a difficult confrontation repeatedly delayed (ex: Silence of the Lambs), isolation (usual support not available), super-protagonist vs. super-antagonist (Holmes vs. Moriarty, two great minds pitted against each other), and of course the good old ticking time bomb. Kruger also gave a terrific speech during the Sunday luncheon.
  • Marketing: Panelist Nancy Cole Silverman: When you finish the book you think most of the work is done. No one tells you it's just beginning. Panelist Elaine Ash recommended revealing personal issues related to your writing because people will relate and connect with them (which she did with us). 
  • Other marketing recommendations included speaking engagements, podcasts, multiple online platforms (Silverman has three Facebook accounts: personal, writer, and one for her book series, and also does a quarterly newsletter that always includes a contest), GoodReads and BookBub. Moderator Carlene O'Neil writes a winery series and has reached out to wineries and wine magazines. They also seemed high on leave behinds/giveaways including magnets and bookmarks - the more imaginative the better. You want something people will keep.
  • Matt Coyle, my editor on LAst Resort, moderated a panel on overplotting, which was described as "too many plates spinning". Panelist Craig Faustus Buck opined that you know you're doing it when you start to fall asleep while reading your material - everything in the book should be tied to the narrative and keep it moving. Panelist Terri Nolan uses a blank calendar to plot her stories.
  • During a panel on short stories and novellas, panelist Kate Thornton stressed the importance of reading the contract if you make a sale, sharing a contract horror story. She had sold a story to an online publication for $100. A few years later she was approached by a film company for the rights, only to find that she had completely signed them over to the website. The panel recommended going with well-known markets like Alfred Hitchcock Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. 
  • Thornton said she likes to take frustrating experiences and turn them into short stories to exact revenge, or as she phrased it, "Setting things right."
  • I also won a gift basket from author Catherine Pelonero that includes a signed copy of her upcoming book Absolute Madness. I saw her at the last CCWC and got a signed copy of her previous book on the Kitty Genovese murder and its aftermath.

Like I said, CCWC is a terrific conference and I highly recommend it. Next CCWC will take place in June 2019.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A hat trick of movie disappointment

The past couple of weeks I had the chance to check out three movies that I had really high hopes for...and was left with crushing disappointment. Here are the three offenders:

A Cure for Wellness (20th Century Fox, 2017)
Starring Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Screenplay by Justin Haythe (based on a story by Justin Haythe and Gore Verbinski)

This film had an absolutely spectacular ad campaign, full of gorgeous, hypnotic imagery reminiscent of Verbinski's work on The Ring, which is one of my all-time favorite films. Unfortunately, A Cure for Wellness is a case of all the best parts of the film being in the ads. Truly a missed opportunity, and a second consecutive flop for Verbinski (following The Lone Ranger). I did like Dane DeHaan though, and would like to see him in the future.

The Accountant (Warner Bros., 2016)
Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow
Directed by Gavin O'Connor
Written by Bill Dubuque

I DVR'd this one after my Mom told me she thought I'd find it interesting. And it was, kind of. It didn't help that I figured out the twist early on, thanks to checking the film's imdb entry to find out the name of the slightly weird looking actress who kept distracting me from the story (Kendrick). Apparently this movie made a ton of money and just today Warner Bros. announced plans for a sequel. It's apparently me, not the movie, because I just couldn't work up any enthusiasm for it, or for the sequel. I'm still not sure I understand exactly what Affleck's character's backstory is, Simmons's lengthy, expositional explanation notwithstanding.

The body count in this movie rivals the number of dollars earned, so if you like seeing lots of people shot with high-powered weapons, I highly recommend The Accountant.

The Founder (The Weinstein Co., 2016)
Starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Written by Robert Siegel

This is actually a really good movie with exceptional performances (especially Keaton, and Offerman and Lynch as the overly-trusting McDonald brothers), but it left me feeling depressed and angry, and the reason is that according to this movie, Ray Kroc was an awful, horrible human being.

Kroc, known to many people as the "founder" of the McDonald's fast food chain, was a failing, middle-aged milk shake blender salesman when he got an abnormally large order for machines from a small family owned burger stand in San Bernardino, California. Designed and run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald, the stand cranked out burgers, fries and drinks at a speed unheard of at the time, and business was booming. Once Kroc got a look at the operation, he contracted with the brothers for franchise rights, and the Golden Arches were off and running.

Unfortunately for the brothers, Kroc was a ruthless businessman who little by little encroached on the McDonald's identity, until he took it from Dick and Mac. Even worse, when he was finally buying them out completely, Kroc managed to cheat them one last time, in a move that deprived the company's namesakes (and true founders) of hundreds of millions of dollars of future earnings. Kroc also took away the McDonald's ability to even use their own name on their own burger stand, then in a final knife-twist, opened a McDonald's directly across the street from their stand, putting them out of business within a couple of years.

It's a fascinating film, but one in which the protagonist is the worst person in the film, which makes it difficult to figure out how to process it. It's worthwhile viewing, but will leave you angry at the injustices heaped on Dick and Mac, and wondering how different things would have been for them and us if Ray Kroc had never darkened their door.

Monday, June 26, 2017

On my way

I recently made my first author appearances, a reading and a panel, and survived to tell the tale!

On June 17, ten of the sixteen LAst Resort authors participated in a reading at The Last Bookstore in Downtown L.A. I had gotten my hair blown out at Drybar the day before, so I wouldn't have to worry about having more frizz than curls (ongoing battle). But the bookstore was like a sauna - it was actually cooler outside than inside, even during a heatwave. I could have saved the fifty bucks I spent on my hair. It was a mess.

Luckily, everything else went well. I had requested some advice on reading for an audience from other participants, and they really came through. I have a speaking voice made for writing and have an unfortunate tendency to slip into a monotone, but thanks to some great advice, it went really well. It was great to get that one under my belt, as well as meeting some of my fellow anthology authors.

Last Saturday I was on a panel at the Santa Monica Public Library (Ocean Park Branch) on the topic of female investigators. The panel was moderated by Laurie Stevens, who is also a contributor to LAst Resort, and she did a fantastic job. The other panelists were Craig Faustus Buck, whose Go Down Hard is amazing (I'm in the middle of it) and Vanessa A. Ryan. It went really well, with the added bonus of my Mom and Brother making the traffic-laden drive. It was also my birthday, making it also the one year anniversary of my story being accepted for the anthology.

Next up: All sixteen contributing authors at Vroman's in Pasadena.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Well, shit

Great show, crappy network. First half-hour show I've watched in years, for three reasons:
1 - Allison Tolman, who I loved in Season 1 of Fargo, 2 - no laugh track (nails on a chalkboard to me) and 3 - it was a terrific little show. Nothing earth shattering, just sweet and unique. And will now probably be replaced by yet another inane sitcom.

This is why I've gotten into the habit of not caring about new shows. Give it a couple seasons, then binge watch when you know the show is going to be around for a while. Yeah, I know in theory that's counterproductive Nielsen-wise, but I'm sick of getting attached to shows, then seeing this happen. Looking at you, Roadies.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

SNL's wacky talking dog

SNL rarely pokes fun at their own, but this sketch from a few months ago knocked it out of the park. I just discovered it recently (thank you, internet) and have probably watched it half a dozen times already. Say hello to Max and his thoughts!

What did your dog just say?

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Vegas Golden Knights have yet to play a single hockey game, but their Twitter account is already Stanley Cup worthy

Whoever is running the VGK Twitter account is knocking it out of the park. In addition to keeping the world apprised of their adventures as the NHL's newest team, they are funny and entertaining as hell.

First off, the organization made it clear they understand how to be good citizens in the hockey world. Community outreach:

And congratulating the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as giving a shoutout to the almost-Cinderella Nashville Predators:

#BoldinGold it is.

They just got the Expansion Draft unprotected lists from the other NHL teams yesterday, and they're being adorable about it.

They're secure in their place in the world:

They found a self-deprecating way to celebrate Father's Day:

Also, they're still looking for a mascot:

This Bolts fan had the best suggestion:

Best. Mascot. Ever.

Given the amazing sense of humor they're displaying on Twitter, I wouldn't be completely surprised if they did that. I know I'd pay to see it.

Oh, and guess who has the chance to make history by being the first team ever to lose to the Vegas Golden Knights on their brand-spanking new home ice?


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Saturday, June 17, 2017

This is absolutely brilliant, and I'm not going anywhere near it

I've never played around with virtual reality, but I can tell you that I'm definitely not going to mess around with augmented reality, and here's why:

From the linked article:

Want to bring the horror of films like Paranormal Activity to your own home? You have two options: Attempt to get your house actually haunted - though we don't really have much guidance for you on how to pull that on off - or play Night Terrors, an upcoming augmented reality horror game that uses your smartphone to turn your very own abode into a place you probably won't want to hang out after dark.

The trailer includes the developers explaining how and what they're trying to do, but if the trailer is any indication of how effective the game is...then HELL. NO. It's utterly brilliant, but I don't know that I could ever see my apartment the same way after that. Night Terrors indeed.

It might be fun at parties, though.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

An online course about the films of Alfred Hitchcock?

Yes please.

Well, I know what I'm doing in July.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Comedy writer for God

Had a busy weekend at the California Crime Writers Conference (more about that later), so today I'm weeding through my emails and I found this:

It's from LinkedIn. I do have an account, I just don't do anything with it. They periodically send me emails with jobs and that's pretty much the extent of my involvement. I think I've maxed out on social media accounts, plus I don't find LinkedIn particularly user friendly.

But maybe I should reconsider, seeing as how they have job listings from God and what not.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Religion of peace

So I finally saw The Book of Mormon last weekend and it did not disappoint. If you're a South Park fan (as I have been since day 1) you too will be a sucker for this hilarious, profane and ultimately sweet-hearted story. In fact, it was so amazing I'm going again in July and will probably review it then, once I've had a chance to get another look at it.

One of the things that really got my attention was this particular page from the Playbill:

It hit me immediately how refreshing it was to see a non-violent, religion-based reaction to someone poking fun at your beliefs. No heads being sawed off, no one being mowed down with trucks, no death and destruction, no one stabbed or shot, just a polite offer to educate yourself about their beliefs, with no obligation to sign on, no threats to anyone who might have a different opinion on the subject. No demonization of non-believers, and therefore no need for politically-correct tip-toeing around the subject. And no one gets hurt.

How sad is it that terrorist attacks have become so routine that I can't stop marveling over this reaction from the Mormon church? I just can't get over it.

Oh, and do see The Book of Mormon. It is just perfect.