Monday, July 31, 2017

July Words of Wisdom

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. --Jacques Cousteau

You only need to stand near the ocean to feel the power of the universe and a closeness to the one who created it. --Susan Gale

That spark, that light...Sweetheart, that's your inner Hero. Ignite the flame within and bring the fire inside of you back to life. --Amanda Fernandez

She is a mermaid, but approach her with caution. Her minds swims at a depth most would drown in. --J. Iron Word

Over time, we writer types seem to gravitate toward the kind of writing we are meant to do, or just do better. Once you recognize what that is, embrace it and run with it. --Glenn Gray

It's better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all. --Will Shetterly

Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air. --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. --John Wooden

It is becoming increasingly difficult to be tolerant of a society who has sympathy only for the misfits, only for the maladjusted, only for the criminal, only for the loser. Have sympathy for them, help them, but I think it is also time for all of us to stand up for and to cheer for the doer, the achiever, one who recognizes a problem and does something about it, one who looks at something extra to do for his country, the winner, the leader. --Vince Lombardi (as prescient as Orwell!)

May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right. --Peter Marshall

The minute you begin to do what you really want to do, it's really a different kind of life. --R. Buckminster Fuller

Pray, then let it go. Don't try to manipulate or force the outcome. Just trust God to open the right doors at the right time. --Unknown

I know an idea is something real...when it's like a song that you can't get out of your head. --Shonda Rhimes

Over time, we writer types seem to gravitate toward the kind of writing we are meant to do, or just do better. Once you recognize what that is, embrace it and run with it. --Glenn Gray

Sunday, July 30, 2017

June/July reading

Some new ones, some I had already started, including my own anthology.

Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles Presents LAst Resort Edited by Matt Coyle, Mary Marks and Patricia Smiley
At long last I'm published! Yep, this is the anthology you've been hearing so much about. It's a terrific collection of sixteen short stories focusing on:

Los Angeles, the sun-kissed city of high hopes and second chances, where everyone seems to be from somewhere else. A siren call to dreamers, misfit, mystics and freaks, lost souls and purveyors of sin. They roll in on their last tank of gas, their suitcases bulging with secrets of pasts better forgotten. They stay for a few days, a month, a year, a lifetime. The determined and the desperate, careening and colliding toward trouble...and their last resort.

Many of the stories (mine included) have protagonists who have come to L.A. to find Hollywood stardom. Some stories are of revenge, some of escape. Murder, carjacking, embezzlement, scams, theft, you name it, the people in these stories live it.

Characters abound. Method actors, hired killers, self-appointed avenging angels, spoiled rich brats, felons, doctors, maids, schemers and beautiful dreamers, and so many more who have migrated to Los Angeles for the riches it promises.

From Hollywood to Westwood, from the San Fernando Valley to Silver Lake, from Highland Park to Hancock Park, from Highway 5 to the 405, these stories and the people who inhabit them run the gamut of Los Angeles transplants desperate to make good in the City of Angels.

The anthology features an introduction by best-selling author Michael Connelly as well as absolutely stunning cover art. I'm just in love with it.

I'm also going to be a jerk and quote from my own story, "Crime Drama/Do Not Cross":

I was pretending to flip through my file on him when the door swung open. When it did, I quickly closed the file and waved the wallet that held my official PI license and my not-so-official National Private Investigators badge (thirty-nine dollars on Amazon). I also made a point of shrugging my jacket so he cold get an eyeful of my sort of realish-looking sidearm (actually a starters gun that only fires paper caps, twenty-five bucks on eBay).


The Book of Mormon: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez & Matt Stone
Considering I've been a South Park fan from Day 1, it's crazy that I just now finally saw The Book of Mormon recently (twice). I absolute loved it, so of course as soon as I got home I went and ordered a bunch of BOM stuff, including the book, which was a quick and achingly funny read.

A group of young Mormon men have just completed their missionary training and are being paired off to go out and spread the good word. Elder Price is the high-achieving prince among these young men, but while the others are assigned to beautiful locations like France, Japan and Norway, Price is shocked when he's stuck with the sloppy, under-achieving Elder Cunningham, and as if that isn't bad enough, their destination is Uganda.

When they arrive in Africa, they find that the natives are too caught up in the misery of their day-to-day lives (which includes war, famine and AIDS) to be bothered with their message. Price and Cunningham initially don't have any more success than the group of missionaries who preceded them (led by the closeted Elder McKinley) and an overwhelmed Price gives up the fight and bolts.

This leaves Cunningham to his own devices, and his tendency to stretch the truth leads him to preach a version of the Book of Mormon that he makes up as he goes along to hold the Ugandans attention. It doesn't help that he hasn't actually read the thing ("It's just so boring!") but as he weaves his accommodating but reality-challenged tale of Joseph Smith, the villagers start to sign on. By the time Elder Price - scared back into service by his "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" (a truly insane musical number) - returns to the fold, Cunningham has persuaded the non-believers to agree to be baptized.

This unexpected boon attracts the attention of the Mormon Mission President, who decides to witness this miracle for himself. When he arrives, the villagers surprise the Mormons with a performance of the story of Joseph Smith, only not the version in the book - it's the warped version they've learned from Cunningham. And it's delightfully, incredibly offensive.

The critically acclaimed and Tony-winning show is both a love letter to Broadway musicals (no surprise if you've seen South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut), a hysterical look at the sweet naiveté of trust and faith, and also at the power of it as well. For as much as BOM pokes fun at the Mormon faith, it does so without any semblance of a mean streak, something rare in this day and age. This is a show created by people who not only know the artform inside and out, but have a great deal of love and respect for it, and surprisingly for people of faith as well. Just with a lot of dirty words.

ELDER PRICE: Africa...is NOTHING like The Lion King - I think that movie took a LOT of artistic license.


Go Down Hard by Craig Faustus Buck
I'd started this book some time ago but it fell by the wayside when I got distracted by my UCLA classes. 

Nob Brown is in a bad place when we meet him. His career with the LAPD ended prematurely, then his wife divorced him. He's currently working - or more accurately, trying to work - as a writer, and is struggling financially. 

Gloria Lopes, a friend (and sometime friend with benefits) since his police academy days, gifts him with access to an old case file. It's the twenty-year-old cold case of murdered rock star Lana Strain, who Nob idolized as a teen. With the anniversary of Lana's death approaching, Nob attempts to finally unravel the mystery of her shooting, hoping he can work the story into an assignment that might lead to the type of movie or book deal that could elevate his career and solve his money problems.

Buck is an amazingly gifted writer and I had the pleasure of being on a writers panel with him in June. Go Down Hard is a great mystery and great reading. The follow-up, Go Down Screaming, will actually feature Gloria as the main character. Per Buck, when he started writing it, he realized he was tired of living in Nob's head and wanted to focus on Gloria.

"You got balls, Mr. Nob Brown," he says as I take my seat. "We'll see if you get to keep them."


The Walk by Lee Goldberg
Lee Goldberg is a fixture at writers conferences and is always a kick. He has great stories about working in the entertainment industry and one is about a time he met with a producer to discuss the possibility of making The Walk into a film. He was prepared for the idea that he would be asked to make some changes. What he wasn't prepared for was that the producer would want to change the main character from a male television executive to "six midwestern cheerleaders". And that was the end of that conversation. Recently Goldberg announced that a film version of The Walk is back on, I'm assuming with Martin Slack intact.

Slack is visiting the downtown Los Angeles set of one of his TV shows when The Big One - a catastrophic earthquake - hits. Southern California is decimated, but that doesn't stop him from embarking on a harrowing trek to get home to his wife in a gated community in Calabasas, a good 30+ miles away.

While the humor isn't as pronounced as I've come to expect from Goldberg (his pitch of a TV show called "Frankencop" in My Gun Has Bullets is still one of the funniest things I've ever read), Slack's is a fascinating journey and Goldberg throws in an unexpected twist at the end that ties into the executive's determination to continue his journey despite the aftershocks and devastation in his path.

Once again, Marty had little choice but to go under the unstable span, passing the piles of cars, concrete, and rebar that had come down in the quake. A man's unscratched arm stuck straight out from amidst the rubble, coated with a fine layer of dust, a cell phone still clutched in his hand. For a moment, Marty thought about taking it and trying to place another call to his wife, but he couldn't bring himself to do it.


Private Vegas by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
I actually had the audiobook version of this, read beautifully by Jay Snyder.

This is part of Patterson's "Private" series, and despite the title, takes place mostly in Los Angeles. The Vegas connection exists in the form of Lester Olsen, a former gambler who now runs a business in which he trains beautiful young women to land rich, older husbands, then murder them for their fortunes.

Long before Olsen crosses his path, Jack Morgan, owner of Private, a Los Angeles investigation firm, has other fish to fry. His Lamborghini has been torched in front of his Malibu mansion, one of his investigators has been falsely accused of murder, and his twin brother is trying to undermine his business. There's also the lingering ache of a former girlfriend who had been murdered in his home, and a pair of foreign thugs who are drugging and raping local women while avoiding arrest via diplomatic immunity.

There's a lot going on, but it's all brought together expertly. The only gripe I have is when one of Morgan's female investigator goes undercover to bust Olsen, who figures her out and engineers her death. The miraculous recovery was a bit of a stretch IMO. It's something that's just a pet peeve of mine in film, TV and books.

Terrible shape was an understatement. Adrianna had been drugged, probably raped, maybe by both men, and Khezir Mazul had stroked her throat with a serrated blade. She would have a scar across her neck for as long as she lived.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Get to know your LAst Resort authors

LAst Resort contributor Gay Degani is running a weekly series introducing the authors of the anthology over at her blog, Words in Place.

The first two features have already posted: Wendall Thomas ("Eggs Over Dead") and Paula Bernstein ("On Call For Murder").

I'm up August 30. In the meantime, do check in weekly at Gay's blog. LAst Resort brought together a really interesting group of writers.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Story fodder


Ooopsie!!!

I didn't even see the actual article and can't find it now, so it may very well be an urban legend, but still, what a great story idea.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Scenes from the Monrovia Street Fair

Our window seat at T. Phillip's Ale House gave us a view of the petting zoo and camel rides.


Dr. Adam Kendall is a fixture at the street fair. He is a doctor turned musician and music teacher. His little dog is always with him.



It's a great street fair, especially for kids and families.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wow. Just WOW.

A Boston area independent bookstore employee got quite the reaction out of the internets yesterday when he published this condescending, self-important piece: A Bookseller's Elegy.

Douglas Koziol apparently has taken exception with the popularity of the New York Times bestseller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. A partial description of the book from the back cover:

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a probing look at the struggles of America's white working class through the author's own story of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town.

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis - that of poor, white Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for over forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck.

The book has received rave reviews from a multitude of publications including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Economist, New York Post, Christianity Today, Washington Post, Toronto Globe and Mail, plus the Institute of Family Studies.

Koziol apparently doesn't agree, which has created a bit of a personal and moral dilemma for him, which he summed up as:

What can you do when a customer wants a book that you not only find objectionable but also believe actually dangerous in the lessons it portends amidst such a politically precarious time?

Oh, I don't know. Ring up his purchases and politely wish him a good day? Because you are not the bookseller, you are a clerk. The store's owners are the booksellers and they have chosen to carry this book. It isn't your call.

A lot of people took exception not only with Koziol's desire to lecture his customers about their taste in reading, but with the condescending, hectoring tone of the piece. Here are a few samples:

But when it comes to the above conversation concerning J.D. Vance's bestselling memoir, there is something a bit more personal at stake, viz, my moral objection to the book that has become, for conservative and liberals alike, a means of understanding the rise of "Trumpism." And while it's easy enough to take this moral high ground, it comes into direct conflict with that old chestnut about the customer always being right, to which even the most fiercely independent of bookstore largely adhere. 

Even now, I fear that I'm slipping into a haughty and unproductive tone - that of an ideologically perfect soul who can't seem to break through to the rubes. 

You're not slipping into it, you're already there.

I can hide the stacks of Hillbilly Elegy in the back (if my boss is reading this, I'm just kidding). But I suspect that the most fundamental thing I can do is also perhaps the most trite: I can try to start conversation.

Yes, just what the "rubes" want from their local bookstore - a "conversation" about how awful they are, but luckily Douglas Koziol is here to enlighten them. Also, I hope his boss did read this and fires him, because he just cost their bookstore some business. Again, it's not the cashier's call on whether a book should be stocked and sold - it's the owner's. This is an hourly job for Koziol. For the bookstore's owners, it's their livelihood, and he just stuck a dagger in it by trash talking customers. Remember Borders?

Here comes the final zinger (bold mine):

Listening to what made the person gravitate towards the book in the first, listening while withholding judgment, listening as if I don't know all the answers.

How fortunate we rubes are to have Koziol willing to debase his all-knowing self to help us see the light.

And let's also look at the most obvious fallout: this guy has just driven more customers away from bookstores and toward Amazon. In fact, you know what I did after reading his diatribe against a book I hadn't previously heard of? I went to Amazon and bought it. Vance should pay Koziol commissions. In fact, the article may have something to do with this:


And just a friendly reminder that Hillbilly Elegy isn't a work of fiction. Vance lived it. Koziol apparently would like to see him silenced. How tolerant and open-minded of him. I don't know how he finds to time to work in a bookstore, seeing how busy he is being such a saint.

Of course, this being the internet, the responses were the best part.






















Wednesday, July 19, 2017

RIP Surfas (for now)

Surfas - or as one Yelper described it, Disneyland for foodies - has closed their California stores. The Orange County store is closed for good, but they are planning on reopening the Culver City store somewhere, at some point, and I'm hoping they're able stay in the area. But now, the wrecking ball has come for Surfas, whose location right across the street from the Culver City Expo Line Station proved too tempting for developers.

From their website:

The 80th Anniversary year of 2017 has been a year of unexpected events for Surfas. Coming into 2017 we had no plans for changes to our stores in California but we knew changes would be coming in 2018. Surfas sold the 8777 Washington Boulevard, Culver City store location a couple of years ago and anticipated vacating the property in 2018.


*****

Shortly after the decision to close Surfas Costa Mesa our store location in Culver City was sold to Clarion Partners. The corner will become the location of HBO Headquarters with demolition of the building this Summer.


*****

We are NOT giving this up! So...ninety days ago we began searching for a new Surfas LA location. We have negotiated multiple agreements but none have been finalized. Please know that we are as frustrated as you have told us you are to find ourselves in this position. But we are still aggressively searching because we know that we will find a location that is the right fit for us and for our customers.

*****

Today, the Culver City Surfas store and cafe are closed and the wrecking crew is ready to roll...


So sad. I found some really cool stuff there and the location was really convenient. Really hope they come back soon and nearby.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I'm not a tattoo person, but some of these are really cool

52 tattoos inspired by books.

Some of my personal favorites:


To Kill a Mockingbird

Poirot!

Where The Red Fern Grows. I remember this being read to us in elementary school.
We cried at the end.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Fahrenheit 451

Totally insane tat for Lord of the Flies

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


Hitchhiker's Guide again

Kafka's The Metamorphosis

Be sure to scroll down to the comments, a lot of pics being posted there.
This one is for The Silence of the Lambs.

H/T to Midnight Ink on FB for the link.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Product placement done right

One of the most annoying things that can happen when watching TV or a movie is product placement that sticks out like a sore thumb and distracts from the story. It's a real pet peeve for me.

This, on the other hand, is a beautiful example of how to do it right: Breaking Brand: Cinnabon Sees $1 Million in Media Value From "Better Call Saul" Placement.

From the article:

As AMC's "Better Call Saul" opened for the first time, the camera panned in on Gene, a character played by Bob Odenkirk, whose nametag, apron and regalia indicate that he's the manager of a Cinnabon.

Set in black and white, the scene followed Gene as he makes the company's famous cinnamon rolls step by step. For many, the scene was a peek into the new life of Saul Goodman, a beloved character from "Breaking Bad" forced to change his identity. For Cinnabon, it was two minutes of uninterrupted TV time in front of millions, a boon for its marketing department.

*****

Cinnabon's brand name was the first thing the show's 6.9 million viewers saw during the show's premier. How did the company get here? Quite organically, as Jill Thomas, vice president of marketing at Cinnabon, tells it.

I think the key word here is "organically".

When Saul Goodman had to leave Albuquerque for parts unknown, he told Walter White he'd be lucky to end up as a Cinnabon manager in Omaha, Nebraska. He didn't seem thrilled with the prospect. But instead of taking offense, Cinnabon treated it as an opportunity. They tweeted a job application to Bob Odenkirk, who played Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad and Saul's predecessor Jimmy McGill on Better Call Saul. Brilliant, just brilliant. And it didn't cost them a cent.

When the morally flexible lawyer was spun off to his own show and the producers approached Cinnabon to be part of the his post-Breaking Bad future, the company not only agreed, but put Odenkirk through Cinnabon training for the opening scene mentioned above. Odenkirk has told the story on various talk shows, providing even more publicity. Again, no money changed hands, but everybody wins.

Do take the time to read the whole article. With so many companies crashing and burning on social media and in the public eye, it's kind of amazing to see a company do it right.

H/T to Better Call Saul Fun Facts on Facebook.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

I don't know how you miss this

Woman had 27 contact lenses in one eye.

I'm extremely near-sighted and have worn contacts since my teens. Even if it was only a couple, or several, I don't know how you don't realize you have multiple lenses in. But TWENTY-SEVEN???

The mind, it boggles.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Brilliant advice for screenwriters: Think like a producer

Sometimes the most obvious, most common sense advice is the hardest to grasp. For screenwriters, here is some of the best - and simplest - advice: Think like a producer. From the linked article:

Elements that will get the picture funded are: Cast, Genre and Budget. When these three items are aligned, your screenplay will have a better chance of getting made. Let's take a look at each of these from a producer's perspective.

So simple, and yet so very important. As writers, sometimes it's hard to remember that we also have to look at our work from the perspective of producers, editors and publishers. We get so wrapped up in how important the story is, we sometimes assume it will have the same effect on everyone else. But like everyone else, people in the position to usher our work into the public eye have their own issues to consider.

Monday, July 10, 2017

When you see your name on Amazon

The novelty still hasn't worn off.



Also, I made it through my first three author appearances without a train wreck. Good times.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

End of a writing era - The Writers Store is closing

Sad news - The Writers Store in Burbank is closing its doors this month.

Good news - it will still be around online.

Very sad to hear this, but not surprised in this era where so many of us make so many of our purchases online.

According to their website, you have until July 17 to drop in and score some heavily discounted products.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Cool video of the day: Woman saves drowning osprey

She just saved a drowning osprey, and boy are her arms tired. Seriously, I love how the bird just sat there and eyed her, like he was trying to process what had just happened.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

When what you need to make your day complete is a horse blowing bubbles

I love this horse. I love his goofy face, but most of all I love watching him blow bubbles. And he seems to enjoy it too.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fire in the sky

We got our usual great fireworks last night to wrap up the truly insane celebrations at my apartment complex. New Year's around here is a snoozefest compared to the 4th of July. It is the big holiday here.

You could see the moon in the background, which was really cool. I don't know if you can see it in the videos, but when I was watching the fireworks, there was this weird optical illusion where it looked like the moon was trying to move away.

Hope everyone had a safe and happy Independence Day!