Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Submitted for your approval - January edition

When I made my 2018 goal to submit like crazy for publication, I had a momentary thought that one submission per week ought to do it. But that's probably not realistic so I've rolled that back to at least twice a month, and I made that goal for January, albeit going right down to the wire tonight.

The first story was submitted to a quarterly flash fiction ezine. If accepted, it would be published in April. I'm not sure it's exactly what they're looking for, but I guess I'll find out one way or the other in the next couple of months. It also pays a small amount if accepted, which would check the box of showing income (no matter how paltry) to assure the IRS that my writing career is in fact a career and not a hobby. Showing income was a request from my tax accountant last year, when he finally let me claim writing expenses thanks to finally being published.

The second is a short story submitted to an anthology. I would love to be published in this one, it would put me in front of a lot more eyeballs than ever before. And despite having just written it over the last couple of days, I'm really happy with the way the story turned out, so much so that I'll be really disappointed if it doesn't make the cut. This anthology also pays a small amount, so again, happy accountant.

Fingers crossed and on to February!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January Words of Wisdom

It is our duty to give meaning to the life of future generations by sharing our knowledge and experience; by teach an appreciation of work well done and a respect for nature, the source of all life; by encouraging the young to venture off the beaten path and avoid complacency by challenging their emotions. --Chef Paul Bocuse (RIP Chef!)

Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday. --John Wayne

I adore space. In the city, I want to push away the buildings with my own two hands and let the sky rush in. --Bette Davis

Having a character shout, "There's a knife!" will never be as effective as letting your readers hear the scrape as the dagger is drawn from its sheath. --Jane K. Cleland

And suddenly you know it's time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings. --Eckhart Tolle

True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.
--E.S. Bouton

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. --Henry Ward Beecher

First be best, then be first. --Grant Tinker

It's easy being a humorist when you've got the whole government working for you. --Will Rogers

There is something about a woman with a loud mind that sits in silence, smiling, knowing she can crush you with the truth. --r.g. moon

Hate. It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet. --Maya Angelou

It's okay to be scared. Being scared means you're about to do something really brave. --Mandy Hale

Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself. --Coco Chanel

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any. --Alice Walker

Life without books is like an unsharpened has no point. --Unknown

On particularly rough days when I'm sure I can't possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100%, and that's pretty good. --Unknown

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The L.A. Times says the spec script is dead. This guy begs to differ, and I hope he's right.

Ken Miyamoto at Screencraft on why the LAT is wrong about the spec script market.

From the article:

Hollywood gets bored. Trends come and go. Once hot franchises cool down. Spec scripts and the screenwriters that write them push the industry forward into the near future.
Without spec scripts, new writers aren’t discovered. The article offers one misleading “fact” — that Hollywood is making fewer movies than they have in the past. The truth of the matter is that there are more movies being made than there ever has been…just in a different way.
Sure, the major studios are making less overall, but then you have to take into account what HBO, Netflix, and Amazon are doing. Not to mention the dozens upon dozens of major production companies that are producing amazing films outside of the major studio system — most of which often eventually buy them up for the distribution rights.
And because so many more movies are being made, the industry needs more writers to write them. Spec scripts that are discovered through the creative marketing of unknown screenwriters through queries, networking, contests, and fellowships introduce the powers that be to new talent. If the spec scripts aren’t bought and produced (most are not), the screenwriters that wrote them are being assigned to write projects already in open development.
So it doesn’t take a big spec script sale to make that screenwriter’s career. Those scripts work as keys that open doors into the film and television industry.
So no, spec scripts are not dead. Far from it.
There's a lot more, do check it out.

He makes a lot of good points about how the market isn't dead, but that it's simply evolved. I've heard one of the things that makes breaking into Hollywood with a spec hard these days is that the major studios are so stuck on tentpoles and superhero series, the scripts for which are assigned to established writers. This has created an atmosphere that doesn't seem to embrace new writers, but Miyamoto disagrees.

One reason I hope he's right is that although I've been concentrating on TV specs and short stories for the past year or so, I just signed up for an online feature rewrite class that starts next month. I'm using a rough draft of a feature I worked on years ago, then abandoned because I got stuck. I've wanted to have a good completed feature script for competitions, so I'm hoping that by the time this class is completed, that's exactly what I'll end up with. Funny thing, I haven't even thought of the script (entitled Catfight) for ages until my Mom mentioned it about a week ago. I dragged it out and looked at it with fresh eyes, and it was really illuminating. I'd forgotten so much about it, and now I'm excited about it again.

I'm taking the class through ScreenwritingU, which offers a variety of online screenwriting classes as well as an ongoing alumni community. I like the approach they use to promote their classes - they offer free webinars in which they go over the basics of their approach to various aspects of screenwriting, then offer a discount for the corresponding course. The rewrite class is $350 and they gave it to us for $250. Even if you don't sign up for the class, you still get a lot of helpful info via the webinar. I like what I've seen so far and am really looking forward to getting Catfight finally done. It's been neglected so long. Back in the day when I started it, I got very positive responses to the idea, so it seems a shame not to get it finished and out there.

I had a bad experience with my most recent UCLA Extension Class for writing an original pilot (a different instructor from my spec classes) so I was happy to find a class that will hopefully give me something I can use for submissions (like the Better Call Saul spec from my earlier UCLA Extension classes) for a lot less money - the UCLA classes are in the high $600's per 10-week class - totally worth it if you get results, a big waste of money if you don't. I'll let you know how the ScreenwritingU class works out. If it's good, they're going to be getting a lot more of my money.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Who are the idiots who think this is a good idea?

I've heard this is a new craze among kids and young adults and I have no idea why, but it is. They're eating Tide detergent pods. I even saw a commercial recently where Tide is touting its new "child-proof" packaging. And today, this:

Not to sound unsympathetic, but if someone is stupid enough to do this, maybe it's natural selection at work.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Shakespeare rocks!!!

Mom and I hit the Huntington Store the other day and I spotted these:

Star Wars and rock songs, Shakespeare-style!!!

The Huntington Store (at The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens) is a weird and wonderful place. Bonus, you can shop at the bookstore and dine at their awesome food court (about the swankiest food court you'll ever see) without having to purchase admission.

However, I do recommend checking out The Huntington's library, art collections and gardens. It's absolutely mind-boggling.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Even the horses in New Orleans celebrate Mardi Gras!

Check out this video of a New Orleans mounted unit joining in the carnival fun.

There's not much I can add to how awesome this is, you just need to watch it. LOVE that horse (and the cop ain't too shabby either). Be sure to watch it all the way until the end, when dude just strolls off, cool as a cucumber.

This video brought back memories of a comment made by author Bill Loehfelm at Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans. Loehfelm is a New Yorker who moved to NOLA in 1997. He said that dealing with the NOLA PD Mounted Unit during Mardi Gras could be summed in three statements: "Yes sir/ma'am", "No sir/ma'am" and "Thank you officer, I'll be on my way.

H/T to American Police Beat on FB for the video and to Cajun Navy 2016 on FB for the link.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

What goes around...

The past week (well, starting with Tuesday) has been a complete waste. After a few false alarms during the holidays - waking up a couple of times with a swollen throat that failed to turn into the expected full-blown illness - I finally got my wish to just get this over with.

I usually get a really nasty cold once or twice a year. The last one was in August after I got home from Writers' Police Academy and it was one of my all-time worst. This one hasn't been as bad, but yesterday I thought it was pretty much clearing up...until I woke up this morning with a very scratchy throat, coughing like crazy. Just to add insult to injury, I barely slept last night, which I'm sure didn't help.

I had certain things on my to-do list that I really wanted to get to. I have a short story that's about 99% ready to be submitted that will be my first submission of the year. And I've been wanting to really get to work on my apartment. Unfortunately, since I've been feeling like crap, everything's been at a standstill this week. Not a great start to a new year that I had big plans for.

I also found out a couple of days ago that my brother is sick as well, and this is after being sick only about a month ago. I guess we should be glad we weren't sick over Christmas.

We should also probably be grateful we aren't any sicker: There's a big fat national flu epidemic going on.

Take care of yourselves, everyone!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Recent reading

Okay, I just haven't been reading lately. Sad, I know. I recently took on the Goodreads 2018 reading challenge and committed to 48 books (4 per month). We'll see how I do with that.

In the meantime here are the only ones I've finished recently, and by recently probably in months (one of which may read as a bit of a rant, but there it is). I decided to post these now (finally) to get a fresh start in the new year.

The Late Show by Michael Connelly
In The Late Show, Connelly introduces a new character, Detective Renee Ballard, who was inspired by Connelly's experiences working with a real-life female detective.

Ballard works the graveyard shift at LAPD's Hollywood Station. Known as "the late show", it's a demotion that resulted from her filing a sexual harassment complaint against a former supervisor while she was on the promotion track. It's also a role that has her answering calls during the night, but rarely closing them as the shift's cases are usually turned over to daytime detectives.

One night Ballard and her partner receive two calls that she isn't willing to part with. One is the beating of a transvestite prostitute, while the other is a mass shooting at an upscale Hollywood club that may or may not involve a dirty cop. Despite being discouraged from working the cases by her superiors, Renee relentlessly pursues them like an obsession, frequently during her off-hours and often at the risk of harm to herself. The way the club shooting was resolved was a startling twist that I didn't see coming at all.

Ballard is a unique character. Born and raised in Hawaii, she spends almost all of her non-work time paddleboarding off Venice and pretty much living out of a van with her dog. Like Connelly's Harry Bosch, she's a loner driven by the need to see justice done even when it involves pushing the boundaries of LAPD rules. I'm already eagerly anticipating the next Renee Ballard book.

Outside the front doors of the hospital Ballard stopped and took stock of where things stood. She was facing the depressing realization that her investigations were stalling on all fronts. With Ramona Ramone unable to identify her attacker, there was no evidence and no case against Trent, no matter how sure in her gut Ballard was that he was the abductor.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Vance writes of growing up in the "Rust Belt", an area where factories once employed thousands until the relocation of those industries and jobs left the population in abject poverty. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Vance managed to break out of the cycle of poverty, first thanks to several non-dysfunctional relatives determined to get him through it, then by joining the U.S. Marines, after which he attended Ohio State and finally graduated from Yale Law School. But despite his improbable success, Vance is still haunted by what he left behind and the people still stuck in those dysfunctional communities along with everything that accompanies it (drugs, welfare dependency, broken families, neglected children) and that was his impetus in writing this memoir.

Hillbilly Elegy came to my (and a lot of other people's) attention thanks to a snide, condescending essay in which a clerk at an independent bookstore who apparently feels that the book, its author and its readers are, in a nutshell, too conservative/right-wing, wrestled with how to deter customers from buying the book. I gave my take on it here.

Apparently what set the bookstore clerk off is that Vance and his poverty stricken community are white (and definitely not privileged) and in the book Vance promotes opinions currently seen as embraced mainly by those who he considers to be racist, intolerant conservatives, such as the declining work ethic of recent generations, a focus on the decline of the middle class and their chances for upward mobility, the negative affects of welfare/government dependency, and the embracing (rather than villainizing) of people perceived as "hillbillies, rednecks and white trash". To me the clerk's take is loftily presumptuous and dare I say, not very tolerant and open-minded. Plus, this isn't some guy writing about a cause because of his political slant - it's a memoir. Vance lived this nightmare, survived it, and has every right to write about it.

The best description of the book comes from its back cover:

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.

Having actually read the book, I can highly recommend it. It's a riveting story that opened the door to a society that I was unfamiliar with, and Vance's fight to escape a society that could have easily doomed him to personal and professional failure is incredibly admirable. So thank you Mr. Preachy Self-Important bookstore clerk for bringing it to my attention.

But I often wonder: Where would I be without them? I think back on my freshman year of high school, a grade I nearly failed, and the morning when Mom walked into Mamaw's house demanding a cup of clean urine. Or years before that, when I was a lonely kid with two fathers, neither of whom I saw very often, and Papaw decided that he would be the best dad he could be for as long as he lived. Or the months I spent with Lindsay, a teenage girl acting as a mother while our own mother lived in a treatment center. Or the moment I can't even remember when Papaw installed a secret phone line in the bottom of my toy box so that Lindsay could call Mamaw and Papaw if things got a little too crazy. Thinking about it now, about how close I was to the abyss, gives me chills. I am one lucky son of a bitch.

Inside Trek: My Secret Life with Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry by Susan Sackett
Sackett was hired by Gene Roddenberry to be his personal secretary in 1974 and it began a rollercoaster ride that not only gave Sackett the chance to be on the inside of the Star Trek films, but also to be an active participant in the launch of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

She also became more than a secretary to Roddenberry - shortly after being hired, she became his mistress, despite the fact that he was married to original Trek actress Majel Barrett. The affair continued until his death in 1991, and Sackett isn't shy about sharing a lot of the details, including the fact that Roddenberry was often impotent.

I became aware of Sackett thanks to one of my favorite documentaries of the past couple of years, William Shatner's Chaos on the Bridge, which chronicles the dysfunctional launch and early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sackett appears in the film and is even identified onscreen "Secretary/ Mistress".

She makes no apologies for her nearly two-decades long affair with a married man, almost wearing her devotion to Gene like a badge of honor. Somewhere along the way Majel apparently became aware of their relationship, but chose to ignore it (at least according to Sackett). According to this book, Majel was a self-absorbed ice-queen whose marriage had deteriorated to being pretty much in name only. And although Sackett considered herself and Gene to be soulmates, and she cared for him mentally, physically, and sexually in ways no one else did, she claims that she never asked Gene to leave Majel and marry her, supposedly because he was so traumatized by his divorce from his first wife. Sackett mentions that by sticking with this affair, she pretty much lost out on the possibility of a healthy marriage and family life for herself, but she seems to consider Roddenberry more than worthy of that sacrifice.

The book is simply written and easy to follow, but Sackett's habit of contradicting herself is somewhat distracting. In one example, she frets about how distressing it was to her when Roddenberry, flush from the success of Next Generation, purchased a Rolls Royce because she couldn't imagine spending $100,000 on a car when there were so many homeless and starving people. She describes expressing this concern to him, but he assured her he was the same old Gene, that his newfound success hadn't affected him. But shortly thereafter, not only does she praise Roddenberry's generosity to charitable causes, but also mentions that to this day, when she sees a Rolls, the sight warms her because she remembers the great joy Roddenberry got from the car. She also starts the chapter following the Rolls story with the line, "Gene never let his success go to his head...", despite having just expressed her concern that he was doing just that. It might be hero worship interfering with the telling of her story, trying to be objective without completely criticizing a man she was madly in love with, but it's still annoying.

On the upside, it's a fascinating behind the scenes look at Roddenberry, the Star Trek phenomenon, and Roddenberry's non-Trek projects. Sackett does touch on some of the insanity that accompanied ST:TNG, but she does so protectively from Gene's point of view. The book is still a great addendum to the documentary, as well as a look at the very complicated Roddenberry.

Shortly before Gene went into Schick, Paramount Studios presented him with a written treatment for a new television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. The studio executives in charge of this production had hired an outside writer to create this new incarnation of Star Trek, and they wanted Gene's opinion. Gene mustered self-control I didn't know he had as, politely, he told them to which end of space to go. "When I read what they had written, I almost threw up," Gene told me. If the studio wanted a new Star Trek, he was their boy, not some outsider who had populated a new starship with a bunch of "gee whiz" space cadets.

Friday, January 5, 2018

As seen on television...or not

We had our first car chase of the year Wednesday and it was a bit out of the ordinary in that once the car was stopped it took a good half hour for the law shredding occupants to exit the vehicle. Usually once they're stopped, the wayward drivers pretty much just give it up. It got weirder when the driver, a female, was trying to finally get out and give up, and her male passenger kept clinging to her. He even planted what appeared to be an unwanted smooch on her after they were finally out of the vehicle. Then he got tased. It was crazy even by L.A. car chase standards.

The couple had stolen a U-Haul truck and by the time I turned on the TV, they had hit a spike strip thrown out by police that punctured the right front tire. I tuned in to our local station KCAL Channel 9 just in time to see what was left of the tire flying away. The chase continued on three tires and a rim, until the rim finally stopped turning. Then it continued a bit further with the rim throwing off sparks as it ground down. The thieves are lucky the sparks didn't set the damn truck on fire.

While everyone was playing the waiting game after the truck stopped, the anchor mentioned that a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team was probably on the way and asked his call-in guest, a former cop, what the procedure would be if SWAT had to approach the vehicle and extract the occupants. And the first thing the commentator said was, "Forget everything you've seen on TV..."

I found that hilarious, because KCAL is a sister station to KCBS, our local CBS affiliate here in Los Angeles. And one of the new CBS shows this season is...S.W.A.T. WHOOPS!!!

Pay no attention to the man in the fake SWAT uniform, Thursdays at 10pm, 9 Central!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Finally, a would-be hitman who actually went straight to the police

I watch a lot of true crime shows and one thing that never fails to leave me boggled is that in the course of spousal murder investigations, the police often discover that the suspect previously approached people to off his or her not-so-loved-one before finding a way to actually make it happen. There are so many instances where the people approached, rather than reporting it to the police, didn't take the threat seriously, shrugging it off as the person soliciting murder not being serious or just blowing off steam. Based on shows I've seen, there are a lot of people who would have not met untimely deaths if the solicitation for murder was promptly reported to the authorities.

Which brings me to this story: Cop Catches Wife's Affair With 14-year-old, So She Hires Hitman.

There's so much wrong with this whole situation, but it boils down to this: This cop discovered his wife was having sexual relations with a minor, but instead of reporting it, used the information to blackmail her into staying with him. So to get out of the marriage, she asked a friend to kill her husband for her.

Luckily, what happened next differed from so many of these situations I've seen on true crime shows:

Instead of going along with the plan, the would-be hitman wore a recording device for police, and taped the conversations he had with Robin Transue.

Since a murder was prevented, this case will never turn up on an episode of Snapped, which is just fine. Bravo to this guy for taking the threat seriously, and I hope both the husband and wife scumbags spend a lot of time in prison.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

RIP Peggy Cummins

Peggy Cummins, immortal to film noir fans for her portrayal of Annie Laurie Starr in Gun Crazy, passed away December 29th at the age of 92.

The UK-born Cummins never really cracked the U.S. film market, but she made a lasting mark in the low-budget precursor to Bonnie and Clyde. Cummins practically leapt off the screen as the ruthless crack shot, who led her reluctant but besotted husband on a deadly crime spree. I previously blogged about the film here. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend that you remedy that ASAP. It's worth it for Cummins' performance alone, plus it has a continuous, three minute bank heist scene filmed entirely from the back seat of the getaway car that has become famous.

You can check out more coverage of Peggy Cummins from Variety, Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian, and this really terrific post from The Sheila Variations.

New Year's resolutions

We've all got 'em!!! Here are mine:

1 - Write, write, write. My writing goal this year is to submit to every contest, magazine and anthology I can find. Anything that's looking for entries and submissions is fair game. This leads to resolution 1-1/2, which is to be published again. If I can get published even once in 2018, that makes two years in a row. Bonus points for any kind of payment, a goal set by my accountant now that he's letting me claim my writing expenses on my taxes. Apparently the IRS gives you five years to show some sort of income before they consider it a hobby rather than a business, and you can't claim expenses anymore.

2 - Eating and drinking better. Less processed food, fast food, junk food, meat, sodas and wine. More plant-based eating and juicing.

3 - More exercise and getting out of the apartment, even if it's just to walk on the beach. I'm a real homebody and couch potato, and it's too easy for me to just camp out like a hermit.

4 - Work on my to-do list. I have this enormous list of places to go and things to do. My goal is to cross at least one thing off the list each week.

5 - Reading. I need to start making a dent in my stacks of books, not to mention God knows how many more on my Kindle. If I could get through at least one per week that would go a long way toward getting caught up.

Of course, these are pretty much my resolutions every year, so we'll see how it goes.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy 2018 everyone!!!

I snicked this image off the internet. If it's yours let me know so I can give credit where credit is due. And Happy New Year!!!