Monday, October 31, 2022

October Words of Wisdom

Why I post these every month:
Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for. --Socrates
Two words should be taken to heart and obeyed when exerting ourselves for good and restraining ourselves for good and restraining ourselves from evil - words that will ensure a blameless and untroubled life: persist and resist. --Epictetus 

A man who does not think for himself does not think at all. --Oscar Wilde
I'm not the hero you wanted. I'm the monster you needed. --Unknown

I just got to the point where I decided that I want to live an unbullshitafied life. --Steve Maraboli
Don't be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams. --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Keep winning in private. Not everyone deserves to know what you are up to. --Unknown
The love of learning, the sequestered nooks. And all the sweet serenity of books. --Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 
I cannot comprehend how any man can want anything but the truth. --Marcus Aurelius

I learned that every mortal will taste death. But only some will taste life. --Rumi
It doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down. All that matters is you get up one more time than you were knocked down. --Roy T. Bennett

No man is free who is not master of himself. --Epictetus

If you scare people enough they will demand removal of freedom. This is the path to tyranny. --Elon Musk
It is so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build. --Nelson Mandela
The only way that has ever been discovered to have a lot of people cooperate together voluntarily is through the free market. --Milton Friedman
Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something. --Plato
An independent imagination is a rare commodity in today's culture of control and group think. When agenda comes before imagination, creation becomes indoctrination. --Allen Arnold 
The deep critical thinker has become the misfit of the world, and this is not a coincidence. To maintain order and control you must isolate the intellectual, the sage, the philosopher, the savant, before their ideas awaken people. --Carl Jung 

I will never apologize for my beliefs or my love for my family and country. This is the greatest country in the world, and I want to keep it that way. --Jason Aldean

Be grateful every day for our flag, our country, and those who serve to protect our freedoms. --Johnny Cash

Sunday, October 30, 2022

All Hallow's Eve

Hope you kiddies score buckets of candy!


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Recent reading: "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" and "Murder on the Orient Express"

Well, this is gonna kill off some time I should be spending on other things. I've recently discovered YouTube accounts that not only have all the Poirot episodes from the very beginning, but also channels that have audiobooks of Agatha Christie's novels, including Poirot books read by David Suchet and Hugh Fraser. If those names don't mean anything to you then you've missed out on one of the best TV shows ever. (Suchet plays Hercule Poirot, while Fraser was Captain Hastings, Poirot's Dr. Watson in the BBC series). These were the first two I've listened to. 

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
Read by Hugh Fraser

Renowned for its twist ending and unreliable narrator, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of Christie's best. The British Crime Writers' Association voted it the best crime novel of all time. Unfortunately, a lot of the story was changed when they filmed this one for the BBC series, so if you've seen it you still need to read the book.

Hercule Poirot has retired to the small town of King's Abbot with no greater goal than to mind his own business and tend to his vegetable garden. But of course he's caught up when one of King's Abbot's most prominent citizens is found murdered, while his new neighbor, Dr. James Sheppard, tags along while helpfully providing Poirot with background on the locals and their back stories.

One of the things I loved about the story was Poirot admitting that he missed his sidekick Hastings, who has moved on to Argentina. His treatment of Hastings over the years didn't always reflect this kind of affection. It is this void in his life and investigation that Dr. Sheppard fills, giving him a front-row seat to Poirot's methods.

Also, one of the things that made listening to this so enjoyable, in addition to hearing Fraser's beloved voice, was his spot-on imitation of Suchet's Poirot.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Read by David Suchet

Another Christie story famous for its non-traditional ending, Murder on the Orient Express finds Poirot in a locked room mystery aboard a passenger train while traveling home to England from the Middle East. The Orient Express becomes snowbound during the night and the following morning one of the passengers is discovered stabbed to death in his cabin. With the train and its passengers stuck, Poirot examines the evidence piece by piece and questions the passengers one by one, until coming to a fantastical - but accurate - conclusion.
Next up: Dumb Witness read by Hugh Fraser. Why? Because it was the first Poirot I ever watched, and just like that I was hooked.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Recent reading: "The Fixers"

The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine
by E.J. Fleming
Starting with a history of the motion picture industry, The Fixers tells the story of how MGM executives Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling ended up in positions of massive and corrupt power during the golden age of Hollywood, and how they wielded it to protect the studio's valuable talent.  
Though both are largely forgotten today, the kind of power they had to control public exposure of their stars bad behavior during their heyday is almost incomprehensible. Their power and corruption extended well beyond MGM's Culver City lot to local law enforcement, the DA's office, and the courts. Fatal drunk driving accidents and beatings were covered up and went unreported by the media and unpunished by the law. Murders were made to look like suicides. Romances and marriages were arranged to cover the homosexuality of bankable stars. Abortions were arranged on a regular basis. Bizarre, often destructive behavior was tolerated and managed, and all of it was to protect the juggernaut that was MGM.
The final chapter covers one of the few things responsible for Eddie Mannix still being remembered today, mainly thanks to the 2006 film Hollywoodland. Somewhere around 1950-51, Mannix's wife Toni met George Reeves, a handsome and personable actor whose career had never really succeeded beyond B-flicks after a promising start in Gone With the Wind. Despite their age difference - Reeves was in his mid-thirties when they met, while Toni was still extremely attractive despite being in her mid-forties - they embarked on the proverbial passionate affair that eventually became a deep love. It was around this time that Reeves finally became a huge star thanks to scoring the title role in the TV series The Adventures of Superman.

This led to an unconventional understanding for everyone involved. The affair was conducted out in the open. Both Toni and Eddie had numerous affairs, but loved each other and accepted each other's philandering. Eddie was also twenty years her senior and by the time Toni met George, was having health problems and his career at MGM was winding down. He also had a mistress during this time and this setup seemed to work just fine for everyone involved. According to The Fixers, Eddie actually liked Reeves and the two couples would often socialize. But given Eddie's age and health, Toni was also planning for the future. Her intention was to stick with her husband 'til death did them part, then she and Reeves could marry, and for a while it looked like that's how things would play out.

However, by 1958, Toni was in her fifties and showing her age. A Superman cast member described her as "matronly" at this point. During a publicity trip to New York Reeves met Leonore Lemmon, a high-spirited, temperamental Manhattan socialite, and Reeves had a new passionate affair. According to the book, Reeves was taken by her wealth, wildness, disrespect for authority, and probably most by her nymphomania. Toni was in trouble; Leonore was a shapely 38 while she was a matronly 53.
Reeves returned to L.A. with plans to marry Lemmon. He broke the bad news to Toni and to say she didn't take it well would be a major understatement. She threatened, she stalked, she hounded, and generally behaved like a madwoman, and neither Reeves nor Mannix was happy about it. She would never recover.
Reeves died June 16, 1959 from a single gunshot wound to the head. While his death was ruled a suicide, over the years stories have circulated that Eddie Mannix had him killed. The impetus behind these stories is that either Toni, incensed at being dumped, asked Mannix to have it done, or that Mannix, unhappy that Reeves had devastated Toni, took it upon himself to order the execution. Mannix had mob ties and could have made it happened. However, Fleming looks at a number of facts that have fallen by the wayside over the years and comes to the conclusion that Reeves was shot by Lemmon, but that Mannix and Strickling used their legendary influence to push the suicide angle not to save her skin, but so that Reeves's relationship with Toni and Eddie's acceptance of it - an unusual situation even by Hollywood standards - would not be exposed.

One thing about this book that can be annoying is Fleming's non-stop claims that pretty much every performer in Hollywood had same-sex relationships - even those who were definitely straight - to the point of overkill. It seems like an obsession that warrants its own book. But I did like The Fixers a lot for the Hollywood history and the in depth examination of George Reeves's death (Hollywoodland is one of my favorite films and that makes the Reeves angle alone worth reading up on). 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Agatha Christie, Woman of Mystery

Great article from the Great British Book Club: 14 Things You Might Not Know About Dame Agatha Christie

Some of these caught me by surprise.
  • Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was rejected by six publishers before she found someone who wanted it. Also, this is a Hercule Poirot story, so this means she created one of the most enduring figures in literature right out of the gate in her first novel. Amazing.
  • She is a surfing legend. Didn't see that one coming.
  • Information about thallium poisoning in her novel The Pale Horse helped Scotland Yard catch a serial killer and a nurse save a poisoned baby's life
  • She wrote romance novels under the pen name Mary Westmacott. Where did she find the time? Under her own name, she wrote 66 novels, 14 short story collections, in addition to several plays, including The Mousetrap, the longest-running play in history. On top of all that, according to the article, she also wrote a screenplay adaptation of Charles Dickens's Bleak House, one of her favorite novels, for MGM, which sadly was never filmed.
Do check out the article. In addition to being one of our greatest writers, Christie lived an amazing life beyond her stories.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Recent reading: "Deep Work"

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success In a Distracted World
by Cal Newport

When it comes to self-improvement books, two being the most recommended these days seem to be Atomic Habits (which I haven't read yet) and Deep Work.

In Deep Work, author Cal Newport examines modern-day time wasters, with an emphasis on social media and e-mail. While he acknowledges the benefits these provide, he also argues that they provide constant distraction that takes people away from maintaining concentration on important work, especially those he refers to as "knowledge workers". 

Newport's system is not to completely give up social media and e-mail but to put them in their place and put restrictions on them. And while that might seem obvious, apparently it's not so obvious because people are constantly distracted by these things.

Newport walks the talk in that he is a Deep Work success story. He has managed to juggle being a college professor pursuing tenure, while writing books, publishing peer-reviewed papers, and raising a family without losing his mind. He also accomplished all this while keeping most evenings and weekends free for leisure time, and I think that might be one of the key things about his approach - he doesn't promote working 24/7, but making work time really count. 
For someone like me, for whom procrastination and wasting time are art forms, there was some useful and inspirational advice in this book. I will never be a deep worker on Newport's level, but it gave me a lot to consider to try to be at least a little more productive.
From the book:
Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

That's all, aspiring TV writing and directing folks: Warner Bros. shutters its TV Workshops (+ updated news)

When companies merge (or one company buys out another) there's usually cuts to be made as the two streamline into one. While many of these cuts - as unpleasant as they may be for the people involved - are necessary, the recent Warner Bros./Discovery merger just took out an expected target.

It was announced today that the famous Warner Bros. TV Workshop, which includes both writing and directing programs, is being shut down. The writers workshop has been around for forty years, while the directing track was added in 2014. It has been a great opportunity for a lot of people to get their start in the business, and the shutdown was unexpected.

Another aspect of the workshops I noticed were some interesting comments on the Deadline article (linked above) was about the people who are being selected for the programs.

A few years back I submitted my Better Call Saul spec from my UCLA Extension class to both the Warner Bros. and NBC/Universal TV Writing Workshops, to no avail. Fair enough, but I did notice that when they announced the selections, it did seem as if almost every participant already had a foot in the door in the industry. Many were already staffed as assistants on existing shows. Maybe this experience made them seem like better candidates to make the most of the programs, but it also sent a clear message that the selection processed favored applicants who already had connections. Not all, but it didn't hurt. I remember feeling like it was kind of a waste of my time to apply if I wasn't already similarly situated.
But that and other issues not withstanding, this is a bitter loss for aspiring TV writers and directors, not to mention kind of a sad commentary on the industry as a whole. When I worked in post production WBTV was the leading producer of TV out of all the studios. I don't know if they still are, but it made sense for them to actively cultivate new talent, especially talent that might not have found a way into the industry yet. From both a writing and industry standpoint, I just think it's an unfortunate decision. Somewhere out their is a writer who will not be getting an opportunity in the future because of the loss of the program, and who otherwise might have been the creator of a future hit show.
UPDATED 10/12/22: Due to blowback from the industry and the DGA, Warners has rescinded their decision to cut the Workshops and will transfer them from the TV division to their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion unit. Which is great news, but it also begs the question of if the program will become less about promoting promising talent and more about promoting underrepresented groups only. But hey, it's a start. 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

All the editing that's fit to print

The editorial process for my story "As Seen on Television" was completed last week. The story will appear in Entertainment To Die For, the next anthology from Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles. It will be published sometime next spring, probably March or early April. SinC/LA always has a booth at the L.A. Times Festival of Books in April and they like to have the anthologies out right before that.

My editor has been super and the process was pretty painless. Mostly rewriting a couple of sentences for clarity, eliminating repetition of words and expressions, including removal of about five million uses of "had". Seriously, I'm going to do a word search for "had" in future stories because, damn, five million isn't as much of a exaggeration as it should be.

Other than all that, I'm really happy with the story. The lead Detective and her partner are characters I've used in some other stories, but this is the first one to be published. I'm hoping to use them in future projects as well.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

82 Candles

It's that time of the year again - my Dad would be 82 if he was alive today. I wouldn't mind that at all.
I wanted to scan some more pictures in addition to the ones I've been using, and it was really rough going through some of them. I don't miss any one person in particular, but I miss having everyone around. In particular, I found the card from my Stepmom Diane's memorial service and it was a real jolt to realize how long it's been - next March will be the 30th anniversary of her death. She was only 51 when she passed, but still...also lots of pics of her with my Dad brought back a lot of memories. I also found the memorial card for my Grandma Loomis and that was 20 years ago.

Where does the time go? And will someone please hurry up and invent a time machine so I can get out of this crazy world and go back to better days? 

Anyway, this post got a little drearier than I'd intended.  Happy Heavenly Birthday, Dad!


SURPRISE!!! He thought he was walking into the restaurant manager's office because Diane had slipped on her way to the ladies room. It was actually a ruse to spring his 50th surprise birthday party on him! It wasn't even an office - it was a banquet room. Diane put that sign on the door. I helped her prep earlier in the day and she was a wreck fearing it wouldn't go off as planned. It was the only time I can remember ever seeing Diane nervous, and everything went perfect. Great night! Shiloh Inn, Pomona CA.




Thursday, October 6, 2022

It's that time of the year!

That's right - it's pumpkin season!
Trader Joe's is leading the way with pumpkin products. Here are a few that I will be throwing money at:

Note: All images are from the linked Delish article.
Other seasonal TJ's products include pumpkin bread and bread/muffin mix, pumpkin ice cream and ice cream cones, pumpkin butter pumpkin gnocci, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin spice yogurt, vanilla pumpkin hand soap and lotion, pumpkin doggie treats, pumpkin spice hummus, pumpkin bisque, pumpkin brioche, pumpkin bagels, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin spice tea, pumpkin cereal bars, pumpkin tortilla chips, pumpkin Madeleines, aaaaaand (wait for it)...pumpkin spiced pumpkin seeds. And there are still more items I didn't list.
And of course, there's always this:

Temperature-wise it's still summerish here in Southern California, but pumpkin spice is always welcome. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

LOL Kailua-Kona

There's a terrific webcam on Ali'i Drive, the main drag in Kailua-Kona, where my Dad used to live. And the Ironman World Championship takes place in Kona in a few days. 

Because of where the cam is located (on top of the Fish Hopper Restaurant on Ali'i) you get a great view of the prep for the event. 

A few minutes ago I decided to take a look and tuned in just in time to see this:

Behold the majesty of the giant sports drink bottle!

Seriously, looking forward to checking out the event. The Ironman is a big deal in Kona.