Monday, December 01, 2014

10 Gifts For The Dog Lover Who Has Everything

Sooo... It's holiday shopping time. Which means stores are outdoing themselves to cram stuff on their shelves in the hopes that people will buy it without first questioning "Is this necessary?" "Is this meaningful?" or "Good heavens, what sociopath created *this?*"

Chances are, you have a few dog-lovers on your list. If you're scratching your head over what to gift them with, look no further. I present...

1. The "Fuzzy Butts" Sweater

Not only will this give you the opportunity to say "You have a Spot on your shoulder" with zero irony every time the recipient wears this item of apparel...



... but if you invite said sweater-wearer to sit upon the flat surfaces of your house, you'll never have to dust again.
Source: https://www.etsy.com/listing/201487548

2. Alien Facehugger Dog Leash

Because nothing says "I love my dog" like a leash designed to resemble a life-sucking science-fiction parasite. If truth-in-advertising is to be believed, the leash may also render the pooch... er... stuffed.

alien face hugger dog leash
Source: http://creepbay.com/alien-facehugger-dog-leash/


3. The Trippin' Wolf / Dove / Electric Shock Therapy Bird Shirt

Add a kaleidoscope, an olive branch, and some bath salts, and you've got the gift that keeps on giving...
Siberian husky, wolf shirt dog bird animal Long sleeve Crew neck Sweater size M,L one size women men sweatshirt clothing apparel
Source: https://www.etsy.com/listing/160768705/siberian-husky-wolf-shirt-dog-bird
4. The "Feelin' Horny as a Hound-Dog" Sweater

For that special someone who needs a special something. Rest assured that all eyes -- even those of the dog on the torso -- will be on whoever wears this puppy.

Source: http://www.amazon.com/Jingleballz-Mens-Antler-Sweater-White/dp/B00GTXAPE8

5.  "My Dog Has Fleas" Game

For the littlest dog-lovers on your list. Brought to you by the same people who make "Mr. Ed Broke His Leg" and "Rover's Ringworms."

Teaches children not one, but two valuable life skills: how to put fleas ON a dog and how to crank a dog's tail. Fun for the whole family.

Source: http://www.stupid.com/my-dog-has-fleas-game.html

6. The "Welcome Santa" Doormat

Because, really, if nothing sniffs your crotch when you enter the front door, there's no point in visiting, is there?

Source: http://bit.ly/11BS0tX

7. "Mouldy Dog" Topiary

It's like Chia Dog, only outside!

Source: http://bit.ly/1rBwp1d

8. Dog-Themed Toilet Paper Dispensers

Novelty toilet tissue dispensers are neither necessary nor meaningful, but -- given the right circumstances -- they can be interesting. Presenting Exhibits A, B, and C...


Exhibit A: The Minimalist
D. Dog Tissue Toilet Roll Container - White
Source: http://amzn.to/1uSSUZY



Exhibit B: The Realist
Source: http://amzn.to/1Cpu3XJ



Exhibit C: The Humorist
Source: http://amzn.to/1HLzwbl
9. Giant Dog Nose Wallcovering

I *promise* you they don't already have this. For extra fun, hand-tint the edges red and name the wall "Clifford.
Large_jpg20140417-11824-a9lg7.jpg?nocache=1397726705
Source (because you know you want this...): http://www.jwwalls.com/animals-dogs/nose

10. The Demon-Dog Sweater

Those eyes that bore right through your soul! That nose that rivals Rudolph's!

Yours will be the only gift that brings with it the dual dangers of potential electrocution and immolation.

Source: http://www.rustyzipper.com/shop.cfm?viewpartnum=289641
Fa-la-la-la-la, La La La Laaaaaa!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanks Giving

Thanks for alarm clocks that go off when it's still dark outside.

Thanks for a comfy bed, fuzzy slippers, fresh sheets, soft pillows.

Thanks for the child in the next room that makes me crawl out of bed and get going in the morning so she can get to school on time.

Thanks that she has a school to attend. Thanks for dedicated teachers and for the education she's receiving. Thanks for the information she has access to. Thanks for the students in her class. Thanks for her friends who are teaching her about whispering and passing notes and sharing private jokes. And thanks for those who are not her friends, teaching her valuable skills for dealing with difficult people.

Thanks that every morning she must make a decision on which clothes to wear. Thanks that she must decide if she's going to wear her boots or her shoes and must choose which coat is the right one for the day. Many children are not so fortunate to have multiple warm coats to choose from. I am thankful she is not one of them.

Thanks for the snow, blanketing everything in white. Because of it, in six months, I'll be more thankful for the warmth of summer than I would be if I had that warmth all the time.

Thanks for the dogs. And the cats. The chickens. And the ducks. Thanks for the horses. Thanks that I have to do chores, even early in the morning. Thanks-thanks-thanks for electricity and running water, both in the barn and in the house.

Thanks for the smell of coffee. Fresh eggs. Homemade bread. Real butter.

Thanks for good friends who, when they're sick, call and ask me to take their kids to school, knowing that when the situation is reversed -- and it will be, one day -- they will repay the favor. Thanks for kindred spirits.

Thanks for my family. And special thanks for my husband, the love of my life.

Thanks for the wind blasting up from the bluff. Without it, I wouldn't be nearly as grateful for the heat inside.

Did I mention the coffee? Thanks.

Thanks for drive throughs. Thanks for the girl at the cafe who takes longer than usual to get my order. If I hadn't been waiting for her, I wouldn't have fiddled with the radio and stumbled across a new station playing an old favorite song -- that now runs through my head on infinite repeat, an anthem of praise providing a soundtrack of thanks for the rest of my day.

Thanks that I have enough cash to pay for my morning coffee. Thanks that I don't have enough to buy both coffee and a scone; this ensures that I will savor every drop.

Thanks for gravity keeping me grounded. Thanks that I dropped my change on the ground when paying for my order. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have discovered that someone else dropped their change and neglected to pick it up. Thanks for unexpected windfalls; blessings in disguise.

Thanks for the scone. It was delicious.

Thanks for medical scans. Thanks for modern technology that alerts us when there may be a problem with the health of those we love.

Thanks for the awareness that modern technology is not God; it cannot fix all of our problems.

Thanks for the chance to lift my eyes, looking beyond myself, higher than the clouds, higher than the sky higher than my hopes, higher than my dreams, higher than anyone can possibly imagine. Higher than I am. Higher than I can become...

Thanks for the thought that there is something higher than all of us, looking at me, accepting my thanks, hearing me when I cry out and ask "Why?" and "When?" and "How long?" and "How soon?" ... Something that hears me when I say--

Thanks.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mentor Magic

Not long ago, I received a phone call from a woman I'd met earlier this year. During our initial meeting at our local library, I'd offered some advice on breaking into the publishing world. We talked about things like crafting query letters, composing punchy pitches, and pitching projects.

No one knows it all. Seriously. Ask for help!
I did not read her project (a young adult novel) or comment on it. I scanned the first few pages enough to see that she knew how to put words together, and knew a thing or two about punctuation. Our meeting didn't focus on the writing -- it was more about what to do with what was written.

It appears that she went right home and worked on what we'd talked about. (Side note: I can't tell you how gratifying it is when someone asks for your advice -- and then follows it.)

She called to let me know that a BIG agency had responded to her query and requested the first three chapters of her manuscript. She had a few questions about proper format -- but mostly, she was just excited. And she wanted to say "thanks."

I told her how proud I was of her, and told her to let me know when she'd landed an agent and sold the book.

Urgently needed: Fashion mentor. Stat!
No one knows it all. And -- praise God! -- we don't live in a vacuum of isolation. We all need mentors. We need people who are willing to point out the path we should follow.

How can you tell if you need a mentor? Five sure signs:

1.) You have done your best, and have progressed as far as you are able to on your own.

2.) You have specific questions that someone else can easily answer or you lack specific skills that someone else can easily demonstrate.

3.) You are ready and willing to learn.

4.) You are ready and willing to act on what you learn.

5.) You are ready to stretch yourself, but you need someone with experience to help show you the way.

If you exhibit all five signs, you owe it to yourself to find a mentor willing to help you grow.

Seek.
Ask.
Learn.
Fly.

No one can make us follow a particular path, or use information that's been given to us. And no one can walk the path for us. But I'm always grateful when someone who's a little further up the publishing ladder is willing to give me the benefit of his or her experience. And I'm happy to help people who might be able to learn from what I know. The magic is in realizing that we're not on this trip alone.

Monday, October 20, 2014

When the Raptor Comes

My husband and I returned home near dusk. We were met at the driveway by a squawking, terrified chicken, running about as if she’d had her head cut off. I thought perhaps I’d left the gate to the chicken pen open and headed over to see what was the matter.

The gate was firmly closed, but the entire little flock was twitterpated. As I approached the fence, I saw the problem: an enormous raptor – a rough-legged hawk – in the pen with my chickens! He flew off as I approached, but he took his time doing it. His huge wings spread out and sent the birds into new paroxysms of terror.

Inside the coop, the oldest chicken (a 4 year-old Barred Rock who has been going through a most embarrassing molt) cowered in a corner. Her breathing was too fast, and her eyes were closed. I saw no blood or signs of a struggle. She had simply shut down and was waiting for the end to come.

Since chickens will often keel over and die from a heart attack after a stressful situation, I fully expected her to be gone by the end of the day. Surprisingly, however, after 15 minutes or so in a near-comatose state, she stood up, stretched, ascertained that the executioner was NOT nearby, and ran out of the coop as if nothing had happened.

While the hawk terrifies my chickens and could destroy them, he is not really a nuisance to me. I often see him at the back of our property when I am riding, and he never fails to inspire awe. He is magnificent. Just having the opportunity to see something like that is one of the reasons I love where we live.

But there is no denying the fact that he is a real menace to the chickens. They are not equipped to deal with him. They would literally rather die than confront him. They cannot see the beauty and power that he holds. They will never soar where he does.

Ah – of course there is a lesson in all this. When the raptor of success comes knocking at your door (and it will, if you give it half a chance and put yourself in a position to encounter it), will you be inspired to reach within yourself and rise to new heights? Or will you cower in a corner, give up without fighting, and wait for the end to come?

I once did a book edit that ended up becoming a total rewrite because of such a raptor. The original writer was so impossible to reach, I dubbed him He Who Will Not Call. His representatives informed those of us working on the book that Himself simply could not be burdened with any more work at this time. He was going through a Difficult Period. He was Very Busy. He was indisposed.

Things got so bad, the publisher was forced to send all communications via certified mail just to verify that HWWNC received the materials.

If I stay here, it will all just go away...
Regardless of whatever reason for why He couldn't respond to my content questions, all I could see was that giant hawk circling overhead. If HWWNC would have seized the opportunity to rise to the challenge, the manuscript could have been completed in a matter of weeks. (As it was, it took months. Many, many months.) Himself’s part would have been finished. All he would have had to do would be to wait for the royalty checks to arrive.

Instead, however, he probably only saw the amount of work still to be done. And since he had never written a book before, the task must have looked as daunting as an Araucana hen fighting off a bird of prey. So he chose to give up – to cower in a corner in the coop and pray for a swift end, so we'd all stop bothering him with editorial questions.

There’s a lesson here, and it’s an important one. When you agree to tackle a new project – something you’ve never done before… something that scares you… something that will force you to learn new things in order to finish it -- decide at the outset how you will face the inevitable challenges that arise.

Will you crawl into a hole and refuse to come out until all possibilities of success have passed, thus making your fear of failure a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or will you find a way to find the strength to leave the confines of the comfortable behind you and soar toward success?

Happy flying…

Monday, September 15, 2014

Magnum as Tigger, P.I.: Why Archetypes Work

Remember Magnum? Thomas Sullivan Magnum, private investigator, Thursday night staple throughout the 1980s, remember him?

I confess, when I watched the show as a kid, I just loved the sheer visual noise of it. Mike Post and Pete Carpenter's theme song still plays in my head as the ultimate car chase accompaniment.

I thought I remembered Magnum. Those dimples! That Ferarri! The mustache! But lately, WunderGuy and I have been bingeing on Magnum, P.I. I discovered I'd forgotten many aspects...

Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!
I'd forgotten what an anti-hero Magnum is. He suffers from PTSD. He's essentially homeless -- or he would be if he wasn't in Robin Masters' good graces. He commits several murders in cold blood (All with good reason, of course. "Did you see the sunrise this morning?"). He's cheap. He's manipulative. He's not above lying to his friends to get what he wants. And yet... his irrepressible optimism trumps all. Thirty years later, he's still loveable.

Magnum's a Tigger. His friends are his real family. When he blunders into trouble -- which is often -- his first instinct is to get physical. Whatever he does, even if he does it badly, he does with gusto.

"My dear Pooh," said Owl in his superior way,
"don't you know what an Ambush is?"
If Magnum is Tigger, Higgins is Owl. He's erudite, a bit narcissistic, and pontificates at the drop of a hat. He is the star of every story he tells.  He looks down his nose at Magnum's lack of decorum. He is continually dismayed by Magnum's lack of refinement.

However, Higgins isn't all blowhard. When the chips are down, he is quick to help -- though that help often comes with a rather wordy soundtrack.

T.C.? Well, T.C. is Pooh, of course. He's all heart. He'll do anything for his friends, but he has his own interests, too.

He's more grounded and less volatile than Magnum. While Magnum spends his free time training himself for competition, T.C. spends his coaching kids. His sense of loyalty will never let him turn down a request from a friend -- even if he knows from past experience that the request will probably lead to trouble.
Pooh was just beginning to say that it was
all right now, when he found that it wasn't.

At least once an episode, what I call the "Oh, bother" scene occurs, where Magnum wrangles T.C. into doing something both of them know T.C. would be better off not doing... Still, like Pooh, T.C. can never say "no" and make it stick.

And what about Rick? He's Rabbit. Knows everyone. Extremely hard working. Knows the rules and expects people to follow them -- though he's often guilty of ignoring them himself.

"Hallo, Rabbit," he said, "is that you?"
"Let's pretend it isn't," said Rabbit, "and see what happens."
Rick likes numbers and lists, which makes him a good manager as well as a bookie. He can be judgmental, unethical, and bitter. He tends to be rather harsh. He likes a good fight every now and then, but if given the choice would always prefer to be known as the Brains rather than the Brawn. Though he's not above making a scene, he's easily embarrassed, and can hold a grudge for a long time.

Once, at a dinner party, a friend of a friend waxed eloquent on his theory of how the whole world is peopled with characters from Winnie the Pooh. I've often had reason to think about his theory and wonder if he's right. A.A. Milne understood the importance of archetype. In the denizens of the 100 Acre Woods, Milne created a few that endure.

There is a reason archetypes work. They help writers keep characters consistent. They allow the audience to get an immediate feel for a character. As the relationship grows, the characters eventually amass their own history, their own quirks, and take on a life of their own. But the underlying archetype -- Good Guy, Pontificator, Life of the Party, Hard Ass, Bigot, Softie -- remains, providing the foundation for the rest.

My friend, the lovely Yi Shun Lai (@Gooddirt), blogged about lessons learned from bingewatching Magnum this summer.

Me? My big takeaway is the fact that the wonderful thing about archetypes is Magnums are wonderful things...

Monday, September 01, 2014

"Flying is Just Impossible" - Thoughts on My Daughter's Sixth Grade Goals

My darling daughter breezed into the car after the first day of sixth grade, fired up and ready to take on the world. She loves school. Her day was great! Her teacher is awesome!

"What did you do today?" I asked.

"We set goals for things we want to accomplish this year!"

Curious, I asked for more information about these sixth grade goals. With my daughter's kind permission, I have posted them here:

And now, I am exercising my parental prerogative to offer some thoughts on the list... ~ahem~

First, I love the self-portrait. Too many of us make grandiose plans, listing our goals and hopes and dreams, without stopping to indulge our Inner Artist. I am smitten by the idea of drawing a selfie to head every list of goals I create in the future.

1.) "Learn how to care for pets."

Actually, dear Daughter, when you told me your list, you said your goal this year was "To learn more about zoology."

"Why did you write 'pets,' instead," I asked.

"I wasn't sure how to spell 'zoology,'" was your reply. Which only makes me wish you'd put "To learn more about spelling" on the list, but I know better.

I heartily approve of this item. How can I help? Perhaps if I stop saying "Does your guinea pig have food and water?" every night, you will learn what happens to said pig if you *don't* feed and water it every day. The same holds true of the parakeet.

What would you like to learn? How much keeping a pet costs? I would be happy to contribute to your achieving this goal by allowing you to assume responsibility for your dog's expenses, including food, license, shots, fluffy stuffed chew toys she can shred into dust particles, and vacuum cleaner bags for storing the roughly 3.7 pounds of black fur she sheds daily.

Efforts to teach computer skillz continue...
I can't complain about how you are taking care of the two cats you're catsitting. I have never had to remind you to feed or water them, or to clean out their litter boxes. The only thing you have left to learn about them is how to say good-bye gracefully when their owners return to claim them in December. That's going to be a tough one.

You do a good job caring for your parakeet. You also willingly help feed and care for the horses, chickens, ducks, Quakers, and the other dogs and cats that share our home.

Why do I suspect that this item is cleverly disguised code for "Acquire MORE pets?"

Allow me to reiterate: No hedgehog. No. While I'm at it, no foxes, no otters, no snakes, and no hamsters. We already live in a zoo. So I would like to add "I already have" as a qualifier to the end of #1.

2.) "Work on computer code."

Your father can help you on this one. He's the computer guru. I know enough about html coding to know that I'd rather have anesthetic-free oral surgery while hearing the audio book of Snooki's novel than sling code for extended periods of time. ::shudder::

OTTERARTWORK
You do love your otters, don't you?
This is a good example of a non-quantifiable goal. It doesn't have a clear, identifiable end for you to know when or if you have achieved it. When I asked you why you wanted to learn coding, you told me you wanted to build an interactive website "Like Animal Jam, only cooler."

I suspect it's because Animal Jam has recently added otters (no doubt at your suggestion), but they are only available to paying members, which you are not, because I said you had to use your own funds if you wanted to throw money away on online gaming.

I find acquiring a skill so you can do-it-yourself admirable. When I told you about Code Academy, you immediately looked it up and bookmarked it on your phone. I'll be interested to see if you follow through with this. I hope you do.


3.) Know Christ more.

That, my dear, is between you and your maker. I'll do everything in my power to help you achieve that goal.

Very well... Carry on...


4.) Study LSAT's again.

Erm.

You are the only eleven-year old I know of who thinks reading "How to Prepare for the LSAT" books is fun. I know you want to be a lawyer -- and the good Lord knows you are a world-class arguer. But kids your age are generally not even thinking about the PSATs yet, let alone concerning themselves with getting into law school.

You've wanted to go into law for as long as I remember. Why? So you can work with environmentalists to save endangered species, especially otters. I don't generally admire lawyers. I also don't generally admire vipers or electric eels. But they serve a necessary function. As long as you keep #3 on your list, you'll make a great lawyer.

So, go ahead. Keep on reading that LSAT book you keep checking out of the library. I have ten years to figure out how to pay for law school. Maybe by then, your mastery of #2 on your list will have paid off...

5.) Write a book.

Good for you! You write and illustrate manga books all the time, when you're not filming movies starring your LPS creatures or reading. Why not take the leap and focus solely on telling a story with text?

I told you about National Novel Writing Month in November. You've lived through the madness with me. Now, you can experience it for yourself.

As your Number One fan, I can't wait to read what you've written. I hope you'll include me as a beta.

But a caveat, Dear One. If you want to regularly put food on the table, and be able to feed the critters you love so much, may I humbly suggest following either #2 or #4 as a career path? Because I can tell you, when #5 is your calling, it makes you rely a WHOLE LOT on #3...


One day's worth of reading. Yep. That's about right.
6.) Read all of 2,000 books.

Well.

That IS ambitious.

This is the only truly quantifiable goal in the list, but have you done the math here?

If you're going to finish 2000 books by the end of the school year, that's over 10 books a day. Which is totally doable for you; I just wanted to make sure you realize the scope of what you hope to accomplish.

"I know it's ambitious," you told  me when I pointed out the magnitude of the goal. "What I wrote down first was 'learn to fly.'" But, while that would be so cool, flying is just impossible. I don't have wings. So I wrote this."

Ah. I see.

Sometimes a goal appears doable as a whole, but when one begins picking away at the reality of achieving it, one becomes overwhelmed at the sheer scope. Still, what overwhelms one may motivate another.

(Case in point: #MadWritersUnite -- wherein writers pledge to write 2 full books, between 70K and 90K words, total, during the month of September. I hope they do it! I wish them every good thing. But as for considering something similar myself, I can't even...)

You read like a fiend. You read all the time. You love to read, and I can't find fault with that. So, as long as this goal doesn't interfere with your chores ("I can't clean out the dishwasher; I'm reading" is not an acceptable statement in this house) or your health (You will go outside and play every day. Seriously. Go.), I'll support it. You've already finished the Junior section at our local library. I'm not sure they have 2000 books there that you haven't yet read...

My dear, you have set some high bars for yourself this year. I'm proud of your enthusiasm and your ambition. I'll be interested to revisit this list in a month or so, and see where you are on it. Let me tell you: whether or not you have wings, if you stick to it and see these goals through to the end, you WILL fly.

My daughter's friend (and my godson), in the same class, said: "My goals are to be more helpful and keep my mouth shut more."

Any thoughts I may have had on his goals are moot. Before I could offer any observations--

He paused. He sighed.

"I'm not optimistic."

Monday, June 23, 2014

Going Above and Beyond the Fine Print of Friendship

When I was a kid, my favorite vice was bite-sized Milky Way bars. I'd eat 'em like... Well, like candy.

Thirteen-year old me after a Milky Way binge.
Once, some kind soul bought me a bag of them. (Mine! All mine! Mwah-hahaha!)

As I was scarfing down the chocolaty, nougaty, caramelly goodness, I pulled a wrapper out of the bag that was flat. Sealed tight, but empty. A dud.

My adolescent self was appalled. Convinced I'd been cheated, I wrote a letter to the Mars candy bar company detailing the problem and enclosing the offending wrapper as proof. No lie. I took my candy very seriously.

Some time later, I received a letter from (no doubt) some poor lackey with nothing better to do all day than respond to complaints like mine. The missive explained how the crucial "sold by weight, not by volume" legal loophole meant my dud wrapper was not, in fact, a personal affront. My bag of candy, as a whole, was patently not defective.

Oh.

But then the letter writer did something else. He said that Mars, Co., the manufacturer of the object of my obsession, valued me as a client. The company didn't want to lose me over a little misunderstanding. So he was enclosing a sheaf of coupons for -- sweet Vidalia onion! -- free bags of Milky Ways.

That experience taught me several things. To begin with, it cemented in my mind the power of the written word. From a certain point of view, my letter of complaint was my first paid writing gig.

More importantly, however, it illustrated the merits of exceeding expectations, showing how going above and beyond what was required had real merit.

Lately, I've had the pleasure of encountering several people who have gone above and beyond the norm.

Going above and beyond: Fly! Be free!
One is photographer Scott Gane, the husband of Kim Jorgensen Gane, my #Write2TheEnd Writing Workshop co-facilitator. Scott was so enthusiastically supportive of #W2TE's mission to help writers set a goal and finish it that he became a #W2TE sponsor, offering his photography expertise to provide all Summer, 2014, participants with professional headshots. I was blown away by his generosity.

Then there is Alyson Peterson of Dirty Green Jello fame (@crzywritergrl on Twitter), one of my dearest virtual friends. We've never met, but we've Skyped and IMed and texted and emailed so often that I feel as if we've known each other since my Milky Way snarfing days. Not long ago, thanks to a friend's expertise, I was able to help Alyson with a problem that had been plaguing her. I was happy to help...

... but Alyson epitomizes "going above and beyond." She showered both my expert friend and me with heartfelt tokens of her appreciation. Which was totally unnecessary; we were just glad we were able to help. But that's what going above and beyond means. It transcends the original experience and elevates everyone involved.

A few weeks ago, my mother had a nasty fall that resulted in fractured facial bones, a brain bleed, and a lifeflight trip to UPMC. She's recovering well in a rehab hospital in Pennsylvania at the moment, while we all plan for what happens next.

Upon hearing of Mom's accident, my friends immediately offered to help. One, in Ohio, volunteered to take what remains of her vacation and use it to help me pack up Mom and Dad to move to Michigan. One offered to take her full-size van to PA to transport Mom here. Several others offered to either watch our place, to help with chores, or to help with the impending move. I don't know whether I'll take anyone up on their offers, but the point is -- they readily rose to the occasion.

I am so grateful for friends like these. They sweeten my life much more than a bag of bite-sized chocolatey decadence ever could. I am honored and humbled to be surrounded by so many people who routinely go above and beyond what convention dictates the "norm" should be. They may have read the fine print that says friendship is sold by weight and not by volume, but they ignore it on a regular basis, and together we all soar.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hop Like a Writer

Some hop, but that's not how I roll...
My friend, blogger, writer, and fellow #Write2TheEnd facilitator Kim Jorgensen Gane, of GANE Possible, invited me to participate in this blog hop, in which writerly people discuss writerly things. I am honored to be included.

Being a part of such a blog hop is a great excuse to be able to talk about one's own writing. ("I didn't ask the questions! They did!")

So, for those of you who've been wondering what I've been up to -- especially if you follow me on Twitter and see me posting pictures of falcons, researching the history of crossbows, and talking about the crazy crush I've developed on the character who was originally the novel's antagonist, but who looks (in my mind) so much like Christian Kane it's impossible NOT to love him -- come, hop with me!

Blog Hop Questions: 

1.) What am I working on/writing? 
My current project is an epic historical fantasy set in pre-Arthurian Britain. "Before Camelot, there was Shalott."

KNIGHT FALL -- the tale of a good guy who goes bad, a bad boy who tries to be good, and the women behind the scenes who are pulling their strings -- is the first of three books in the series.

Finishing the trilogy is my top priority for 2014. If I don't, several longsuffering beta readers who have been waiting for this story have sworn to lynch me.

2.) How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?
The problem w/ dream casting: characters steal the story...
I rarely write characters who are black and white. I'm more interested in the subtle, seemingly insignificant, everyday happenings that can tip the balance of allegiance. History in hindsight often follows a path that seems clear and true. But to those living through it, their choices are much murkier.

My writing spends time with the people who don't realize (and, if I do my job right, neither does the reader, at first) how much hinges on every decision they make. I want to tell a story that explains the origin of legends we accept as canon. That involves focusing on the people relegated to the shadows at least as much as those who have stolen the limelight.

3.) Why do I write what I do?
This project began as an obsession with Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott." First, I wrote the screenplay, focusing on the tale of star-crossed lovers -- a damaged knight on the edge of legend, and the imprisoned girl who holds his heart.

But the story stuck with me and insisted on more attention. So I spent a NaNoWriMo November turning script into novel, which resulted in 80,000 words and the realization that I had enough story for three books. The project overwhelmed me because I didn't have the time to dedicate to it, so I shelved it while I wrote a few books for clients and edited a major project for the USHJA. But my medieval characters -- especially the aforementioned antagonist, who has now commandeered a starring role in the entire series -- wouldn't leave me alone.

Why do I write what I do? Because I can't shake it off. I can't shelve it. The characters in it are as real to me as people I know. And I'm the only one who knows their story. If I don't write it, no one will.

4.) How does my writing process work?
My process is different when working on contracted projects for other people. But I'm going to answer this question solely with regards to working on my own, "spec" stuff....

At the beginning of the year, I made a resolution to dedicate a portion of my time every day to working on my own writing projects.

This may seem like a no-brainer ("A writer writes!"), but it was the end result of a difficult, soul-searching process. See, I write a lot. All the time. Much of the day. But I had allowed working on others' writing projects -- helping with research, or brainstorming, or editing, or book-doctoring, or mentoring, or muse-ing -- to take precedence over my own writing.

Why can't I get the blasted ball rolling...?
One day, after working for eight uninterrupted hours, I realized that I had put in many eight-or-more hour days over the past few months, but hadn't written Word One on my novel. I talked about it, made copious notes in the wee hours of the morning when my characters interrupted my dreams and insisted I pay attention to them, and dreamed of that wonderful day when I would have nothing to do but write.

But that day never came. If I allowed it -- and for the greater part of the past few years I have allowed it -- I spent my creative energies helping other people solve their writing problems instead of working to solve my own.

Why?

I wrestled with the question through most of the last holiday season. It took me weeks to finally hit upon the reason:


Working on my own writing was fun. Really fun. And for some inexplicable reason, I had allowed myself to make "fun" synonymous with "not important." Therefore, I was only allowing myself to do it when everything else -- clients' work, laundry, meal-making, housework, chores, etc. -- was finished. Which never happened. Kind of like my writing time.

So, since January, a huge part of my process has been to reclaim my writing time, to jealously guard it, to value it, and to make it a priority.

I rent studio space (which I affectionately call The Burrow). The space is mine, all mine! It contains only items directly related to my current project. Every single thing within its walls pertains to my work in progress.

I go to The Burrow at least four days a week. There, from 9 a.m. till 3 p.m., while the kids are in school, I write.

I start the day old-school, with a cup of coffee, a pad of paper, a pen, and my dog at my feet. I write out my next chapter longhand, as long as the muse strikes.

(I have learned that I am weak and the internet is my kryptonite. If I come to work and immediately fire up the computer, as I used to do, hours can evaporate as I check my emails, get on Twitter, and follow the various rabbit holes of social media. Since I know my own weaknesses, I choose not to feed them. I will not get on my computer until I have at least one whole chapter written down. Then, if I fall down a rabbit hole, at least my day has been productive, and I have dedicated the best part of myself to my writing, instead of watching YouTube videos of funny dogs.)

So far, this process is serving me well. I'm making regular, solid progress on the book, and am loving where my characters are taking me. As the school year comes to a close, I have already informed my family that I will keep my writing schedule during the summer. I refuse to let my commitment waver. I am blessed to have their support. (My husband is an alpha reader, which helps, because he keeps clamoring for the next chapter...)

I guess my short answer to the question is that the biggest part of my process is making my writing a priority.

Enough about me.

I am thrilled to pass the Bloggy Hoppy torch to YA fantasy writer Alyson Peterson (@crzywritergrl) and crime novelist Marguerite Ashton (@msashton_writer). Check out their posts next Monday, Memorial Day, May 26.

Alyson PetersonAlyson Peterson is an amazing writer, with acerbic wit and snappy snark to spare. (She's also a fabulous artist, but that's another story...)

She writes about wizards and displaced heirs and interplanetary mayhem and magical horses. If you like young adult urban fantasy, you should be clamoring for a publisher to discover Alyson and get her books in print -- STAT! My 11 year-old daughter is an avid reader, who ranks Alyson's books right up there with Harry Potter and the Warriors series. Seriously. She's that good. Someday you'll see.

In the meantime, while she's waiting to be discovered, she blogs about life at Dirty Green Jello. Go check her out. She's aces.

Crime writer Marguerite Ashton is a founder of the popular blog Criminal Lines and Co-founder of the Crime Writers’ Panel. There, she works alongside Joe Giacalone with other panel members to educate writers on the importance of showing accurate portrayals of criminal investigations and law enforcement procedures in their novels.

Marguerite's radio show, Criminal Lines Radio airs bi-monthly, bringing together law enforcement and authors in an open forum.

A member of Sisters in Crime, Marguerite grew up in Colorado, but now resides in Wisconsin, where she is currently working on her next book. (Which I've read and helped edit. You'll love it! I promise!)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Four Words Every Writer Needs to Hear

(Note: this is an updated version of a post from several years ago. Why? Because every writer STILL needs to hear these four words...)

In 2000, while attending the Maui Writer's Conference, I had an eye-opening, life-changing experience. I had scrounged up money that was earmarked for things like house payments, food, and insurance (you know: frivolities) and had jetted halfway around the world hoping to further my career.

I had been a featured presenter at some smaller writers conferences, had a finished YA manuscript, and a screenplay that had held its own in the Nicholl and Austin film competitions. Other than some magazine articles, I had nothing of note in print. The Maui conference appealed to me because it featured panels on both screenwriting and fiction writing. And because it offered pitching sessions with Real Live Agents. And so, knowing I had much to learn (and hoping to find someone who thought I was brilliant and who signed me immediately), I went to Paradise.

I learned many things.

One of the most painful was that I had no idea how to pitch. (How fast can you say "crash and burn?" Believe me, it takes longer to say than to do!)

One of the most helpful was that the agents & film industry professionals were not interested in eating me alive. (I am eternally grateful to Alison Rosenzweig for suffering through my first-ever pitch attempt. My thoughts: "Oh my God, I'm babbling and I can't shut up! Someone please kill me now." I can only imagine hers. She let me regroup, kindly offered some suggestions, and let me practice on her. Bless her.)

But by far the most influential thing I discovered was that Someone Out There believed I would make it.

Here's what happened:

After a panel discussion with Hollywood insiders on the realities of the film business, they fielded general questions. Someone asked the inevitable "Why does Hollywood keep saying they're looking for great writing while churning out bad movies?"

(I remind you that the year 2000 saw such film releases as "Memento," "Requiem for a Dream," "X-Men," "Gladiator," "American Psycho" (which I still maintain is a comedy), "Castaway" and "Chocolat." Ok, it's true, it also inflicted "Scary Movie," "Charlie's Angels," "Me, Myself & Irene," and "Battlefield Earth" on humanity. But still: it wasn't a terrible year...)

The panelist, a VP of Production at Paramount, answered the question using the analogy of ordering ice cream to feed a group. Individual members of the group may like various flavors, but the group as a whole probably won't all agree on something extravagant like Double Chocolate Macademia Nut or Salted Caramel. And so, in the end, everyone goes with tried and true: Vanilla.

This kicked off a spirited discussion about the ills of the industry and a general trashing of the state of filmmaking.

Finally, I couldn't stand it. I stood and said that I was happy every time I went and saw a bad movie. It gave me hope. Because as long as Hollywood continues to make bad films, I find it easy to believe with all my heart that they need me.

Afterward, the Paramount bigwig tracked me down, introduced himself and shook my hand. He told me he liked what I'd said. Then he said the four words that I'd been desperate to hear:

"You will make it."

I remember very little of the rest of the conference. Four years passed before I got a book deal. I'm still working at finding the chink in the film industry's armor that will let me in. But those words, coming from someone who wasn't related to me, fueled my determination to persevere in ways that the speaker will never know.

I daresay that there is a secret to sticking with any artistic endeavor through the inevitable rejections and dry patches that accompany a creative career, and it is this: Find someone who believes in your success and who tells you that you will make it.

If you're in southwestern Michigan this summer, and looking for a community of writers who will band together to jointly support you while kicking your butt to achieve the goals you have set for yourself, I encourage you to consider joining us at the #Write2TheEnd Writer's Workshop, beginning in June. If you're not in southwestern Michigan, consider starting your own #Write2TheEnd chapter.

Even if we don't immediately achieve our goals and realize our dreams, knowing that someone out there is pulling for us to do so encourages us to make progress on them. And progress, not perfection, is the key to ultimate success.

If you're a writer, an artist, or a creative soul, and you are looking for a reason to keep on keeping on, here it is:

Keep learning.

Keep creating.

Keep growing.

Keep putting your work out there.

Never give up your dreams. And one day, you'll see --

You will make it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Career Curveballs, Disguised Blessings, and Staying Optimistic When Your Publisher Closes

Note: I hope you're reading this out of sheer morbid curiosity, and not because a panicked search for "MY PUBLISHER IS CLOSING! WHAT THE HELL HAPPENS NOW?" brought you here.

Early in January, a small publisher that published ebooks and paperbacks made me an offer of publication.

Self-portrait: January 9, 2014
My immediate reaction was. “YAAAAAAYYY!” Which was followed almost immediately by hyperventilation and a search for a small paper bag.

Though I was thrilled to be offered publication -- that great golden ring that often feels so elusive to those of us writing in the spec trenches -- I didn't want to sign a contract in haste. Book publishing is a business. I wanted to make sure I was making a good business decision.

So I did what any sensible writer would do. I drank a pot of coffee. Then I did my research.

First, I read the contract I was offered. I made sure I understood the terms, the royalty structure, the rights I'd be granting, the termination clauses, and the duration of the contract. I compared the contract with contracts from other publishers. And I sought some professional legal advice. No red flags waved in front of me.

Next, I looked up the publisher to see if it was mentioned in Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, or any other forum that warns writers away from sharks. No alarm bells rang.

Kitty Totoro by @bump_take: http://j.mp/12J0aQM on Twitpic
This is not Totoro. It is a cat wearing paper.
Things are not always as they seem.
Afterwards, I went to the publisher's website and nosed about a bit. I saw a site that had a few kinks in it, but nothing that couldn't be worked out. (I've worked as social media consultant for small presses in the past. I know what growing pains look like.) I liked that they had more than just a stable of two or three authors. I liked that their cover designs showed progressive improvement. I liked that their website was constructed to appeal to buyers. (Publishers' sites that try to lure would-be authors are a sure sign of sharks in the water.)

I also went to Amazon to see how their books showed up in the world's largest bookstore. I looked at their editing, proofreading, formatting, cover design, and overall presentation.

Then, I emailed the publisher, requesting a few days to consider and asking some questions about plans for marketing, distribution, and promotion. I asked if I could speak with a few of their leading authors. They responded promptly, with answers that made sense to me, and kindly provided me with contact information of several authors.

My next step was to ask advice from World's Coolest Literary Agent (not mine. yet.) who has a different manuscript of mine under consideration. I told her what I'd been offered and shared the results of my research. She generously made time to make observations and gave some sage "off the record" advice, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Finally, I contacted some authors currently publishing with this publisher and asked about their experiences. I asked about things like marketing, distribution, and editing practices. I asked what they liked and what they would improve. I also asked about their experiences with other publishers.

Iz time to celebrate, yes?
I weighed all the pros against the cons. In the end, I determined that -- for me -- the strengths outweighed any weaknesses of the offer. So I signed.

I diligently edited and sent the manuscript. A kickass cover was designed. I started spreading the word of the book's imminent release. I even found an awesomely talented director to do the book trailer.

And then... I noticed that the publisher had gone dark. Silent. No Twitter updates. No response to email. Nothing.

Now, don't get me wrong. I know that the publishing world is one that often turns very slowly. One manuscript spent the better part of a year in the hands of an agent before she made a decision (one that required near-catastrophic self-medication with caffeine and chocolate. I may never be the same...). So I'm not one to panic if a publishing pro is incommunicado for a few weeks.

And yet -- as the initial publication date rapidly approached, and still no contact, I grew concerned. Something didn't feel right. I contacted some of the publisher's other authors and discovered that my fears were true: last Friday, the publisher announced (to them -- not to me. STILL not to me) that it is closing, due to health reasons, effective May 1. Contracts are void. Authors are left high and dry. Don't let the door flap our fannies on the way out.

I felt as if I had been left at the altar. Wait. What? But... we had plans! You... You told me you loved me!

I am luckier than some. My book never actually got printed. It's still virginal and pristine. At least two authors whose books are already published are wondering how, when, and if they will receive the thousands of dollars in royalties owed them.

I understand that small publishers are often only one- or two-person operations. I wish the owner of my former publisher all the best and hope her health improves. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm hitting the query mines again when I'd hoped to soon be celebrating my publication day.

And yet... writers are by nature optimistic. If we weren't optimists -- committed to our work, believing in our stories, and stubbornly convinced that others exist who will love what we write as much as we love writing it -- the sheer volume of rejection that inevitably accompanies a writer's career would chew us into dust and spit us out in a graveyard of broken dreams.

Perhaps I am deluding myself, but the career curveball of my publisher closing may be a blessing in disguise. God has a strange sense of humor. I have a little experience with such things.

I present Exhibit A: The Case of the Missing MRIs:

In 2005, while I was under contract and on deadline for Geoff Teall's book, WunderGuy was working in Los Angeles when he developed serious medical issues. Along with uncontrollable seizures, he had a complete break with reality, vivid hallucinations, forgot he had a child... the whole 9 yards. UCLA examined him and determined he needed brain surgery. Again.

Since his insurance was an HMO in California, we found a surgeon at UCSF and came home to Michigan to let him recover, to regroup, and to plan a trip out West. I mailed all of his MRI films to the neurosurgeon in San Francisco. And the films promptly got lost.

As in LOST.
 

The Post Office had delivery confirmation, but to UCSF, not to a person.

The films were lost for over a month! (Some of them were ten-year old originals. This was before DVD MRI's were common.)

Finally, after a month (during which time WunderGuy stabilized and we got his seizures under control -- and he remembered our daughter existed), we learned the films had been found.

So... we geared up and went out west, expecting to undergo surgery.

When we got there, they spent an entire day prepping him, examining him, shaving his head in a few places and sticking these green Lifesaver-like things to his scalp, so they'd know where to drill. Then they told us to get a good night's sleep. As if.

On our way to the hotel, with less than 8 hours to go before the procedure, the doc called. He'd looked at the scans again, with another neurosurgeon, and both of them agreed -- the "tumor" wasn't what UCLA thought it was. It was scar tissue from WG's earlier surgery (10 years before). No new surgery warranted.


And I'm like: !!?!?!

Turns out, one of the things that tipped the neurosurgeon off was the fact that WunderGuy had stabilized for several weeks. Had the scans not been lost, he wouldn't have had time to stabilize, and they would have happily opened his head up.

We later discovered the real reason for his troubles wasn't a tumor recurrence. It was an extreme allergic reaction to new meds, which took nine months to work their way out of his system.

Now, I happen to think those lost files was God making sure WunderGuy didn't have unnecessary surgery. He moves in mysterious ways. (Feel free to disagree with me. You won't change my mind.)

Oh -- and the missing files? They were *literally* down the hall in another department -- Epileptology. Where, oddly, we had to go, since he didn't have surgery.

How does this have ANYTHING to do with my publisher closing (or yours, for that matter)?

First, I can console myself that, as bad as this is, it's nothing compared to brain surgery.

And finally, the optimist in me is confident that -- just as with the Case of the Missing MRIs -- this may be a mighty blessing in disguise. If it is, then better things are just around the corner. It would be foolish of me to complain...

Onward and upward!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A Short Lesson: From Script To Screen With No Budget in Three Days

"No education is ever wasted," is one of my mother's favorite mantras. Nothing is truer when it comes to writing. Every script I write -- no matter how small -- teaches me something. Case in point:

Last November, my friend Paul Martin, a director (and occasional script collaborator), was one of five filmmakers chosen to participate in the Sony 4K Challenge as part of the Napa Valley Film Festival. Every participant was provided with a brand-spanking-new Sony 4K camera, assigned a genre, and allotted 72 hours to make a five-minute film, from start to final edit.
Ready? Set? SHOOT!

The rules included:

1.) Genre (Western, Noir/Thriller, Rom-Com, Comedy, and Drama) would not be assigned until the clock started on the challenge.

2.) Each genre included a required location, though additional locations could be used.

3.) All footage had to be shot on locations within Napa Valley.

4.) In addition to the assigned genre and location, each film must include a required catch-phrase ("There's something a little off about that guy."), feature a shot of the Sony equipment, and incorporate an assigned prop.

5.) Only Sony equipment could be used for filming and post-production. Editing must be done on Sone Vegas.

So, when Paul called and told me, "I need a script! Like, now!" a few days before the Challenge began, we started brainstorming a story that:

* was readily adaptable to multiple genres,
* wasn't reliant upon a single location,
* required minimal actors, lighting, set-up, and SFX,
* could be made with no budget,
* was visually interesting.

We came up with a romp in which a time-traveling documentarian discovers love when a colleague accidentally joins him on a botched trip to the past.

The script was readily adaptable for pure comedy, romantic comedy, or drama, if we got assigned those genres. It featured a scene set in the "Wild West" and one set in the 1929, either of which could be expanded for either a Western or Noir.

It made use of the locations we thought we knew we could count on: a castle, a saloon, and a train. Plus, we knew we had access to horses and riders.

It also took into account that Paul is a huge fan of Mel Brooks, so whenever possible, he gravitates toward oddball physical humor (Hence, the Lackeys).

The first version of the script was very straightforward. It included an in-text note that shouted "I HATE THIS APPROACH! CONSIDER THIS ALTERNATIVE" in reference to a section Paul suggested and it wasn't nearly oddball enough to make him smile. In it, each "time change" was marked by a flash of bright light and a "wub-wub-wub" sound effect -- something Paul hated even more than the scene meriting my in-text note.

Eight hours and four rewrites later, we had come up with this, the original jumping-off script (reformatted for blog purposes):

VALENTIMES DAY

FADE IN

INT. TIME TRAVEL ROOM - FUTURE - DAY
Sterile lab-like area. GREG, 20’s, our hero in futuristic goggles, inspects a video camera with all the intensity of a skydiver checking his safety harness.

KARIUS, a goggled technician monitors the situation through a window.

Greg psyches himself up... Gives a thumbs up.

KARIUS: Copy. Initializing outgoing sequence.

The door opens. LACKEY 1, wearing swim goggles, escorts goggle-wearing TESS (20-something) into the room.

LACKEY 1: Parka yu butt.

Lackey 1 leaves. Slams door behind him.

KARIUS: She can’t be in there.

GREG: You can’t be in here.

TESS: This isn’t the restroom.

She runs for the door. Her goggles flash red. She smacks into the door. It doesn’t open.

Karius worriedly checks monitors. Situation not good. LACKEY 2, wearing a rubber diving mask, plays swimmer in the window.

KARIUS: Coding is not calibrated for two.

GREG: You heard her. Get out.

Goggles flashing, Tess body slams the door. Nothing. Greg drops his camera and helps her.

KARIUS: It won’t abort! I’m losing con--

Greg and Tess both lunge for the door.


INT. MEDIEVAL CASTLE - 1350 - DAY
Greg and Tess burst through into a gorgeously frescoed dining hall. Greg takes off his goggles.
Tess walks smack into a wall. She checks her unlit goggles.

GREG: Might as well take ‘em off. They don’t work here.

TESS: We’re lost in time AND WE’RE DISCONNECTED?

GREG: They’re working to bring us back. I’m sure it won’t be long.


INT. TIME TRAVEL CONTROL ROOM - FUTURE - DAY
Chaos reigns. Alarms sound. Monitors flash dire warnings. Lights flash. Karius frantically punches buttons.

Lackey 2 wears a fire helmet and knocks periodically on it. Lackey 1 shoots off a fire extinguisher.

LACKEY 1: Bee-do! Bee-do! Baa-hahahaha!

POOF! Smoke! Situation deteriorating!


INT. MEDIEVAL CASTLE - 1350 - DAY
GREG: Rule number one -- don’t interact with anyone.

TESS: Stealth mode. I. Am. Invisible.

She freezes in front of a fresco of a woman in the same pose.

GREG: No. You’re in the way. Ooo, if we were connected, I’d tell you EXACTLY what you are--

He turns around--

And discovers a spear point at his throat.

A club smashes him to the ground. Lights out.


INT. TORTURE ROOM - LATER
Tess, wearing a steel helmet, holding a mace, sneaks in.

GREG (O.S.): Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.

Tess taps her mace. It BOOMS like a drum. She does it again -- adding a cool back beat to Greg’s Ow’s. She smiles. Gets into it. This is fun!

GREG: WILL YOU KNOCK IT OFF!

Tess hurries over. Greg is in an iron maiden. He’s seen better days. Tess fiddles with the latch.

TESS: You were about to tell me what I am?

GREG: You’re late. What took you so long?

TESS: Promise you won’t get mad?

The latch won’t open. Tess smacks on it with the mace handle.

GREG: Stop it! Someone’s going to hear!

Tess spins her mace meaningfully. Shakes her head.

TESS: We interacted.

She springs the latch. The iron maiden flings open, toppling Greg to the ground.

GREG: Ow.

TESS: You’re mad, aren’t you?

Greg reaches out and grabs Tess’s hand for help up. Tess screams and jerks away, repulsed.

TESS: Think of the pathogens! Uh-oh.

Sounds of clanging metal and pounding feet. An angry horde of medieval men outside. The door shudders. There is no way out. They’re trapped.

The door flies open--


INT. WESTERN BAR - 1849 - DAY
A gold rush saloon in full swing. Spittoons. Gambling men. The great unwashed. A PATRON pulls a floozy into his lap.

Tess and Greg materialize in a dark corner of the bar.

PATRON: I got me a snort of oh-be-joyful. Now how ‘bout a Valentine’s kiss?

The floozy squeals with laughter. She snuggles the man. Tess stares, riveted.

She pulls her goggles from her pocket-- They don’t work. She makes goggles with her hands and focusses on the couple.

Greg picks a hat up off the bar and places it on Tess’ head.

CLINK. CLINK. CLINK. Spurs rattle as footsteps of an angry TOUGH GUY approach.

TESS: What are they doing?

GREG (to Tough Guy): We don’t want any trouble.

TOUGH GUY: Only women in here’s working girls. You ain’t working. Girl.

Tough Guy reaches for Tess. Greg stands and gets in his way.

Tough Guy spits. Grins evilly. Pulls his gun. The bar falls silent. Patrons scoot out of the way.

PATRON: What’s that!?

A red laser light appears on a wall. Bar patrons scramble over themselves to get it. (Cats after a light.) The light disappears.

ALL: Awwwww.

Tess and Greg are gone -- running through a swinging door.

TOUGH GUY: Git em!


EXT. WESTERN SCRUBLAND - MOMENTS LATER
Greg and Tess hide in a bush near a railroad track. Tess picks up dirt and runs it through her fingers.
Tough Guy passes them on horseback.

TRAIN WHISTLE blows.

GREG: He’ll be back. Let’s go.


INT. WESTERN TRAIN CAR - MOMENTS LATER
Greg and Tess collapse, exhausted. The car is empty.

TESS: I’m starving.

Greg digs in his pocket and produces a tiny box full of teeny pills. Tess brightens. She happily eats one.

TESS: You brought enough for a week. What were you researching?

GREG: The Great Disconnect. How, and when, we stepped away from reality. Stopped letting things touch us.

Tess makes goggles of her hands again.

TESS: What are you talking about?


INT. DINING CAR - 1929 - DAY
The train car transforms into a sumptuous 1920’s dining car, packed with people, wine, and a sumptuous, elegant buffet. (Include props: wine bottle, corkscrew, olive oil & cupcakes)

TESS: What is that?

She points to a fruit plate. 

GREG: I have no idea. And we just ate.

Tess ignores him. She samples some of the food. It’s heaven.

TESS: Oh, this is good... And this is--better!

A CONDUCTOR approaches, punching tickets.

Tess holds a decadent cupcake toward Greg.

CONDUCTOR: Your tickets.

Tess offers the conductor a bite.


EXT. SPEAKEASY - 1929 - MOMENTS LATER
The train rolls away, as Tess and Greg hit the ground.  A MUG lurking outside watches them suspiciously.

Tess surveys the sad remains of a smashed cupcake.

TESS: Well, that’s just criminal.

MUG: Who you calling names, Dame? What do you know?

GREG: Nothing.

TESS: I know it’s Valentine’s Day.

She licks crumbs from her fingers. Greg cringes.

MUG: You know too much.

Mug reaches for them. Tess and Greg scuttle backwards to evade him. Mug herds them inside--


INT. SPEAKEASY - MOMENTS LATER
A big BOSS sits in a corner. Mug pulls a gun and looms over Greg and Tess.

MUG: Spats told me to peel an eye for ‘spicious characters. That’d be these two crumbs.

Boss nods. A violin case sits on the table in front of him.

TESS: Is that real?

BOSS: No.

GREG: No.

TESS: Can you play it?

Greg hides his face in his hands.

BOSS: Rub ‘em out.

Mug laughs evilly. Starts to pull the trigger.

Tess and Greg instinctively grab each other. They close their eyes.

EXT. CLASSY HOTEL - 2015 - EVENING
Tess and Greg hugging. People all around them walk and stare at their electronic devices. A SECURITY GUARD walks by and smiles.

SECURITY GUARD: That’s what it’s all about. Happy Valentine’s Day, folks.

The activity around Tess and Greg stills. As one, the people put their electronic devices and look at the couple.

Slowly, the people connect with one another, reacting to Tess and Greg. Some high-five. Some hug.
One couple kisses. Tess and Greg watch, curious.

INT. TIME TRAVEL ROOM - FUTURE - DAY
Tess and Greg materialize kissing.

Karius smiles with relief. She’s no longer wearing her goggles and drinking a glass of wine.

Lackey 1 puckers up and comes toward Karius. Karius becomes instantly serious.

KARIUS: No.

Tess and Greg come up for air.

GREG: We may have changed a few things while we were gone.

TESS: Yeah. Well, I still need to pee.

They kiss again.

Lackey 1 and Lackey 2 pucker up and head toward the camera.

FADE OUT


The process of making a movie in less than three days could fill up a month's worth of blog posts.

Twenty-four hours before the challenge, our lead actor pulled out and Paul had to recast. The day of challenge, Paul learned that he'd been assigned a Western genre, with olive oil as the required prop, and had lost access to both the required location and the saloon. LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

Here is the result of on-the-fly filming, taking a basic script and making it work within the parameters of what is possible at the moment: (Note that the flashes and SFX to designate time changes were added back in. I stood vindicated.):



Participating in the challenge as the "offsite midwestern writer" was great fun. I learned about how very fluid a script needs to be when presented with challenges of the trenches. The tighter the budget and the schedule, the more the script will change to meet immediate demands. That's why the original premise must be clear -- so the inevitable changes don't derail the story.

The cool thing is: "Valentimes Day" is an official selection of The Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival, this weekend. And it was chosen without the selection committee knowing that it was filmed in three days on no budget -- and edited on Vegas, for heaven's sake!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

From the Vault of Favored Poems: Dickinson's "The Master" (#PoemMo)

Between 1858 and 1861 or 1862, when Emily Dickinson was in her late twenties and early thirties, she wrote several intimate letters to someone known only as "the Master." Drafts of three of the letters survive. Though rich in imagery, poetic language, and emotional nuance, there is no way of knowing whether they were ever mailed. (Dickinson asked at least one person to burn all correspondence after her death...)

To this day, the Master's identity remains a mystery.

I didn't know any of this backstory when, in university, I was introduced to a poem of Dickinson's sometimes called "the Master." (She did not title it so.) I just knew that I liked it far more than her poems about death. It spoke to me then in a way that still resonates:

The Master
by Emily Dickinson

He fumbles at your Soul
As Players at the Keys,
Before they drop full Music on --
He stuns you by degrees --

Prepares your brittle substance
For the Ethereal Blow
By fainter Hammers -- further heard --
Then nearer -- then so - slow -

Your Breath has time to straighten,
Your Brain -- to bubble cool --
Deals one imperial Thunderbolt
That scalps your naked soul.


The poem was written in 1862 and appears in Fascicle 22. Thanks to the internet, one can view the handwritten original.